Believe it or not it is mid-season in the minor leagues. Lansing finished their first half season on Sunday. Dunedin, strangely, have three first half games left after their all-star break. Las Vegas and New Hampshire realize it could be a long second half unless they start to play a lot better. Seeing how it is mid-season Marc Hulet and I reviewed the first half for most of the Jays top prospects. You will see that there has not been a lot of movement among the prospects. The jury is still out on the high schoolers drafted in 2007 and 2008, those players have to just play and you expect them to really show what kind of prospect they are in the year they turn 21 or 22. Some of the Jays top ten prospects, such as JP Arencibia, David Cooper and Brad Emaus have had first halves to forget. Several other lower ranked prospects such as Moises Sierra, Danny Farquhar, Trystan Magnuson and Tim Collins have down well in the first half. Some of the Jays top prospects should lose their prospect status this season, Travis Snider, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero will come out of the top ten with enough major league time. With the struggles of some of the other top ten names and the good play of some of the lesser ranked prospects, ranking the Jays top ten prospects at seasons end might be a tough job.
JP Arencibia - Down
Arencibia came into 2009 as either the Jays number two or number three prospect. Everyone knows Arencibia is from the "see ball, hit ball" school of hitting. That approach works well in the lower levels but the pitching staffs in AAA have a lot of crafty pitchers whose stuff is major league fringy but who have enough pitches to not throw a fastball to a fastball hitter. That is the challenge for Arencibia right now. His batting averages in April, May and June are .224; .243; and .231 respectively. Arencibia walked once in April, twelve times in May and now just twice so far in June. In May, in addition to the twelve walks, Arencibia hit eight home runs and produced an .854 OPS despite the low batting average. However June is back to April numbers. Hopefully JP will recapture that May magic but it looks like he needs a lot more time in AAA to figure out his approach.
Travis Snider - Flat
Snider started 2009 with the big club and after some initial success began to struggle and was sent back down to AAA. This is a typical path for a young hitter, look at Adam Lind for the most recent example. Snider will be back in the major leagues later in 2009 and will continue to learn how to handle major league pitchers.
Kyle Phillips - Up
Phillips has never been on the prospect lists but he continues to hit. He is hitting .341 in AAA after hitting .308 in AA last year. Phillips also has some pop, he slugged .455 last season and is slugging .457 this year although his isolated power is down this season. Phillips could likely hit if he was called up to the major leagues, the problem is where to play him defensively. Phillips is not a very good catcher and the Jays have used him as much at third base as they have at catcher. Phillips is still error-prone at third and this defensive challenge will likely limit his ability to play in the major leagues. Phillips might join hitters like Randy Ruiz and Brett Harper who can hit enough to play a position but not well enough to be a DH, and who cannot play defense to a major league standard.
Brett Cecil - Flat
Cecil is the other number two or three prospect at the start of the season and as such his performance year to date is rated as flat as your number two prospect should be able to hold his own in AAA and the major leagues. Cecil pitched reasonably well in the his brief major league stay, except to the Red Sox. Now he is about to get another chance. We all know that Cecil had a horrible April before he was called up but in five May and June starts Cecil has a 4.26 ERA and has given up 31 hits in 31.2 innings. Cecil's main challenge is to improve his fastball command. That will come with time as Cecil seems on his way to becoming a full time major leaguer.
Brad Mills - Up
Mills was the number six prospect head into 2009 and he has jumped all the way to the major leagues. Mills has good numbers in AAA, he sports a 4.48 ERA; he has allowed 81 hits in 76 innings and he has 65 K's in those 76 innings. His weak link is his walk totals, 34 in 76 innings. Mills does not have overpowering stuff and needs to have all his pitches working to succeed. Mills was only drafted in 2007 and had some injury problems that season. This is Mill's second full season so he has the time to develop and figure out how to attack major league hitters.
Fabio Castro - Up
Castro may or may not meet the definition of a prospect, he has pitched 43 major league innings which should still qualify him as a rookie. Castro's diminutive size, he is listed as 5'7", likely has him tabbed for the bullpen but he is putting up good numbers in AAA. Castro started the season in New Hampshire but was quickly promoted and has a 2.83 ERA in 10 AAA starts. Castro has only given up 45 hits in 57 innings in AAA but he was walked 25 and struck out just 28. The 28 K's are at a rate of 4.5/9IP which is low by major league standards. That suggests Castro may not have an "out" pitch. Castro's previous appearances in the major leagues were plagued by high walk totals. Castro might not have fixed this problem, if he cannot strike out major leaguers he might be forced to nibble and this could drive up his walk totals. Still a low ERA should not be completely discounted and he would be worth a look later this season although a bullpen role is most likely.
