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Ex Canadians to Get All-Star Experience

In case you missed it, two highly touted Toronto Blue Jays prospects are on their way to this year’s MLB Futures Game taking place during the all-star break festivities.  Although not at the same time, both Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey were briefly members of the 2012 Vancouver Canadians.  Making them (and my research on this is rather hazy) the first members** of the C’s to play in the game since the PDA with Toronto was signed.   Both players took very different routes to this stage, making it worthwhile to write another sweeping piece on the prospect capital the Jays have amassed.

For regular readers, me raving about Daniel Norris is probably getting a bit boring.  I’ve been on his bandwagon since day one, refusing to jump, like many others, during his early struggles.

Remember, Norris created a lot of buzz when he was drafted, being ranked anywhere from a 16 to 35 talent by draft pundits such as Keith Law and Baseball America.  It was seen as a bit of a coup (and a lot of money) for the Jays to get him locked in at 74.  So, if his stuff and makeup was generating a buzz heading into the draft, and subsequently the 2012 season, when he was a top 100 prospect for both Baseball America (91) and Baseball Prospectus (54) what happened between then and now?

Well, his stuff didn’t change, and his makeup, if anything, seemed to get stronger as stories of his work ethic emerged.  It was his delivery.  He struggled to repeat it.  Apparently he was locked in when in the bullpen but fell apart on the mound.  And, despite his reasonable peripherals, the 2012 counting stats were ugly.  Which had him falling off many a prospectors board.  Keith Law didn’t even put him in his Blue Jays top ten, let alone any milb top 100.

But as I said previously, the stuff was still there.  And, at the end of the day, what would you rather have in your prospects?  Upper end stuff (or athleticism) that gives that player a high ceiling but also the possibility that the player never figures out how to harness it?  Or mediocre abilities which work enough for said player to top out at say AA?  I know what I would want.  Judging by the Jays drafts under Alex Anthopoulos, they see things the same way.

Pitching deliveries, or mechanics, can be fixed (granted, not at a 100% success rate).  That’s what coaches are for.  And sure enough, Lansing pitching coach Vince Horsman (and I know it wasn’t just him, but as an example) went to work on Norris.  Only allowing him to use his fastball during the first half of 2013.  Making him control it in the bottom half of the zone before allowing him to introduce his plus secondary pitches.  That happened during the second half and what do you know?  Norris put together a pretty sensational couple of months post all-star break, which included a late season promotion to Dunedin.

All of a sudden he was back on prospectors boards as far as Blue Jays top tens were concerned.  A fabulous first half in Dunedin probably got the left-hander into some conversations as a top 100 again, but I think people were waiting to see what he’d do in AA.  And sure enough, in a ridiculously small sample size, he’s looked pretty freakin’ great:

I’m guessing BP won’t be the only one that has him as a top 50 come next off-season.

The point to this rambling diatribe?  With prospectors on a national level seemingly living by the mantra of what have you done for me this morning, those that follow the Jays organization have to learn to be patient.  There are a ton of kids in the system that have stuff to drool over.  They’re just trying to figure out how to harness it.

The most obvious one is none other than top prospect Aaron Sanchez.  BP recently wrote him up for their Eyewitness Accounts series, where, if read as a whole, it’s probably quite disappointing to a lot of Jays fans who had expected Sanchez to graduate soon as a top of the rotation hurler.

The money quote for me though when grading Aaron’s fastball:

‘pitch features plus-plus run; tons of movement; difficult for batter to square; at its best, pitch explodes at hitters; can be dominating offering when on’

In addition, Sanchez has two variations of a curveball:

‘both pitches are easy plus and more consistent feel with both will allow the combination to play to plus-plus level’

But with Aaron’s inability to command his pitches consistently, the author of the BP piece eventually throws this out in his summary:

reminds me a lot of A.J. Burnett in many ways; will look brilliant at times and lost at others; mid-rotation starter who will have streaks where he can shows more than that.’

