Bluebird Banter Top 40 Blue Jays Prospects Countdown:  #20-11

Hope everyone is doing well this fine Tuesday.  Tom checked in with the third quartile of Jays prospects a few days ago, and I handled #40-31 a few days before that.  Continuing the countdown, here's the folks who check in at the level below the top 10, at least, in our view. 

20.  A.J. Jimenez (not ranked last season):  Somewhat lost in our bevy of solid catching prospects, the Puerto Rican backstop drafted in the 9th round of the 2008 draft has enjoyed a solid professional career thusfar.  He played most of this season in Lansing, with a late callup to high-A Dunedin, and had a very good year, hitting .305/.347/.435.  He also flashed some leather behind the dish, gunning down more than half of would-be base pilferers.  Jimenez might not have the lustre of some of the Jays' other catching prospects, but he offers solid two-way potential behind the plate, and that's valuable.  Of course, he's only 20 and will just be playing in High-A for the first time, so there's a long way to go.  In addition, he enjoyed a .362 BABIP this year and no catcher is going to be able to keep that going for very long, so he'll have to improve his approach and develop some more power (just 4 home runs this season for Lansing, though the 22 doubles are a good start) to continue to develop as a hitter.  Jimenez missed time in 2010 with an injury and has had nagging concerns about the possible need for ligament replacement surgery since he was drafted, which is why he slipped to the 9th round to begin with.  If not for the lingering injury concerns he'd be a little higher, but as a young catcher who has already had success on both sides of the ball, he could survive missing some time if he really had to. 

19.  Adonis Cardona (new to the system):  The Jays made a splash in the international market when they signed Cardona, a 16-year old Venezuelan righty, to a $2.8 million dollar contract this July.  Cardona is a big kid (6'4" and he might not be done yet) who is eminently projectable.  At 16, Cardona is already touching 93 with his fastball, with it sitting around 90.  Scouts believe he will be in the mid-90s when all is said and done.  His other pitches are a work in progess, but obviously that's to be expected at his age.  As easy as it is to get excited about Cardona, he's got a very long way to go ((he won't even be 17 until January) so the 19 is a compromise rating that takes into his account his great potential but also the understanding that he's far, far away and lots of things can happen.  Cardona spend some time with the Jays' Dominican Summer League team this season but didn't get into any competitive games.  

18.  Drew Hutchison (new to system):  Sickels liked Hutchison enough to include him in his top 20 Jays post, ranking him a C+.   While Hutchison was only a 15th-round pick, the Jays certainly didn't view him as 15th-round talent, signing him right at the deadline at a deal well above slot.  Hutchison, who turned 20 in August, is a strike-thrower with a just so-so fastball (87-92) that he throws from a low arm slot, generating a ton of ground balls (2.3 groundouts per air out, 64% GB rate at Auburn), as well as a slurvey breaking ball and a quality change.  Hutchison immediately showed his ability in the NY-Penn League (short season A), making 10 starts with a 2.60 FIP (3.00 ERA) and great strikeout (8.8 k/9) and walk (2.2 bb/9) numbers.  A pretty solid achievement for a high school kid in his first taste of pro ball, and good enough for Baseball America to pronounce among the NY-Penn League's top 20 Prospects.   Hutchison was promoted to Lansing, where he made just 5 starts but continued to hold his own (1.52 ERA, though he did see decreased ground ball and K rates).  Hutchison has drawn Shaun Marcum comparisons but his propensity to get grounders separates him from Marcum and makes him very intriguing.  I love guys who know how to pitch, not just throw, and Hutchison is one I'm excited to see more of as he seems to have a great feel for pitching at a young age.  He'll start 2011 at Lansing.    Along with Cardona, I had Hutchison ranked somewhat higher than Tom but Tom came around when his buddy Pat Hentgen had such kind words for Hutchison.

