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Blue Jays system review: A Look back to the 2011 minor league season

Blue Jays system review: A Look back to the 2011 minor league season

October 29, 2011

Alex Anthopoulos

Alex Anthopoulos, entering third year as the Toronto Blue Jays General

With the minor league season now over, here is a look back through the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league system on what was a very successful year. When Alex Anthopoulos took over as GM in October 2009 he promised to be aggressive in building the organization through the draft and through trades acquiring high-ceiling, athletic players. He certainly stayed true to his word in 2011 by adding Canadian phenomenon Brett Lawrie to the organization by trading RHP Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers in the winter. In another winter move, Anthopoulos was able to rid the Blue Jays of the Vernon Wells contract by trading him to the Los Angeles Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. The Blue Jays then traded Napoli to Texas for Frank Francisco filling a much needed hole in the bullpen. Juan Rivera was traded mid-season to the Dodgers for a player to be named later, to open a spot for rookie Eric Thames.

In the 2011 MLB first-year player draft, Anthopoulos was aggressive by gambling on high-ceiling, high school athletes that were said to be tough signs. He also turned prospect Zach Stewart and bullpen arms Marc Rzepcynski, Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel for highly touted center fielder, Colby Rasmus in a three-way trade between Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Thanks to all of the new additions, the Jays’ farm system is now ranked 4th by major baseball sources, including Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law. This is a huge contrast from last year when it was ranked 19th overall. Another major difference from the 2011 season and the previous year is the Blue Jays added an extra affiliate team. Wanting to add a Canadian team for awhile, the Jays’ GM added the Vancouver Canadians, an advanced-rookie ball team and a member of the Northwest League.

All of the changes proved to be beneficial for the organization, as the Jays’ minor leaguers combined for a 430-405 record across all eight levels. Fascinatingly, Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League had the best showing going 40-28 for a .588 winning percentage (Click here for Bluefields’ season recap).

That being said, Bluefield was not the only team to enjoy success as five of the eight minor league teams made it to the post-season, including the Bluefield Blue Jays, Vancouver Canadians, Lansing Lugnuts, Dunedin Blue Jays and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Not only did these teams enjoy success but so did the managers with four of five being named Manager of the Year, including: Dennis Holmberg (Bluefield Blue Jays), Mike Redmond (Lansing Lugnuts), Clayton McCullough ( Dunedin Blue Jays) and Sal Fasano (New Hampshire Fisher Cats).

Dunedin failed to move on from the first series, while the Bluefield Blue Jays got swept in the League Championship series against the Johnson City Cardinals. The Vancouver Canadians were crowned Champions of the NorthWest League beating Tri-City Dust Devils in the finals! In addition, the Lansing Lugnuts won their Division Title beating Fort Wayne TinCaps, and then lost the league Championship series to the Quad Cities River Bandits. Lastly, the New Hampshire Fishers Cats’, who arguably had the most talented team, took the Eastern League Championship series against the Richmond Flying Squirrels!

Five players who really made a name for themselves in 2011:

Travis d'Arnaud

C Travis d’Arnaud

Acquired in the Roy Halladay trade in 2009, Travis d’Arnaud struggled in 2010 and eventually was shut down due to a back injury. Because of this, people did not know what to expect in the future. That said, d’Arnaud erased all doubts by having a fantastic season in 2011, becoming one of the top catching prospects in the game. He finished the year batting .311/.371/.542 with 33 doubles, 1 triple, 21 homeruns and 78 RBIs. He threw out 27% of the runners trying to steal off of him and was named to Baseball America’s second team All-Star squad. He also was named the Catcher’s Captain Award recipient for 2011 by Baseball America, which is given to the catcher who displays strong defensive qualities including leadership, dedication, the ability to call a game, blocking and receiving.

Nester Molina

RHP Nester Molina

Since signing with the Blue Jays as a non-drafted free agent in April of 2006, Molina has quietly put up extraordinary numbers through his minor league career. This year with the Dunedin Blue Jays, he was given the chance to start for the first time in his career. He flourished going 12-3 with a 2.21ERA in 26 games, 23 starts. He piled up 130.1 innings, walking a miniscule 16 batters and striking out 148 batters, limiting hitters to a .234 batting average. He has ski-rocketed up the depth chart among pitchers; in fact he wasn’t considered a top prospect before this year.  There is no doubt his dominance on the mound was a key factor New Hampshire’s strong rotation for the playoff stretch.

Drew Hutchison

RHP Drew Hutchison

Drafted in 2009 out of Lakeland Senior High School, Drew Hutchison stole the show for Blue Jays minor league pitchers this year. He excelled at every minor league level, climbing three levels in one year. He pitched like a true ace going 14-5 with a 2.53ERA in 28 games, 27 of which were starts. He accumulated 149.1innings only surrendering 35 walks while striking out 171 batters and held hitters to a ridiculous .220 batting average. His key to pitching is the ability to throw strikes, as well as a dominating mound presence; he also has a great feel for a changeup. He was unfortunately shut down before the AA Eastern League Championship Series reaching his inning limit for the year. There was no surprise to see his name on Baseball America’s second team All-Star squad, which was a true credit to his performance this season.

Jake Marisnick

OF Jake Marisnick

Drafted in 2009 from Riverside Poly HS, Jake Marisnick, received a $1million signing bonus late on August 15, 2009. Marisnick was a part of the highly scrutinised final draft under J.P. Riccardi where he failed to sign three of his top five picks. He enjoyed a bounce back season after struggling in his first pro season in Lansing. He had a slash-line of .320/.392/.496 accumulating 27 doubles, six triples, 17 homeruns and drove in 77 runs. He showed some speed on the base paths with a steal percent of 82% (37/45 steal attempts). He was widely regarded around draft time for his tremendous bat speed, (which I was able to see firsthand and he did not disappoint).  He was very instrumental in getting Lansing into the post-season; unfortunately they lost in the finals. He was rewarded for his tremendous season by being named to Baseball America second All-Star team and being the fifth best prospect in the Midwest league in 2011.

Justin Nicolino, Photo Credit: Vancouver Sun

LHP Justin Nicolino

Drafted in 2010 as a high-schooler from University HS, Justin Nicolino was another pitching prospect who really shined in 2011. He enjoyed a remarkable first professional season, playing mostly for the new Blue Jays affiliate Vancouver Canadians. He went 6-2 with a 1.33ERA in 15 games, 12 starts combined between Vancouver and Lansing. He amassed 61innings giving up only 13 walks while striking out 73 batters holding the hitters to an unbelievable .181 average. He is the complete package for a pitcher with a three-pitch mix, fastball/changeup/curveball and is very advanced for someone coming out of high-school. Baseball America named Nicolino as the top prospect in the Northwest League rewarding him for the work he has done and his many achievements this season.
Honourable Mentions: OF Marcus Knecht, , RHP Noah Syndergaard, OF Anthony Gose, RHP Deck McGuire, RHP Chad Jenkins.

Overall, there is no denying that the Blue Jays organization has a lot to be proud of. Whether it would be the teams, the managers, or the individual players, it is evident that the Jays’ have a lot to look forward to in the years to come. It is clear that Alex Anthopoulos’ philosophy is paying off in big dividends given the success of 2011 and for that we at Jays Prospects cannot wait to see the new additions next year!