Or, if not Burnett, how about Brandon Morrow as a comp.  But here’s the thing, and Jason Parks re-iterates this on our last podcast, who wouldn’t take Burnett or Morrow for six years of pretty cheap service?  I would.  Especially given fact that Sanchez may figure out his mechanics which would convert his stuff into a front of the rotation starter

The Jays organization is littered with these types of arms and as Parks says, a lot of systems have players that will never take that next step, whereas Toronto has a lot of guys who have very high ceilings, and if things come together, despite how things may look right now, it’s going to be a high-end system.

So for those worried about Matt Smorel‘s career 9.1 BB/9 rate or fact Jake Brentz is rocking a 12.3 BB/9 in his second go-round in the GCL.  Relax.  Smorel is 6’9″ and missed a full season with a broken foot.  His stuff will play.  A mid-90s fastball and potential wipeout slider?  Ya, he’ll miss bats, as shown by his debut Bluefield Blue Jays performance when strike outs accounted for eight of his nine outs.  It’ll just take a couple of years for his mechanics to be fully ironed out.  He’s a project, but one worth dreaming on.

Brentz is the same.  The Jays had to overpay him by 600k after drafting him in the 11th round of the 2013 draft.  That steered him away from the University of Missouri where he was committed as a position player!  He only started pitching as a junior in high school but gas from the left side will get you noticed.  And despite the second assignment in the GCL, things do seem to be improving.

Brentz is the epitome of a lottery ticket.  But at 700k, where’s the harm?  If he can learn to command his plus fastball then, once again, his stuff will play.  The Jays were right to try and see if they could be the ones to teach him.

Closer to home, the C’s have three pitchers who will both frustrate and delight at any given time.

Jairo Labourt was absolutely awful in Lansing earlier this season, walking 12.9 per 9.  A lefty that is 6’4″ 200+ pounds and can run it up to 97/98 mph??  You don’t give up on that.  And fans who were lucky enough to be at the Nat Saturday night saw some of the good side as the Dominican native threw six no-hit innings with three walks and six strike outs.

Miguel Castro is about as tall as Jairo, but checks in at a slightly less imposing 190 pounds (as an aside, when you see the two standing together, the difference in weight is definitely more than the 15 pounds baseballreference.com has).  With his height and lack of muscle, seriously, he has none, his mechanics are going to be a work in progress all season.  I saw the brilliant for six innings last Friday.  He was then equally as good through three in his next start in Hillsboro.  The wheels, however, fell off in the fourth as he was touched up for six runs on three walks, three hits and a wild pitch.

One of the best quotes from Jason Parks during our interview, which applies directly to Castro’s last start, was ‘short-season ball, I love it, but it’s schizophrenic’

Parks also talked about why he was so high on Alberto Tirado going into the season.  And bear in mind, Parks is big on upside (kinda like the Jays).  He said that he had spoken to a scout that raved about Tirado, saying that if everything clicks, you’re looking at a crazy high ceiling.  Obviously it hasn’t quite clicked for the Dominican righty as of yet, but at 19 (like Castro, not turning 20 until December) now is no time to panic.

Phew.  I kind of got off on a bit of a tangent there, talking about the plethora of high upside arms in the Jays system (and trust me, there was more I could have talked about) but let’s get back to the original protagonists of this post.

I know I didn’t talk about Pompey much, which I’ll do in more depth at some other point, but Keith Law over at ESPN.com had some pretty kind words to say about both Dalton and Norris:

‘The game will also serve as a coming-out party for several breakout prospects, including the Toronto Blue Jays’ two representatives, lefty Daniel Norris, now up to 96 mph and throwing strikes, and center fielder Dalton Pompey, a potential leadoff-hitter and talented athlete’

Pretty exciting.  Now, if only I can figure out if they show the futures game on Sportsnet.  I’m guessing with the Jays content, they will.

**I know Noah Syndergaard played last year, but has he’s not a member of the New York Mets organization, I’m using creative accounting and not counting him.

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