This final entry in the Bluebird Banter Top 40 and Beyond series highlights two 2015 draftees, a 2011 and 2012 draftee and one international free agent.
John La Prise, IF, age 22 (DOB: 8/24/1993)
If you're looking for a player who, like Conner Greene in 2015, could jump from a just missed list beyond the Top 40 into the top 10 or top 20, this is one of the better candidates in my view and who I'd be betting on.
La Prise was drafted in the 19th round of last year's draft as a junior out the (college World Series champion) University of Virginia. That draft spot is by no means indicative of his talent, as hip injuries essentially wiped out his junior year and caused him to slide down the draft board. For that reason, it wasn't clear that he would be signing and could have returned for his senior year to rebuild his value. But the Blue Jays got him signed.
La Prise's is best known for his hitting ability, as he was a starter in likely the best lineup in college baseball in 2014 and posted a .348/.397/.421 line with 15 walks and 29 strikeouts. He followed that up by hitting .407/.478/.420 in just over 90 PA in the wood bat Cape Cod League, the premier summer collegiate league. In 2013, he also had a standout summer, hitting .407/.458/.471 in the wood bat Northwoods League. So La Prise has a solid track record of hitting against high level competition in college and the summer.
Virginia was planning on using him in the outfield in 2015, though mostly to juggle their lineup. If La Prise ends up in the outfield as a professional, he'll have to hit for more power than he was has thus far to profile well in a corner. But he should have plenty of bat for the infield. Given his performance with wood bats, I'm hoping to see him assigned directly to Lansing in 2016.
Alonzo Gonzalez, LHP, age 24 (DOB: 1/15/1992)
Gonzalez was drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, signing for $100,000 of Glendale community college. He's had an uneven trip up the affiliate ladder, spending time in Lansing in 2013-15, reaching Dunedin and spending most of 2015 there as a swingman.
The 6'5", 212 lefty typically works with a fastball in the high 80s to low 90s, but will touch 93 or 94 (usually when in relief). His best secondary is his change-up, which can generate swings and misses at times and is promising but is not consistently plus. His third pitch is a breaking ball.
Gonzalez has been up and down performance wise in pro ball and there's nothing in his stat line that jumps out. I think he could be interesting as a full-time short inning reliever. He's shown the ability to touch that higher velocity, the hope being he could hold it for one inning stint, at which point he could be really interesting from the left side with his size and if he could focus on one secondary and developing it into a consistent weapon.
Ryan Hissey, C, age 21 (DOB: 4/8/1994)
Hissey was drafted in the 14th round of last year's draft as a junior out of William & Mary College (Virginia) where he was a three year starter and has OPS over .900 in his last two years, roughly .300/.400/.540. In the summer of 2014, he played in the wood bat Coastal Plains League and hit .325/.356/.387.
After signing, he spent most of the summer in Vancouver as the primary catcher after a brief stint in the GCL, hitting a decent .269/.363/.372 and looking solid behind the plate to me the couple times I was able to watch televised games. As with most catchers, it'll be his defensive chops that carry him, but the bat is interesting though he struck out a fair bit (41 times, 23%). I'd hope to see him in Lansing, as the #2 behind Danny Jansen.
John Stilson, RHP, age 25 (DOB: 7/28/1990)
There's not to say here that hasn't been said before. 2011 draftee from Texas A&M where he was expected to be a late first rounder before he partially tore his labrum and slid to the 3rd round and signed for $500,000. He rehabbed the arm, worked his way up the system in 2012-13, posting a 2.09 ERA in 47.1 innings for Buffalo with 15 walks and 47 strikeouts. That put him on the cusp of the big leagues, but injury problems hurt his performance in 2014 and mostly wiped out 2015. At this point, it's hard to know if he can overcome the lengthy injury problems, but if he can he definitely had big league abilities and that puts him on my list.
Denis Diaz, RHP, age 21 (DOB: 11/20/1994)
Diaz was signed in early 2013 out of Honduras (reported as Denis Villatoro). He's a 6'1" righty who hasn't advanced past complex ball except for one start for Dunedin at the very end of 2016 when they were shorthanded and called up some complex ball players. He's posted some interesting strikeout numbers, and this pick is little more than hunch.