Head of the Class – OBP Rankings

Today launches a new series on InsideTheDome.com in which we analyze the Blue Jays players based on certain key statistical categories. In the first of our four-part series we look at On-Base Percentage. Read this free preview of premium content piece right now, and make sure to sign up to InsideTheDome as content like this, and scouting reports on the top 50 players are coming up!

(This article becomes the first of a four-part series that will rank hitters and pitchers performances throughout the Jays farm system.) Since 2002, with John Paul Ricciardi at the helm, the Toronto Blue Jays organization has made a point of developing players that can wait for their pitch and drive it, making the pitchers work and bringing the other teams' bullpens faster in games to prey on weaker arms. The following table provides a ranking of the fifteen players offering the best plate discipline in the system. Following the feature, I provide some analysis of the organization in that offensive category and also other special mentions that just missed the cut, showed major improvements or were not eligible due to the level they performed at.

Note 1 - Rookie League and Short-season players have been omitted due to the development-oriented approach found at these levels. Check for the special mentions section. Note 2 – To be eligible, a player had to have at least 500 PA in the minors, roughly the same rule that apply in the major leagues for a hitter to be eligible for a batting title (3.1 PA per team game), minus 10% to take platoon situations and other minor leagues obligations into consideration.

Player

Age

Level

OBP (2007)

BB%

K%

OBP (2006)

Josh Kreuzer, 1B

25

High-A

.431

12.8

16.7

.349

Jonathan Diaz , SS

22

A

.406

16.6

11.7

.326

Scott Campbell, 2B

23

A

.390

14.3

12.0

.397

Travis Snider, RF

19

A

.377

10.3

24.7

.412

Eric Nielsen, OF

25

High-A

.377

6.6

10.5

.392

Sean Shoffit, INF, OF

22

A

.369

15.8

26.6

.335

Jacob Butler, OF

24

High-A

.368

12.9

18.8

.316

Carlo Cota, 2B

27

High-A

.364

10.5

17.0

.329

David Smith, OF

26

AA

.359

10.0

19.8

.317

Kevin Barker, 1B

32

AAA

.359

14.0

21.4

.379

Dustin Majewski, OF

26

AA

.352

14.0

19.6

.385

Cory Patton, OF

25

High-A

.342

10.9

18.8

.316

Rob Cosby, INF

26

AA

.338

5.5

16.8

.293

Manuel Mayorson, 2B

24

AA

.337

8.4

7.2

.312

Aaron Mathews, OF

25

AA

.334

5.5

15.6

.332

Analysis

The Blue Jays are disciples to the notion that getting on-base is a very efficient way of creating opportunities and judging a hitter's overall offensive abilities, yet presented only 2 hitters (Josh Kreuzer and Brian Jeroloman) in the top 100 of all minor league players in 2007 with at least 150 PA. Here are the OBP totals for each affiliate:

Syracuse Chiefs (AAA): .333
New Hampshire (AA): .333
Dunedin Blue Jays (High-A): .355>
Lansing Lugnuts (A): .349
Auburn Doubledays (Short-season A): .329
GCL Blue Jays (Rookie league): .319
Dominican Summer League: .312
Dominican Summer League (2): .319

What follows are descriptions and analysis of a few players in the top 15 presented above:

RF Travis Snider fares really well, as a 19-year-old, among all the older prospects. Not surprisingly, he has also the second higher K% in the group at 24.7%, up 3.9% compared to his first year as a pro in Rookie League (Pulaski). For such a young man to show a mature approach at the plate is very rare and we should see the strike outs total drop every year. After all, he skipped a level (Short-Season A, Auburn Doubledays) and was put in front of more experienced pitchers 194 AB into his pro career. The Blue Jays clearly know what kind of talent they are dealing with and the workload he has been given since becoming a part of the organization (2 instructional league invitations and now in the prospects-heavy Arizona Fall League) states their desire to make him advance quickly through the minor league levels.

1B Josh Kreuzer, signed as a minor league free agent in 2006 after being released by the Texas Rangers, has dealt with one major problem in his career: making adjustments at the plate. Drafted by the Rangers in the 16th round of the 2002 draft, he was having trouble adjusting at the plate with a big powerful swing, but a lack of contact abilities that made him a candidate for high strike out totals (89 K in 400 AB with the 2005 edition of Bakersfield's team) even though his overall strike zone discipline was above-average. He was having trouble performing above a .260 average in A-ball, usually an indication that the next level(s) will be a huge challenge. However, he rebounded in 2007 and applied a quicker path to the ball, recording a .309/.431/.542 batting line as a result. It should be mentioned that it was his fifth year at the A level and he will have to prove in New Hampshire in 2008 that last season (as the Florida State League MVP) was no fluke.

SS Jonathan Diaz, a switch-hitter drafted in the 12th round of last year's Amateur Draft, seems to have been forgotten among all the talent found in the lower levels of the Jays development system. The 2007 season saw him post more walks (82) than strike outs (55) for an impressive OBP of .406. The problem with Diaz remains his contact abilities. It is difficult to make a projection of what kind of production he could develop, if only because he doesn't yet make consistent contact with the ball (.229 batting average in last 2 season), with a penchant for swinging at high offerings. However, the development of a player's offense centers on his knowledge of the strike zone and that's an area the Florida native has mastered as a hitter with a .080 improvement in his OBP from 2006.

