Aspiring Jays: Franklin Barreto and lottery tickets

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

This week, Aspiring Jays talks about the youngest players aspiring to be big league Blue Jays someday.

Most of the time, I spend little attention to the Gulf Coast League scores, and even less to the Dominican Summer Leagues. Even more so than at other minor league level, the competition is not very strong and the games are more about the development of the players than winning championships, although winning probably still matters to the players themselves. The statistics we get from these leagues are therefore not very meaningful, and should probably not be used to argue the strength of one farm system over the other, for example. Still, this wouldn't be Aspiring Jays if we didn't take a look anyway, for some almost but not totally baseless speculation about the futures of these kids.

I already noted last week that Matt Smoral, Tyler Gonzales, Jake Brentz, Conner Greene and Evan Smith have not started too brightly because of control problems. Daniel Lietz, the 5th rounder of this year's draft, also has a high ERA at 5.70, but his other stats are solid. Clinton Hollon has started very brightly, while Rowdy Tellez has hit .161/.284/.179 in just 16 games. These 2013 draftees should benefit greatly from fall instructional leagues and extended spring training next year before they likely move up to Bluefield, where the games are played in front of an audience that cares, and the games themselves matter more.

The most interesting names on the GCL Blue Jays stat sheet are Franklin Barreto and Jesus Tinoco. Barreto was rated by Baseball America as the best overall international free agent from last year's class. According to them, he won't stick at shortstop most likely, even though he is very speedy and could possibly play center field. In other words, his defense could be an asset, but could also become a liability, it's just too early to tell. With the bat, he's supposed to hit well, and his .292/.363/.500 slashline doesn't disappoint; Barreto is the best 17 year old hitter in the Gulf Coast League currently, though 2013 draft picks Austin Meadows (.313/.398/.525) and J.P. Crawford (.389/.480/.537) have him beat. Interestingly, both were rumored to be Blue Jays targets, but Meadows was snatched away by Pittsburgh one pick before the Blue Jays could select him. Going back in time, we find that no 17-year-olds could come close to Barreto's performance in the GCL of 2012 or 2011, but Gary Sanchez of the Yankees was better in 2010: .353/.419/.597. However, Miguel Sano wasn't better. Jonathan Singleton was better, but Christian Bethancourt wasn't. Higher level flameouts Michael Almanzar and Jefry Marte were also better...but Ruben Tejada and Jesus Montero weren't. So yeah, anything could still happen, but the combination of age and performance is an encouraging one.

Jesus Tinoco is also young, but less so than Franklin Barreto. Unlike Barreto, Tinoco didn't skip the Dominican Summer League. Right now, Tinoco has just a 4.59 ERA, but with 34 Ks in 33 1/3 innings, to go with 15 walks and a good number of groundballs. It's clear that Tinoco has to get the walks under control, but he would probably also benefit from better defense behind him (his FIP is 2.60).

Here's what minor league pitching coordinator Dane Johnson had to say about Tinoco, in a fantastic interview by Gerry from Batter's Box:

Tinoco is a power righthander, a very interesting kid.  Nice delivery, smooth arm action, another guy at 93-95, sometimes 96, has hit 97.  Comes out good, the lanes on his fastball are good.  Again ne needs to corral the command, which has taken a nice turn for the positive since spring training.  Back then he just got to North America, trying to figure out what's it all about.  His curveball is 12-6, its going to be plus, and he has a good feel for the change-up.  Again it's about consistency and going out there and getting the reps every 5 days, 60 pitches every 5 days and we are seeing progress every time out.  He has a nice body, big physical looking kid.

Among pitchers who struggled a bit more than Tinoco in the Gulf Coast League are such pitchers as Jeff Locke, Chris Archer and Kyle Drabek. Oh and yes, Henderson Alvarez. Man, I didn't know Alvarez was doing so well. Well, that trade is looking better by the minute, just like that Dickey trade...

All in all, the Blue Jays have got themselves a lot of nice lottery tickets. Don't write off older lottery tickets either. Gabriel Cenas, for example, is finally hitting: .298/.378/.536 in the GCL, and he's still only 19. He's far from a top prospect, but it's still nice to see. More interesting than Cenas, though, is last year's number 13 from Baseball America's international free agent list: Richard Urena. This guy is supposed to be able to stick at shortstop and he's hitting a solid .294/.382/.407 in the Dominican Summer League. So yeah, lots of nice lottery tickets. The questions are: will they be winning tickets? And will Anthopoulos give them away or keep them?

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