If you’ve visited this site hoping to find out if Vladimir Guerrero Jr will continue to be one of the top prospects in baseball, or if Bo Bichette will continue to hit everything in sight, or if Nate Pearson will continue to dominate with a fastball in the upper 90s, let me save you some time – the answer is yes.
Those are not exactly compelling storylines. While there are no guarantees, all three are on track to become front-line Major Leaguers.
But there are several in the Blue Jays system that will be worth following this year:
1. Will Justin Maese return to health this year?
Maese climbed the prospect charts in only his second pro season in 2016. Shoulder issues lead to a six week shutdown in June/July, and an end to his season in early August.
When healthy, Maese pounds the bottom of the strike zone with a sinker that has a good downward plane, which hitters find difficult to square up. Last year, his shoulder problems kept him from getting the extension necessary to keep his pitches down, and his flyball rate jumped from around 20 to 25%, with a corresponding drop in his ground ball rate. Maese in 2016 was an incredibly efficient Pitcher, averaging 13 pitches per inning. In 2017, his pitch count and BB% jumped significantly as he struggled to find the strike zone. A healthy Maese attacked hitters, but last year he pitched from behind more often than not, or so it seemed.
Pitching from a 3/4 delivery, Maese sits 91-95 with his sinker, which is complemented by a slider which he learned a new grip for at 2015 Instructs, and a changeup. Both of his offspeed pitches flash above average potential.
After 2016, Maese was being talked about as a potential back of the rotation arm. He didn’t exactly fall off the radar last year, but his stock dropped considerably.
2. Will Riley Adams continue to develop?
The 2017 3rd rounder was Vancouver’s MVP as he led the C’s back to the league championship.
Thought of as more of an offensive Catcher with a plus arm, Adams made tremendous strides defensively last year, but scouts wondered if he might eventually have to move off the position. His hands and receiving skills were rated below average, and two months of pro ball demonstrated that he has some work to do in regard to pitch framing.
One thing is for certain from viewing Adams a number of times last year: his bat is of the potential big league variety. Adams worked the count well, and while he didn’t tap into his power (3 HRs for the summer), he shows raw power that should show up as he moves through the system. His K rate was on the high side, but fatigue may have helped to slow his bat down.
Likely destined for Lansing this year, Black-Belt Adams is part of an impressive haul of athletic players the Blue Jays netted last June. If he can continue to develop his blocking and game-calling skills, Adams could add to the depth of Catching prospects the Blue Jays have accumulated.
3. Can Jon Harris bounce back?
The 2015 1st round pick had a solid 2016, and was rewarded with a challenging assignment to AA to start 2017.
He caught entirely too much of the plate on many occasions, and hitters made him pay accordingly.
Harris sits 90-94 with his fastball, and while his secondaries are decent, like his fastball, nothing really stands out as a go-to pitch. A FIP almost a full run lower than his ERA last year suggests that some BABIP issues were in play for him, but Harris gave up a lot of contact, with only 45% of it being of the groundball variety.
Harris was not drafted with promises of front-of-the-rotation potential; just the same, he showed the right mix of pitchability and athleticism to suggest a mid-rotation future. He has the frame to add some more strength, and his height creates a good downward plane on his pitches. He did not fall off the prospect radar entirely this past season, but his performance has him down the depth chart of minor league starters.
4. Will Maverik Buffo be able to repeat his GCL success at a higher level?
Buffo’s story was one of the best in the Blue Jays system last year.
Elbow issues scared most teams off, but the Blue Jays took a flyer on him in the 34th round, and kept him close to their medical facilities in the GCL, where hitters stood absolutely no chance against him, as he gave up only 2 earned runs in 34 innings.
Buffo suffered a UCL tear in his Sophomore year at BYU, but he avoided Tommy John with Platelet-Rich-Plasma therapy. His Junior numbers were not great, which probably convinced most teams he was headed for surgery, but Buffo says he’s 100% recovered.
Buffo attacks hitters with a fastball that sits 92-95, and throws a sharp breaking ball that has tight shape and horizontal break. GCL hitters were overmatched by him, but it will be interesting to see how he fares against hitters at higher levels – he should reach Lansing perhaps to begin the season, or when the weather warms up.
5. Was DJ Davis’ second half for real?
The 2012 1st rounder had long lost his top prospect status after repeating both Low A and High A, but a swing adjustment that lead to a .283/.357/.369 (featuring an OPS of .830 in August) brings some hope for this athletic Outfielder.
Pitch recognition and a long swing have held Davis back. His speed has always prophesied top of the order potential, but he seemed to be more comfortable hitting at the bottom of the lineup last year. After begin caught stealing more times than he was successful in 2014, Davis has quietly improved his base running skills, swiping 32 in 43 attempts.
Davis still certainly has miles to go before he ever regains his former prospect lustre, but the Blue Jays have to be encouraged with the progress he displayed in the 2nd half. Described as toolsy-but-raw when he was drafted, Davis at least gave a glimpse of tapping into some of that potential in July and August last year.
6. Can Ryan Noda come anywhere close to repeating his Appy numbers?
Noda was a candidate to go in the top 3 rounds of the draft last June, but a mediocre college season dropped him to the 15th round. Sent to the Appy League because Kacy Clemens had 1B locked up at Vancouver, Noda laid waste to league pitching for the summer.
The Appy MVP, Noda led the league in average, OBP, and Slugging, and drew 25 more walks than the runner-up. He has hitting above .400 as last as August 7th.
In the Appy, Noda could be patient, and wait for Pitchers to make mistakes. At the higher levels, there is some concern that passivity could be taken advantage of.
Noda has the skills to play the OF, but there was little need for him with Bluefield with the presence of ballhawks like Chavez Young and McGregory Contreras. Likely ticketed for Lansing this year, he should split time between 1B/DH/OF. It was fun to watch him post video game-like numbers last year, but he will be hard pressed to repeat that in Low A.