Inspiration for the Blue Jays Positional Primer series comes from Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. Over the course of the second half of the season, Jason examined the prospects in the entire minor leagues on a position-by-position basis, giving insight into players both within and well outside the top 100 rankings.
While the sample size of one team is vastly inferior to that of the entire minor leagues, I feel Toronto has enough depth in the farm -- particularly in the low minors -- that such a series could provide some insight into prospects that Blue Jays fans aren't as familiar with as they should be. This is the second installment of an eight part series that will examine catcher, first base, middle infield, third base, center field, corner outfield, right handed pitcher, and left handed pitcher. The middle infield and corner outfield lists are included as there's really no such thing as a second base or left field prospect, they're just shortstops and center/right fielders who couldn't handle the defensive demands and get moved to the easier defensive position as they age. It should be noted that -- outside of the Leader of the Pack, who is the #1 for the position -- these are not necessarily progressive rankings of the prospects
Part I -- Blue Jays Positional Primer: Catcher
Part III -- Blue Jays Positional Primer: Middle Infield
Part IV -- Blue Jays Positional Primer: Third Base
Part V -- Blue Jays Positional Primer: Center Field
Part VI -- Blue Jays Positional Primer: Corner Outfield
Part VII -- Blue Jays Positional Primer: Right-handed Pitcher
Part VIII -- Blue Jays Positional Primer: Left-handed Pitcher
The Leader of the Pack
David Cooper -– 2011 team: Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s
467 AB, .364/.439/.535 (.974 OPS), 51 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR, 96 RBI, 1 SB, 67/43 BB/K
David Cooper is the Leader of the Pack in the first base division. While Cooper is a decent enough prospect, this title speaks more to the lack of depth in the system at first base, as Alex Anthopolous has targeted primarily up-the-middle talent since taking over two years ago. Cooper was the Blue Jays 1st round pick in the 2008 draft, but has yet to live up to the expectations.
Cooper’s four year minor league career has been a bit of a roller coaster. He signed early in his draft year (2008), and managed to play 69 games across three levels late in the season. Cooper had a strong debut season, hitting .333/.399/.502 (.901), emphasized by his 29 doubles and 30/46 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Cooper would spend all of 2009 and 2010 with the Double-A Fisher Cats, and struggled to make consistent contact both years. He hit .258 in 2009, followed by .257 in 2010. His plate discipline remained an asset (111 walks, 166 strikeouts in 260 games), and his power did show some development, peaking at 20 home runs in 2010. Despite the back-to-back mediocre seasons, Cooper was promoted to Triple-A to start 2011, and put together the strong batting line above, winning the PCL batting title.
The troubling aspect of Cooper’s career is that, out of college, his best tool was supposed to be his bat –- the same bat tool that Cooper has been painfully inconsistent with in his four professional seasons. Scouts were skeptical of his bat translating to the professional leagues as his ability is based more upon strong arms and excellent hand-eye coordination than pure bat speed. He has likely already reached his power potential, as his bat speed and frame don’t project anything beyond 15-20 home runs. His speed and defense are below average to average at best. With Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion under contract for 2012, Cooper will likely find himself back in Triple-A to open next season, awaiting an injury.
Mike McDade –- 2011 team: Double-A New Hampshire Fishers Cats
484 AB, .281/.328/.457 (.785 OPS), 37 2B, 0 3B, 16 HR, 74 RBI, 0 SB, 28/104 BB/K
While Mike McDade has been very consistent over the past three seasons, the problem is that he hasn’t been consistently above average, particularly for a first baseman. To be considered a true prospect at first base, the player needs to have a special bat, and McDade has not yet shown such ability. McDade was drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 draft, and has recently been added to the 40 man roster to protect him from Rule 5 draft eligibility. While he is built like Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, standing 6’1” and weighing 260 lbs, that is where the similarities between the two end. The switch hitting McDade has average bat and power tools, but given the expectations placed upon first basemen, his power could be considered below average. He’s athletic given his large size, and is actually more defensively sound than the much smaller David Cooper.
As an example of how truly consistent McDade has been, you don’t need to look any further than his bat, his power, and his plate discipline. In batting average, home runs, and walks over the past three seasons, McDade has hit .277/16/32, .267/21/27, .281/16/28, which is all well within one standard deviation of the mean. With a sample size of 1372 AB, it’s safe to say this might be the true talent level of Mike McDade. It should be noted that McDade is still only 22 years old, which does leave some room for improvement as he gets the experience that his pitching counterparts have received. Still, if McDade wants to make the leap from organization depth to top prospect, he’s going to need to take a colossal step forward in 2012, and show the numbers expected from a first baseman.
The Question Mark
Roan Salas -– 2011 team: Low-A Vancouver Canadians
139 AB, .259/.304/.432 (.736 OPS), 10 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB, 5/31 BB/K
The Question Mark of the first base division is Roan Salas of the Vancouver Canadians. Salas is a player who was acquired via the poorly covered minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, with the Blue Jays paying the Tampa Bay Rays $12,000 dollars for his rights. At the time, Salas was a 20 year old with a career .322/.390/.506 batting line in 680 AB across 4 years in the short-season minor leagues, so the investment -– given the minimal risk –- was clearly a sound one. Standing only 5’11” and weighing 175 lbs, Salas doesn’t have the build of a typical first baseman, but he still showed impressive power in 2009, hitting 19 doubles, 3 triples, and 15 home runs in 61 games.
Despite never having played in North America, Toronto boldly assigned him to the Low-A affiliate in Vancouver, an area that has a much smaller Hispanic community than, say, the Gulf Coast League. His struggles aren’t surprising, as in addition to the culture shock he skipped two minor league levels. The power remained respectable, but he was clearly overmatched by the command that pitchers in the North American leagues have. After walking 69 times against 84 strikeouts in his first four seasons, Salas struggled to a 5/31 walk-to-strikeout ratio with Vancouver, an area he clearly needs to improve upon if he wishes to continue to climb the ranks. Due to underexposure there isn’t much in terms of scouting reports on Roan Salas, but should he earn a promotion to full-season Lansing to open next season, his name could more frequently enter the conversation in discussions of Toronto’s deep farm system.
Remember the Name
Art Charles –- 2011 team: Rookie-Class Bluefield Blue Jays
250 AB, .240/.351/.468 (.819 OPS), 18 2B, 3 3B, 11 HR, 61 RBI, 1 SB, 39/89 BB/K
Bluefield first baseman Art Charles closes out the list in the Remember the Name division. The 6’6”, 220 lbs Charles is a converted pitcher who has played exclusively as a hitter since being selected in the 20th round of the 2010 draft. Despite being 19, Charles began his career in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit a fairly impressive .244/.331/.431 (.762), showing good power (11 doubles, 4 home runs) and plate discipline (16 walks) in 37 games. He struggled with making consistent contact, leading to 48 strikeouts.
Those trends continued in 2011, this time with the Rookie-Class affiliate in Bluefield. Charles hit a lot of extra base hits and took walks at an above average rate, but once again hit an uninspiring .240 with 89 strikeouts in 68 games. The stat line is a decent indicator of his current tool set. Charles has a monstrous frame which creates an abnormally large strikezone. He has a very long swing, which results in a lot of holes in his swing despite the bat speed he’s able to generate. He has above average power, but it may take a substantial improvement in his hitting ability to truly showcase it. Charles is a respectable athlete, particularly as a first baseman. Like Santiago Nessy, he is still too raw and far away to be considered for the Blue Jays top 20 list, but may have an opportunity to play full-season ball with Lansing next season.