For the first time since I started ranking Blue Jays in 2013, I honestly can’t make my mind up about a pair of prospects.
RHP Sean Reid-Foley and SS Richard Urena had their struggles at AA this year, but there’s still tremendous updside to both. Perhaps the biggest challenge this year was condensing what’s becoming a system with some decent depth into a Top 10 list, and I just could not fathom ranking either player any lower (or higher) for that matter. Neither deserved to be at the top of the list, nor did they merit being left off altogether. #5 is a suitable, mid prospect-range place to put them.
For someone pressed for time this spring, watching SRF’s first half-dozen starts was a Godsend. Wildness drove up his pitch count early, and he failed to last beyond the 3rd inning in five of those. By his own admission, Reid-Foley was trying to blow his fastball by hitters in his first go at AA (where he was one of the youngest starting pitchers in the league). He tended to rush his delivery, and threw his four-seamer up and out of the strike zone. Hitters at the lower levels often chased that pitch, but the more disciplined Eastern League hitters refuse to offer, putting him behind in the count often. Hitters then sat on that fastball when he caught too much of the strike zone.
Early in the season, with his pitch count up quickly, he found himself pulled. It wasn’t until he hit rock bottom on a May 2nd start, when he couldn’t get out of the first inning (lifted with two outs, having given up four runs, three walks, needing 37 pitches to do so), that SRF began to turn things around. In his next 16 starts, Reid-Foley pitched into the 6th inning 9 times, and began to look more like the mid-rotation starter that he was projected to be.
The knock against him has long been that he lacked the experience to make mechanical adjustments on the fly, resulting in long innings and early hooks. After a 2016 split between Lansing and Dunedin, in which he fanned 130 batters in 115 innings, Reid-Foley had appeared to learn how to make those in-game changes. He had moved up to #4 in Baseball America‘s Top 10 Blue Jays rankings, and had even cracked their Top 100, coming in at #75.
When Reid-Foley rushes his delivery in attempt to bump his fastball (which already sits 93-95), he opens up early, and his command is very inconsistent. As the season progressed, he repeated his delivery with greater frequency. He could still dial it up to 97, with what was termed “effective wildness.” SRF had one of the highest (10.6%) swinging strike rates in the Eastern League, and his line drive rate of 18.5% was reasonably low. Only two pitchers had a higher K/9 rate than SRF’s 8.28. There’s still plenty of reason for optimism with those numbers.
The bread and butter of Reid-Foley’s arsenal is that fastball. His slider is probably his best secondary pitch, but both that pitch and his curve have plus potential. His inability to command that fastball at times this year, of course, limited the effectiveness of his secondaries. One scouting report from May suggested that his mechanics have been an issue:
Reid-Foley works from an abbreviated delivery that appears as being from the stretch, with a side-step delivery and compact arm action and above-average arm strength. His trouble repeating seems rooted in what’s appears be some limited athleticism in keeping the moving parts of his large frame working together through to an online finish. He had trouble working down in the strike zone and getting over his front side in this viewing.
Given his struggles this year, there was more talk that like rotation mate Conner Greene, who had his issues as well this year, Reid-Foley would be better suited to a back-of-the-bullpen role, where his fastball would play up. The club will more than likely continue to give him every chance to succeed as a starter, however. He has the build and three-pitch mix to turn a lineup over and give the team a lot of innings. SRF was sent back to Lansing in 2016 after finishing in Dunedin in 2015. One wonders if he may repeat AA to start 2018, before moving up to Buffalo’s rotation.
Urena, of course, finished the season as Troy Tulowitzki’s injury replacement at SS. He’s been almost a perennial Top 10 guy since his first pro season in 2013, but as Urena has moved up the ladder, his flaws have been exposed. He acquitted himself well in September, however.
All of Urena’s tools except for his speed show glimpses of above average potential, but consistency and a lack of polish at the plate and with the glove seem to relegate him to average status.
A swtich hitter, we observed earlier this year that he has different swings from each side:
Ureña hits from both sides, but he has shown markedly different mechanics and approach with each. From the left side (his natural one), he utlizes a leg kick, and has a long, looping swing that can leave him susceptible to off-speed pitches, and can result in weak contact. From the right side, Ureña uses only a toe tap and a much more compact swing, which allows him to drive the ball to the opposite field.
Urena got off to a very slow start this year, flirting with the Mendoza Line for much of the first two months. His approach can best be described as aggressive; he can hammer mistakes, especially from the left side, but he gives away a lot of ABs going after pitcher’s pitches. He has slowly demonstrated improving strike zone judgement over the course of his minor league career, but he struck out a whopping 37.5% of the time against MLB pitching. Urena has quick wrists and good bat speed, but he does not make a lot of hard contact.
In the field, Urena has a plus arm, good reactions, and decent footwork, but he often makes careless throwing errors when he doesn’t plant his feet, and he has been known to boot the odd routine groundball. His reactions help to make up for his relative lack of speed when it comes to his range.
Urena could profile as an above average offensive player, and a generally average defensive one. The performance this year makes one question whether he’ll ever reach that ceiling. At the same time, there are those tools, which just can’t be ignored, and the fact that he’s only 21. Given his age and Tulowitzki’s contract, Urena should be headed to Buffalo for more seasoning come April.