A.J. Jimenez, catcher - Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
It's time to start unveiling our top 10 Toronto Blue Jays prospects!
10. Christian Lopes - We kick off the top 10 with a draftee from the 2011 draft. Christian Lopes was a 7th round pick signed to a hefty over-slot bonus, because he was projected to go much higher. Lopes had been on the radar of major league scouts for a long time, but failed to increase his value in the eyes of the scouts in the year of the draft. Playing mostly for Bluefield in 2012, increasing his value is exactly what Lopes did, as he hit .280/.343/.484 with 4 home runs, 5 triples and 16 doubles. Despite the triples the reports are that Lopes doesn't have great speed, and he'll probably be a second baseman, not a shortstop like he was in high school. Despite questions about his defensive qualities, Lopes moved from number 42 on our list last year all the way up to the top 10. That's because at the plate Lopes has done everything we could have hoped for; he's hit for power, he's made contact and he's even drawn a decent number of walks. He's still a long way off, but we're optimistic on Lopes's future.
9. Alberto Tirado - If you thought Lopes made a big jump, Tirado's rise up prospect lists has been meteoric. The right-handed pitcher wasn't even on our top 50 last year, but here he is in the top 10 after just one season of minor league baseball. The results are exciting: 2.68 ERA in 37 Gulf Coast League innings with 34 strikeouts and 12 walks, with good groundball numbers as well. But it's not just the numbers that make Tirado an enticing prospect: the scouting reports are very good too. Baseball America reported that Tirado can hit 94-96 mph and still command his fastball low in the zone, with a good changeup to complement it. It should be obvious that Tirado is far from a "can't miss" prospect, but he is one of the more exciting arms to grace the lower minors. Here's hoping that Tirado can make us forget about the loss of Syndergaard and Nicolino.
8. A.J. Jimenez - A.J. Jimenez climbed only one spot on our list, despite the many graduations and trades. The reason for that is Jimenez's lost 2012 season; he required Tommy John-surgery early in the season. Before that, he was holding his own with the bat, making lots of contact and hitting line drives at a good clip. Power and walks are not a big part of Jimenez's repertoire, but they don't necessarily need to be; Jimenez is a very good defensive catcher and will likely get to the majors on that skill alone. Of course, we're hoping that the bat can contribute something as well, and if it does Jimenez should be a good major league catcher.
7. Daniel Norris - Daniel Norris was deemed to be the steal of the 2011 draft's second round, as the first-round talent accepted a large, but not huge, over-slot bonus from the Blue Jays. Norris's first season in the minors was a major disappointment, however, as the left-handed pitcher pitched to an abominable 7.97 ERA over 35 innings with Bluefield in the Appalachian league. How exactly he managed to do that with a 22.9% k-rate and a 7.8% bb-rate is a big mystery, because those numers look great. Baseball America reported that Norris was having problems repeating his delivery, but that the quality of his pitches was fine. 2013 will be a chance for Norris to bounce back, if he does not he'll find himself dropping down on prospect lists really quickly.
6. Matt Smoral - Another left-handed pitcher, Matt Smoral is a big guy at 6'8. A broken foot and high bonus demands dropped Smoral out of the first-round into the supplemental round, but on talent Smoral definitely belonged in the first round proper. That broken foot did keep Smoral from making his pro debut this year, so all we have to go on are the scouting reports, which are obviously quite positive, since they saw his as a first-round talent. Smoral can already pitch in the low-90s but that number could reportedly still rise. Smoral throws from a lower arm slot, which is unusual for lefties, and which is why it doesn't surprise me to hear comparisons to Madison Bumgarner. Smoral does need to work on his offspeed pitches, so there's plenty of things that could go wrong between now and Smoral's projected MLB debut (somewhere in 2016?).