20. Tyler Pastornicky – SS, DOB: 12/1989; 5’11", 170 lbs, Bats R, Throws R: Pastornicky, the Jays’ 5th round pick in the 2008 draft, did a nice job in the GCL last season after being drafted out of his florida high school. Pastornicky held his own, improving as the season progressed, and putting up a .706 OPS, quite a bit better than our 2007 high school draftees did in the GCL last season. Pastornicky showed excellent speed (27 steals to 5 CS) and a nice eye at the plate (21 walks to 21 Ks, in 181 plate appearances) and has time to develop his power. Pastornicky also played solid defense, showing a steady glove, strong arm, and good range, especially impressive given his youth (though, if Aaron Hill is to be believed, collegiate athletes don’t spend much time on defense anyway). However, Dick Scott, the Blue Jays farm director mentioned that he thought Pastornicky was "more of an offensive player" so maybe the Jays have seen something they’re not crazy about defensively? The Jays have little depth at SS that they are likely to bump Justin Jackson up to Dunedin, at least to start the season, and so look for Pastornicky (anyone have a good nickname?) to begin at Lansing, which is in step with his solid debut. Could be a very nice pick by J.P. here.
19. Davis Romero – LHP, DOB: 3/1983, 5’10", 160 lbs: Davis, the "other Romero," missed the entire 2007 season with TJ surgery, but came back strong in 2008. Romero started 23 games for Syracuse and did a nice job, putting up a 3.71 ERA and striking out 7.4/9 Innings while walking only 2.45/9. Romero originally seemed slated for a sure bullpen role, but the long-term signing of Scott Downs, the quality job Brian Tallet has done, and the emergence of Jesse Carlson more than filled the Jays’ major-league lefty relief needs. Romero improved as the season went on and could be useful in a starting role as the Jays’ rotation is packed with question marks, but he would seem to be more of a contingency option in a starting role. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Jays part with Tallet and count on Romero to fill the long-man role, with a potential call-up to a starting job possible should he pitch well. That said, Davis is hardly the Jays’ only minor-league option, so he will have to continue to pitch well. Romero’s stuff, which is solid if unspectacular, plays better against fellow lefties.
18. Brad Emaus – 2nd Base, DOB: 3/1986, 5’11", 200 lbs, Bats/Throws R: Brad Emaus, a proud alumnus of the same college as yours truly (Go Green Wave!), had a slow start to his professional career following being drafted in 2007 in the 11th round, but really picked it up this season. Due more to the dearth of infielders in the Jays system than what he had previously shown (though he did do a great job for Auburn during their playoff run last season), Emaus skipped Lansing and went straight to the Dunedin Jays and the Florida State League, and he had a great season, hitting .302/.381/.463 and being rated the best defensive second baseman in the league. Emaus showed an excellent eye at the plate, walking 60 and striking out only 56 times in 533 plate appearances, while also putting up solid power numbers (49 EXH including 12 dingers). Emaus is a big fella, but if his conditioning doesn’t keep him at second, he also plays the infield corners. Obviously, Jays fans hope he can stay at the keystone, but Emaus’ versatility is a plus with Aaron Hill signed long-term. Emaus is currently destroying the ball in the Hawaiian Winter League, and folks are noticing. I sure wish there was a Hawaiian Winter League for young lawyers.
17. Eric Eiland – Center Field, DOB: 9/1988, 6’2", 200 lbs, Bats/Throws L: Eiland, a toolsy outfield prospect who was drafted in 2007’s 2nd round and who is currently a teammate of Emaus’ in Winter ball, struggled in Lansing this season. Eiland has plus speed but has not yet translated his fine athleticism into quality hitting, managing only a .233/.334/.305 line last season after also struggling in the GCL in 2007. Eiland could have played baseball or football in college but the Jays, in Keith Law’s words, "stole" him in the 2nd round. That bit of thievery hasn’t worked out yet, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Eiland has improved his bat control and discipline at the plate, though not yet enough to make a huge difference in his overall numbers. He possesses great bat speed, which is a strong indication that the power will come. His speed is formidable, and he boasts fine baserunning instincts (23/24 on the bases this season) as well. He didn’t get as many at-bats as he needed this season, so it’s reasonable to think he will improve with a repeat of Lansing, which is sure to be his assignment. The sky is still the limit for Eiland, though not any closer now than it was when he was drafted.
