The Prospect Rumor Roundup returns for a second week with a look back at the biggest trade of the offseason…
With Toronto almost 10 games out of first place at the beginning of May, and with the bandwagon already set ablaze by fickle fans, it's safe to say that this is not the type of start to the year that the Blue Jays front office was expecting. The organization orchestrated two key trades during the 2012-13 offseason, which brought a number of high-profile veterans north of the border, including R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio. A month into the season, those five players have accumulated a combined 0.3 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement).
With arguably a top five minor league system prior to the deals, Toronto mortgaged a good deal of its future for a chance to win now. While the veterans are struggling, the majority of the prospects — no longer under the Jays' control — are thriving in their new digs.
Catcher Travis d'Arnaud reportedly came close to winning a big league roster spot out of spring training with the Mets. He was assigned to Triple-A where six of his nine hits went for extra bases. He also added 12 walks before going down with a broken foot. He'll miss about eight weeks, but veteran catcher John Buck is holding down the fort in the Majors. D'Arnaud was added to the 40-man roster in November 2011 and is currently in his second of three option years, so he'll have to establish himself in the Majors by the end of the 2014 season to avoid being sent through waivers to be demoted to the minors.
One of three top young arms in Toronto's system prior to being dealt to the Mets, Noah Syndergaard has a 3.24 ERA in five High-A ball starts. He's been even better than it appears, though, as he allowed seven of his nine earned runs on the year in just one start. Jonathan Raymond of MiLB.com recently spoke to the prospect's A-ball pitching coach to learn more about his approach. The Texas native is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in 2014 so he'll have to be added to the 40-man roster after next season to avoid being snatched away from the Mets.
Outfielder Wuilmer Becerra suffered a scary injury last year in rookie ball when he was hit in the face during an at-bat, ending his season after just 11 games. The 18-year-old was originally signed out of Venezuela for $1.3MM and was considered one of the top Latin amateur free agents in 2011. He's currently playing in extended spring training and should be assigned to a short-season club in June.
Adeiny Hechavarria was signed out of Cuba by the Jays and has taken over the starting shortstop gig in Miami, although he's currently on the disabled list. His offense hasn't kicked in yet but he's playing steady ball in the field and is known for being a plus defender capable of providing a ton of value with his glove alone. Hechavarria's traditional three option years expired at the end of 2012 but he was granted a rare fourth option year for the 2013 season, so he can be sent down to the minors this year — if need be — without being exposed to waivers.
Like Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino was a member of Toronto's top pitching trio. The Florida native has enjoyed his time in the Miami Marlins organization despite an inconsistent year to date and has a 3.60 ERA in five starts in the High-A Florida State League. Nicolino's adjustment to his hometown organization was recently outlined by Guy Curtright at MiLB.com. He doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season. I recently spoke with Marlins Director of Player Development Brian Chattin, who said the organization was happy with all the players they acquired. "Nicolino has shown an above-average changeup and a mature approach to his development," he added.
An injury to outfielder Jake Marisnick kept him on the sidelines until this past weekend. After spending 55 games at the Double-A level in 2013, he got his feet wet back in High-A ball before moving back to Double-A. He has plus defensive skills but a front office contact within the Jays organization told me during the offseason — shortly before the big trade — that he's still getting used to some adjustments made to his batting stance and swing mechanics. Chattin told MLBTR, "[Jake has] excellent makeup, he's a well-above-average athlete, impressive defender in center field and has the tools to be an impact major leaguer." Marisnick will have to be added to the 40-man roster this coming November to shield him from the Rule 5 draft.
The lesser known name of the group of prospects sent to Miami, Anthony DeSclafani arguably has had the most success of the four players. The University of Florida alum has a 0.44 ERA with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 20.2 innings pitched. A reliever with inconsistent results in college, the organization is trying to stretch him out as a starter in pro ball. "Anthony has thrown strikes and lived at the bottom of the zone in each of his starts," Chattin told MLBTR. "We are allowing him to use his curveball in addition to his slider/fastball/changeup combination. He has confidence in his curveball and is using it well as a complement to the rest of his arsenal." Like Nicolino, DeSclafani has to be added to the 40-man roster after the 2014 season.
Prospect Tidbits: With the recent success of 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball is enjoying renewed popularity. Orioles minor leaguer Eddie Gamboa is attempting to become the next successful big league knuckleballer. Benjamin Hill of MLB.com explained that the pitching prospect received some guidance from Hall of Famer Phil Niekro during spring training. Gamboa said that he's currently throwing his new pitch about 50 percent of the time in game situations, much to his surprise. Said Gamboa:
"I always put up okay numbers, enough to keep getting a job again but not enough to get a promotion… My game was stuck… The knuckleball was always something that I had practiced just in case, but I didn't think that just in case was going to be this year."
A talented two-way player in high school, Stetson Allie signed with the Pirates for a $2.25MM bonus in 2010 and began his career on the mound. When he was unable to harness his control (29 walks in 26 innings in 2011), the organization took a huge gamble by shifting the strong-armed prospect to first base. It took a year of struggling to find his footing but Allie is finally tapping into his plus raw power and has eight home runs in 24 A-ball games. Mike Newman of FanGraphs.com recently watched the Pirates prospect play and he also spoke with Allie, as well as Pittsburgh's assistant general manager Kyle Stark.