Blue Jays 2017 International Review

Pardinho
ESPN photo

The Blue Jays landed 5 of the top 40-ranked International Free Agents (according to Baseball America) during the IFA signing period this summer.

This was a far cry from 2016, when in the wake of sanctions as a result of going over their bonus pool in order to sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the Blue Jays could not sign a player for a bonus of more than $300 000.   Still, they were able to cull some quality out of that group – their accomplishments have been overshadowed, however, by PED suspensions handed out to 7 Blue Jays prospects at their Dominican complex.

Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees the international market and signings, was understandably not willing to discuss that development in a conversation this week (an investigation is ongoing), but he did provide updates about many of the players they did sign this year.  After signing, prospects converge on the Blue Jays complex at Boca Chica, near Santo Domingo.  Players learn about nutrition, training and take English classes, and play in the “Tricky” League against other complex prospects who recently signed.

At the top of the list is Brazilian RHP Eric Pardinho.  Ranked the top pitching prospect in the 2017 IFA class (and signed for a $1.4 million bonus), he did not disappoint.   Tinnish noted that Pardinho touched 97 in short outings with his fastball.  “A combination of athleticism, great delivery, advanced stuff and feel for pitching,” is how he described the young hurler. “I’ve never seen a 16 year old kid with that combination of skills.”  What’s impressive beyond that, says Tinnish, is how he “slows the game down – how much poise and compete he has on the mound.”  Pardinho is not the biggest guy in the world (5’9 1/2″, according to reports), but he is very polished – Tinnish says he has an extremely efficient delivery which he repeats well and uses his lower half effectively, and he can command multiple pitches.  That 97 came in Instructs, and it was, in his words, “an easy 97.”  He sat 90-94, but there’s room for added velocity as he matures.  Pardinho has always had a power curve, sitting 78-82, and has developed a slider with good depth and some added velo to it.  Tinnish had not seen Pardinho throw a change up prior to his signing, but was impressed with what he saw this fall.  “To me, he’s a starter,” he said, pointing to that four-pitch mix.  The team is not concerned about his size – there’s room for added strength.  The Jays have had success with smaller Pitchers, with Marcus Stroman the prime example.  Tinnish does not suggest that Pardinho is in Stroman’s class as an athlete, but he is in terms of stuff, delivery, and feel.  It’s all but likely that Pardinho begins his pro career stateside in the Gulf Coast League next year.  The Blue Jays will not rush him, but they certainly like what they’ve seen from the youngster, and he may move through the system quickly.

Dominican SS Miguel Hiraldo was rated the best overall bat in the class, and signed for $750K.  Tinnish says that Hiraldo has “a compact build, sneaky athletic ability, and quick hands.”  He’ll play SS as long as possible, but he may move over to 3rd.  The most impressive thing about Hiraldo, according to Tinnish, is his bat.  “It’s a compact swing, he hits a lot of line drives, he uses the whole field, is a smart hitter, and there’s power projection there.”  Hiraldo has a chance to be an everyday player if the bat develops, and he may join Pardinho in the Gulf Coast League next year.

A player Tinnish is very high on is Panamanian SS Leonardo Jimenez, who signed for $825K.  “A really, really great kid,” enthused Tinnish.  “(He’s) bilingual, great make up, ultra young in the class – a late May birthday – he really has lead-off or #2 hole potential….if you asked me right now who has a chance to play SS in your system, Leo would be at the top of that list.  The way the body moves, the way the arm works, the instincts, he’s a really good, future upside defender.”  Jimenez, who led off for the Panamanian national team, has a good approach at the plate.    He grinds out ABs, and hits a lot of line drives, and even shows glimpses of future power.  He hit a HR his last game at Instructs, and Tinnish admits of all the players the Blue Jays signed outside of Pardinho, Jimenez is the one he’s most excited about.