Davis Romero - Down
Romero, like Castro, is a smaller left handed pitcher with high walk and low strikeout numbers. In 29 AAA innings Romero has walked 17 hitters and has only 20 K's. That is a better K rate than Castro, 6.2/9IP, but not great by major league standards. Romero does not throw particularly hard and will nibble to try and get the hitter to hit his pitch. Romero's numbers are down from last year in the International League. In 2008 Romero had 88 K's in 106 innings and walked only 29. The PCL could be the reason for some of the change but not all of it.
Brian Dopirak - Up
Yes, Dopirak is old for his league, but the former top prospect of the Cubs has doen nothing but hit since coming over to the Jays organization. A re-worked swing and approach at the plate has worked wonders for the 25 year old. If not for the likes of Randy Ruiz and Brett Harper in triple-A, Dopirak would likely be there already. He hit .308 with 27 RBI in 409 at-bats last season in high-A ball and currently has a line of .295/.358/.566 with 15 homers and 58 RBI in 251 at-bats. Dopirak's walk rate has been right around 10.0 BB% each of the past two seasons, which is OK but not great. His strikeout rate of about 23.5 K% is to be expected from a power hitter, but it suggests his batting average would be a little low in the Majors. Regardless, he's really resurrected his big-league dreams.
Brad Emaus - Down
Emaus dominated high-A ball and his fall league last season, and the second baseman even got off to a hot start in 2009. He has, however, now fallen into a deep slump. Emaus, 23, hit .280 in April and .285 in May, but he is currently hitting .115 in June (16 games). A right-handed batter, Emaus is hitting just .217 against southpaws. He's still showing above-average pop for a middle infielder (.151 ISO), but his .244 batting average is disappointing and he's not going the make The Show simply on his defense.
David Cooper - Down
The Jays first round draft pick from 2008 absolutely flew through the minors and ended his first pro season in high-A ball. Overall, in 69 games, he hit .333/.399/.502 and had one of the best debuts of anyone drafted that season. The 2009 season has looked entirely different. The first baseman has struggled mightily all year. His line of .239/.319/.347 shows an inability to hit for average or power. In fact, his power has dropped every time he's been promoted so the Jays organization may share some blame in rushing him. Cooper is hitting just .235/.264/.275 against southpaws and has just two extra base hits in 51 at-bats. He's a poor defender.
Brian Jeroloman - Flat
With J.P. Arencibia receiving the bulk of the catching duties in triple-A, Toronto moved Jeroloman back down to double-A for the 2009 season, even though he had had 25 games of experience at the higher level in 2008. This season, Jeroloman has failed to take advantage of the playing time. His line has dropped from .270/.396/.416 in 226 at-bats last year to .239/.345/.352 in 176 at-bats in 2009. He's seen an 8.0% increase in his strikeout rate from 2008 and he's not being as patient at the plate.
Marc Rzepczynski - Up
Luis Perez - Up
The Jays took a couple ground-ball inducing lefties from the 2008 Lansing squad and jumped them over high-A to double-A in part due to their ages, as well as their successes. Rzepczynski, 23, posted a 2.83 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 2008 and allowed just 100 hits in 121 innings. He posted rates of 3.12 BB/9 and 9.22 K/9. In double-A in 2009, Rzepczynski has allowed 80 hits in 76.2 innings, as well as rates of 4.23 BB/9 and 10.33 K/9. The walks are up, but so are the strikeouts - he's the league leader in both total walks and strikeouts. His ground-ball rate is awesome at 62.4%. Perez, 24, is a late-blooming native of the Dominican Republic. The southpaw posted a 3.60 ERA (3.05 FIP) with 136 hits allowed in 137.1 innings in 2008. He also posted rates of 3.34 BB/9 and 8.98 K/9. This season, he has a 3.67 ERA (3.83 FIP) with 66 hits allowed in 76 innings. Perez also has rates of 3.55 BB/9 and 6.63 K/9. His ground-ball rate is an above-average 56.4%.
Reidier Gonzalez - Up
Gonzalez, 23, showed some promise in 2008 at high-A, if you're a fan of wins and ERA - all though both are often over valued by fans, especially in minor league players. His 12 wins were impresseive, as was his 3.14 ERA - on first glance. Gonzalez allowed way too many hits, 155 in 137.2 innings. His walk rate was nice at 1.96 BB/9 but his strikeout rate was disappointing at 4.84 K/9. He was helped by a ground-ball rate of 56.3%. This season, Gonzalez has a .307 ERA (3.25 FIP) but has allowed just 66 hits in 73.1 innings of work. He's also seen his strikeout rate improve to 6.01 K/9, while his walk rate has remained low. His ground-ball rate is 53%. Currently on the DL, Gonzalez strained his groin in his last start.
