Blue Jays Breakout Pitching Prospect Candidates

Trying to determine which Pitching prospects in the organization might have a breakout season in 2018 is more difficult than it is for position players.

This administration has proven that they’re not afraid of promoting relievers to multiple levels over the course of the season, but with pitch limits a factor, they’re more conservative with starters.  A season like Kendall Graveman’s  (5) or Daniel Norris’  (4) in 2014, when both pitched at a number of levels, just doesn’t seem likely with this management group.

There are several Pitchers who could break through this season, however:

RHP T.J. Zeuch

Zeuch is an obvious candidate to have a break out season.  Shut down in May with shoulder soreness, he injured a hamstring during rehab, and didn’t return until August.

He rebounded nicely during Arizona Fall League play, getting the start in the championship game.  Zeuch’s featured pitch is a bowling ball sinker, which he gets a great downward plane on.  When he is locating that pitch, hitters have an extremely difficult time squaring him up.

Zeuch will start the season in AA, and if he stays healthy, could move up fairly quickly.  He could even find himself in the back of the Blue Jays rotation later in the season.

Emerson Jimenez RHP

   Originally signed as an IF by the Rockies, he reached AA in his sixth year in the organization this year.  After posting a .238/.267/.305 line in his career, the Rockies released him in mid-May.   He decided to give Pitching a try, and the Blue Jays signed him a month later.

Sent to the Gulf Coast League, Jimenez regularly hit 99 with his fastball, and the complex league hitters were no match for him, as he fanned 15 in 9 innings.  Exposed to the Rule 5 draft, there was even speculation that a team might take him earlier this month.

While that would have been a huge leap for a team, it shows how valued Jimenez’ arm is, and the Blue Jays will likely challenge him this season.  Improving his command and developing a second pitch will be necessary for Jimenez to get hitters out at higher levels.  While he may start the season in Extended, it’s not hard to see Jimenez move quickly through the system, and the Blue Jay may have another difficult 40-man decision to make with him next fall.

Justin Maese RHP

Maese reached full season ball in only his second pro season in 2016, but a shoulder problem and command issues led to a sideways 2017.

When he’s healthy, Maese pounds the bottom of the strike zone, and keeps hitters off-balance with a three pitch mix.  He experienced an uptick in velocity this year, touching 97.   An excellent athlete, Maese repeats his delivery and fields his position well.

Maese missed all of June and July, and was shut down for the season after his second start in August.  He will likely begin the season under the watchful eyes of the team’s medical staff at Dunedin.  A return to health, finding his command again, and maintaining that increase in velo would allow Maese to move up in a hurry.

Bouchey
Brayden Bouchey Twitter photo

Travis Bergen LHP/Brayden Bouchey RHP

Bergen missed most of his first two pro seasons after being drafted in 2015, and didn’t begin his 2017 season until late July.  He was a mainstay in Manager Rich Miller’s bullpen down the stretch and in the playoffs, and both he and White Rock, BC native Bouchey were  lights out in relief.

Bergen formerly had a cross-fire delivery, but his mechanics are now more conventional.  He throws 92-94, with a slider that shows great depth.  The 6’6″ Bouchey throws from an over-the-top delivery, giving him a good downward plane on all of his pitches.  His size gives him some late life on his fastball – Bouchey has fanned over 30% of the hitters he’s faced in two minor league seasons.

Both should begin the season in Lansing’s bullpen.  If they pitched like they did over the last month of the season, neither will be there for long.

Advertisements

Who is the Next Blue Jays Breakout Prospect?

DJNeal
DJ Neal Twitter photot

In may be cold and snowy in Southern Ontario, but with the days getting incrementally longer, spring training inches closer every week.  And for most serious baseball prospects, they have been putting in long days since the end of the last minor league season working on their conditioning, and honing their skills on the playing fields and batting cages.

The Blue Jays have several prospects whose hard work may pay off this year, when they emerge from under-the-radar to achieve breakout status.  Last year, it was Edward Olivares, who put himself firmly into long-term prospect status with an excellent all-around year at Lansing.  The year before, Ryan Borucki returned to action after missing much of the previous season due to shoulder and back issues.  He was hit hard in the Florida State League, and was sent down to Lansing to get himself straightened out.  Borucki added some deception to his delivery, becoming a much more effective Pitcher in the process, and he crowned his season with a promotion to the 40-man roster in November. In 2015, it was Anthony Alford who broke out, after undergoing a crash course in pitch recognition in the Aussie Winter League after giving up his college football commitment.  In 2014, Daniel Norris began the season in Dunedin, and finished it in the Major Leagues after finally learning to repeat his delivery and command his fastball.

A prospect tends to break out for any one of a number of reasons (or a combination thereof).  Sometimes, it’s an adjustment made to their batting or pitching mechanics.  Norris’ delivery was overhauled in his first pro season, which probably at least partially  explains his 8.44 ERA at two levels.  Other times, it’s an adjustment to pro ball and playing every day.  For some, pro ball is their first extended experience with failure in the sport;  some adapt and begin to move forward again, while others don’t get past it. Some players just need the reps:  Alford had shown promise in three brief pro seasons, but his experience in Australia helped him channel his aggressiveness at the plate.

The Blue Jays have a fairly good stock of lean, athletic players in their system.  The odds against them having even a brief MLB career are long, but the foundation is there for future success.  Here are four players who are all intriguing, potential break out prospects:

DJ Neal OF

If the 6’3″/200 Neal looks like a wide receiver, it’s because he was.  Drafted by the Braves in 2015 out of high school, the Georgian instead joined Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, but after a year he transferred to USC-Sumter to get back on the ball diamond.

Drafted in the 26th round, Neal began to make up for some lost development time with a .297/.341/.426 season in the GCL, stealing 8 bases in 10 tries.  Neal has a strong, athletic frame, with quick-twitch reflexes and plus speed.   He has what’s described as a smooth right-handed swing, and scouts project him to have enough power to play a corner OF spot.  He has great range and a plus arm.

Neal is behind his draft peers in terms of baseball experience, having combined baseball and football throughout high school.  His tools are raw, but they will continue to develop as he gains experience.  There is tremendous upside here – the obvious comp right now is Alford.