16. Tim Collins – LHP, DOB: 8/1989, 5’ 7", 155 lbs: Collins only had one of the best 2008 seasons of any Jays’ farmhand, posting insane H/9 and K/9 ratios of 4.7 and 12.9, respectively, en route to a 1.58 ERA in 68 relief innings for Lansing. The Worcester, Massachusetts native was even more impressive considering his youth (18 years old for the entire season) and his ability to pitch multiple innings per appearance. Why, then, is this young phenom not ranked higher? Well, his size really works against him in the estimation of many scouts, though being more or less of the same height and build (he’s got 10 pounds on me, assuming he’s listed accurately), I’m not inclined to hold that against him. The bigger difficulty is that his stuff isn’t overpowering – he mixes in a high-80s fastball and a 12-6 curve, as well as an average (at best) changeup. Sounds a bit like Jesse Carlson, actually, albeit with a different breaking pitch. It will be very interesting to follow Collins and see whether he continues to impress as he did this season.
15. Balbino Fuenmayor – 3rd base, DOB: 11/1989, 6’3", 195 lbs, Bats/Throws R: Balbino, a rare splash for the Jays in the international free agent market (2006), didn’t impress as a 17-year old in 2007 in the GCL, but given a chance to repeat that level, he soared. Fuenmayor hit .307/.360/.458 as an 18-year old and is still very much on track in his development. The young Venezuelan still struck out too often, but he improved measurably in that area, and all other areas, this season. He is sure to be the starting 3rd baseman for Lansing this season, and it will be interesting to see what he does with the job. Certainly the ceiling is high, and Jays brass having nothing but praise for his work ethic and his improved feel for hitting over the past season. Could very well crack the top 10 next season with a strong 2009.
14. Scott Richmond - RHP, DOB: 8/1979, 6’5", 225 lbs: The only top 30 prospect to be born in the 70s, Richmond will be 29 next season. However, pitchers develop at different rates and it’s not unthinkable that Richmond could be a solid contributor to the Jays in the short term. Richmond, a North Vancouver native, was signed as a non-drafted free agent last October (see, stuff does happen this month even for non-playoff teams) from the independent Edmonton Cracker Cats. Other than being slightly homer-prone, Richmond showed an ability to not beat himself by throwing strikes. Richmond especially pitched well at Syracuse, where he struck out just over 3 times as many as he walked (7.5 / 9 to 2.44 / 9), and earned himself a call-up just before the all-star break to replace an ineffective David Purcey. Although he deprived himself of a chance to pitch for Team Canada in the Beijing Olympics, Richmond didn’t seem to mind. He did quite a nice job for the Jays in 5 starts, never beating himself and ending with a 4 ERA and a miniscule 0.67 BB/ 9 IP ratio en route to a staggering 10/1 K/BB ratio. That won’t continue, but Richmond’s ability to limit walks and strike out a reasonable amount did seem to translate to the big club. Richmond throws a low-90s fastball, a quality slider with a nice, tight break, a changeup, and a curve. I could see his fastball/slider combo playing well as a righthanded reliever, and he has had a little more trouble with lefties. Richmond improved as the season progressed, putting up excellent efforts in his last two starts, and didn’t put up a clunker in 5 starts, which isn’t bad for a rookie pitcher. The big righty looks like he will compete for a starting job in 2009, and if that doesn’t happen, he could still make the team as the swingman or as a righty reliever, depending on what happens with Frasor/Wolfe/Accardo. His ceiling isn’t likely to be too high, but I liked what he showed this season and so did the Jays.
