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Bluebird Banter Top 30 Jays Prospects, #11-20

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Hi everyone.  Over the weekend, Tom checked in with #21-30 on our 2010 prospect list, and prior to that, I took a look at some deserving players who didn't make the list.  Continuing our countdown, here's the next group. 

20.  Ryan Goins, SS:  Goins, a lefthanded hitting shortstop from Dallas Baptist University who the Jays selected in the 4th round this past June, had a very nice start for Auburn, hitting .297/.349/.366 over 110 plate appearances, but struggled at the plate in a brief stint at Lansing (though it was pretty impressive that he even got that far).  We might be a little high here on Goins, but he has a decent bat and as a former college pitcher, certainly has the arm for shortstop. Our shortstop position in the low minors is actually pretty crowded now with Goins, Pastornicky, Pierre, and Jackson, so Goins will have to continue to play well.   

19.  Eric Thames, OF:  Thames, a Pepperdine product chosen by the Jays in the 7th round of the 2008 draft, would have likely been chosen much higher had he not had injury problems in college.  Unfortunately, for the Jays, Thames' injury problems have continued in his professional career, which have hampered the development of an otherwise very nice player.  Case in point - Thames was off to a great start last season with Dunedin before nagging injuries caused him to miss time.  He still turned in a very impressive campaign for Dunedin, hitting .313/.386/.487 in 216 plate appearances with 15 doubles, 5 triples, and 3 home runs.  Thames has shown solid hitting skills, patience, and gap-to-gap power as well as, when healthy, speed.  His issue going forward is going to be whether his health issues will make him a one-dimensional player, and, more fundamentally, whether they will allow him to develop properly at all. I'm not sure whether the Jays will send Thames to Dunedin to start the season or send him right to AA-New Hampshire, but I'd guess Dunedin for a little while. 

18.  Brad Emaus, 2B:  Brad Emaus, a Tulane (go Green Wave!) product and the Jays 11th round selection in 2007, had a bit of a lackluster 2009 after a very strong start.  Emaus was coming off a terrific 2008, a good winter ball showing, and a great spring training where the Jays gave him a nice long look.  Emaus was sent to AA New Hampshire, where he spent the whole season.  He hit .253/.336/.376, which, while not fantastic, isn't bad for a hitter's first taste of the higher level of pitching in AA.  Emaus continued to show solid patience and contact skills, but suffered a slight loss in power.  That said, his BB, K, and line drive rates were pretty consistent with his excellent 2008 so it's possible he just had a bit of regressed luck (his BABIP fell from .323 in 2008 to .277 in 2009).  Emaus did have a  strong showing in the Arizona Fall League (albeit injust 67 plate appearances) so he may be back on track. Emaus will be 24 this season and will surely begin in AA again.  With Aaron Hill blocking him at the major-league level, it's a big year for Emaus as he will have to get back to hitting.

17.  Gustavo Pierre, SS:  Pierre, an international free agent from the Dominican, had a pretty solid season considering he was a 17-year old playing professional ball in the US for the first time, not to mention recovering from a 2008 ligament replacement surgery.  Pierre held his own in the GCL and showed some nice pop, hitting .259/.272/.431 with 18 extra base hits in 177 plate appearances.  As you can see, he didn't even try to draw a walk, picking up only 3 on the season.  Pierre is on the larger side for a SS, particularly considering that he just turned 18.  While there's no doubt Pierre is raw, there's serious upside here and Pierre had an encouraging season overall.  At the same time, it's impossible to project an 18-year old player like Pierre at this point. 

16.  J.P. Arencibia, C:  Arencibia, like Ryan Goins and Bobby Bell, was one of the few players on which Tom and I had significant disagreement in putting together this prospect list.  I don't think Arencibia merits being ranked this high.  His struggles in 2009 (.236/.284/.444 with 26 walks and 114 strikeouts) were well known.  It's easy to say that Arencibia just needs to be more "patient" at the plate or work on his "plate discipline" but fundamentally I don't think that's what is going on here.  I think there is a more basic problem with Arencibia's approach at the plate and his pitch recognition (particularly with regard to breaking balls) and strike zone judgment seem very weak. He gets behind in the count and then is completely at the pitcher's mercy on breaking stuff.  His strike out rate, for someone who walks as infrequently as he does, is abysmal.  That said, there are some very solid skills here too.  Arencibia has plenty of power, hitting 32 doubles, 1 triple, and 26 home runs in 2009.  His defense has consistently been ranked as solid behind the plate.  He doubled his walk rate (granted, from 2.6% to 5.3%) in his transition from AA to AAA with a smaller tick up in his K rate, suggesting he is improving.  He had a bit of a low BABIP in 2009, so luck may have played a factor.  The former first round pick is 24 this season, and it is a big one for him.