Venezuelan RHP Ronald Govea is what Tinnish calls a “sneaky upside player.”  Not one of the top 40 ranked players the Blue Jays signed, Govea is not a hard thrower, but has a good delivery, and can spin a breaking ball, and throws “a ton of strikes,” said Tinnish.  He tops out at 88 right now, but Tinnish feels he has “a lot more left in the tank,” given his arm movement.

RHP Alejandro Melean is also a player Tinnish says is one to watch.  The 32nd ranked IFA, the Venezuelan ramped things up toward the end of Instructs, sitting 90-94 with his fastball, with an ability to spin the breaking ball.  Command is not where Tinnish would like it to be, but he’s another undersized, athletic “quick twitch guy.”

Venezuelan SS Jose Rivas is a player Tinnish calls a “sparkplug,” and while he doesn’t like to label players, he compares him favourably with an Astros 2B named Jose.  “He’s got the Altuve frame and mentality,” and suggests that Rivas ultimately moves across the bag to 2nd.

BA’s Ben Badler offers his take on Pardinho:

 

 

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Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects – #1 Vladimir Guerrero Jr

VladJr
Clutchlings Photo

It takes an average Major League fastball about 400 milliseconds to reach home plate, give or take some variables. It takes about 100 ms for the brain to process the pitch coming out of the Pitcher’s hand, and another 175 ms for the brain to send the message to the body to swing, and for the swing to be completed.  That gives the hitter about 125 ms to process a great deal of information – where the pitch is headed, and from its spin, what type of pitch it is.  To put it into perspective, it takes about  300-400 ms to blink.  Literally, in less than the wink of an eye, elite hitters can judge whether or not to swing, where to swing, and to be able to get their bat around in time to meet the ball.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr, after only two minor league seasons, has proven that he has among the best visual acuity in all of baseball.  This is not hyperbole – unlike his soon-to-be Hall of Famer Dad, who was famous for hitting pitches in and out of every quadrant of the strike zone, Junior is a master at pitch recognition, and has better walk rates than Joey Votto posted at a similar age.  The power has really yet to manifest itself (although 13 round trippers in a pair of Pitchers’ leagues is nothing to sneer at), but that’s expected to develop.  In two minor league seasons, Guerrero has walked more than he’s struck out, and he’s never gone more than 11 at bats without a hit.  The Braves’ Ronald Acuna may be more advanced at this point, but Guerrero is arguably the best prospect in a ll of baseball.

Vladdy’s first Midwest League Home Run showed both his bat speed and his opposite field pop:

There are so many scouting reports to choose from, it’s hard to settle on a few, but here are the best we’ve seen:

From Matt Powers of minorleagueball.com:

When he swings he’s aggressive, showing the big bat speed you hear about and looking to hit it hard. He’s got a great feel for contact and situations- he’s not afraid to shorten his swing when he’s got two strikes against him and will look to put the ball in play. He’s got big power, but it’s still coming in games- to be expected as an 18 year old going up against grown men. I saw enough bat speed, pitch recognition, plate coverage, and bat to ball ability to easily project a 60 hit tool on him, if not a 65.

Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America:

Guerrero’s bat-to-ball skills are without peer. He doesn’t have his father’s gangly physique and long arms but still shows the ability to cover the plate. Thanks to his plus bat speed and the strength from his stocky build, Guerrero has at least plus power, with some scouts not shying from plus-plus grades on that tool. His hit tool is a plus weapon, at least the equal of his power. He has been compared with Edwin Encarnacion for his potential offensive impact.

Benjamin Chase of calltothepen.com:

The muscle build in the lower half of Guerrero is incredible, and it shines through in his power. He absolutely tattoos balls, even those he hits on the ground. One ball in one of the games I watched nearly took off the glove of the shortstop in the hole.

While it’s a present 60 power, I could absolutely see a legit 70-75 future grade on Guerrero’s power with his build and easy access to that power in his swing. I’m placing a 65 currently for a “hedge” on present vs. future.

