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.

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