Where Neal begins 2018 is difficult to project.  Ordinarily, a team might want to challenge a player with Neal’s profile with an April assignment to full season ball.  With a crowded OF situation in the lower levels of the Jays system, he may begin in Extended, with a plane ticket for Vancouver in hand come mid June.

Neal’s 2017 stats:

G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
42 167 3 23 20 8 4.8 % 15.6 % 0.297 0.341 0.426
GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo%
2.06 17.6 % 55.5 % 26.9 % 21.9 % 9.4 % 52.4 % 21.4 % 26.2

McGregory Contreras OF

When the Blue Jays blew their IFA budget to sign Vladdy Jr in 2015, they had to go bargain hunting for other prospects – those signed for $10K or under did not count against their bonus pools.

One of those signings was Contreras, whom Baseball America described as a “sleeper”:

 (Contreras) showed good hitting and running ability when he signed on July 2, but his tools have ticked up since then. His speed and arm strength are both above-average to play center field and he has impressed the Blue Jays with his ability to hit and show power from the right side from his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame.

After making his pro debut in the DSL in 2016, the Blue Jays felt Contreras was ready to skip the GCL, and sent him to Bluefield in 2017.  Contreras responded with a good season, ranking as the 19th-best prospect in the loop, according to BA:

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 played all three Outfield positions in his pro career.  He played primarily the corners for Bluefield due to the presence of Chavez Young.  Pitch recognition will be the area requiring the most improvement if he is to continue moving up the ladder.  At 6’1″/170,  he compares to Olivares at a similar point in his career.

Contreras’ 2017 stats:

PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG
207 5 36 33 4 5.8 % 26.6 % 0.142 0.369 0.279 0.335 0.421
GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo%
2.09 21.4 % 53.2 % 25.4 % 21.9 % 15.6 % 49.3 % 27.2 % 23.5 %

 

Chavez Young OF

It’s rare that you can get a high schooler drafted late to sign.  Their prospects are usually improved by playing college ball, and if nothing else, they have some or all of an education to fall back on.  2016 39th-round pick Young, who grew up in the Bahamas, and moved to Florida for his senior year of high school, was generally thought to be raw and headed off to college, but the Blue Jays offered him a $200K bonus (twice the slot value) to sign.

Young has solid athleticism, outstanding range in CF, a plus arm, and while his approach is a work-in-progress (a small viewing sample of his time with Vancouver after his promotion to the NWL playoffs showed an expanded strike zone), there is enough to his offensive game to suggest success at the higher levels.  That the organization thought he would bolster Vancouver’s lineup for the post season speaks of what they think of Young.

Young’s Bluefield Stats:

G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG
62 281 4 52 25 4 4.6 % 20.6 % 0.159 0.345 0.282 0.332 0.440
GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo%
1.77 17.7 % 52.6 % 29.7 % 26.3 % 7.0 % 45.5 % 28.7 % 25.7 %

 

Yorman Rodriguez C/1B/DH

Finding a place to play for Rodriguez was something of a challenge this year, but his bat ultimately dictated  considerable PT for the 2014 IFA.  Originally signed as a Catcher, he was primarily a DH for Bluefield this year.  His bat will always be his calling card, and he’s never played beyond short season ball, but a career line of .333/.362/.414 makes it worth wondering how Rodriguez would fare at the higher levels.

Hitting in front of Appy League MVP Ryan Noda, Rodriguez led the league in hits, and was second in batting average.  John Calvagno covers South Atlantic League prospects for his site notesfromthesally.com.  He liked what he saw from Rodriguez:

The ball explodes off of his barrel. An aggressive hitter with a fast bat, he put the 1st pitch in play every at bat. And every hit was a rocket, line drive or sharp grounder. An all field approach with a level swing. Potential plus hit with 25 HR potential if he finds lift.

The 7 walks Rodriguez drew this year might be cause for concern.  At the higher levels, he will have to learn to work the count more, and not sit back waiting for a mistake to hammer.  His size and bat-first profile compare him favourably to Juan Kelly, who had a similar role as Rodriguez’ with High-A Dunedin this year.

Rodriguez started the year with Vancouver, but was sent to Bluefield after five games.

Rodriguez’ Bluefield stats:

G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA
57 257 3 36 36 2 2.7 % 9.7 % 0.083 0.37 0.346 0.374 0.429 0.369
GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo%
1.67 24.9 % 46.9 % 28.2 % 28.3 % 5.0 % 44.0 % 19.7 % 36.2

Kevin Smith SS

1st round pick Logan Warmoth drew much of the attention among Blue Jays draftees this season, and deservedly so.  Smith’s pro debut with Bluefield was a smash, as he showed some pop (2nd to Noda in Total Bases), and showcased his slick defensive skills.

As the college season started last year, there was talk that Smith might be the first Shortstop drafted.  A mediocre season at the plate dropped him to the 4th round, where the Blue Jays scooped him up.  Smith’s swing can be long, and there was a fair amount of swing-and-miss to his game (25%K rate), but his footwork, range, hands, and arm are unquestioned.

With Warmoth likely headed to Dunedin for 2018, Smith should become Lansing’s starting SS.  Some scouts doubt about Warmoth’s long-term future at the position, so Smith could close the gap between them or even move ahead with a decent year at the plate.

Smith’s 2017 Stats

G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG
61 283 8 43 43 9 5.7 % 24.7 % 0.195 0.337 0.271 0.312 0.466
GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo%
0.91 22.0 % 37.2 % 40.8 % 17.9 % 10.3 % 46.4 % 28.1 % 25.5 %

 

BA Releases Blue Jays Top 10

Vladimir-Guerrero-Jr-2017-Paul-Gierhart_featured-640x480
BA/Paul Gierhart Photo

Baseball America published their Top 10 Blue Jays prospects today, and the results are similar to many other versions, including FBJ’s.

There were some minor variations – BA included Lourdes Gurriel and Danny Jansen, but left Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, and T.J. Zeuch off of their Top 10.

The detailed reports are behind BA’s paywall, and while I won’t list them all here, I will feature some highlights:

On Vlad Jr (no surprise at #1):

Guerrero is a prodigious offensive talent, with the combination of hitting ability, plate discipline and power in the mold of Manny Ramirez.

