In recent seasons, the Blue Jays have not only found success in drafting and developing homegrown talent, they have also executed trades that have returned significant value to the farm system.
Travis d'Arnaud, the 2011 Eastern League Most Valuable Player and MLB.com's No. 25 prospect on the Top 100 Prospects list, is one of the payoffs of the club's Hot Stove decision-making. Acquired from the Phillies in a prized package for Roy Halladay, d'Arnaud enjoyed a truly breakout year in 2011 with Double-A New Hampshire. Following a season in which he hit .311 with 21 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .914 OPS, d'Arnaud -- who turns 23 on Friday -- is on the cusp of the bigs, with plenty more promising prospects likely to follow in the near future.
d'Arnaud will soon be the second in a collection of high-upside Blue Jays catching prospects to reach the big leagues since 2010. Current catcher J.P. Arencibia has just one full year on the job, but he has proven himself capable of handling his duties with the pitching staff while providing thump with the bat, after hitting 23 home runs and driving in 78 runs in '11. Despite the potential for a position battle, d'Arnaud credits Arencibia and outfielder Travis Snider for assisting in his growth.
"I try not to think about [a competition]. I try to think about what I can control and not try to get into too much depth of thinking what will happen," d'Arnaud said. "J.P. is a great guy. He's helped my transition here from the Phillies to the Blue Jays. It's been easier ... because of J.P. and Travis Snider, too. I can't thank them enough for what they've done."
d'Arnaud's recent success did not come without a scare. He suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb while playing for Team USA at the 2011 Baseball World Cup in Panama in October, and he underwent surgery. Five months later, d'Arnaud insists he is ready for Spring Training, focused on continued growth and not yet concerned with what the future may hold.
"I feel like my whole career, I'll always need to make adjustments and always work on something," d'Arnaud said. "As far as next year goes, just keep my head in the game as I did last year and just have fun. Any adjustments I need to make with my hitting coach and manager, and my pitching coach for defense, I'll just keep improving and making adjustments."
Top 20 Prospects
d'Arnaud enters the 2012 season not only as the Blue Jays' top prospect, but the third-ranked catching prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB.com. Behind d'Arnaud is a pair of dynamic outfielders -- Anthony Gose (No. 2) and Jake Marisnick (No. 3) -- who can hit for contact, power, defend and steal bases -- the two combined for 107 steals in 2011.
The rest of the top 10 spots are dominated by pitchers, including a pair of left-handers -- 2011 second-round pick Daniel Norris (No. 5) and Justin Nicolino (No. 6). Noah Syndergaard (No. 4), a 2010 first-round pick, and right-hander Drew Hutchison (No. 7) both pitched across three levels in '11, to a 1.83 ERA and 2.53 ERA, respectively. Right-handers Aaron Sanchez (No. 8) and Deck McGuire (No. 10) bookend the system's next catcher, Carlos Perez (No. 9).
Right-handers Asher Wojciechowski (No. 11), 2011 compensatory round pick Joe Musgrove (No. 12), rookie-level outfielder C.J. Hawkins (No. 13), catcher A.J. Jimenez (No. 14) and '11 compensatory pick Kevin Comer (No. 15) fill up the next five.
Slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is next at No. 16, followed by 18-year-old right-hander Adonys Cardona (No. 17), another '11 compensatory pick Jacob Anderson (No. 18), power-hitting outfielder Moises Sierra (No. 19) and third baseman Kellen Sweeney (No. 20).
blue jays' top prospects
Under the Radar
Michael Crouse, a 16th-round pick in the 2008 Draft, put together a big year with Class A Lansing, demonstrating power, speed and a very strong outfield arm. His .261 average last season represents his need to improve his contact approach, but his 14 home runs, 45 total extra-base hits and 38 stolen bases (only eight failed attempts) exemplify how the 21-year-old outfielder could certainly put himself on the radar in 2012. He has shown the flashes of being a true five-tool talent.
Selected in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft, Anthony DeSclafani didn't sign until Aug. 14, which prevented him from having the opportunity to log his first professional innings last season. Nevertheless, the right-hander, who was a reliever at the University of Florida, has a chance to move quickly through the system. DeSclafani has two power pitches -- a fastball which sits at 93-95 mph and a mid-80s slider -- that may not require much seasoning on the farm.
Hitter of the Year
There should be nothing holding d'Arnaud back this season as long as his thumb shows no lingering effects. d'Arnaud is confident he is back to 100 percent and will move on to Triple-A Las Vegas and the more offensive-oriented Pacific Coast League in 2012. Combined with moving out of the frosty spring weather of the Eastern League, d'Arnaud should be in the right environment -- in more ways than one -- to have a monster year and move even closer to Toronto, if not gain an outright promotion.
Pitcher of the Year
The selection of Cardona isn't as much about the numbers he will put up. Rather, it is the growth he will demonstrate. The 18-year-old right-hander may remain at the short-season level in 2012 after pitching in the Gulf Coast League last season, but a 92-94 mph fastball and a well-defined curveball/changeup combination could lead Cardona to elevate his stock in a big way this season. He is very young, but very promising.