17.  Dickie Joe Thon (new to system):  Thon was drafted by the Jays out of the 5th round in June out of a Puerto Rican high school.  After a little drama regarding whether and for how much he would sign, he ended up signing for first-round money and foregoing his commitment to Rice University.  Thon just turned 19 and is the son of Dickie Thon, an infielder who enjoyed a nice long major league career for the Houston Astros (among other teams) and who was outspoken for his son both before and after the Jays drafted him.  Because of his late signing, Thon didn't get into any games in 2010, and he won't be ready for full season ball in 2011, so we'll have to wait a few months to see him play.  On the other hand, while Thon is described as very raw and probably could have benefitted from college instruction, he is a toolsy and well-regarded shortstop prospect.  I'm not quite as excited about Thon as Tom is, but there's no denying it's great to have a talent like him in the system, particularly if he can stick at short.  Sickels liked Thon a lot, ranking him 12 and giving him a B- grade, while Batter's Box had him at just 26, so we're in between.  Thon is playing in PR this winter, but has only gotten into one game. 

16.  Noah Syndergaard (new to system):  Syndergaard, a big Texan (6'5", 200 lbs and just turned 18 in August) was one of several young pitchers on whom the Jays used high draft picks in the June 2010 draft.  Syndergaard was chosen in the first supplemental round (38th overall) and signed in time to make 5 starts in the rookie league for the Gulf Coast Jays.  There's no doubt that Syndergaard is a good looking young pitcher, but how you feel about likely depends on how convinced you are by his breakout in his senior year of high school, in which he added velocity and really played himself onto draft prospect lists.  His velocity seemed to drop after he was drafted and he didn't show the same pop on his fastball in his 5 starts for the GCL Jays, but that could easily be tiring at the end of a long and busy season.  Syndergaard has already shown a mid-90s fastball and has spent a lot of time working on his curve and changeup since being drafted, but those pitches and his control still have a ways to go.  Syndergaard isn't ready for full-season ball, so he'll start 2011 either in Vancouver (Northwest League Short Season A) or Bluefield (Appalachian League, "Advanced" Rookie) following extended spring training.  Vancouver, West Virigina?  I've been to both and they're essentially the same thing as far as I can tell. 

15.  Moises Sierra (11th last season):  Sierra looked like a very impressive prospect following the 2009 season, in which he had a very nice season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (high-A) at the age of 20 (.286/.363/.393 with 31 extra-base hits).  Unfortunately for him, he had a disaster 2010 in which injuries (hamate bone, shin) almost completely prevented him from playing at all and limited him to under 80 plate appearances across Rookie ball and high-A.  Sierra, a righthanded, rifle-armed outfielder from the Dominican, has gotten a bit of action so far in the Dominican Winter League.   With 2010 a wash, it's hard to grade out Sierra, but even though he lost a year of development time, he was very successful in high A at 20 and so he could easily get back on track with a strong 2011.  I'd expect he will begin at high-A but move very quickly to AA if he starts off well.  The Jays protected Sierra by adding him to the 40-man roster, so he's still very much in their plans.  A strong defensive outfielder with improving walk rates and power that scouts expect to develop soon enough, it's way too early to give up on him, though maybe he should have dropped more from last year considering how much new talent there is. 

14.  Chad Jenkins (4th last season):  The Jays' first-round pick in 2009 (20th overall), I think people were a little unfair to Jenkins in their expectations.  Yes, Jenkins was 22 this season, but he did begin his professional career in full season A ball for Lansing, a fairly tough assignment, particularly considering that he did not go to one of the larger baseball colleges (though it certainly has the right name for a baseball school, Kennesaw State University).  If not dominant for Lansing, Jenkins was certainly very, very good, posting close to a 5/1 K/BB ratio over 79 innings (7.3 K/9, 1.5 BB/9) and generating excellent groundball rates.  Jenkins then went to Dunedin, where he continued to pitch well (2.33 K/BB and maintained the same strong groundball rate of 55%) but didn't get results quite as good (4.33 ERA at Dunedin compared to 3.63 at Lansing).  Looked at fairly, Jenkins had a very nice first professional season and only his age is working against him at this point.  I also think that groundball pitchers suffer from poor defenses in the minors, particularly at the lower levels of the minors, and so don't always get results in line with their performances.  Jenkins has a four-seam fastball he can dial up to 95-96, and a bread-and-butter sinker that sits in the low 90s.  His slider was very well regarded before he was drafted and his changeup is a work in progress.  Another way in which he has progressed is conditioning - he was said to have a "soft body" before being drafted but has shed some weight since then and now sits at about 6'4", 205.  I'm not disappointed at all by his 2010 and I think he's got a major-league future.  Tom likes him even better, he had Jenkins in the top 10 but I'm very excited by some of the power arms the Jays added to the system in 2010. 

