In a season where the minor leagues send players such as Travis Snider, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Richmond to the big league club, is it fair to say that 2009 was a disappointing year for the minor leagues? Although those players made a great contribution to the major league team the system behind them is thin and many players who had great expectations on them failed to develop in 2009. A major area of concern for the Jays should be the lack of development in most of the high school hitters picked over the last three drafts. The Jays do a great job in developing pitchers, the success with hitters, in particular the high school hitters, has been less so. The Jays need to evaluate whether their drafting has been poor or if they need to change how they develop those high school hitters.
The 2009 minor league season has just ended and none of the affiliates are playing in the post-season. The season records for the Jays system was not good this season, coming off several promsing years. Here are the 2009 records:
Las Vegas 71-73
New Hampshire 64-78
Combined 312-379 .452
The objective of the minor leagues is player development and 2009 was a good year for players coming to the major leagues. The problem is that behind them the cupboard is looking bare. If you ask the question "what minor leaguers should make their major league debuts in 2010?", the list is short. Zach Stewart is one but he is a Reds product. Brian Dopirak is another but he is a Cubs/Jays product, with questions. JP Arencibia could debut if he can improve his approach at the plate. There is not much else. If you understand this then it appears more likely Roy Halladay will be traded for major league ready position players because the Jays don't have them. The Jays need a shortstop, a centrefielder, a thirdbaseman and a catcher. The closest shortstop is in Dunedin, either Jackson or Pastornicky, the closest centrefielder/outfielder would be in AA, Mastroianni or Sierra, there is no third baseman, and Arencibia is close as a catcher.
Of all the high school players drafted by the Jays in 2007 and 2008 only one, Tyler Pastornicky, has stood out and stepped up. Justin Jackson, Kevin Ahrens, John Tolisano, Eric Eiland, Marcus Brisker, Jon Talley, and Kenny Wilson have not yet burst into the prospect spotlight. They are young and time is on their side but they haven't shown yet that they can hit anywhere close to .300. Hopefully 2010 will see a host of Moises Sierra's who boost their batting averages from the .220's to over .300.
The old saying is that one third of your prospects will improve, one third stagnate and one third decline. 2009 feels like a year where 50% declined, almost all the high school kids, Brad Emaus, JP Arencibia, Brian Jeroloman and Scott Campbell declined in 2009. Or to put it another way in a gross generization, the pitchers moved up and the hitters moved down the prospect rankings.
The Jays do still have pitching on the way, albeit more relievers than starters. Pitchers like Danny Farquhar, Bobby Bell, Luis Perez, Trystan Magnuson and Tim Collins are all a year or two away. Andrew Liebel pitched well this season despite his #4 or #5 starter label; Chad Jenkins will be on his way in 2010 as well.
Prospect development can be cyclical, the Jays have graduated a lot of players to the major leagues recently, now they have a cupboard that is running low. 2010 will be a make-or-break year for many of the high school draftees. In the off-season the Jays might want to re-evaluate how they develop high school hitters. Right now it isn't working for them.
I had a quick look around the system looking at the following (feel free to guess along):
Which hitters had the best OPS and which had the best OPS+
Which hitters struckout the most?
Which hitters walked the most and had the best eyes?
Which pitchers had the best WHIP/9?
Which pitchers had the best K/9 rates?
Which pitchers had the best strikeout to walk ratio?
Looking at the OPS+ question first it is interesting to see how the league average OPS increases at the higher levels. Here is my estimate of league OPS based on the team totals.
The leaders at each level for the Jays were (with appropriate AB cut-offs):
PCL - Randy Ruiz 976; 128 OPS+
EL - Brian Dopirak 951; 133+
FSL - Darin Mastroianni 816; 120+
MWL - Brian Van Kirk 840; 120+
NYPL - Welinton Ramirez 830; 126+
GCL - Carlos Perez 797; 123+
Obviously Randy Ruiz and Brian Dopirak had the highest absolute numbers. Dopirak put up a 115 OPS+ in AAA too. From a league average perspective Dopirak in AA was the best with his 133 OPS+. Interestingly all the leaders were in the 120'ish range.
The leader in strikeouts among the affiliates was Yohermyn Chavez with 137 in 508 AB's. Second, surprisingly, was Brian Jeroloman with 120. Also high were Balbino Fuenmayor - 119, JP Arencibia - 114, and Adam Loewen - 114. Among short-season teams Eric Eiland had 95 strikeouts.
On a percentage basis Eiland was the leader with 44% of his at-bats ending with a K. Loewen was second at 34% with Jeroloman at 33%.
Some of the biggest whiff artists were also the biggest walkers. Loewen and Eiland led their teams in walks. Other walk leaders include Jason Lane, Todd Donovan and Brian Van Kirk. Donovan led the Jay's minor leaguers with 74 walks.
The best eyes belonged to Howie Clark who had a 34/27 BB/K ratio. Scott Campbell and Jon Diaz each had 2 more walks than K's in more limited playing time in New Hampshire. Donovan was close with a 74/75 ratio as was Darin Mastroianni at Dunedin with a ratio of 37/38. In AA Mastroianni kept his good eye with a 39/45 ratio.
Among the worst were Balbino Fuenmayor who had 9 walks against 119 K's. Jesus Gonzalez had 10 walks versus 99 K's. Gustavo Pierre walked three times and struck out 45 times.
Turning to the pitchers the leader in WHIP was Dunedin's Bobby Bell at 0.91. Bell started the season as a reliever and recorded a .99 WHIP. For the latter half of the season he started and reduced his WHIP to .86 as a starter. Tied in second place were a pair of Lansing relievers, Matt Daly and Frank Gailey at 1.09. Daly followed that up with a .86 WHIP in Dunedin to end the season. Next was Henderson Alvarez at 1.13; Reidier Gonzalez at 1.13; Tim Collins 1.16; Kenny Rodriguez (Dunedin) 1.19 and Chuck Huggins (Dunedin) 1.20. In short season Dave Sever, Matt Fields, Dennis Tepera and Nestor Molina all had good numbers.
The pitcher with the best K/9 rate was Tim Collins at 13.8 in Dunedin. Collins followed that up with a 12.1 in 12 AA innings. In second place, among full-season teams, was Collins' team mate Bobby Bell at 10.5. They were followed by Marc Rzepczynski (AA) at 10.3 and Danny Farquhar (AA) 10.1. In short season ball Casey Beck had a ratio of 12.2; Matt Wright 11.0; and Dennis Tepera 10.3.
The K/BB ratio leader was Bobby Bell at 5.1; Henderson Alvarez was second at 4.8. Dirk hayhurst was at 4.0; Tim Collins 3.5. Reidier Gonzalez, Chuck Huggins and Andrew Liebel also had scored better than 2.5. In short season ball Dave Sever led Auburn at 3.8; Dennis Tepera and Matt Fields in the GCL had the crazy ratios of 10.5 and 8.0 respectively.
You can see from these numbers that in general the hitters are better at the higher levels and pitchers find the K's going down and the walks going up. If that doesn't happen then you are major league material.
In summary the Jays have some deep analysis to do in the off-season. If a couple more of the high school hitters had develop strongly in 2009 we would be talking about what a good year it was for the minor leagues. Between the 2007 and 2008 drafts the Jays selected nine high school hitters in the first ten rounds, six hitters in the first five rounds. You should expect to get three to four major leaguers out of that group, here's hoping.