Bo Bichette (#2):

Bichette has the potential to be one of the most talented offensive players in baseball. Double-A New Hampshire is his next step.

Bichette and Guerrero, according to BA, form the best 1-2 prospect punch in all of baseball.  While we can argue that Anthony Alford may have an all-around higher ceiling, it’s hard to quibble with that.

After viewing Big Nate Pearson from the Vancouver pressbox, I can vouch for this assessment:

Pearson gives hitters an uncomfortable at-bat. He attacks them with downhill angle from his 6-foot-6 frame and pitches with a lively, heavy fastball that parked at 92-94 mph and touched 98 regularly in his college starts.

Having seen a fair amount (for a guy based east of Manitoba) of #8 Logan Warmoth, this is an apt description:

Warmoth is a bucket full of 50-grade tools on the 20-80 scouting scale, with no one true calling card but a high overall baseball IQ and no glaring holes either.

 

We’ll run a summary of BA’s accompanying Blue Jays Top 10 chat.

This is a decent list, and having seen a fair amount both live and online of all of the members of this group outside of Eric Pardinho (#6), I think the reports are accurate. It will be interesting when we eventually get a glimpse of the Brazilian youngster.  Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish could not say enough about him when we spoke a few weeks ago.

Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects: The Fringe 5

Justin-Maese
Justin Maese

Ranking prospects can be a little like trying to choose a team in just about any sport:  the top players clearly separate themselves from the pack, and are easy to identify.  Once you get down the list, the distinctions become less clear.  The difference, of course, is that all of these players can play.  The differences between them sometimes are more psychological than physiological.

As I mentioned with the #11-20 post, the Blue Jays have rebounded as a system extremely well from 2015.  There is depth at a number of positions, and the team has developed waves of prospects, the first of which is about a year and a half away.

These are the players who just missed the Top 20.  Injuries, inconsistency, and inexperience are often what have kept players like the following out of that tier – and there are others who I could’ve mentioned, but let’s keep it at 5 for now.

Justin Maese

Maese firmly placed himself on the prospect radar with a breakout season at two levels last year.  The two-sport athlete from non-baseball hotbed of El Paso, TX, reached full season ball in only his second year as a pro.

Returning to Lansing for what was likely going to be a half season this year,  Maese struggled in April, giving up more contact and walks than was usual for him.  By May, he appeared to have straightened himself around, until shoulder soreness landed him on the DL at the end of the month.  Likely shut down for precautionary reasons, Maese did not return to action until late July in a GCL rehab stint.  After two August starts with Lansing, he was shut down for the rest of the season.

With a fastball that is described as heavy and sits in the low 90s but can touch 96,  a slider that could profile as a plus pitch, along with a change in the 83-85 range, Maese has a starter’s arsenal.  His delivery has been described as a little unorthodox, but he throws with intent.  But there were troubling signs with his command this year.  After posting a 5% walk rate in 2016, he was over 8% this year.  Maese wasn’t able to command the lower part of the strike zone as well as he had the previous year, and his groundball rate dropped by over 10%.  He profiles as a back-end of the rotation sinker ball pitcher, but as he demonstrated this year, hitters can square him up when he can’t locate.

Maese should start the year in Dunedin, where the medical staff can monitor his shoulder.  He has the athleticsm to get himself back on the prospect radar.

Ryan Noda

For someone monitoring the Blue Jays affiliates’ box scores on a daily basis, Noda’s numbers were video game-esque.  He had multi-hit games in his first four Appy League contests, and he was hitting above .400 as late as August 9th.  He was an Advanced Stat (Average/OBP/SLG) Triple Crown Winner, and was ranked the loop’s 12th top prospect.

From first glance, it looked like the Blue Jays might have uncovered a gem in the middle rounds of the June draft.  Noda had been ranked to go somewhere in the top three rounds prior to his junior college campaign, but a lacklustre season at the plate caused his stock to fall.  Noda is a 1B/LF type, but is much more suited to the infield, where he has decent defensive skills.  Normally, a player in his draft position would be headed to Vancouver and the Northwest League to start his pro career, but the Blue Jays had taken Texas’ Kacy Clemens in the 8th round, so Noda was off to West Virginia, where he feasted on the lower level pitching.

Noda has a unique set up, with some bat movement prior to his load.  He is extremely patient (a source said he bordered on passive).  One concern may be the difficulty he had getting consistent loft in his swing – his 18.8% flyball rate was the second lowest among qualifiers in the league, although his 37.5% line drive rate was the highest.  It brings to mind a picture of a guy who makes a lot of hard contact, but much of it in the gaps or down the lines, which a player of Noda’s build would have trouble taking advantage of.

Ryan Noda

Noda should skip Vancouver and head to Lansing for full season ball next year, where he’ll likely have to split time at 1B/DH/LF in order to get his bat in the lineup.  It will be interesting to see how his approach works with the more advanced pitching in Low A.

Maverik Buffo was poised to easily go in the top half of the draft last June, until a torn UCL sidelined him in his sophomore year.  He opted for therapy, and an stem cell injection followed by PRP theraphy, and returned for his junior year.  His velocity came back, but as is often the case, his command didn’t return as quickly, and his stock dropped.

Buffo lasted until the 34th round, when the Blue Jays called his name.  They opted to keep him in the GCL in order to monitor that elbow, and the outmatched Complex hitters wished they hadn’t.  Buffo was utterly dominant, throwing a 92-95 fastball with good movement, and more importantly, he was able to command the lower part of the strike zone with it.  Limited to relief appearances in July, the wraps came off a little bit in August, and Buffo threw pitch count shortened shutouts in 4 of his 5 starts.

Clearly, he was capable of pitching at a higher level, but with a bevy of arms ahead of him in short season ball, the Blue Jays were conservative with him.  If there are concerns about his elbow, Buffo may stay in Extended once spring training camp breaks, but he should be in Lansing before long.  This is a competitor with a smooth and repeatable delivery, who wil be out to prove a lot of teams that passed on him wrong.

