Hi everyone. So we've spilled a lot of virtual ink discussing our hatchling Jays valiantly pecking their way through the shell of our minor-league system. Tom took a look at last year's top 30 and how they fared this season in a three-part series. We've looked over the various accounts around those in the know, solicited your kind and sage advice and feedback, and put together Bluebird Banter's Top 30 Jays Prospects for 2010.
But before we delve into the Top 30, let's take a look at those who didn't quite make the cut, but who could easily see themselves moving into our Top 30 with a good season.
- Kevin Ahrens, 3B - It was not a good year for the Jays' switch-hitting third baseman and J.P. Ricciardi's favourite Chipper Jones comparator. After a 2008 where Ahrens didn't break out but held his own at Lansing, he really struggled this season, hitting .215/.282/.302. Ahrens seems to have a decent eye at the plate and cut down on his strikeouts this season, but all other aspects of his game fell off significantly. It feels harsh to drop him completely off our prospect list, particularly as he'll be only 21 this season and surely will start again in Dunedin, but his high draft status only goes so far - he needs to start showing results or later draftees will start passing him in the system.
- Reidier Gonzalez, RHP - Gonzalez had a nice season for AA New Hampshire, going 4-6 with a 2.90 ERA over 17 starts (he missed time with a groin strain). He's not an overpowerer at all, but does a good job keeping the ball on the ground, including averting the long ball, and not walking many batters. The Jays have had a few similar pitchers in the past few years, who have succeeded at the lower levels but not at AAA or above, and that could happen to Gonzalez, particularly given the hitter-friendly nature of the PCL. As a sinkerballer, he depends a lot on the infield defense behind him. Reidier pitched mostly out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League this autumn and put up decent numbers in just 16 innings. He'll be 24 this season.
- Egan Smith, LHP - Smith was a 7th round pick in this year's draft and the lefty got off to a very nice start in Auburn, where he put up solid numbers across the board over 9 starts. The College of Southern Nevada product showed ability to strike batters out (8.4 K/9) to not issue free passes (2.4 K/9), and to keep the ball down, always a good combination. The Jays have a very crowded system in terms of lefty starters, so Smith will have to excel to stand out.
- Charles Huggins, LHP - Huggins, a late round pick in 2008 out of UC - Santa Barbara, started 2009 in Lansing where he quickly played himself out of the level. Over 7 starts, the 23-year old shut opponents down cold (1.57 ERA, 40/11 K/BB over 32 innings). Although it's not unusual for an older pitcher to dominate at a lower level, Huggins did well at Dunedin as well, going 5-3 with a 3.25 ERA over 17 starts (and one relief appearance) and surviving a hit in his K numbers (7.5 K/9) while continuing to limit the free pass. Huggins struggled upon initial promotion but really buckled down, posting a 1.63 ERA, a sub-1.00 Whip, and almost a strikeout per inning over his last 10 starts. He was still old for the level, so the real test will be to see how he does in AA. Huggins isn't dissimilar to Jesse Carlson in that he has a slingly delivery and is a changeup-breaking ball specialist with an average fastball.
- Sean Ochinko, C/1B - The Jays like LSU players (why wouldn't they, after Aaron Hill?) and 2009 11th round pick Ochinko is one of several former residents of the Red Stick that the Jays have drafted recently. The Silver Spring, MD native (w00t!) had a great season for Auburn, hitting .324/.382/.527 with 20 doubles, 6 home runs, and 32 RBI over 52 games and winning Auburn's MVP award. Ochinko played a lot of first base in high school, but the Jays seem to be giving him a shot to stick behind the plate, using him equally at catcher, first, and DH last season. If there's a flaw in his offensive game (besides speed, which isn't unusual for a catcher), it's that he's not particularly patient at the plate. With his power, pitchers are going to be wary, and that gives the 22-year old a chance to improve that skill in 2010, where he'll start at Lansing but hope to move up to Dunedin. He could easily play himself up on our list with a big 2010, and had a strong case for the top 30 based on his strong showing at Auburn, but I'd like to see if it sticks. Before 2009, he wasn't a heavy hitter in college.
- Yan Gomes, C/1B - The other guy behind the plate for the Doubledays, the Sao Paulo native and University of Tennessee product didn't let himself be crowded out by Ochinko, putting up solid numbers of his own at Auburn after the Jays drafted him a round before Ochinko. Gomes isn't as powerful as Ochinko but is a solid hitter from the right-hand side. He hit .300/.370/.439 for Auburn (well, a handfull of Rookie Ball at-bats) with 23 doubles (and 2 triples) in 60 games. Gomes crushed lefties (1.115 OPS in 56 PAs) but struggled a bit against righties (.715 OPS in 189 PAs) so that's something for him to work on this season at Lansing.
- Bobby Bell, RHP - The switch-hitting pitcher (at least he was in college) was an 18th round pick by the Jays in 2008. He mainly pitched out of the bullpen for Rice and continued to do so (quite well - can you say 43/0 K/BB ratio over 30 innings out of the pen in 2008, granted old for both levels at which he played) in his first season in the Jays' organization. Halfway through last season Bell switched to starting and continued to shine, going 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA, 9.0 K/9, and very few walks (56/10 K/BB) over 10 starts for Dunedin. He was 23, though, and it was only 10 starts, so he'll have to work his way onto our top 30 by continuing his rise as a starter in the high minors. Jays scouting director Dick Scott loves his changeup and curveball, so he's got enough pitches to make it as a starter.
- Mark Sobolewski, 3B - a 4th round pick in 2008, the righthanded third baseman has held his own over a professional season and a half, but not yet broken out. He hit .249/.311/.355 this season for Lansing, dragged down by a horrid June. I think he may start the season at Lansing again this season. He'll be 23, so he'll want to play himself out of there fairly quickly.
- Luis Perez, LHP - The Dominican lefty had a nice season for AA New Hampshire, going 9-11 with a 3.55 ERA and a 112/67 K/BB ratio over 162 1/3 innings, all but one of which was out of the starting rotation. He did a very nice job against lefty hitters. Perez is a groundball specialist whose K rate really declined in AA, while his walk rate declined. He's not a bad pitcher, but might be more suited to a lefthanded relief role in the majors. The 25-year old Perez will be part of AAA Las Vegas' rotation this season.
That said, there are a ton of other players Tom and I have looked at that could also have been good candidates for inclusion in this post. Chances are, more than one of these, and more than one of them, will make their way into the top 30 by the end of 2010.
Well, that's it for now. Join us next time when Tom will begin our Top 30 countdown!