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I Work These Hands to Bleed; I've Got These Mouths to Feed: Prospect Midseason Report, vol. 1

Thanks to Ryan Adams (not your inferior Canadian B-Ryan version and definitely don't call him that unless you want to be evicted from the 9:30 club) for today's title, from the beautiful sad song "In My Time of Need," off Heartbreaker, his finest record   By the way, best shows I ever saw (and there have been hundreds if not thousands) was an all-acoustic show - Tegan and Sara and Ryan Adams, with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.  Unfortunately, Ryan Adams also put on, by far, the worst show I ever saw, so there's that).   I thought it appropriate since we will be looking at the Jays' farm system and the song is about a farmer.  Anyway, we'll be looking at the Jays top 10 prospects, as we defined them in this LOTR themed post.  Things have obviously changed, but we won't update the rankings until later on. 

1.  Travis Snider.  Moonraker has had a tough time of it.  Travis essentially was given the starting left field job before Spring Training even starter, and he did have a fine spring.  Unfortunately that only carried about two weeks into the regular season before cracks started showing themselves.  Travis couldn't hit much of anything after that, and soon found himself back at AAA.  Sadly, Moonraker didn't even have a chance to get his feet under him before going down to shoulder and back injuries, and he hasn't even swung a bat in weeks.  He'll try to get on track now that he's been reactivated and could be a September callup (or even earlier, though I tend to doubt that) for the team.  Looking behind the numbers, Snider wasn't the victim of bad luck in the majors- just bad hitting.  Quite the opposite, his numbers are actually better than his 13.9% line drive rate would suggest.  Travis needs to refne his eye at the plate (6.6% walk rate this season, no different than his callup last year) before he finds consistent big-league success.  That said, there's no reason to think his future is any brighter than it was before the season - the most worrying thing about this year isn't the 21-year old's hiccup, but the injury (from which he was just activated).  It wouldn't surprise me to see him put together a nice second half and head into next year ready to make some waves.

2.  Brett Cecil - Cecil wasn't expected to pitch in the bigs this early, particularly after flaming out early on in his spring training bid, but a steady stream of injuries has caused him to make 6 starts and find his way into the Jays' rotation.  His 5.09 ERA doesn't look very impressive, but in truth Cecil has been quite good, with 4 good starts and 2 ERA-inflatingly poor ones.  Brett has a 24/10 K/BB ratio over his 35 innings, and is more the victim of bad luck on home runs than anything else. With his sinking fastball, Cecil has always had devastatingly good HR rates in the minors, but he ran into a patch of HRs in the majors, particularly in one start against Boston in which he yielded 4 long balls.  Cecil displayed a very good fastball, albeit one over which he could have more control, a world-class slider, and a decent changeup.  I think his curve needs some work; he seemed to have trouble throwing it for strikes and he hung the occasional one too.  With so many Jay pitchers hurt, it looks like Cecil has some more opportunity to show what he can do, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him put together a nice second half.  I would like to see the team leave him in the majors at this point unless he pitches his way down.  

3.  J.P. Arencibia - Arencibia essentially entered this season with two main goals - continue to work on his defense, and develop an improved approach at the plate.  While his defense has continued to progress, his approach at the plate has been another story.  I thought the Jays were a little aggressive in starting Arencibia at AAA, and he has had some problems there - hitting just .236/.291/.417.  That said, he has improved his walk rate - he already has 16 walks this season (in 287 plate appearances) after drawing just 18 all of last season (528 PAs).  It's not a drastic difference and still is just a 5.6% walk rate, but it is something.  While Arencibia's hitting hasn't been fantastic, he has turned it on some recently, and while he only has 8 HRs so far after hitting 27 last season between AA and AAA, he has 23 doubles and a triple already, which is encouraging.  Unfortunately, he was recently put on the DL - let's hope it's not a serious injury.  Although Arencibia hasn't progressed as fast as some of us would have hoped, he is holding his own and remains one of the better catching prospects in the game.  He might not start 2010 in the majors, but he could be an early callup and an impact player that season.

4.  David Cooper - Cooper looked like he was on the fast track to the majors after he jumped from Auburn to Dunedin and then, just as quickly, to New Hampshire last season, but his development has hit a snag so far this season.  Cooper has shown a nice eye at the plate (10.4% walk rate) but hasn't shown much power yet (19 extra-base hits, including just 4 home runs).  At 22, he has plenty of time to figure out double A.  That said, a big second half would go a long way toward demonstrating that his first-round selection in 2008 was a wise one.  As an underpowered first baseman with subpar defense, the margin for error isn't large with Cooper. 