Riley Adams is one of the more athletic players in the organization.  He can hit, he can catch, and he’s a 2nd degree black belt in karate.  Watching him with Vancouver this summer, he looked like a major leaguer at the plate.  It’s behind the plate that he has some work to do, and he demonstrates why developing Catchers can take so long.  Adams split his work the C’s this summer about 2/3 of the time behind the plate, with the other third coming at DH so that Manager Rich Miller could keep his bat in the lineup.  Adams has decent pitch recognition skills, and he’s consistently on time with his swing.

On the defensive side,  Blue Jays Catching instructor Ken Huckaby has some work to do.  Adams needs to develop better footwork to help improve his blocking skills, as well as his transfer.  Pitch framing is probably not a skill that was of great importance in college, but will be in pro ball, and Adams needs to upgrade that skill.  He tends to stab at pitches on the corners, rather than finesse them through positioning.  Given his athleticism, it’s at least an even bet that he can develop those skills in full season ball next year.  There is no question about his bat.

Josh Palacios is possibly the best athlete in the organization outside of Anthony Alford.  In all seriousness, the guy looks like he could be a world-class hurdler.

An April wrist injury in his draft year in 2016 dropped him to the 4th round, but he posted solid numbers at Vancouver.  An undisclosed ailment forced him to the DL to start 2017, and when he returned in late April, his performance at the plate was inconsistent at best (he was hitting .197 at the end of May).

As the weather warmed up, so did Palacios’ game.  He had a torrid summer, hitting .348/.422/.438 for July and August.  He played about half of his 87 games in Centrefield, where he probably profiles the best – Palacios has yet to show the pop of a corner outfielder.

It’s hard to say what his long term prospects are, but his athleticism and performance this year (along with that of Edward Olivares, who shared time in Lansing’s OF with him) likely were what helped convinced the organization to part with J.B. Woodman, who was drafted two round ahead of Palacios in 2016, in the Almedys Diaz deal with St Louis.

Carlos Ramirez was one of the best feel-good stories of the system last year.  Originally signed as an IFA in 2009, he spent five seasons as an Outfielder in the organization with little success.  In early 2014, the Blue Jays sent him back to Extended and then Rookie ball as he converted to Pitching.  He was part of Dunedin’s lights-out bullpen in 2016, and then overwhelmed hitters at two levels this year, fanning 45 in 38 innings before earning a September call up.  A fastball/slider Pitcher, Ramirez gets great extension on his delivery, and can dial it up to the mid-90s.  He also fared well in a dozen big league games, and was not scored upon in his first 7 outings.

Ramirez will definitely be in the mix for a big league job this spring.  So, why am I not higher on him?  It probably is because of the volatile nature of relievers, and the fact that at 26, there’s not a whole lot of room for projection for him, despite the fact that he’s still fairly new to Pitching.  Just the same, it’s easy to picture him and the Jays bullpen as one of their strengths next year.

Raines Leaves Jays for Sox

tim-raines-inline
si.com photo

Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who has served as a Blue Jays minor league instructor since 2012, has left the club to accept an ambassadorship with the Chicago White Sox.

Raines was introduced today by the Sox, along with A.J. Pierzynski and Jose Contreras.  Raines was a coach with the World Series winning 2005 team, while Pierzynski and Contreras were teammates. Raines was traded from the Expos to the Sox in 1991, and played five seasons for them.

Raines was an immensely popular instructor in the Blue Jays system, working with Outfielders and baserunners at all levels:

With rumours that Raines was hoping to land a major league coaching job next season already circling, it’s no surprise that the travelling life of a minor league instructor was taxing Raines, who has a young family.  Given his work with the Blue Jays minor leaguers, however, he may have been more valued by other organizatons in that role.

Raines told the Chicago Tribune that he was looking forward to working with players on the Sox roster:

“Being a part of an organization after being a player is sort of giving back … to the game, giving back to some of the players that are trying to reach their goal as far as being major-leaguers.”

Raines was a positive influence among a number of Blue Jays farmhands, including highly regarded prospect Anthony Alford:

I can’t speak much about him as a player, but I know he’s one of the best guys you will ever meet. He’s been awesome. Not only as an instructor, but also as a person. It’s always a good time working with him. He makes everything fun. When you’re having a bad day, he will find a way to make you smile. One of the most genuine guys I’ve ever been around. Everyone in the org loves him. I’m definitely a big fan of rock

There has been no word yet from the Blue Jays about Raines’ replacement.  They typically announce minor league staffs several weeks before spring training.

Blue Jays Quiet in MLB Part of Rule 5; Add/Subtract in MiLB Phase

DrewMuren
Fanragsports photo

The Blue Jays made no selections in the Major League portion of today’s Rule 5 draft for the first time since 2014.  With two roster spots open, GM Ross Atkins had said prior to the draft that the team had a list of players they were considering.

After passing on all four rounds, it’s obvious that none of them were still on the board when it came the Blue Jays turn.  More importantly for the Blue Jays, none of their exposed players – Max Pentecost chiefly among them – were selected in the Major League phase.

For MLB executives, the Rule 5 comes as the Winter Meetings are ending, and for many, they’re anxious to get in, make their picks, and catch their flights home.  That’s not to underscore its importance, but perhaps the roster choices teams had to make a month earlier might be the most useful part of the whole process.   Roster spots are precious, and when you consider you have to keep a Rule 5 choice on your 25-man for the whole season (or admit your mistake and offer him back to his original club for half the price you paid), teams want to be sure before they commit resources and playing time in spring training to a player who basically had run out of time and chances with his previous team.

In the Minor League phase, 3B Mitch Nay was selected by the Reds.  A compensation round pick in 2012, he broke his foot the week after he was drafted, and had to wait until 2013 to make his pro debut.  And what a debut it was, as Nay and Matt Dean provided a powerful 1-2 punch in the heart of Bluefield’s order.  Nay hit .300/.364/.426, and was named the Appalachian League’s 4th-best prospect by Baseball America.  But his 2013 wasn’t finished when Bluefield’s season was over – he was sent to the Northwest League to help Vancouver’s playoff run, and he captured playoff MVP honours as the C’s earned their third consecutive NWL title.  After a decent year with Lansing, he was invited to spring training, and seemed to be on his way to Top Prospect status.   He had a bit of a sideways season in 2015,, but was still considered a top prospect.  2016 was when Nay’s health began to fall apart.  A nasty staph infection in his knee required three surgeries, and cost him all of that season.  When he came back in June of this year with Lansing, Nay was not 100%, and you have to hope that he can continue to develop with the Reds.