Daniel Farquhar - Up
Farquhar was drafted by the Jays in 10th round of the 2008 draft with very little fanfare. He has been, though, one of the best players selected in the draft for the club. He has a combined ERA of just 0.63 this season, split between double-A and high-A. At the senior level, Farquhar, 22, has allowed just six hits in 11.2 innings. He also has a walk rate of 6.17, which is too high, and a strikeout rate of 13.11. He has allowed just one home run in his career (61 IP) and that came in his debut season. His ground-ball rate is 65.1% this season and 66.9% for his career. He has the stuff to dominate.
Kevin Ahrens - Flat
Ahrens turned 20 in April which is young for the FSL. Last season Ahrens struckout in 29% of his at-bats, this season he has reduced that to 22%, a good progression. Ahrens walk numbers have dropped a little but not much. Ahrens hit .217 in April but since then he hit .254 in May and is hitting .234 in June. Ahrens hasn't develop much power yet, he had 109 points of isolated power last season, that is down to 79 points.
At age 20 it is hard to put too many expectations on these picks, next year, their age 21 seasons, is when you would expect to see progression. So far Ahrens has been fine, he has not shown brilliance but he has not failed either.
Justin Jackson - Flat
Jackson was awful in April, lights-out in May and in between in June. In April Jackson hit .155 and struck out in 46% of his at-bats. In May he hit .367 with some extra-base hits and had a .940 OPS. And now in June he is hitting .255 with a .726 OPS. Again that is not bad for a 20 year old.
Last season Jackson struck out 154 times, or 34% of his at-bats. He is on the same pace this season but if we exclude April he has reduced his strike-outs to 27% in May and June. Jackson is walking a little bit more than in 2008 but his power numbers are down significantly. It appears as though Jackson has cut down on his swing to make more contact and that has reduced his power numbers. Jackson did have only one extra base hit in April so his numbers are getting a little better but still are down.
John Tolisano - Up
Tolisano is another twenty year old who has performed the best of the 2007 high school draft class despite struggling more than them last season. Tolisano has hit well and with power this season. Last season Tolisano hit six home runs, he has that number already this season. Tolisano's ISO power is up from 125 to 167. Tolisano has also dropped his strikeout rate from 25% to 19%. In June Tolisano has bumped his batting average to .311 and his OPS to .804. Tolisano's defense was the area that needed most work in 2008, it is unclear how that has developed in 2009.
Moises Sierra - Up
Sierra is another 20 year old who has impressed in every facet of the game this season. This batting average is up from .246 last season to .307; his OBP is up from .297 to .389 as he is walking 50% more this season; his slugging is up from .364 to .442 and his ISO power from .118 to .135; and his strikeout rate is down from 25% to 16%. What's not to like? He has even improved his stolen base rate from 12 steals with 11 caught stealing last season to 6 and 1 this season in less than half the at-bats.
Eric Thames - Flat
Thames didn;t play last season due to injury and now he is on the DL for the second time this season. When he is healthy Thames has hit well, a .317 batting average with an .856 OPS. But that performance needs to be more regular. It is uncertain at this point whether Thames' injuries are chronic or one-offs. Time will tell.
Darin Mastroianni - Up
Mastroianni has not been considered a prospect, in part due to his hitting .228 at Lansing last season. As a college guy that output was weak. But he has done a 180 this season and is hitting .325 with an OPS of .816. Mastroianni has walked almost as many times as he has struck-out and has 32 stolen bases. Thanks to his speed Mastroianni has scored 55 runs in 61 games. Mastroianni does not have much power but his batting average, good eye, and speed have put him on the radar in 2009.
Adam Loewen - Down
2009 was going to be an adjustment year for Adam Loewen and so far there is little evidence that he has made the adjustment successfully. It is hard to say how long it takes to make the switch from pitcher to hitter after six years of not hitting. Loewen has hit .227; .182; and .239 in the three months of the season so far. He has struck out 30% of the time and he has yet to hit a home run. It might take until 2010 for Loewen's hitting skills to return.
Andrew Liebel - Up
Liebel was promoted to the FSL despite having thrown just 14 professional innings in 2008. April was a bit rocky but in May and June Liebel has settled down with a 3.70 ERA. He allows just over a hit per inning, strikes out a few less than that and doesn't walk too many. He is having success and doing well in his first professional season.
Kenny Rodriguez - Flat
K_Rod made it to AA last season for six starts where he was hit around a little bit. But this season his arrival in camp was delayed due to visa issues and he had to go back to the FSL. There, in 11 starts, he has been excellent, a 1.99 ERA with good numbers all around. Rodriguez needs another shot at AA to see if he can make it work this time.