5.  Justin Jackson - Jackson entered this season possessing a strong defensive reputation but some question marks as to how he might develop offensively.  That's still very much true of the 20-year old.  Jackson looked pretty good in spring training but really struggled to start the season, striking out in over 1/3 of his at-bats and not hitting much of anything.  He returned from injury and was good at first but, since then, has continued to struggle at the plate, hitting just .233/.354/.291 on the season and .217/.360/.275 this month.  The walk rates are very nice (15.6% this season) but that won't last if he can't start hitting more.  He continues to strike out at a rather alarming rate (36%) so making consistent contact will be his primary goal for now.  That said, Jackson is young for Dunedin and so it's not a huge surprise to see him struggle in the first half.  The key will be seeing if he develops at all this second half.  In the field, he continues to draw accolades, though he has also made 16 errors thusfar. 

6.  Kevin Ahrens - Ahrens, another 20-year old playing at Dunedin, has had some similar problems to Jackson - namely, making contact.  Ahrens is hitting just .230/.307/.305 and not showing much in the way of power.  The switch-hitter has been a bit unlucky on balls in play, it looks like, and, unlike Jackson, he hasn't had much of a  problem with strikouts (22%), though he also hasn't walked as much (9.5%).  Bottom line, both Jackson and Ahrens are practically teenagers playing A+ ball, so that they are struggling isn't a shock. 

7.  Scott Campbell - a bit of a personal favourite, Campbell continues in his quest to become the first native New Zealander to play in the major leagues.  Campbell impressed a lot of people this spring after a very strong AA season last year, but of course there was no room for him on the big league team so it was a foregone conclusion that he'd end up in Las Vegas.  AAA wasn't kind to Campbell the first time around, and he was unlucky in that just when he started going, he got hurt and missed several weeks.  He recently returned and was doing quite well in AA, working his way back up, but then got hurt again.  It's quickly turning into a lost season for the Kiwi and he'll try to get healthy and get himself back into AAA and hopefully put up some better numbers.

8.  Brad Mills - Mills has had an interesting season.  He drew a lot of good remarks in the spring, staying in the race for a rotation spot until the bitter end, when Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond won out instead.  But Mills has had an up-and-down season since then.  He started off terribly in Las Vegas, walking more batters than he struck out in April, before settling down in May.  He struggled in June, though, until he was somewhat surprisingly called up when Casey Janssen and Doc Halladay went on the DL.  With the Jays, neither of Mills' two starts could be said to be successful, but he did show his potential striking out 9 over his 7 2/3 innings.  However, he had a ton of trouble throwing strikes (7.04 BB/9) and when he did, they got pounded (4 HR and a .442 BABIP against).  Mills needs to keep the ball down (his flyball rates are troubling) and get ahead in the count to be successful, and he wasn't able to do that for the Jays.  Back in AAA, though, Mills got back on track immediately with a gem of a start yesterday - 8 shutout innings, 2 hits, 7 Ks, and just 1 walk.  His overall minor league numbers aren't bad, especially for the PCL, so it's just a question of doing it consistently. 

9.  Ricky Romero - What is there to say about Romero?  Tom already covered Romero's progress, and it has been most impressive.  I'm not sure he will pitch in the minors again (save a rehab start here or there).  Yes, Romero has been the beneficiary of good luck (87% of runners stranded isn't sustainable) and/or good defense (4.04 FIP, compared to a 2.85 ERA).  But he has also made his own luck - a sub 3 BB/9 (2.97) and 7.56 K/9 is extremely impressive for a rookie lefthander, and foretells continued success, as does his ability to get ahead of hitters.  Romero has a good fastball, nice breaking pitches, and a very impressive changeup that he is able to throw in any count, making it a formidable weapon. His makeup has also been very impressive - he seems to exhibit excellent poise on the mound and seems both tough and coachable.  The East LA kid has gone long way, jumping from 9th best Jays' prospect (and we got some raised eyebrows for ranking him this highly) to one of the better pitchers in the AL this season.  If we can keep him away from pollen, we've got ourselves a keeper, I'd venture to say. 

10.  John Tolisano - Despite being consistently ranked lower than his draftmates with whom he has come up the system, Kevin Ahrens and Justin Jackson (including by us, but we like him more than most), Tolisano has performed more impessively than either of them at each level.  At least, at the plate (I hear mixed things about his defense at second).  Tolisano is hitting a respectable .255/.319/.427 this season, with 8 home runs thusfar.  He has a decent eye at the plate, makes decent contact, and is showing some power (.173 Iso-p) and is putting together a respectable season at high-A, pretty good for a 20-year old.  Tolisano has been hot recently, so a big second half is a possibility. 

Well, folks, that's all for now.  We'll cover the next 10 at some future date.