13. Brian Jeroloman – Catcher, DOB: 5/1985, 6’0", 200 lbs, Bats L, Throws R: I have to admit, I’m not as taken with Jeroloman (who, incidentally, hails from the same town as Mrs. Hugo) as others. Perhaps that’s a case of not really having access to what he does well, which is defense. Brian has perennially been ranked as one of the finest defensive catchers in the minor leagues. That will likely be enough to earn him a ticket to the majors as a backup catcher, at least. What remains to be seen, though, is how much he will hit. Brian did show some progress this season with his hitting, but his offensive skills still rest almost entirely on his excellent plate discipline. The question is whether those skills will hold up as he faces better pitching and as he has not shown the ability to hit for power (and his mediocre bat speed has scouts questioning whether he’ll even be able to hit .250 in the majors). Jeroloman did manage a .146 ISO (isolated power, apart from batting average) in AA this season, which was a big improvement. He didn’t do anything after a callup to Syracuse (.200/.302/.227 in 75 at-bats) but that’s okay. Brian is considered to already be major-league ready behind the plate, and he gunned down 40% of runners this season, quite impressive, no doubt. This season will be a big test for him – if he continues to hit, his discipline will make him an average offensive performer and he will be taking playing time away from Barajas before anyone knows it. But if he doesn’t show he can hit, I’m guessing his plate discipline will desert him and he will end up as a backup. Brian will be 24 this season and so he is still young enough to improve, particularly as catchers often develop late offensively. He looks to avoid the pitfalls that Thigpen and Diaz underwent in AAA, where their sticks deserted them. For what it’s worth, ZIPS has him at .226/.320/.313 this season, which suggests that Barajas should still be doing the lion’s share of the work behind the plate until Brian shows he is ready, but a better line than they have for Thigpen.
12. Robert Ray – RHP, DOB 1/1984, 6’4", 185 lbs: Robert Ray had a great 2008 season, split between high-A Dunedin and AA New Hampshire (where he posted a 3.18 ERA over 16 starts). The Jays 7th round pick in 2005, Ray stepped forward after it was feared he had stalled at Dunedin (2008 was his 3rd year there). To be fair, his 2006 and 2007 were marred by injury. Ray, who will be 25 next season, is at that familiar place for a minor league pitcher: he has a plus fastball, getting it up to 93/94 and with good late movement. His change has improved enough for him to succeed as a starter in the minors and likely in the majors in a relief role. However, he needs to further develop his offspeed stuff if he is going to have a shot at succeeding as a major-league starter. He does a nice job limiting walks and home runs, and his K rate, reasonable now, will improve if he can get that offspeed stuff working better. He is likely to start 2009 as a member of Las Vegas’ rotation. That will be a test for him and for all Vegas’ starters, as it is a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league, unlike Cuse and New Hampshire.
11. Marc Rzepczynski – LHP, DOB 8/1985, 6’3", 205 lbs: "Zep" is a little behind, being 23 and having just spent his entire age 22, 2008 season in A-ball Lansing. But it’s not really his fault, as a broken hand delayed his start to the season and, ultimately, cost him the chance to move up. Zep was drafted in 2007 as a rising college senior and so is reasonably polished, and has shown that in the low minors. Zep’s game is combo-ing a nice K rate with great groundball numbers (a 3-1 GB/FB ratio). He’s a southpaw with the usual 4-pitch arsenal (average, not great fastball, but certainly passable for a lefty) who has improved his pitching against right-handers, which bodes well for his future as a starter. My guess is that Zep will begin 2009 at Dunedin but will move up very quickly if he pitches well to New Hampshire.
Well, that’s it for #11-20. Boy, it is a lot more fun analyzing our farm system than it has been in the past. That said, there’s still lots of work to be done. Join us soon for the countdown to number 1, and let loose with your comments and impressions!