|Recent trades for Mark Buehrle (left) and Josh Johnson (center) have weakened the Blue Jays' system. (AP)|
Before the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
Prospects can have value in two ways. The primary one is obvious -- when they reach their ceilings, they become the stars and role-players of the future. This offseason, the Blue Jays reminded us of their other value: trade chips. This offseason, Toronto turned most of their best prospects -- numbers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8 in their system according to Baseball America's November rankings -- into a team primed to compete for the American League East title. Still, the club had a deep system before the trades. It's much weaker now, but the remains aren't barren.
2013 Impact Player
The Blue Jays are in the enviable position of not needing to rely on a prospect in a prominent role for 2013. But between Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero there's a good chance the rotation needs a fill-in at some point. If so, it'll likely be Nolin, a hulking 23-year-old lefty. Nolin is a four-pitch starter, with a low-90s fastball, excellent changeup and a developing slider and curveball. The changeup will be the key if he manages to make the majors in 2013, as he's sure to be met with platoon right-handed batters in droves upon his arrival. Nolin is likely to begin in Double-A, but he tore through the low-minors and if he dominates like he did in 2012 -- 2.04 ERA, 108 strikeouts against 27 walks in 101.1 innings -- the Blue Jays could turn to him in the second half of 2013.
Sanchez, Toronto's 2010 first-round pick, was the sole jewel the club didn't have to part with in assembling their new crew. The 20-year-old dazzled in his first run through full-season professional baseball in 2012 with a 2.49 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 90.1 innings. He allowed just 64 hits the entire season, setting the stage for the real test this year in Double-A. At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Sanchez defines the projectable frame. He has an excellent fastball (rated tops in the system even before the trading frenzy by Baseball America, as was his curveball) and could just get better as his body fills out. The question is if he can shore up his control and command. Sanchez walked 51 and hit seven batters last season, a number he'll need to slash before he reaches the majors. Still, his raw stuff and accomplishments in his young career make him one of the top pitching prospects in the game.
Stroman was a possibility to reach the majors last season before he was hit with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance (specifically, methylhexaneamine, a compound marketed as a dietary supplement as well as a nasal decongestant). As such, we won't be seeing Stroman early in 2013, but if he can return from his suspension and continue to show his excellent stuff, he'll be an option for the Blue Jays' bullpen around midseason. Stroman was a first-round selection by the Jays in 2012 out of Duke, and the polish he picked up in college is what could allow him to hit the majors so quickly. Stroman already features a major-league slider and used it to get 23 strikeouts in just 19.1 innings last season. He also features a fastball with upper-90s capability. The true wild card is Stroman's height (5-9). Getting such velocity out of a short frame is a rarity, although it will make it difficult for Stroman to generate the angles necessary to get ground balls. Still, if he has two pitches that can generate swings and misses like his fastball and slider have the potential to, he can be a force out of the bullpen.
With the American League East looking as weak as it has at any time in recent years, general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays knew they wouldn't have any better chance to strike. It meant parting with many of the prospects that defined the system as one of the league's greatest. But there's still something to be mined from Toronto's farm system, both now and down the road.