A Blog of Toronto Blue Jays Prospects Interviews, Evaluations and News

State of the Franchise, with Dave Gershman

Dave Gershman was kind enough to take the time with me to discuss the state of the Blue Jays franchise in terms of the rebuild and how far along they are. Here is what he had to say in our discussion:

What do you think the biggest difference in terms of prospects/drafting have you noticed since Alex Anthopoulos(AA) took over as the GM in 2009?

Dave Gershman: There’s definitely a substantial difference. And you know what? It’s been remarkable to watch. The system is now one of the best in the game and less than two years ago it was easily one of the worst. Aside from the clear changes from the management front including hiring Alex Anthopolous, the Jays have made huge changes in player development, scouting, and front office staff. Whether it be replacing all of their video scouts for new and more experienced ones or clogging their affiliate teams with managers who are former players, there has clearly been a bigger sense of motivation to turn this organization around. That obviously has reflected on the organization thus far, and things don’t look to change all that much. In fact, things are probably just going to get better. On to the prospects/drafting, AA unlike Ricciardi has focused his and his scouts attention on sky-is-the-limit type of kids which include players with the highest of upside. Obviously, that’s much riskier than going with guys like Chad Jenkins and James Paxton with two of your first three picks (both college guys) but it’s their new style of development and so far, it’s worked.

Do you think that the demotions of Travis Snider, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek is a major step back in terms of their development as major-league players and for the future, since they were a big part this year?

Dave Gershman: I think their performances have definitely been a step back and demoting them was  probably in their best interest. I don’t think Snider should have been demoted, but Drabek led MLB this year in lowest percentage of strikes thrown and Cecil had all sorts of problems. Clearly, the Jays believe that more and more development for the duo was much needed, and the more time spent in the minors couldn’t hurt. As for their development, Drabek was only one of baseball’s most coveted prospects a few months ago and Cecil was decent last year and the demotion means the Jays only want to see improvement from them before they give them the green light and stick them back in the rotation.

In this the 2nd year of the rebuild/retool for the Blue Jays, how close is AA to having that core group of solid, young, major-league talent he covets?

Dave Gershman: That takes a while to develop, and the draftees selected by AA are now mostly in the Low-A – High A range. So it isn’t yet determined what kind of roadblocks, if so, could take place for the best prospects in the organization, but Travis D’Arnaud for example is one of the top 20 prospects in baseball and he’s having one of the best seasons of anybody in minor league baseball. Thus the potential future state of the Jays that the men in charge envision is probably at it’s best in a while. Alex Anthopolous selected the guys he wants for the future and while there’s no guarantee they’ll all be there in the long run, player development and the fantastic people in the Jays organization are doing all they can to prepare these kids for the future.

What have you thought about the two drafts of AA?

Dave Gershman: As I said previously, there’s a huge difference between AA’s selections and draft strategy and that of J.P. Ricciardi’s. Alex Anthopolous has gone for guys with the highest of upside whereas J.P. Ricciardi didn’t even really have a strategy. Keeping in mind the fact that most of the Jays selections of the past two years will take lots of time to develop, you have to go with those types of guys. Why? Well, if you take one high school arm with all the upside in the world, there’s almost no way to guarantee he becomes a star. If you take ten of that same pitcher, one becomes a star. Most college players don’t feature that much upside and are most commonly quantified as safe(r) picks, and AA has shied away from most of those guys which studies have shown have not fared out as well as upside/toolsy players.

With our first seven pick of this year’s MLB draft we selected seven high-school players, two of which are committed and said they won’t sign. What are the odds of them all to sign? What impact might this have on the farm system?

Dave Gershman: I wouldn’t read too much in to players saying they wont sign as the Jays wouldn’t have drafted them if that was the case. It’s AA’s niche to go with players among the likes of Norris and Beede along with players such as Dwight Smith Jr. and Jacob Anderson and all four could easily impact the farm system a great deal. Those four represent just a microcosm of the impact that this draft class could have on the farm system though. Guys like John Stilson, Kevin Comer, Andrew Suarez, Christian Lopes and Musgrove could also prove to be solid picks and some will shoot through the system fast. At the time of the draft, I thought the Jays had either the best or second best draft. I don’t think any differently now.

What is your view on the Jays now becoming major players in International Free Agents, such as July 2nd or players defecting from Cuba?

