Each offseason, baseball analysts look to the farm system and rank each team’s top prospects. In baseball, more so than any other professional sport, prospects in the farm system play a crucial role in the development of future major league teams. Instead of making my own ranking system, which, like virtually all ranking systems, would somewhat arbitrary, I’ve averaged out ranks from five other lists that have been previously complied (the links can be found on the right side of my page in the favorites section). While the rankings used in each individual list are, I would argue, arbitrary at some level (even if a formula was used), I believe that by using multiple top prospect lists, the ranking becomes more accurate.
The arbitrariness of ranking and, more importantly, comparing prospects is especially true when one looks at the minor leagues as a whole, as players can be competing anywhere from short season low-A to triple-AAA and have varying levels of experience. Sure, the stat categories in these leagues are the same, but the meaning of these stats are very different, to the point where a meaningful comparison becomes rather difficult. For example, can a player who hits .270 in short season A in his first season of professional ball be compared to a player who hits .285 is AAA in his fourth year of professional ball? How would we compare a pitcher whose ERA is 2.90 in advanced A to a picther whose ERA is 3.10 in AAA? Can we? I would argue it is very difficult to do on paper, at least in any meaningful way.
Anyways, for what it is worth, here is my top ten list. The first number is the order in which I have ranked the prospect and the bracketed number at the end represents the average rank from the five lists I have used.
1) Travis Snider OF (1st round, 2006)- No real suprise here. Snider was recently ranked the seventh best prospect in all of baseball and will hopefully a mainstay in the Jays outfield for sometime. Jays fans saw Snider last September an in 73 at-bats, the 20 year old hit .301/.338/.466 with two home runs. Snider is a legitimate power hitter (23 minor league home runs in 2008) and has consistantly hit for a decent average since arriving in the Jays system. (average ranking- 1)
2) Brett Cecil LHP (Supp. round, 2007)- We’re already hearing rumours of Cecil competing for a spot in Toronto’s rotation this year, but it’s more realistic that he begins 2009 in Las Vegas (AAA). He began last year in Dunedin (high A), but ended the year in Syracuse (AAA). Over three levels of minor league ball, he pitched to a 2.88 ERA, averaged at least 9.10 Ks per 9 innings, a decent strikeout to walk ratio, and totaled a groundball to flyball ratio of over 2:1. (average ranking- 2)
3) J.P. Arencibia C (1st round, 2007)- Between Dunedin and New Hampshire (AA), Arencibia hit a combined .298/.322/.527 with 27 HR and 105 RBI. A pretty impressive total for a minor leaguer, especially a catcher. As you may have guessed, Arencibia is more of an offensive catcher (a la Mike Piazza) than a defensive catcher (a la Brad Ausmus). That said, his defensive play has improved tremedously, and he has a cannon of an arm. He should spend 2009 in Las Vegas, where he can hopefully learn how to take a free pass; he walked only 18 times in over 500 at-bats last season. Either way, he is poised to become Toronto’s starting catcher in 2010. (average ranking- 3).