The Blue Jays did do some Christmas shopping in the minor league section, selecting Giants RHP Drew Muren,  C Alberto Mineo from the Cubs, and IF Ivan Castillo from Cleveland.  And there are interesting stories behind all three.

Muren was drafted by the Rockies as an OF in 2012, rising as far as AA before being released.  Muren then played a couple of seasons of indy ball before converting to Pitching, which he did at the suggestion of a scout at a Rays free agent camp in 2014.  Muren signed with the Diamondbacks in 2016, and pitched reasonably well for them, but was released in June of this year.  The Giants signed him in August, and he wound up sriking out 45 in 37 innings between four teams, the highest of which was AAA.   Muren regularly hits 100 with his fastball, and while he’s 29 years old, he’s new to Pitching, and well worth a gamble as a Rule 5 choice.  Anyone with that kind of velo is worth following.

Mineo was signed from Italy by the Cubs in 2012, but hadn’t advanced past Low A.  Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler summed up Mineo in one Tweet:

Castillo was signed by Cleveland in 2012, and is likely very familiar to GM Ross Atkins.  His glove is his carrying card, and he can play three infield positions.

 

Trade Bo Bichette?

BoB
Clutchlings Photo

Blue Jays prospect Frankie Barreto was on top of the world in 2014.  Ranked one of the top international prospects in 2012, he was fresh off an MVP season in the Northwest League at the tender age of 18, playing against players 3 and 4 years older.  He was still several years away, but the sky seemed to be the limit.

Barreto was one of the major pieces of the deal with Oakland that brought Josh Donaldson to Toronto that November.  Admittedly, while I was thrilled to be getting a player like Donaldson, Barreto seemed a stiff price to pay.

With all due respect to Barreto, who was ranked Oakland’s top prospect entering this season (but slipped a bit in two strikeout-prone stints with the Athletics), boy, was I wrong.   Donaldson, a late bloomer, was coming off his first All Star season, and was just entering his prime.  The Blue Jays have enjoyed 21 WAR from Donaldson since then, while Barreto has yet to prove himself on the big league level.  It was Alex Anthopoulos’ best deal, one that he would no doubt make 100 times out of 100 if given the opportunity to make it again.

And today we’ve seen rumours that the fire-saleing Miami Marlins are in talks with the Blue Jays to send one of their top prospects in SS Bo Bichette for Marlins’ OF Christian Yelich.

Bichette may not be the Blue Jays top prospect, but there are many similarities between him and Barreto.  Both have advanced hit tools, some speed, and outstanding baseball IQ’s.  While both started out as Shortstops, the long-range plan for both seems to be across the bag at 2nd – Barreto already made the move last year.  At this point in his career, Bichette may be a bit more advanced as a prospect, but he’s also two years older than Barreto was at a similar juncture.

Yelich has averaged 120 OPS+ for Miami during his five seasons with the team.  He signed a contract extension near the end of spring training of 2015 – a 7 year, $49.570 million guaranteed deal.  The deal will see Yelich bring in $7 million this year, rising to $14 million by 2021.  There is a club option of $15 million for 2022, with a $1.25 million buyout.  The money may be guaranteed, but it’s a relatively team-friendly deal.

If the two teams are in fact talking, Bichette won’t be the sole return for Yelich, but he would be the centrepiece.  Other prospects will likely be included, but with the Marlins not getting a BA Top 100 for either Giancarlo Stanton or Marcell Ozuna, it’s hard to see much beyond the mid-prospect range.  Derek Jeter is obviously strapping on the tool belt for a full-on rebuild.

Do the Blue Jays make this deal?  Do they trade away a prospect who led the minor leagues in hitting (flirting with .400 until late June) , has great bloodlines, and profiles as an impact bat at the MLB level one day?

In a word – yes.

Why?

  1.  In acquiring Yelich, you are getting a proven MLB-er who is a borderline All Star.  Without having to give up anyone on your 25-man roster.
  2. There is no doubt that Bichette has huge upside.  And the Blue Jays have been burned before – Noah Syndergaard was at a similar point in his career when he was dealt.  That Barreto and Daniel Norris have yet to set MLB afire demonstrates that prospects are just that – there is not guarantee.  Barreto has been exposed a bit this year, and the same could happen to Bichette as he moves up the ladder.
  3. In dealing a prospect, the Blue Jays are dealing from a position of strength.  Vladdy Jr and Anthony Alford are on their way, and they have a decent SS prospect in Logan Warmoth.  There is depth in the system to withstand the trade of one of its more promising members.
  4. There certainly is an opening in the Blue Jays Outfield.  Kevin Pillar may have had a higher DRS total, but the drop off in CF would not be significant with Yelich.  Or he could nicely fit in a corner spot.
  5. There is contract certainty and at least four years of control with Yelich – at 26, he should just be coming into his prime.
  6. With the Yankees having acquired Stanton, the Blue Jays need to upgrade their 25-man ASAP if they hope to contend in 2018.
  7. Yelich certainly fits GM Ross Atkins expressed desire for team to get younger and more athletic.

There is no guarantee this deal happens, of course.  It will all depend on the Marlins’ demands.  Of course, with most teams, once you get past the first half-dozen or so in the rankings, you are looking less and less at potential impact players – and the Blue Jays are no exception.  Even if the additional cost was one or more of, say,  Ryan Borucki, Hagen Danner, or Riley Adams, the aquisition of a player of Yelich’s calibre would be more than worth it.

Those of us who follow prospects closely tend to live and die with these kids.  It’s hard to see them go, but I feel foolish for even briefly lamenting the loss of Barreto.  As they say, prospects are good, but parades or better.  Christian Yelich does not bring the possibility of a World Series victory with him, but he would be a substantial roster upgrade.

 

Who Do The Blue Jays Risk Losing in the Rule 5 Draft?

