Bluebird Banter's SB Nation sister-site Minor League Ball, the very fine work of the incredible John Sickels, released itsTop 20 Blue Jays Prospects last week.
Sickels gives out very few A or even A- grades (though the Jays have had a few in the past few years) and no Jays merited either honour this year. Brett Wallace (we took a long look at Wallace here), Zach Stewart (profiled by your friendly hosts here), and Kyle Drabek (profiled here) head the list (1-3, respectively) with B+ marks, with Wallace claiming top honours. Sickels actually prefers Zach Stewart's stuff to Drabek's, saying that Stewart could be either a fine number 2 starter or closer and that Drabek profiles as a number two or number three starter "assuming he keeps his head on straight."
Travis D'Arnaud takes 4th place and is the only B (Sickels calls him a "borderline B-"), meaning that all 4 of his Jays' top 4 prospects are products of either the Scott Rolen on Roy Halladay trades over the past few months. 2009 Draftee Chad Jenkins rounds out the top 5 with a B- (borderline B), meaning none of the Jays top 5 prospects were in the Jays organization at all before the June 2009 draft. If you were looking on the bright side, you'd say this was very impressive work by the Jays management to so quickly improve -- if you were more pessimistic, you'd focus on how barren the system was, and how glaring the Jays' failure to sign more of its 2009 draftees was.
Other notable choices:
8) Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Grade C+: Projectable and young with excellent command.
11) Jake Marisnick, OF, Grade C+: Very toolsy, but need pro data to see how raw he is or is not before ranking higher.
12) Eric Thames, OF, Grade C+: I like this bat a lot, but he needs to stay healthy, apparently a big "if" for him.
17) J.P. Arencibia, C, Grade C: Baseball America likes him a lot more than this, but both personal observation and his performance in Vegas make me very skeptical at this point. Power is there, but his approach to hitting is terrible. I see him as a reserve catcher.
Bluebird Banter commenter favourite Brian Dopirak didn't make the top 20 but was one of the first other "C" grade prospects mentioned. Jays outfielder Moses Sierra was also in the additional "C" prospects list. In summary, Sickels writes, and it's hard to argue:
The Blue Jays system was thin, and greatly benefits by the recent addition of Wallace, Drabek, and d'Arnaud this month. Stewart and Roenicke were acquired in trades this summer.
The Jays under former general manager J.P. Ricciardi took a lot of flak for focusing in polished college players in the draft. However, even when they brought in tools players, such as the high school hitters drafted in 2007 and various Latin American investments, the results were poor, leading me to wonder if the problems are as much in player development and coaching as much as in the drafting. The debacle of the 2009 draft is a huge blow: failing to sign the second, third, and fourth round picks speaks to serious problems with the Jays organization as a whole and hampers depth at the lower levels of the system for '10 and beyond.
In any event, the trades of the last six months help, and even beyond that the system is not completely barren, particularly with pitching. There are the makings of a good bullpen in the system, and if the top group of pitching comes close to meeting expectations, the future rotation looks solid. The hitting looks thin.
The inclusion of Thames and Marsinick helps the outfield somewhat, particularly with young hitters Adam Lind and Travis Snider manning outfield positions for the moment, but that's still a thin area. The infield is even worse, particularly the left side - Wallace looks good and Cooper managed a B- despite a mediocre season at AA, and there are a couple of okay looking second-basemen in the system, but there are no prospects better than "C" grade for the left side of the infield, and even the "C" guys are fading at this point.
The pitching looks solid and the truth is I'm not worried so much about pitching depth in the minors because the Jays rotation is so young and includes so many pitching prospects promoted from the system in the past few seasons. The Jays do an excellent job of developing and breaking in young pitchers (now keeping them healthy is another story).
We'd love to hear in the comments about your take on Sickels' ratings, who he is overrating or overlooking, and on the Jays' system in general.