Top prospect spotlight
One of the larger strengths in the Blue Jays' system these days lies behind the plate. So while J.P. Arencibia finished second among all rookies in the big leagues with his 23 homers, he may want to look over his shoulder just a tiny bit.
That's largely because of Toronto's current top prospect, Travis d'Arnaud. The 2007 supplemental first-round pick moved up to the Double-A Eastern League and took home the league's MVP honors after hitting .311/.371/.542 for New Hampshire.
"I thought I exceeded my expectations," said d'Arnaud, who is now with Team USA in Panama for the World Cup. "I just wanted to catch a lot of games, just stay healthy and go out there and help my team win every day."
The young catcher was trying to make up for time missed due to injuries in 2010, when he appeared in just 71 games and picked up only 263 at-bats in his first season with the Blue Jays after coming from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay deal. He stayed healthy and definitely reaped the benefits of spending every day with former big league catcher Sal Fasano, his manager at New Hampshire.
"The transition has been easy, with the help of Sal," d'Arnaud said. "He always talks baseball, about the pitch-calling, after the game. Even in the game, if I made a mistake, he'd tell me right away so I could fix the problem.
"Coaches have always told me that I play 18 innings, nine innings of offense and nine of defense. I try to stay focused on each one, keep it separate."
That "separation of powers" seems to be working, and d'Arnaud should be ready to take one more step up and be that proverbial phone call away. His older brother, Chase, got his first call with the Pirates, something that made the dream seem that much more real.
"When he got called up, I felt a part of me got called up," d'Arnaud said. "It helped me focus more. I realize I'm almost there. I just need to focus and enjoy it.
"I'm really excited. I can't believe it's really happening to me, as far as being a phone call away. I remember talking to my brother about it, messing around in the backyard as kids. Now, it's actually happening. I'm ecstatic."
He's equally excited about playing in Panama and representing his country. This is d'Arnaud's first go-around with Team USA. But between his brother, who played for USA Baseball a year ago, and others who have had the experience, he knew what to expect.
"For me, it was an honor to get the phone call to play for Team USA," d'Arnaud said. "Everyone who's played on the team before told me it's a great experience."
Top 10 review
From a sheer numbers standpoint, it was a good year for the top prospects in the Blue Jays' system.
The top three prospects when the year began -- Kyle Drabek, Brett Lawrie and Arencibia -- all graduated to the big leagues and off the Top 10 list, after surpassing the rookie-eligibility threshold. Drabek had a rough year, though he did show some signs of life in a couple of relief outings back in the big leagues in September. Still only 23, there's plenty of time to get things sorted out.
Lawrie did nothing but hit, at Triple-A Las Vegas and in the big leagues, when he wasn't hurt. He had a broken left hand in the Minors, then had his big league debut cut a bit short by a fractured finger. He figures to be the club's everyday third baseman in 2012.
Arencibia showed good power, but saw his average skid after the season's first two months. It will be interesting to see if and when d'Arnaud challenges Arencibia for playing time in Toronto.
The three graduations, along with the trade of Zach Stewart, opened four slots over the course of the season. Both outfielder Jake Marisnick and right-hander Drew Hutchison did as much as anyone in the system to boost their stock. Marisnick finished second in the Midwest League batting race, and fourth in OPS, while showing power and speed during his first full season. Hutchison began the year with Marisnick at Class A Lansing, moved up to Class A-Advanced Dunedin in June and finished with a few starts in New Hampshire. The 21-year-old is now definitively on the fast track, and has one of the best arms in the system.
Blue Jays' top 10 prospects
|1.||Kyle Drabek, RHP||d'Arnaud|
|2.||Brett Lawrie, 3B||Gose|
|3.||J.P. Arencibia, C||McGuire|
|4.||Travis d'Arnaud, C||Jake Marisnick, OF|
|5.||Anthony Gose, OF||Drew Hutchison, RHP|
|6.||Zach Stewart, RHP||Perez|
|7.||Deck McGuire, RHP||Sanchez|
|8.||Carlos Perez, C||Hechavarria|
|9.||Aaron Sanchez, RHP||Asher Wojciechowski, RHP|
|10.||Adeiny Hechavarria, SS||Justin Nicolino, RHP|
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Lawrie, 3B: The thought of Lawrie in Las Vegas made this an easy pick, and only an injury, followed by a call to the big leagues, kept his numbers down. His .347/.414/.647 line was still fairly ridiculous.
Deck McGuire, RHP: The prediction of McGuire starting in the Florida State League and ending in Double-A came true. And while he didn't lead the system in ERA, his 3.02 combined mark placed him second.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Lawrie: Had he finished with enough at-bats to qualify, Lawrie would have finished third in the Pacific Coast League in average, second in slugging and first in OPS. His days as a prospect are now over.
Hutchison, RHP: It's not that McGuire wasn't good; it's just that Hutchison was better. The right-hander pitched at three levels and won the organizational pitching triple crown along the way.