4) David Cooper 1B (1st round, 2008)- In his first year of professional baseball, Cooper hit .333/.399/.502 for an OPS of over .900 in three levels of A ball. His home run total of 5 in 273 at bats may be low, but his SLG of .502 suggests that there is considerable power in his bat. Although his offensive game is great, scouts indicate that his defense could use some work. Therefore, while he could be the Jays first baseman of the future, he could also fit into a designated hitters spot as well. Cooper should begin the year at Dunedin. (average rank- 4)
5) Justin Jackson SS (1st round, 2007)- Jackson is considered to be the Jays best SS prospect and thus far, is seen as a flashy defensive player, despite making 26 errors in 121 games. His hitting, however, is something to be desired. After hitting a mere .187 in rookie ball in 2007, his average spike to .238 at Lansing (A) in 2008, which is still worrisome. Jackson’s plate discipline may explain, in part, his low average. He struck out 154 times in 454 at bats, which is just unacceptable. He does appear to have a bit of pop in his bat- 7 HR in 2008- but will need to address his average and plate discipline first. (average rank- 5.2)
6) Kevin Ahrens 3B (1st round, 2007)- Ahrens is, in many respects, a carbon copy of Jackson. Both were 1st rounders in 2007, both play error-filled defense (Ahrens committed 27 in 2008), both strike out far too often (Ahrens struck out 135 times in 460 at bats) which leads to a sub-par average (.259 for Ahrens). That said, Ahrens was only 19 in 2008; a very young player for the mid-west league. He may not be ready for the majors in 2011 when Rolen’s contract is up, but he is the Jays most promising 3rd base prospect in some time. (average rank- 6.4)
7) Brad Mills LHP (4th round, 2007)- Yet another young southpaw who will be competing for a spot in the rotation this spring, it is far more likely that Mills ends up starting the year in New Hampshire (AA) before being promoted to triple-A. Mills is coming off a terrific 2008 season, posting a combined 13-5 record with a 1.95 ERA and an opposing batter’s average of .222 between three levels of baseball (A- to AA). In fact, as Mills advanced to higher leagues, his ERA and opposing average decreased. He also averaged over a strikeout per inning, though his flyball to groundball ratio was 1:1. (average rank- 6.8)
8) Ricky Romero LHP (1st round, 2006)- The 6th overall pick from the 2006 draft, Romero should start the 2009 season in Las Vegas. There’s no doubt that Romero has great stuff, it’s just a matter of finding control of that stuff that has eluded Romero. Of course, finding control is always easier said than done. The young lefty struggled in AA in 2006, 2007, and 2008, but seemed to find his game after his promotion to AAA late in 2008. Over 42.2 innings, Romero’s ERA was 3.38 (over a point lower than his AA ERA in 2008) and he averaged over 8 strikeouts per 9 innings. His 2:1 groundball to flyball ratio was impressive, but his WHIP was too high as a result of issuing ovr 4 walks per nine innings and allowing opposing hitters to bat .264 of him. There is no doubt, however, that Romero is full of promise. 2009 will be an important year to gauge his development. (average rank- 8)
9) Scott Campbell 2B (10th round, 2006)- The New Zealand native has been an impressive addition to the Jays system and has shown promise with both the bat and the glove. Campbell has quickly moved up the Jays system, skipping class A Dunedin in the process. He’s hit .292 (2006, A-), .279 (2007, A) and .302 (2008, AA) in his three season in the Jays system, and hit 9 HR in 417 at bats in 2008 with an OPS of .825. Defensively, Campbell is also strong, commiting only 7 errors in 112 games in 2008. However, with Aaron Hill under contract until at least 2011, and team options through 2014, Campbell’s advancement to the majors is unclear. It’s possible that either or Hill are forced to make the move to short (average rank- 8.5)
10) Marc Rzepczynski (5th round, 2007)- The fourth lefty on the Jays top ten list, Rzepczynski (a.k.a. Zip) has put up two great seasons on the farm. In 2007 at Auburn (A-), Zip went 5-0 in 45.2 innings, striking out 49, holding batters to a .201 average, and inducing 2.36 groundballs for every fly ball. In 2008 at Lansing, he put up another impressive season, spotting a 2.83 ERA, striking out 124 in 121 innings, bettered his groundball to flyball ratio to 3:1, and held opposing batters to a .230 average. Zip should start 2009 in Dunedin, but a quick promotion to New Hampshire is not out of the question. (average rank- 9.5).
In total, the top ten is well rounded and features a catcher, a first baseman, a second baseman, a third baseman, a short stop, an outfielder, and four pitchers (all leftys). Two other players received a single top ten vote: 2B John Tolisano and 2B Bradley Emaus.
Of course, prospects are always crap-shoots, even the good ones, and there is no such thing as a ‘blue-chip prospect,’ regardless of how good someone is. Remeber Todd Van Poppel? How about Russ Adams? See what I mean.
The rest will come later…..