15.  Robert Ray, RHP:  The Texas native and 2005 draftee made the majors this season, having 4 decent starts for Toronto (actually 1 very good start, 1 decent one, and 2 mediocre ones - still impressive considering his lack of innings in the high minors).  Unfortunately that was about the only bright spot in Ray's season, which was marred by a serious and mysterious shoulder injury that kept him largely out of action in 2009.  Ray returned to action in the Arizona Fall League and pitched pretty well (4.81 ERA in 7 starts, with 25 Ks and 7 walks over 24 1/3 innings), so one can hope his injury issues are behind him.  We took a look at Robert Ray here right before he made his first big-league start.  Ray features a low-mid 90s fastball  he uses to get grounders and a solid changeup.  Injuries have really hampered Ray's development and threaten to push him out of the Jays' starting rotation picture going forward, but he seems to be a credible major-league pitcher when healthy. 

14.  Brian Dopirak, 1B/DH:  Dopirak is a former top prospect of the Cubs whose career was derailed by lower body injuries.  The Jays smartly picked him up and assigned  him to Dunedin in 2008, where he really rejuvinated his career with a huge season (albeit, at age 24).  Unfortunately, he's been sort of playing catch-up, but he had a terrific year this season for AA New Hampshire and AAA Las Vegas and at 25, he's almost caught up, with the only thing left the jump to the majors.  Dopirak hit .317/.371/.549 across both levels, not slowing down at all in the jump to AAA, and had an impressive 42 doubles, 3 triples, 27 home runs and 102 RBI.  He also had a nice Winter League showing in Venenzuela (a .270/.358/.474 line over 156 plate appearances).  So what's the problem with the thumping righty?  I wouldn't call them "problems" exactly, but his walk rate took a big hit when he moved to AAA - that's not unusual for a minor-league hitter, who typically takes a bit of time to adjust to the better pitching and has to "relearn" plate discipline at each level going up.  His BABIPs at both levels (particularly AAA, where it was .386) were very high and I wouldn't expect that to continue.  Chone doesn't think he's quite ready yet, but it will be interesting to see whether Dopriak makes the push to the majors this season.  Certainly if he keeps up the numbers he's posted over the past two seasons, it will be impossible to keep him down. 

13.  K.C. Hobson, 1B/OF:  a favourite of Tom's, the former two-way player and 6th round 2009 draftee didn't get into any games this season.  The Jays did a nice job getting Hobson in the 6th and it'll be interesting to see what he does this season.  His defense at first base is apparently good.  Though it it'd be disappointing to waste the arm of a former power pitcher by sticking it first, he's apparently not long for the outfield.  Hobson, son of former Red Sox slugging third-baseman Butch Hobson, will have to hit a ton to rise as a prospct, but could do it. 

12.  David Cooper, 1B/DH:  People are really down on David Cooper and while I don't love him, I think the hate is a little over the top.  Cooper actually had a pretty credible season for his first taste of AA (.258/.340/.389), particularly when you consider it was his first full season of pro ball. The former first-round pick didn't show much power, but posted solid walk rates.  Personally, I'd rather start with a solid approach at the plate and try to add power (though that doesn't always work either) than do it the other way.  Cooper hasn't drawn praise for his defense, but has enough to hack it at first base assuming his bat develops.  Cooper will be 23 this year, will surely start in AA, and that's not a bad place to be.  His ceiling is still an above-average major league first baseman, though he'll likely never be a huge masher.

11.  Moises Sierra, OF:  Sierra broke out a bit for Dunedin this season, hitting .286/.360/.393 over 440 plate appearances and earning a late call up to AA New Hampshire.  The rifle-armed outfielder showed a much-improved approach at the plate, raising his walks significantly while cutting his K rate even more significantly.  The one thing he didn't do was hit for power (5 HR and 2 triples) but he did have 24 doubles, a significant increase from 2008.  Sierra projects as a corner outfielder so whether the power and the bat continue to develop will decide whether his future is as a defensive specialist or an everyday right fielder.  I have to say, he's so young (20 in 2009) that I'm not concerned about the lack of power so far, but it would be nice to see him hit some more extra-base hits this year.  Sierra will be at AA this season and it'll be a big one for the 21-year old. 

Well, that's it for now.  Be sure to post your own thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for Tom, who will be back with the top 10 soon.