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Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects: Mid Tier Love Part 1

I have had to re-position my goals somewhat when it comes to this list.  Originally, I hoped to get it done prior to the Vancouver Canadians luncheon.  That was a long time ago.  Now the hope is that everything is tied up sometime in mid March.  I’m sure we’ll wait with baited breath.

I’d also said I was going to split these in 10 player chunks with minimal player blurbs.  Turns out I say a lot of stuff that isn’t necessarily true.  The player profiles kept getting longer and longer.  So to avoid any reading induced comas I’ve split the middle tier into chunks of five.

The reason I included ‘love’ in the title is because the Toronto Blue Jays, under GM Alex Anthopoulos, have done very well in accumulating some high end talent to stock the lower minor league levels.  The first edition of my rankings, covering numbers 21 through 30 covered quite a few of these kids, including a run on big, projectable, potential power left-handed pitchers.

This edition continues that theme with four players who have some serious ceilings.  Three of whom we may very well see in Vancouver next season. The fifth is a guy that had fallen off the radar somewhat before a strong 2014 put him back in the prospect conversation.

16 RHP Clinton Hollon – Like Tom Robson, 2013 2nd rounder Clinton Hollon’s ranking is a bit of a crapshoot as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.  Unlike Robson though, Hollon’s surgery was no surprise. Both the Jays and Hollon knew there was a tear prior to the draft which was why Clinton signed for about half of his slot value. They tried to work through it before eventually succumbing to the inevitable.

Prior to the surgery, it seemed like Hollon was throwing the ball pretty well with a low to mid 90s fastball and, by many accounts, a potential plus slider.  Of course, the sample size was miniscule.

Historically the Jays wait a minimum of 12 months before allowing a TJ recipient to get back into games.  If all goes well, that could mean Clinton is on one of the short season rosters heading north in mid-June.  More realistically?  We’ll probably see him somewhere in mid to late July.

2014 Ranking – 24

2015 Team – Could be Vancouver, dependent on recovery time

Vancouver Canadians Chances – Good

17 2B/3B/OF (?) Lane Thomas – The third member of the Jays 2014 draft class to make this list and the only player that Toronto really went over slot with this past year.  Drafted as an outfielder, the Tennessee high school product was the only HS draftee to make it out of the complex league (I’m excluding SRF’s playoff ‘promotion’ to Vancouver).

At 6’1″ 210 pounds, Thomas is a high end athlete with plus speed and a strong arm.  His pre-draft scouting reports pointed towards a more contact orientated approach at the plate with below average raw power.  One pro season does not make the player but his 2014 stats seem to bear out the reports.

In order to add some flexibility to his game the Jays moved Lane around a bit defensively, trying him at third, where a scout told me ‘he was ok at best. The athleticism is there, but he struggles mightily with his footwork. He’s such a natural athlete that he does a better job with tougher plays. When he doesn’t have time to think and can just rely on instincts and athleticism, he’s fine, but on routine plays, when he has time to setup and make a throw, he struggles.’

I heard he was given reps at second at instructs.  You can look at this a couple of ways.  Toronto is testing him given his superb athleticism.  Or they’ve realized he needs to be flexible defensively for his bat to play.  Will be interesting to see what happens in 2015.

2014 Ranking – NR

2015 Team – Vancouver

Vancouver Canadians Chances – Good

18 C Dan Jansen – A 16th round pick in 2013 out of Wisconsin (definitely not a prep baseball factory) Jansen’s big 2014 in Bluefield has garnered quite a bit of ink this off-season.  As Baseball America’s Clint Longenecker said in his Blue Jays prospect chat ‘He has plus bat speed and has the potential to hit for at least average power from a strong, powerful and physical build after producing a .202 ISO this year.’

Defensively, he took some big strides last year as well, improving his receiving skills while his arm should play.  So, will stick at catcher, hits for power and walks almost as much as he strikes out (0.94 BB/K ratio)?  I may look like a mug for having him so low.

But will he lead the system in WAR600 next year as well?

2014 Ranking – NR

2015 Team – Lansing

Vancouver Canadians Chances – Historically the Jays have always tested 3rd year players who had good years in Bluefield with full-season assignments.  I fear this case will be no different.

19 2B Dwight Smith Jr. – After two ho-hum seasons, Smith Jr, a 2011 supplemental round pick, had fallen off the prospect map.  He didn’t exactly set the world alight in 2014 but he did hit.  And that’s a skill that will take you places.

In the notoriously tough Florida State League, the Georgia native maintained a respectable 10.9% walk rate while cutting down on his strike outs (from 17.1% to 12.9%) and hit for more power, improving his ISO by 65 points.

Defensively he was always labelled as a fourth outfielder at best so the Jays got him some reps at second (seem like a theme) in the Arizona Fall League and Shi Davidi seemingly confirms that he’ll be making the transition full-time during his time in major league camp.  Bit of an odd decision given that Devon Travis is only two years older than Dwight and seemingly has a leg up on the position but as I wrote back in December, it’s possible the Jays envision a Ben Zobrist like role for Smith Jr.

2014 Ranking – 25

2015 Team – New Hampshire

Vancouver Canadians Chances – Non-existent

20 RHP Alberto Tirado – Things really couldn’t have gone worse for Alberto in 2014.  After quite a bit of prospect buzz (BP had him 76 in their top 100) going into the season he received a pretty aggressive assignment to Lansing.  He was crap.  The Dominican right-hander couldn’t throw strikes, walking 8.78/9 while also giving up over a hit an inning.

He was demoted to Vancouver when the short-season opened where it was hoped he could gain a bit of confidence in a lower league.  Ya, that didn’t really work out either.  He lost his starting role after a two outings and was shut down due to ‘shoulder fatigue’ which was actually a mental break..

The stats say things weren’t much better in the NWL. His BB% did drop, although marginally.  His batting average against was excellent but the drop was proportional to a reduction in his BABIP.

So why is he still in the top 20?  I saw him pitch near the end of the season (over his last seven appearances Tirado struck out 20 in 17 IPs while only giving up .447 OPS against) and was blown away.  His arm speed is incredible.  His fastball sat in the mid 90s with late arm side run and his slider had late, sharp break and great depth.  All were thrown from the same slot.

So, like the big left-handers we are being patient with as they iron out their mechanics, how do you punish a 19 year old kid (he only turned 20 in December) too much who struggles to control the exceptional movement on his 2-seamer?

2014 Ranking – 11

2015 Team – Lansing

Vancouver Canadians Chances – Really hope not

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