The Toronto Blue Jays pulled off a massive trade on Friday. One that included three of their farmhands, including the best outfield player I’ve seen in Vancouver, Franklin Barreto. It’s funny, I’ve been having some twitter banter recently with some regular correspondents. Comments such as ‘procrastinator’ have been used to describe my inability to get going with the annual YourVanCs Blue Jays top prospect list.
Procrastination may be part of the problem but it is by no means the main issue. For me, getting the list in order has been complicated by a rather pleasant problem. The fact many Jays farmhands put together fantastic seasons. Kendall Graveman is an excellent example. The 8th round ‘senior sign’ out of Mississippi State was nowhere near my radar coming into the 2014 season.
The reports from his brief time in Lansing during 2013 were generally quite good, but still, he was slightly old for the level and his stuff was best described as middling.
I don’t think anyone predicted what he would do in 2014. Graveman spent time over five different levels, throwing no more than 100 innings at any one. As a September call-up, the 23 year old made his mlb debut in Boston, which was actually, funnily enough, my first time ever seeing him live.
No doubt, Graveman had a fabulous year. Would he have made a dent in my top 10 though? Off the top of my head (again, I really need to do the list) I’d say no. He probably would have slotted in somewhere in the low teens. Not bad for a guy that didn’t rank last year but he wasn’t a top tier prospect in the Jays system.
The same could be said of Sean Nolin. He’s got a lot going for him. Big, left-handed, and probably major league ready. Unfortunately he’s also had some durability issues and doesn’t really do anything exceptionally well. Most scouting reports you read have a low ceiling on Nolin, projecting him as a back-end starter.
Although the Jays have proved, more than most recently, the value of pitching depth, their system allowed them to deal from a position of strength — if you can call a glut of 4th/5th/6th type pitchers a strength. As it stands, Toronto still don’t have a rotation opening for Aaron Sanchez or Daniel Norris, let alone Graveman and Nolin. Add in potential 2015 double-A assignments for Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro as well as the return of 2014 first rounder Jeff Hoffman and the Jays have pitching in the pipeline.
After pitching, shortstop is probably the strongest position in the Jays system. Unlike many of the pitchers though, there are no middle infielders who would be deemed major league ready. Didn’t stop us from dreaming, and during my mid-season prospect review I had three in my predicted top 10.
The highest rated was, of course, Franklin Barreto, this year’s C’s MVP, probable Northwest League MVP (when do they announce that anyway?) and third minor leaguer to be included in the Josh Donaldson deal. What the topic of this rambling post is actually about.
Where Graveman and Nolin may not hurt that much, Barreto definitely does. Not only for the fact he’s an exceptional talent but also because we in Vancouver got to see him for an entire season. Sure, we’ve seen prospects come through the Nat before but often it was for a cup of coffee, Marcus Stroman, playoffs only, Mitch Nay, or, if we were lucky, for the final month of the season, Dawel Lugo, Matt Smoral, Aaron Sanchez, etc.
Rarely have we had the pleasure of seeing a kid develop like we did Barreto. It was hard not to be impressed. Enough that I still want to do his prospect write up. I’m just thankful I no longer need to agonize over where he’ll slot in:
At only 18, Venezualen shortstop Franklin Barreto showed in 2014 why the Jays were willing to hand him $1.45 million a couple of years ago. As the youngest position player in the Northwest League, Barreto dominated, leading the circuit in multiple offensive categories, including hits, doubles (tied), runs scored, and total bases.
Simply put, he barrels the ball. A lot. Even his outs were loud. And despite his smallish size he shows impressive power to all fields. I saw a lot of balls hit hard to right field which died at the track. At the Nat that’s an impressive feat for left-handed power hitters, let alone right-handed hitting shortstops.
Usually, when discussing 18 year olds I’d now talk about projectability and how those doubles will eventually turn into home runs (he did hit six, five off the league lead) or the long outs will eventually bounce off the wall. With Barreto I’m not so sure. While I do believe he will get stronger as he matures he is far more advanced physically then most his age. I don’t think we can expect a huge jump in power as he ages.
That’s not a knock, his bat will play. He has very quick hands and a strong feel for the strike zone. A high leg kick timing mechanism does mean he can get out of whack at times as well make him susceptible to breaking balls away. But, hell, he’s 18, that can be ironed out.
Barreto flashes plus speed which will allow him to play small ball if necessary. He also shows a maturity beyond his years on the basepaths stealing 29 bags at an 85% success rate while taking extra bases at will.
Defensively, I’m in the camp that says he’ll eventually need to move off short. I don’t question his athleticism, I just don’t think that will be enough to overcome some pretty average footwork and a middling arm.
Of course, when he does move, whether it be to the outfield or to second, it means his bat will need to play up a bit more. And that will be the big question for him as he moves up the ladder.
Bottom line, I like Barreto quite a bit, and despite the couple of red flags mentioned, I think he will be the ultimate key to how we judge this trade 5 years down the road.
Throw in Brett Lawrie (the second most famous product of Brookswood S.S.) and it’s a lot to give up. Despite not having the highest ceilings, both Nolin and Graveman could very well find Oakland’s spacious stadium to their liking. While Barreto may develop into a quality major league hitter. And we all know the potential of Lawrie.
Even if that were all to happen though, look at what the Blue Jays are getting. A 28 year old third basemen who has four years of team control left and over the last two years has been the second best player in baseball by WAR behind the otherworldly Mike Trout.
The 6.4 fWAR he put up last season would have nudged Jose Bautista and his 6.3 total to second on the Jays. Some will argue that Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t filled a position of need but why? Like the Russell Martin signing, Dioner Navarro would have been perfectly adequate in 2015 but adequate doesn’t really win you championships.
I won’t even go into the clubhouse/leadership narrative, something I do think is important in both these moves, but something I’d only be speculating on. On the field, both these players are huge upgrades over what the Jays ran out in 2014.
It’s only December 1st. The off-season so far has been kinda fun. Am guessing there’s more to come.