13.  Asher Wojciechowski (new to system):  Tom liked Syndergaard better than Wojochieowski but I convinced him to flip them.  He gets confused by long names so you can't trust him.  The consensus on draft day was that the Jays had pulled off a nice move when they drafted Wojo out of the Citidel with the 41st overall pick in the 2010 draft.  Wojo, 21, only signed in time to get three starts for Auburn, but you can't complain about the results - 0.75 ERA and 11 Ks and 4 walks in 12 innings with lots of ground balls.  Wojciechowski's fastball was said to have been the best of the four (he, Aaron Sanchez, Deck McGuire, and the aforementioned Syndergaard), sitting at 92-94 and touching 96 with good movement.  Sickels loves Wojo, ranking him 4th overall with a B rating and even a note that he could have been a B+, which would be an extremely high rating for someone with such a small professional track record.  At 6'4" and 230 lbs, Wojo is a commanding presence on the mound.  Since's he's shown an above-average fastball and slider already, and with the Jays' proven organizational ability to teach the changeup, Wojo would seem to be a good candidate to be at least a solid starter, potentially with the ability to be more.  If his change doesn't develop his fastball/slider combo could make him a fearsome closer as a fallback.  I would have liked him up another place or two even.  Lansing to start 2011?  It'd be aggressive, maybe too aggressive, but I'd like it. 

12.  Eric Thames (19th last season):  We've been following Thames for years here on Bluebird Banter, and have liked him for a long time, but it used to come with the caveat "if he can only stay healthy."  Whether it was yoga (which he took up after injury problems in 2008 and 2009) or something else, who knows, but this season Thames seemed to put those injury issues behind him and it has turned him into a legitimate major-league outfield prospect, if an imperfect one.  Thames, a 7th round pick back in 2008 amidst injury concerns, had a great year in AA New Hampshire at the age of 23, hitting .288/.370/.526 with 27 home runs, 25 doubles, and 6 triples in 573 plate appearances.  This coming on the back of a 2009 where he posted a .313/.386/.487 with just 3 long balls at high-A Dunedin.  Part of that is likely getting out of the tough hitting environment in the FSL, but part of it looks like legitimate power explosion as he enters his mid 20s, and that's exciting.  Thames, a left-handed hitting, right-handed fielding outfielder, had a nice AFL cap-off to his season as well.  Thames doesn't come without reservation - he's defensively limited to a corner spot, he's not young, and there are questions about whether he'll be able to hit lefthanded pitching in the majors - but he has displayed enough skill with the bat to make him a potentially useful major-league outfielder and in a way it's impressive he has been able to go as far as he has so far considering his injury problems.  At the same time, he still has work to do both at the plate and in the field and he just turned 24, so it'll take a lot more hard work and some luck for him to make his way in the majors.  Tom and I both had Thames at 13 so he was an easy one. 

11.  Aaron Sanchez (new to system):  Sanchez, taken 34th overall in the 2010 draft out of a California High School, signed early and made the most of his professional debut, dominating the rookie league over his 8 starts to the tune of 13.3 K/9 and a 1.42 ERA (though he did walk 5.7/9), with strong groundball numbers besides.  He even made a couple of starts for Auburn at the end of the season, a nice top-off for him.  Like Syndergaard and Wojciechowski, Sanchez is a big (6'4"), projectable righty with a hard, mid-90s fastball.  That said, Baseball America mentioned that his fastball was too straight and thought his mechanics needed cleaning up.  Improving his control and command will be Sanchez's task for 2011, and he could find himself in Lansing by the season's end if he can do that.  Baseball America also thought that Sanchez had the greatest upside of the four so if he can harnass his skills, we could be looking at a real impact pitcher.  Sickels ranked Sanchez as a B prospect, right up there with Wojciechowski between McGuire (B+) and Syndergaard (B-).  Tom had Sanchez ranked 12 and I had him 11, so this was one of the easy ones for us.  He'll probably start 2011 in Bluefield or Vancouver. 

Well, that's that for now.  Post your own thoughts in the comments, and see you soon for the top 10 (and then later when Tom and I each do our "just missed out" lists where the real fireworks will begin over guys who only one of us wanted in the top 40 and who didn't make it)

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