The Blue Jays fielded one of their strongest teams at their Appalachian League affiliate Bluefield since the West Virgina town joined the organization in 2011. Bluefield won 46 games and took the Eastern Division title, but dropped their semi-final to the Yankees’ Pulaski affiliate.
With a good mix of 2017 draftees and international free agents from previous seasons, Bluefield finished 2nd in both team batting average and ERA. Ryan Noda won the batting title, and led the league in runs, hits, bases on balls (by a considerable margin), and in OBP, Slugging, and OPS as well.
One might think that such a season might land Noda at or near the top of Baseball America‘s Top 20 prospects. But on a list geared to projection (and hence, youth), Noda came in a respectable 12th. The League MVP was termed a steal by BA, falling from a top three rounds projection to the 15th after a mediocre college season. Noda has plus bat speed, and a patient approach that allows him to be selective and wait for his pitch. The downside of that is a K rate (21.7%) slightly higher than his BB rate. Noda played 1B this year, but played both 1B and the corner outfield in college. He will likely share time at First with Kacy Clemens at Lansing next year, and will see time in the Outfield in order to get his bat in the lineup.
A second Bluefield Jay to hit BA’s Top 20 was OF McGregory Contreras at 19. Since the Blue Jays broke the bank to pay Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s bonus in 2015, only $10K was available to sign the toolsy-but-raw Contreras. Contreras played all three OF positions for Bluefield, and would have mostly played CF if not for the presence of premium defender Chavez Young. BA had this evaulation:
Contreras has what many coaches in baseball would call “sneaky power”. It doesn’t stand out in games just yet and you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at him, but he lets it fly during batting practice. His lean, athletic body and swift bat speed entail future average power. He has strong wrists that work well to catch up to inside fastballs. Contreras’ bat-to-ball ability is hindered right now by pitch recognition issues, but that should grow to be average as well.
Bluefield was Contreras’ first stateside experience, as the Blue Jays felt he had showed enough to skip the GCL. Not having seen him play, but considering his size, tools, and experience, I think Edward Oliveras, who had a breakthrough year with Lansing in 2017, is a good comp for Contreras.
Bluefield had several other players who merited consideration for BA’s Top 20 list. C/1B Yorman Rodriguez hit a sizzling .346/.374/.429, and was probably the league’s best hitter not named Ryan Noda, but his defence was a concern. Originally a Catcher, Rodriguez played more 1B this season, and he was termed raw behind the plate as a result. BA named LHP Randy Pondler the league’s Most Valuable Pitcher, but his 6.6K/9 probably kept him off the list. Pondler led the loop in ERA and GB rate (59.1%), indicating that he pitches to contact, but his command and secondaries likely overmatched hitters in the pitch recognition-challenged league. Along with RHP Maximo Castillo, he should compete for a job at Lansing next year.