With the winter approaching and prospects lists slowly beginning to leak their way onto the internet, I have caught myself more than a few times thinking about the Blue Jays farm system in preparation for my own top prospect list in the new year.
In order to come up with my rankings, I make a series of lists throughout the winter, each without looking at any of my previous versions. I find this to be the best way to digest and analyze new information and thoughts I might have acquired without being heavily influenced by earlier judgements. When I eventually make my final rankings, I can look at the consistencies, inconsistencies, and trends my lists may have shown over the winter and use that information to give me a fair and unbiased review of the farm.
Only a few lists into this process, I can already sense there is at least one player that I really don't have a firm grasp on -- Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Entering the 2011 season, I had ranked Hechavarria as the #12 prospect in the Blue Jays system, while describing how his bat was the biggest question mark in determining how much success he would have. A season later, the same huge, elephant-in-the-room questions remain.
Will Hechavarria ever hit? How do you rank an all-defense prospect?
These are the two questions I keep asking myself when attempting to rank Hechavarria. The latter question would be easy to answer if I had confidence in the former. If I felt like it was only a matter of time before Hechavarria started putting together some solid offensive seasons, it would be easy to rank him in the top 10 -- perhaps even higher -- as shortstops with a potential all around tools package like that don't come around often. The problem is, two seasons into his career, Hechavarria has damaged most hope I had of him becoming a plus offensive shortstop.
In his debut season, Hechavarria hit .242/.272/.333 (.605) between Dunedin and New Hampshire. The following year, 2011, he hit .264/.305/.383 (.687) between New Hampshire and Las Vegas. While the Las Vegas portion of his slash line (.389/.431/.537) certainly looks good, it was only a months worth of at-bats, and the Pacific Coast League isn't exactly known for its pitchers. After the MiLB season came to an end, it was announced that Hechavarria would be assigned to the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League to continue his development. He has put together a solid, albeit unspectacular line of .246/.300/.462 (.762), as of November 9th. Much like the Pacific Coast League, however, the AFL is a notorious hitters league, so the power numbers (particularly the 4 triples in 17 games) should taken with a grain of salt.
I'm finding it harder and harder to convince myself that Hechavarria will ever be anything more than a .270/.320/.380 hitter. With defense considered, that's nothing to shake a stick at, but it's certainly not All Star calibre, and it's likely not even 1st division starter calibre.
So how exactly does one rank a defense-only prospect? Well, the most comparable player to Hechavarria might be fellow Cuban shortstop Jose Iglesias of the Boston Red Sox. Like Adeiny, Jose was signed as an International Free Agent during the 2009 season, receiving a substantial bonus and major league contract. Iglesias has two minor league seasons under his belt, with the first being very good (.295/.339/.379) and the second being beyond awful (.235/.285/.269). Expectations were raised after his superb debut, earning him the title as Boston's #1 prospect entering 2011 by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America (post A-Gon trade). Obviously, he failed to live up to the billing. Hechavarria has yet to experience a strong offensive season like Iglesias' 2010, but both are in a similar position entering 2012 -- exceptional defensive shortstops with huge questions about their bat skills.
Another problem working against Hechavarria is the strength of the system. It could be generously argued that Hechavarria "treaded water" during 2011, neither improving nor dimishing his prospect stock to any signficant degree. The issue is that, outside of Hechavarria, most of Toronto's other top prospects took steps forward last season. Additionally, Toronto experienced yet another successful draft under the leadership of Alex Anthopolous, further strengthening the ranks of a bloated system. Treading water isn't good enough here anymore -- either start swimming or get out of the way of the bigger fish. There will likely be a lot of variability in the rankings of Hechavarria between the various prospect websites, and what it comes down to is how much faith does the writer have in his bat coming around. If they think Hechavarria can develop his bat enough to play a regular role, they might just place him in the meat of the top 10. If they've soured on him, he may slip all the way to the back end of the top 20.