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Mar 8, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Gose (8) slides back to first base in the fifth inning of the spring training exhibition game against the Minnesota Twins at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Future Leadoff Hitters: Toronto Blue Jays

Continuing in our series of “Future Leadoff Hitters,” I thought I’d write about the team with which I am most familiar: the Toronto Blue Jays.

Just a week and a half away from the start of full-season minor league ball, the Jays have a potential leadoff hitter at every level up the ladder. Interestingly, they all play the same position and each of the four exhibits at least 70-grade speed to go along some other tantalizing tools.

Closest to the majors is Anthony Gose. While Gose, 23, has officially shed his prospect status, he’s still not entrenched in on the major league roster and was, today, optioned to Triple-A Buffalo and will begin the season there. Mainly due to remaining options, Gose, who has gotten some big league opportunities over the past couple of seasons, lost out on a job on the Blue Jays despite 70+ grades in at least three tools. Gose is one of the fastest players in the Blue Jays’ system and flashes outstanding outfield defense and an extremely strong arm. Despite those flashy tools, Gose hasn’t stuck in the majors yet, mainly because of some struggles with the bat at the Triple-A level.

Struggling with high numbers of strikeouts and low batting averages, Gose’s upside is comparable to Devon White (except that Gose has a much stronger arm), who patrolled center field for the Blue Jays during their two World Series campaigns of 1992 and 1993. If Gose takes over center field in 2015 (after incumbent Colby Rasmus prices himself out of the Blue Jays’ plans), scouts would consider him successful if he put up a .250/.320/.410 line with 40-50 stolen bases per season.

Expected to be holding down center field in Double-A New Hampshire in 2014 will be Kenny Wilson. Wilson has had two solid seasons now after barely hitting .200 for his first four professional seasons, something that has been attributed to Wilson’s abandonment of switch-hitting and becoming a full-time right-handed hitter. Since then, he has rocketed up from A-ball to Double-A and even held his own in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League in 2013. Wilson acquitted himself well in major league camp this spring, going four for 12 with a pair of walks and only one strikeout. Wilson also features blazing speed and a great glove but doesn’t have quite the same kind of arm that Gose does.

Dalton Pompey, the Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove award winner for center field for 2013, is only 21 and will be in High-A Dunedin to start 2013. Having rumored 3.8-second times to first base that would give Pompey an 80-grade speed, the 21-year-old Canadian switch hitter played his first full season in 2013, gutting out some injuries and leading the Lansing Lugnuts in stolen bases with 38. Not only is Pompey gifted with the glove and speedy on the bases, but his eye at the plate is coming along, showing a 12.3% walk rate in 2013 to go along with a solid .261 batting average.

While Pompey needs a few more reps thanks to a mostly lost season in 2012 (due to hand injuries), he’s showing a lot more polish than might be expected and could be yet another leadoff threat with a little bit of pop (that is still developing) and a ton of speed.

The last center fielder starting full-season ball with the Blue Jays will be D.J. Davis. Davis shone in Advanced-Rookie Bluefield last year but is considered the most raw of the bunch. Davis also boasts 80-grade speed but hasn’t shown the polish in base running that the other members of this group have shown so far, stealing successfully only eight out of 13 times in 2013. At only 19 years old, Davis is still very young but will need to have a better understanding of reading pitchers to be successful in the Class-A Midwest League in 2014, where he is expected to begin the season.

Davis is a great fielder with an average arm but he probably boasts the most power of the leadoff hitters mentioned here. With six home runs (tied for the team lead), seven triples and eight doubles, Davis has the power to drive the ball to the gaps and the speed to make exciting things happen. That said, Davis still gets fooled too much by offspeed pitches, as can be seen by his sky-high 29.5% strikeout rate in 2013. It’s going to be interesting to see whether he can handle the more experienced pitchers as he moves up the ladder.

The Blue Jays have several high-ceiling, speedy center fielders in the system ranging from the just-about ready Anthony Gose to the still very raw D.J. Davis. The Blue Jays could be in for a steady diet of speedy, slick-fielding center fielders over the next five years as the youngsters mature.

Tags: Toronto Blue Jays

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