MiLB: SEP 23 Florida Instructional League -  Blue Jays Work Out
Max Pentecost Sportsnet.ca photo

Baseball’s Rule 5 draft takes place this Thursday, as the annual winter meetings draw to a close.

The Blue Jays have been participants in the past two Rule 5s, striking paydirt with Joe Biagini two years ago, but whiffing on Glenn Sparkman last year.

It’s impossible to predict who the Blue Jays might be considering, but given their depth at several everyday positions and starting pitching, it’s safe to say they may look at adding another arm – and there are many availabe.  With the 12th pick, some of the better candidates may be off the board, however.  One off-the-radar pick might be Tampa C Nick Ciuffo, who like Stu Turner with the Reds last year, might stick as a back up.  One of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire are the favourites at the moment to back Russ Martin up, but Ciuffo might help buy both a little more development time.   Another name which might intrigue the Jays is Twins RHP Kohl Stewart.  Stewart, the 4th overall pick in 2013, has a blazing fastball, but troubles repeating his delivery have led to high walk totals throughout his pro career.  If the Jays are serious about contending in 2018, they likely won’t take a chance on this talented but enigmatic pitcher.

What is possible to forecast is who might be taken among the players the Blue Jays chose to leave off their 40-man roster last month.  There are several players who might be selected:

  1.  C/1B Max Pentecost  was something of a surprise omission from the 40, but the Blue Jays are obviously gambling that his history of shoulder issues will dissuade teams from taking him.  There have been some reports that some teams might consider selecting him and stashing him on the 60 day DL, but it’s hard to see how that will be beneficial to his development.  Pentecost is a premium athlete, but he needs more time in the minors.
  2. OF Roemon Fields has elite speed, but has struggled to get on base throughout his minor league career.  This year, he managed a .344 OBP between Buffalo and New Hampshire – maybe not enough for the top of an order, but certainly a good fit for the singles hitters that tend to populate the bottom of most batting orders.  Fields can play all three OF positions, and his 50 steals this season underscore his speed.
  3. OF Jonathan Davis  has quietly gotten on base at every level he’s played at.  Like Fields, he can play all three OF spots, and unlike Fields has some pop in his bat.  Davis has speed, but is not in Fields’ category.  Both could profile as fourth outfielder types. Davis opened some eyes in the Arizona Fall League.
  4. Jordan Romano RHP the Markham, ON native has pitched in a starter’s role well since returning from Tommy John surgery in May, 2016.  But his command may concern some, and for those considering converting him to a relief role, he’s never pitched above High A.  There is probably too much pitching depth in this draft for Romano to be selected.
  5. Emerson Jimenez RHP  if you’ve never heard of Jimenez before, don’t be alarmed – few Blue Jays fans have.  Originally signed as an OF by the Rockies in 2012, he advanced as far as AA before being released in May.  Toronto signed him, and sent Jimenez to the Gulf Coast League to begin his conversion to the mound.  Pitching exclusively in relief, he fanned 23 in 15 innings.  Jimenez is raw in Pitching terms, but his fastball sits 94-99, and his change up has been described as surprisingly advanced.
  6. Francisco Rios RHP Rios had success as a starter in the lower levels, but struggled in AA this year.  Rios sits 90-92, but has some deception with his delivery, and has a slider that would play role in a relief role with that fastball, which would likely tick up.  Again, with the depth of this draft crop, it’s hard to see a team selecting Rios.

I really enjoyed this piece by J.J. Cooper of Baseball America on the Rule 5.  Coming at the end of the winter meetings, it comes at a time when many baseball executives are anxious to get out of Dodge and catch their flights back home.

Blue Jays 2012 Draft Recap

DJDavis
Clutchlings photo

It takes, on average, 4-5 years to develop a Major Leaguer.  Some, of course, race through the minors and beat that timeline by a considerable margin, while others need longer to figure things out.  Because of that, I like to wait five years before evaluating an MLB team’s draft results.

When Alex Anthopoulos took over the GM’s chair from J.P. Ricciardi in 2009, one of the first areas he upgraded was the amateur scouting department.  A year later, no one in the game had more scouts scouring North America for talent at the pro and amateur levels than the Blue Jays.

It was in the 2011 draft that Anthopoulos and Amateur Scouting Director Blake Parker began to hone their roll-the-dice approach to the annual talent shopping spree.  With 7 of the first 78 picks, they selected the most risky of draft commodities, the high school Pitcher, with all but one of them.  One of their strategies was to take a flyer on a player whose stock had fallen due to the perceived strength of their college commitment.  It backfired when Massachussetts prep righty Tyler Beede, who had maintained all along that he was headed for Vanderbilt, was taken with the 21st pick, but refused to sign.  But the Blue Jays were able to convince their next pick, Tennessee HS southpaw Daniel Norris, to forego his pledge to Clemson.

2012 saw Anthopoulos and Parker at their swashbuckling best.  With the sheer size of their scouting numbers, they were able to probe areas that were not considered to be baseball hot beds.  They gambled on toosly Mississippi high school OF D.J Davis (whose father played in the Jays organization – give the pair credit:  they were ahead of the curve, because many teams now covet kids whose dads had played pro ball).  Davis has struggled mightily in six pro seasons, striking out about 27% of the time.  The tools are there, but an ability to get on base consistently has not.  After ranking in the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects for the first several years of his career, Davis has dropped off the radar, although a .333/.381/.449 August for High A Dunedin may be an indication he’s finally turning things around.

The next Blue Jays pick turned out to be the best (or perhaps second best) of the AA-Parker era:  with the compensation choice they were granted as a result of failing to reach terms with Beede, Toronto drafted Duke RHP Marcus Stroman.  There was no denying his talent and athleticism, but given his small stature, many teams viewed him as a Tom Gordon-type reliever in the long term.   Baseball America‘s scouting report suggested as much:

An 18th-round pick out of a New York high school in 2009, Stroman’s commitment to Duke and his size scared teams off. He was a two-way player in high school, but scouts always preferred him on the mound because of his low-90s fastball and compared him to Tom Gordon. After three years at Duke, Stroman has become one of the most electric arms in the country despite being 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds. He was 5-4, 2.36 with 119 strikeouts and 22 walks in 84 innings this spring for a bad Duke team. He is athletic and now sits at 92-94 mph as a starter and can touch 95-96. His best secondary offering is a nasty slider with depth. He has also mixed in a good changeup and a cutter that sits 88-90 mph. He can hold his velocity deep into games, but most scouts say he could be the first 2012 draftee to reach the big leagues if he goes to the bullpen. He worked as the closer for Team USA last summer and was 93-96 mph consistently, pitching 8 1/3 innings without giving up a hit while striking out 17 and walking one.