Blue Jays Assistant General Manager Andrew Tinnish, who runs the club’s international operations, and headed up the negotiations that landed the prize of the 2015 IFA crop, was asked what impresses him the most about Guerrero:

   (It’s) the overall plate discipline…..not only does he control the strike zone, but to control it and do damage at his age…..that’s really hard to find.

On the bases, Guerrero will not be confused with Lou Brock.  At the same time, he gets out of the box well, and shows his high baseball IQ on the basepaths, seeming to know when and how to get an extra base.  His speed will not improve with age, of course, but it’s hard to see him becoming a base clogger until later in his career.

The question, of course, is Jr’s ultimate position.  At 3rd Base, he shows great instincts on batted balls and a plus arm, but his range is suspect.  He seems to get to a fair number of balls, but on ones toward the outer edges of his range, Guerrero often appears to be just a step late.  While he’s made huge strides with refining his physique and improving his agility with the High Performance group, it seems likely that he moves across the diamond one day, likely the year after next.  But that scarcely will matter because of that bat.   Vladdy Jr profiles as a middle-of-the-order, impact – dare we say generational? – bat.

In his first full season (at an age where stateside kids are either beginning their pro careers in rookie ball, or getting ready to head off to college), Guerrero did tire a bit as the season progressed, but hit .385/.483/.646 in August, and led Dunedin to a Florida State League co-championship.  He’s come such a long way that many forget that he won’t turn 19 until next spring training.  And while Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro said this fall that if the team found itself in need of a corner IF bat and in the midst of a pennant race next summer, Guerrero could be placed on the 40-man roster and summoned to the big leagues, that seems like a remote possibility.  His performance this spring will determine if he begins the year in New Hampshire or spends another half season with Dunedin, but one thing is certain:  Guerrero’s major league debut is getting closer and closer.  He will be worth the wait.

 

Blue Jays Deal Woodman

The Blue Jays dealt from their surplus of minor league Outfielders in order to shore up their middle Infield defence at the MLB level.

J.B. Woodman, a 2nd round pick in 2016, was dealt to the Cardinals for Almedys Diaz.  Diaz worked out for Toronto as a Cuban IFA in 2014 before signing with St Louis.

Woodman was an athletic pick who played collegiately for Ole Miss, but struggled in his first crack at full season ball with Lansing this year.  Scouts first noticed a swing-and-miss element to his game in the Cape league prior to his junior season.  He led the SEC in Home Runs following that, which helped boost his stock considerably.  Woodman’s arm is well suited to RF, but he has enough speed and instincts to play CF on occasion.  Woodman has proven successful at working the count and seeing a lot of pitches as a pro, but his long swing meant that he was late on a lot of pitches.  He was among the Midwest Leaders in K rate (37.5%), and Swinging Strike% (17.5%), but was 2nd in Line Drive rate (26.1%), suggesting some loud contact and hope for the future.

Diaz had a solid rookie season for the Cards in 2016, but dropped off last year, and lost his starting role to Paul DeJong.  He would have to be considered an upgrade offensively over Ryan Goins, who was non-tendered shortly before the trade.  Diaz is primarily a SS, but had reps at 2nd and 3rd last year to boost his versatility, and reports say that he didn’t look out of place at either spot.

It’s always a shame to see a team give up on a draftee after a relatively short period of time, but the Blue Jays have developed a good stock of quality OFs.  Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, and Dalton Pompey all will be competing for a spot on the 25-man roster this spring, with Dwight Smith serving as at least decent AAA depth.  In the next tier, Edward Olivares and Josh Palacios have probably passed Woodman in terms of development.  Olivares had a breakout year at two levels in 2017, and Palacios, who was taken two rounds after Woodman last year (his stock fell to a wrist injury), had a huge second half (.328/.403/.421), and can play all three OF positions.

The deal potentially benefits both teams.  Diaz can become an important reserve player in a multiple of roles for the Blue Jays, while Woodman gives the Cards an athletic player who still has enough upside to make it worthwhile to give him further time to figure things out.