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Beyond the Top 40: Bluebird Banter Top 5 Older Players

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2015: 1-56-10 |11-1516-2021-2526-3031-3536-40

2014: 1-56-1011-1516-2021-2526-3031-3536-40

Most prospect lists that you see use rookie eligibility (130 AB / 50 IP, or 45 days service time excluding September) as the basis for inclusion/exclusion. This works as an objective standard, but especially beyond the Top 20 creates a conundrum between younger players with very low chances of making to the majors but with upside vs. older players who project as role players but who already have MLB time or are very close. In a sense, that latter group aren't really even prospects.

As Tom mentioned at the outset of this series, this year there was a formal age cutoff for inclusion on the BBB list: players had to be 25 or under on June 30th of this year, meaning born after 6/30/1989. That cut off a number of interesting players who aren't really prospects at this point, but who could be real contributors in 2015 or beyond. So here is a Top 5 list of rookie eligible players cutoff from the prospect list due to age:

1. Rob Rasmussen, LHP, age 25 (DOB: 4/2/1989)

Rasmussen was selected in the 2nd round (73th overall, more like the 3rd round now without a pile of supplemental picks) of the 2010 draft by the Marlins from UCLA, and signed for $499,500. At UCLA he was bounced between the bullpen and rotation his first two years with inconsistent results, before emerging with a huge junior season on the back of a strong 2009 summer in the Cape Cod League. In 109 innings, he struck out 135 while only walking 35 and allowing just 88 hits (though 10 HR), albeit overshadowed by Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer.

From 2011-13, he was primarily a starter, moving from high-A to AAA while also bouncing from the Marlins to the Astros to the Dodgers. His results were generally decent if unremarkable, with reports of a four pitch mix: a fastball that sat in the low 90s, a slider that Baseball America rated as the best in the Miami system after 2011, a curveball and the change-up. In college he used his curveball more than his slider, at some point that seemed to have flipped. Rasmussen was traded at the Aug. 31 trade deadline by LA to Philadelphia for Michael Young, and was added to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5. He was then flipped to the Jays for Brad Lincoln, never throwing a pitch for the Phillies.

At 5'10 / 170, Rasmussen is undersized compared to the average pitcher, which caused concerns about his ability to start as with Marcus Stroman. There were also questions about whether his stuff was good enough to start, and he also tended to have large platoon splits (which jives with his primary secondary being a slider). In 2014, he was used exclusively in relief with Buffalo, and turned in a solid season (44 K, 17 BB, 32 H, 0 HR in 43 IP) and earned the call-up. With Toronto, in a small sample of 11.1 innings, he struck out 13 with a strong 27% whiff rate but struggled with control, 7 BB and 2 HBP. Most encouragingly, his velocity had ticked up, averaging almost 94 with his fastball and touching 95.

Rasmussen was ranked 28th on the original list before the age cutoff was implemented, which places him atop this list. At 26 in a couple months and with the Jays' needs, one assumes he'll be exclusively a reliever going forward. But lefties who can sit in the mid-90s don't grow on trees, and if he can get his control in check he could be a middle relief option or better in 2015.

2. Ryan Tepera, RHP, age 27 (DOB: 11/3/1987)

Tepera was selected in the 19th round of the 2009 draft, and steadily worked his way from level to level as a starter, posting relatively mediocre numbers—okay control, low strikeout rates, and fairly high hit totals. In late 2013 at AA, he relieved exclusively, to better results—19 K against 7 walks in 16.1 innings. In 2014, he was promoted to AAA Buffalo, and the results carrying over, 67 strikeouts and 24 walks in 64 innings. As a result, he was added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft. According to Marc Hulet, his velocity spiked and sat 94-96, which would explain the added success.

Tepera was originally 32nd on the overall list, basically in recognition of the Jays liking him enough to merit a 40-man spot. The bullpen being wide open as it is, presumably he'll at least get a good look, though the sheer number of other names and him having options will work against him. And there's always cautionary tale of Marcus Walden, who was somewhat unexpectedly protected in 2013 and DFA'd early in 2014.