The Blue Jays, of course, saw that four pitch mix as part of a starter’s makeup, and sent him to Vancouver to begin his pro career.  Stroman made his MLB debut in May of 2014l, and has produced 10.8 WAR, a total which undoubtedly would be higher if a positive PED suspension in 2013 and a knee injury in 2015 had not interrupted his career.

After Stroman, the Blue Jays reached for the dice and took Ohio HS LHP Matt Smoral with the 50th pick (a supplemental pick for the loss of reliever Frank Francisco).  Smoral had fallen that far after a foot injury cost him his senior year.  They were willing to be patient with the 6’8″ southpaw, but after injuries limited him to 53 games over 4 years, the Blue Jays lost him to Texas in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.  Arizona 3B Mitch Nay was their next selection at 58 (another supplemental, this one for the los of Jon Rauch), but injuries have derailed his career, as well.  While playing for High A Dunedin, Nay woke up one August morning with a sore knee.  The pain worsened, and Nay was eventually diagnosed with a staph infection, which took three surgeries to remove.  The infection cost him all of 2016, and he in essence started all over with Lansing this year.

With the last of their supplemental picks (compensation for the loss of Jose Molina), the Blue Jays took Texas HS RHP Tyler Gonzales, who some thought could become an elite closer.  After having pitched poorly in his first two pro seasons in the Gulf Coast League, Gonzales was released in July, 2014.  Two months later, he was suspended for 50 games by MiLB for a second positive test of a drug of abuse.  With the last of their Top 100 picks, Toronto selected California HS RHP Chase DeJong.   DeJong had a breakout 2015 for Lansing, before being dealt to the Dodgers in August for international bonus pool money in the wake of the Jays signing Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  DeJong made his MLB debut for the Mariners this year.

The biggest gamble of the draft, and perhaps the one that will eventually have the biggest payoff, was the drafting of Mississippi two-sport athlete Anthony Alford in the 3rd round.  Alford was a highly regarded, first-round level talent, but as one of the top football recruits in the country, most teams backed off.  The Blue Jays allowed him to pursue both sports, and their patience was rewarded when he fully committed to baseball in the fall of 2014.  After making his MLB debut this season, Alford should be in contention for a 25-man roster spot this spring.

The only other draftees to make much of a minor league impact beyond that were OF Ian Parmley (7th round), Illinios LHP Ryan Borucki (15th), and SS Jason Leblebijian.  Borucki did not pitch beyond March in his draft year due to elbow injuries, but after being promoted to the 40 last fall, is on the cusp of a big league job himself.  Leblebijian can play a variety of positions, and while he’s down on the depth charts, he will serve a useful role for Buffalo this year.

Beyond those choices, there was no one who “got away.”  Missouri HS RHP Jon Harris was taken in the 33rd round, but opted to go to college.  Three years later, he was one of the top Pitchers in the nation, and the Blue Jays selected him again, this time in the 1st round (29th overall).  Harris had a disappointing season with AA New Hampshire in 2017.

The 2012 Blue Jays draft has produced 10.6 WAR, almost all of that by Stroman (De Jong accounts for -0.3, Alford for 0.1).  The 2011 draft was more productive in terms of WAR, producing 24.8 Wins, almost half of them by 32nd rounder Kevin Pillar.  The rest have mostly been compiled by players no longer with the organization like Daniel Norris, Joe Musgrove, and Anthony DeSclafani, as well as Aaron Nola, who was chosen in the 22nd round, but opted to go the collegiate route.  The 2010 draft has produced 42.9 Wins, but that total was inflated by another player who didn’t sign, Kris Bryant.

How does the 2012 draft compare to the previous two, then?  If Stroman becomes a long-term Blue Jay, and Alford reaches his ceiling, it could turn out to be the best of the Anthopoulos-Parker regime in terms of quality, if not quantity.  We can certainly play the “what if?” game in the case of Davis.  The Dodgers took Corey Seager with the next pick, while the Cardinals took Michael Wacha after that.  With a second first round pick, however, the Blue Jays were inclined to gamble on the toolsy-but-raw Davis, taking a safer bet like Stroman with the second choice.  But you certainly can’t argue with the haul of prospects they acquired in 2010 and 2011.   One thing is certain with these first three drafts:  the Blue Jays took advantage of the rules of the day, letting free agents go in order to hoard those picks – they had 17 top 100 selections over those three years.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects – #11 to #20

Over the past several weeks, we’ve produced individual profiles of the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects.  When considering the guys who fall into the next 10, things don’t become quite as cut and dried as they do with the top group.  Only a handful of “top” prospects have much of an impact at the MLB level.  The farther you go down the list, the less likely you’re going to find a high-Win player.

That is not to say there is not some talent in this group.  After a couple of lean years following the Great Alex Anthopoulos Prospect Clearance Sale in 2015, the system has rebounded nicely, and choosing this tier was probably the most difficult task I’ve had since starting this project.  There is some good value in there – maybe not 1st Division, but several names should go on to play a few hundred MLB games in Toronto or elsewhere.

 

#11 Danny Jansen

Finally healthy for a full season for the first time since turning pro in 2013, Jansen had a breakout year at three levels, and was rewarded with a spot on the 40-man last month. Jansen tried out some sport glasses last fall in the Arizona Fall League in order to help him track pitches from behind the plate better.  An added bonus was that they helped him pick up spin more effectively at the plate.

Jansen has long been lauded as a leader, and a good handler of Pitchers.  His footwork and arm are at least average, and he blocks pitches in the dirt well, although there has been some concern reported with his lateral movement.  Jansen sets a nice low target, and is a solid pitch framer.  Barring any off season moves, he should be competing for the job of backing up Russell Martin this spring.