Tim Collins - Up
Everyone knows the Collins story, he is still 19 years old in Dunedin. Collins ERA has been creeping up, 1.29 in April; 3.29 in May and 4.66 in June. At the same time his K9 rate is decreasing from 16.7 in April; to 13.2 in May; and now to 10.2 in June. These numbers are still very good for a 19 year old but they may show that the word is out on Collins and he will need to adjust before he can move up. After allowing four hits in 14 April innings, Collins has given up 12 hits in 9.2 June innings.
Bobby Bell - Up
Bell was an 18th round draft pick in 2008 and had a great 2008, a WHIp of .50 with no walks allowed in 2008 and a K9 rate of 12.6. Some of that is still there this season, his WHIP is 1.05 and his K9 rate is 13.8. But Bell has given up four home runs in 29 innings and as a result his ERA in May and June combined is over 5. Bell has an outstanding change-up but it appears that he is missing location too much this season. If Bell can control the big hits he could be a find in the 18th round.
Trystan Magnuson - Up
Magnuson switched back to the bullpen and has been very successful recently. April was a good start, a 1.88 ERA, but in May he walked eleven hitters in 11 innings and his ERA jumped to 7.36. But in June Magnuson has allowed only one walk, and five hits, in ten innings and his ERA is 0.90. After a tough year in 2008 it looks like Magnuson is back on track.
Johermyn Chavez- Up
While it's generally not good a player to repear a level, Chavez' return to Lansing was not a big issue considering that he's still only 20 years old. The outfielder hit .211/.272/.323 as a teenager in 2008. He hit seven homers in 402 at-bats and posted rates of 5.9 BB% and 31.8 K%. So far this season, Chavez is showing improvements in almost every area, with a line of .276/.337/.522 and 12 homers in 232 at-bats. His plate rates have "improved" to 7.9 BB% and 25.4 K%.
Balbino Fuenmayor - Down
Fuenmayor has been under the microscope a bit because the Jays paid a lot of money for his services. But he's still very young and learning the game. Only 19, he's already in his third pro season. Last year in rookie ball, Fuenmayor hit .307/.360/.458 (He had an unsustainable BABIP of .406) with three homers in 179 at-bats. He also posted rates of 5.8 BB% and 26.8 K%. The 6'3'' 235 lbs infielder has regressed a bit this year after a two-level jump to Lansing and he's hitting .246/.254/.341 with three homers in 179 at-bats. He has rates of 1.1 BB% and 29.1 K%. The approach at the plate is disappointing and he's definitely not going to be a third baseman. The good news is that he's a hard worker, so he just needs to adjust his approach at the plate.
Michael McDade - Flat
McDade was another high school hitter taken in the same draft as Justin Jackson, Kevin Ahrens, and John Tolisano, but he's a step behind the 'big three.' McDade spent the first half of the year in Lansing last season but was moved back down to Auburn for the second half. The former high school catcher, now a first baseman, hit .194/.236/.282 with two homers in 216 at-bats in Lansing last year. This year, he's hitting .256/.313/.436 with eight homers in 195 at-bats. His approach at the plate dooms him as he swings at too many pitcher's pitches. His rates are 6.7 BB% and 24.6 K%.
Tyler Pastornicky - Up
Only 19, Pastornicky is one of the most intriguing sleepers in the system. He has excellent speed (55 steals in 69 attempts in 115 pro games) and he's also shown pretty good contact rates and a willingness to take a few walks. Last year in rookie ball, the shortstop hit .263/.349/.356 with one homer in 160 at-bats. His rates were 11.6 BB% and 13.1 K%. This year in Lansing, Pastornicky has a line of .257/.335/.311 with no homers in 241 at-bats. His rates are 9.7 BB% and 14.1 K%.
Henderson Alvarez - Up
Another ground-ball pitcher in the Jays system, Alvarez is young at just 19 years old, but he's been the Lugnuts best starting pitcher. He has allowed 74 hits in 72 innings of work, along with a walk rate of just 1.38 (outstanding for his age) and a strikeout rate of 5.38 K/9. His ground-ball rate is 53%. Alvarez also has yet to allow a home run. His FIP is 2.59 so his numbers would probably be even more impressive with a better defense behind him.
Josh Wells - Down
The Aussie has had an up-and-down career, which included Tommy John surgery. The 22-year-old right-hander had a 3.92 ERA with 72 hits in 64.1 innings at Auburn in 2008. This season, he's allowed 78 hits in 55.2 innings. His walk rate is 3.72 BB/9 and his strikeout rate is 6.79 K/9 - both very similar to his 2008 numbers.