3. Matt West, RHP, age 26 (DOB: 11/21/1988)

Matt West has a very interesting backstory. He was selected in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft by Texas as an infielder and signed for $405,000. After repeating low-A in 2010, at 22 his career was at a crossroads and so the Rangers converted him back to pitching (he pitched in high school) because of his great arm strength. In 2011, he showed great promise, striking out 35 in 26 innings, with just 1 walk though 3 HBP and he was touched up for 3 home runs. But it was the raw stuff that induced Texas to add him to the 40-man and protect him from the Rule 5 draft. His fastball was in the mid-90s, with a big breaking ball and change-up both of which had plus potential and he showed good feel for.

Unfortunately, he was derailed by a sprained elbow ligament in Spring Training 2012 that was initially rehabbed. But he struggled in high-A, with 16 walks in 20 innings and ended up having Tommy John surgery in August that essentially wiped out all of the 2013 season. Healthy in 2014, he again showed off his potential, with 64 strikeouts against 18 walks in 56.2 innings across AA/AAA. Again, he had some issues with hit batsmen (6) and home runs (5). He earned a brief call-up to Texas, pitching 4 innings with 3 strikeouts and a walk, with his fastball around 95.

Minor Leaguer caught up with Blue Jays' AGM Andrew Tinnish at the Bison's Hot Stove Luncheon in Buffalo in January, and Tinnish had this to say about West:

We had a couple of scouts who identified him as a major league contributor, not just up-and-down, but someone with the tools and ability to stick in a big league capacity. He has a power arm and a power breaking ball. Our reports have him anywhere from 93 to 96 with a power curveball. He’s a competitor. He’s a converted guy so—I don’t know exactly how many years he’s been pitching—but it could be a fresher arm than someone who has been pitching his entire career in pro ball.

Having been added to the 40-man in 2011 and optioned 2012-14, West would normally be out of options at this point and have to stick on the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. However, players with less than 5 "professional" seasons are eligible for a 4th option year. Despite entering his 9th season in pro ball in 2015, West qualifies (confirmed by Tinnish) because years in short season (2007-08, 2011) and when injured (2013) don't count leaving just four "professional" seasons for option purposes.

4. Gregory Infante, RHP, age 27 (DOB: 7/10/1987)

Infante originally signed with the White Sox as an 18 year old FA out of Venezuela in 2006. For the next 6 years, he gradually moved through their system, starting until 2009 and relieving thereafter. He even earned a brief call-up in 2010 (4.2 IP, 5 K, 4 BB). A free agent after 2012, he signed with the Dodgers in 2013 and then the Jays for 2014. He turned in a sub-2.00 ERA in 46.1 innings, with 44 strikeouts and 18 walks. Infante's calling card is his power arm, as he can run his fastball into the upper 90s. Tinnish also zeroed in on Infante:

If he can figure out one primary secondary pitch to go to, whether it be a fork or split or one slider - don’t mess around with multiple breaking balls or multiple offspeed pitches—just go with one thing, trying to figure it out and fiddle with some grips and you never know what will happen.

Having been in pro ball for almost a decade and on his third organization, there's certainly no guarantee—or even likelihood—of Infante fulfilling his promise. But you can't teach Infante's raw arm strength and he could be one small tweak away from being reliever with elite potential.

5. Derrick Chung, C, age 26 (DOB: 2/23/1988)

Chung is another interesting story. He was selected in the 31st round of the 2012 draft as infielder, signed for $1,000 and already 24. At that point in the draft are usually filling out short season rosters. As it turns out, in his senior year at Sacramento State, he was asked to move behind the plate when the team lost a couple catchers. After spending his first season of pro ball around the infield for Vancouver, Chung asked to move behind the pate for 2013, and it took in a major way. For 2013, he was promoted all the way up to high-A. He put up a decent year with the bat, but excelled defensively, throwing out 43% of runners. That earned him a trip to the AFL.

In 2014, Chung was back in high-A, and he put up a loud .320/.395/.438 batting line which got him to AA for the second half. His bat tailed off, but that's not going to be what moves him forward and potentially to MLB. As a hitter, he's profiled as a decent contact hitter, with solid plate discipline but little power. If all goes well, it's a pretty classic back-up catcher profile. Though, as the article linked above points out, Pat Borders was only converted to catching at 24, so who knows.

Others: RHP Preston GuilmetRHP Blake McFarland, RHP Arik Sikula, RHP Wil Browning

We'll finish off this series over the next couple days with some personal favourites that missed the overall list, and looking back on movement from 2014 to 2015.