#12 Teoscar Hernandez

Hernandez had the most impressive September debut of any Blue Jays player in quite some time.  He did not exactly set the International League on fire after coming over in the Francisco Liriano deal, but he showed some pop with the Blue Jays, with 14 extra base hits in a little over 100 ABs.

After a hot start in September, Hernandez did cool off.  His K rate in the minors has often topped 20%, and his swing-and-miss ways returned as the month wore on.  Hernandez does work the count and draw his share of walks, but his long swing results in not enough contact for a guy whose best tool is probably his speed.  Hernandez has a shot at a big league job next spring, but he doesn’t appear to be a long-term piece of the puzzle.

#13 Max Pentecost

Oh, what might have been.   Pentecost won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top college receiver in 2014, after having been named Cape Cod League MVP the summer before.  Had all gone well, he probably would have made his MLB debut this year.

Shoulder issues have derailed a promising career.  Pentecost is a premium athlete who should hit at the major league level – if he can stay healthy enough to get there.  Sent to Arizona for some added reps this fall, Pentecost was shut down with a week to go in the schedule with shoulder soreness.  After deciding not to protect him on the 40, the Blue Jays are crossing their fingers that he’ll pass through the Rule 5 draft.  If he goes through without being claimed, the Blue Jays really have to consider turning him into a hybrid player – one who can Catch on occasion, but whose bat can be kept in the lineup by regular turns at 1B and DH.  There is no question about his defensive skills, but there is considerable doubt that he’ll be an every day Catcher.

 

#14 Lourdes Gurriel Jr

The Cuban defector had not played in almost two years after signing with the Blue Jays last off season, and the rust showed this year.  Injuries didn’t help, and he may have been pressing this spring, but he acquitted himself well in the Arizona Fall League.

Gurriel can play SS and 2B as well as LF, but seems best suited to the middle infield.  He has good footwork, range, and a plus arm.  He adds to the depth that the club is building at that position.  He will not be an impact player, but he will likely be among the first from this list to make his MLB debut.  He should be a serviceable player in a multiple of roles.

#15 Reese McGuire

Catching was once one of the weakest links in the Blue Jays system; with Jansen, McGuire, and 2017 draftees Riley Adams and Hagen Danner, it now is truly a strength.

McGuire missed a good chunk of the season with a knee injury.  When he returned, the noted glove-first Catcher had a decent (.328/.414/.607) August, calming some concerns about his bat (he had never posted a SLG % above .400 prior to this season).  He appeared to have more loft in his swing after his lay off, and it will be interesting to see if that carries over to spring training, where McGuire probably will be battling Jansen for that back up job.

#16 Rowdy Tellez

No Blue Jays prospect had more of a drop-off in performance this year than the mountainous slugger.  Tellez has had his cold streaks before, but nothing sustained like this year.  And even though he has worked exceedingly hard on the other aspects of his game, when Tellez hits .222/.295/.333 as he did this year, he’s not of much value to a team.

Some suggest that Tellez’ swing mechanics were exploited by AAA Pitchers.  Others point to the off-field problems he had this year.  Whatever it was, Tellez, who is usually patient and grinds out ABs, just did not have a good approach this year, and did not have a lot of quality plate appearances.   Considered to be in contention for a spot on the MLB roster last spring, Tellez was rewarded despite his sideways season when the team placed him on the 40 last month.

#17 Edward Olivares

And just as no prospect’s stock dropped as much as Tellez’, no other’s grew like Olivares’.

Watching Olivares and his slender build take BP prior to Lansing’s home opener last April, I was confounded as I saw him bang pitch after pitch off of the top of the batting cage, obviously trying to put loft on the ball.  I wondered to myself, “why doesn’t this guy just go for line drives with his speed?”  In the game that followed  Olivares lofted a long Home Run over the Left Centre Field wall, no mean trick in the cool swirling winds of Cooley Law Stadium in April.

Olivares proved that was no fluke, No Blue Jays farm hand – not Vladdy Jr, not Bo – hit more Homers than the athletic Outfielder.  Olivares doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but he puts the ball in play.  There was not a lot in his past stats (outside of his rookie season in the DSL) to suggest a breakout year in full season ball, but that’s precisely what Olivares had.  He can play all three OF positions, and while his speed translates more to tracking down balls and running the bases as opposed to stealing a lot of them at this point, he teases with a tantalizing power-speed combo.  The Blue Jays thought enough of his athleticism that they opted to let 2016 2nd rounder J.B Woodman go in a deal with the Cardinals last week.

#18 Thomas Pannone

Talk to any fan of Cleveland’s minor league system, and this is the guy they didn’t want to lose.  Pannone does not blow hitters away, but pounds the strike zone with a three-pitch mix.  His 92-94 fastball plays up because of some deception in his delivery that gives hitters a millisecond less than usual to track it.  Despite not having a plus pitch in his repertoire, the dude gets hitters out, and has solid back of the rotation or swingman potential.

#19 Yennsy Diaz

The 20-year-old RHP burst onto the scene in June with Lansing, fanning 26 in 16 innings over his first 4 starts.  The dominant weapon in his arsenal is a 97 mph fastball, which has potential to tick up a notch or two.  His secondaries are still a work in progress, and his command can desert him for a sequence of pitches, but that fastball is a thing to behold.    Yennsy (pronounced with a J) tailed off in his first go at full season ball, but he made the mechanical changes that were necessary to get there in the first place.

#20 Leonardo Jimenez

I never mind going out on a limb; Vladdy Jr was my 10th-ranked guy two years ago without having even played a pro game yet (same with Eric Pardinho this year).  Projection is the name of the game in this business, and there’s plenty of it with the Panamanian who the Jays signed this past July 2nd.  Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish raved about Jimenez recently, praising his skills on and off the field.  When you see an IFA SS signed, you wonder how long it will be until he’s off the position.  Tinnish says he’s a no-doubter at that position defensively, and sees huge upside in him.  Jimenez is bi-lingual, which should help him tremendously when he plays stateside (whether tha is this coming season or the following one).