Dave Gershman: Another AA niche – international players. It’s impressive to see how active they’ve really been. Gabriel Cenas and Adonys Cardona were fantastic signs and having seen Cardona pitch I still can’t stop drooling it seems. Every year under the AA administration they are active players internationally and much is because a heavier involvement in scouting in that area and improvements of the status of their camps down in Latin America. Remember, they were big players in the Aroldis Chapman and Luis Heredia sweepstakes and they signed Adeiny Hechevarria. You have to go for guys like that in order to be successful and teams like the Brewers who have no camps down in Latin America struggle with such development.

A big question mark in the system for me is Adeiny Hechavarria. He is certainly capable of being a great defensive short-stop in the majors but will his bat come around? Since he is on the 40-man roster how much time does he have to prove?

Dave Gershman: I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: He is the best defensive shortstop in professional baseball. Personally, I think his glove will make up for much of the offense that he may not provide, but with Yunel Escobar currently playing shortstop for the Jays they’re in no rush to speed Adeiny’s development. Alas, that’s another thing the Jays will never do. He’s hitting much better this year though even if that doesn’t say a whole lot. He’s showing more power and improvements of pitch recognition and plate discipline. All of which will only help him out going forward. Being on the 40-man does hurt him, but there’s nothing they can do about it.

The Jays after one year under AA were rated as having the number 4 farm system in the MLB, compared to 28th in 2009 under Riccardi. What is your thought on this? Do you see it increasing in the near future?

Dave Gershman: I think it’s fair to say I’ve watched and followed this system in depth more than most. I’ve seen each and every player play whether it be in the back fields in Dunedin or when I cover the Fisher Cats. So, when people make claims saying the Rays are the best system in baseball and not the Jays – which may be true – I like to use everything I’ve heard, seen, and know to make my case for best system. And being somebody who also watched the Rays Low-A team every home game, I can tell you that I still think the Jays have the best system in baseball. Why? Well, every level unlike the TB system has at least one impact player. One player who will be a fantastic Major Leaguer and after this draft, assuming they get most guys signed, the system is only that much better.

With d’Arnaud having a breakout year in AA and getting closer to becoming major-league ready, what do you think will happen to Arencibia because you can’t have him or d’Arnaud as back-up?

Dave Gershman: It’s a great problem to have and one in which they won’t deal with until the time comes that they need to. D’Arnaud is one of the top three catching prospects in the minors and he’s having the best season this year of his pro career. I think they’ll continue to take it slow(ish) with him as there’s clearly no rush, but he is the future and I think he’ll have a bigger impact on the Jays than Arencibia would.

Do you agree with letting some players jump from AA to the majors (Zach Stewart, Kyle Drabek) or do you think in the long run skipping AAA hurts their development?

Dave Gershman: The reason they do that is because 1) Las Vegas is a crazy hitters park and 2) New Hampshire is extremely close proximity wise to Toronto. It is a method that they’ve used for a while and they really haven’t had a problem with it. This is mostly for pitchers though.

What do you think that the system is lacking in terms of a position and or talent wise?

Dave Gershman: I truly don’t think it lacks anything. If I had to say, I’d say it lacks power as Mike McDade and Moises Sierra don’t feature as much power as one would think. With that said, they have some of the most power in the system. There are guys in the lower levels with lots of power such as Art Charles for one but even he is very far from being Major League ready.

What do you think that the biggest strength of the system is?

Dave Gershman: Again, this system has everything but it’s extremely rich in catching prospects. Counter in Arencibia (who isn’t a prospect anymore), you have D’Arnaud, Carlos Perez, and A.J. Jimenez who all project to be everyday Major League catchers at the very least.

What do you think the biggest weakness of the system?

Dave Gershman: Again, probably power but there is such a variety of talent in this organization that I’m not really sure if there is a weakness. For now, they have everything an organization could want and it’s clearly showing at each and every level.

Who do you think is the next impact player to play for the Jays not named Lawrie?

Dave Gershman: According to several people in the organization, Anthony Gose is their guy. They really like him and he’s shown star potential this season. Basically, he’s catering to there hopes and needs and is displaying everything the Phillies foresaw at the time they drafted him all the way to when the Jays traded for him. I think he’s going to make a huge impact and fairly soon, I might add.