2B Scott Campbell is another player that should be mentioned as an up-and-coming middle infielder (105 games at 2B, 3 at 3B and 1 at SS – 12 errors) with an outstanding eye at the plate. He is the equivalent of a player like Reed Johnson that wants to get dirty and be a pest on the bases. His .406 OBP against RHP contrast his plate discipline against LHP that stands at .342 (.242 batting average), but did improve from last year (.208 batting average). As a 23-year-old right handed hitter, this comparison should be taken lightly, for he is a hard worker and already very comfortable seeing righties throw against him. The southpaws won't have a free ride much longer. Last season, his 68 walks in 390 AB ranked him third on the Lansing Lugnuts roster.

OF David Smith's future should include at least a stint at the major league level as a fourth outfielder. His defense can play anywhere in the outfield (4 errors in 84 games of the 2007 season) and the right handed batter can hit RHP (.861) and LHP (.910) very well. He drew 27 walks in July and August while batting 17 home runs and 18 doubles. While repeating AA last season, he posted the best OBP of his career (.359). Syracuse is the next stop.

OF Eric Nielsen has shown a good control of the strike zone since he became pro (.368 career OBP) and it translated last season into an ability to recognize pitches he can drive, producing 41 doubles (1st in the Florida State League and a career best for the 25-year-old) and 7 home runs (same total he has had 3 out of his 4 minor league years) in a pitcher's league. 2008 in Double-A New Hampshire should be the year he proves whether he is bound to be a major leaguer.

Special Mentions

The following prospects descriptions emphasize their plate discipline, while adding some strengths/weaknesses.

C Brian Jeroloman (High-A, Dunedin) – It would be a sin to look upon that walking machine who led the entire Blue Jays organization (including the big league club) in walks (85) in only 290 AB and ranked 10th in the entire minor leagues (a feat he accomplished with the least AB).

C/1B/DH Kyle Phillips (High-A, Dunedin) – Signed as a free agent in 2007, the 23-year-old left handed hitter has proven to be a hot commodity for Dunedin, batting .306/.360/.432, including a 16-game hitting streak at the beginning of May and providing some power at three defensive positions: 36 games at 1B, 18 as a catcher and 50 as a designated hitter. His 2007 batting average, OBP and SLG were all career highs of three seasons in A-ball.

C/DH Jonathan Jaspe (A, Lansing) – The switch-hitter shows a good eye at the plate against both RHP (.361) and LHP (.382) and an ability to make contact with the ball, never recording a batting average below .281 in three years of pro baseball.

2B/OF Darin Mastroianni (Short-season A, Auburn) – The 16th round pick of this year's draft was sent directly to Auburn for his initiation to pro ball and quickly established his bat and base running abilities: .287/.391/.409, 11 doubles, 4 triples, 3 home runs, 26 RBI, 36 BB, 42 K, and 20 stolen bases in 230 AB. This 22-year-old should be on everyone's radar, with power numbers that will improve starting in 2008.

OF Benjamin Zeskind (Short-season A, Auburn) – Consistent all year in his approach at the plate (against both RHP and LHP), the 24-year-old Florida native improved his average, OBP and SLG% over his 2006 totals with close to the same amount of plate appearance. Look for him as a possible promotion to High-A Dunedin, mainly because of his advanced age and development.

OF Yohermyn Chavez (Rookie league, GCL) – The right-handed batter impressed and improved in already his second year with the Toronto organization with a plate discipline (.389) that's rarely shown by an 18-year-old. Scouts noticed his difficulty handling breaking pitch and over-aggressiveness, but agree that he is advanced for his age.

OF/INF Jonathan Del Campo showed a big improvement in his approach at the plate I 2007, improving his OBP to .407 from .324 in 2006. That resulted in him getting more pitches to hit, posting a .337 batting average and .505 SLG. His defense remains a weapon for him with no errors recorded in 19 games last season.

2B John Tolisano (Rookie league, GCL) – The former shortstop took some time to get into a groove at the plate (and defense – 15 errors in 46 games on the field), but got better every month to finally put up these numbers: .246/.336/.437. While the OBP total doesn't seem to deserve a special mention, his 40 K weighted heavily against him in 186 AB and he was adapting to pro pitchers quickly with a very low 13.6 K% in August (and 14 walks in July), an approach the switch-hitter is expected to keep when the competition gets better in coming years.

OF Welinton Ramirez (Dominican Summer League – DSL Blue Jays) – A 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic (signed as a 17-year-old in 2004), Ramirez posted the best OBP on his team (.362) and well above the league average of .338. He also hit the most extra-base hit (17 in 237 AB) on his team, although he was a bit older than the average player on his team (team age: 18.2). Another element of the 6'2'' right-handed batter's game is the way he uses his speed, stealing 26 bases and getting caught 8 times for a good 76% SB%. His 5 sacrifice flies (first on team) in 68 games make him adept to execute situational hitting, even though it was down from 7 the season before.

OF Yensy Perez (Dominican Summer League – DSL Blue Jays-2) – Perez improved on every aspect of his offense this year over 2006: .298/.400/.391. He cut down his strike outs from 44 to 33 in almost the same amount of AB and stole 28 bases compared to 9 the season before.

SS Fausto Natera (Dominican Summer League – DSL Blue Jays-2) – The 19-year-old switch-hitting infielder was having difficulty making contact (.213 batting average), but showed great plate discipline with 40 walks (.366 OBP) in 64 games. He will have to make adjustments when hitting as a right-hander.

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