Don’t Count Your Prospects Before They’re Hatched

I’m not normally one to single someone out like this, but here goes:

Look, I love prospects more than anyone.  Over the course of a season, I watch about twice as many MiLB games as I do the Major League version.  I like evaluating players, and talking to contacts around the continent about their strengths and weaknesses.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a half-dozen years of writing about them, and a much longer span of observing them in general, it’s this:  until they prove themselves at the MLB level, prospects are just that.  They are players with plenty of promise, but have yet to realize it.

Minor league performance history is as good a predictor of success as anything, but the jump from AAA to MLB is the biggest one in baseball – maybe even in all of sports.  If you have a flaw in your game that your physical talents allowed you to conceal in the minors, you will be quickly and effectively exposed.

This is why teams have three option years on their players.  I’m not aware of any recent studies, but this one from 7 years ago found that it took, on average, between two and three seasons for Top Prospects to have their first 2-Win season.  It stands to reason that it would take players who are not necessarily near the top of the rankings even longer to attain a 2 WAR year (if they ever do).

The problem, I think, that because many fans’ knowledge of prospects doesn’t extend beyond what they’ve read, or the stats lines they’ve looked up, is that prospects can be enveloped in something of a halo effect.  Because they haven’t failed, or maybe because their faults have not been exposed on a prime-time stage, many people think that prospects can come in and take over for an MLB regular.

And more often than not, that’s not the case.

You don’t have to look much farther than the Blue Jays current 25-man roster for proof that prospects still need time to develop once they reach the majors.  Josh Donaldson was dealt by the team that drafted him (the Cubs), and after a brief audition with his new team (the Athletics), spent two and a half seasons at AAA before he became an everyday player. J.A Happ, easily the team’s most consistent starter this year, was up and down with the Phillies for three seasons before being dealt to Houston.  For every Mike Trout or Kris Bryant who comes up and reaches stardom right away, there are countless players who are sent back to AAA more seasoning.

We know that Bo Bichette lead the minors in hitting last year; what some may not know that he struggled earlier this season (his average bottoming out at .244), mainly because he was chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone.  And while his defence appears to be of MLB-quality, he isn’t the best defensive SS in the system – he may not even be #3 at a position where the team is now rich with prospects. This is Bo’s second year of full season ball, and only his third pro campaign.  Expecting him to step in and play every day next year is probably unrealistic.

Cavan Biggio has found the Eastern League air and pitching very much to his liking this year, and leads the loop in Home Runs.  His defence, at this point, could charitably be described as fringy.  He lacks the arm strength and range to play the position in the majors at the moment, which may explain why the team has employed him at several infield spots this season.  His bat holds some Rogers Centre promise, but his glove is not ready.

And Lord knows I’m a huge Anthony Alford booster since he took the time to answer a blogger’s questions somewhere over the Pacific, as he was coming home from Australia and a crash course in pitch recognition after giving up his college football commitment several years ago.  But his injury history is somewhat concerning, not just because of the frequency, but also because of the time it appears to take him to get back into form after time on the DL.  As of this writing, he’s hitting .215/.285/.307 in 45 games with Buffalo.

About the only name  (other than Vlad Jr) I might be in agreement with on the above list is Danny Jansen.  Even though he’s tailed off a bit, his average dipping just below .300, Jansen is an International League All Star, and the heir apparent to the everyday Catching job once Toronto figures out what to do with Russell Martin and his contract.  Still, it’s worth remembering that Jansen has missed some development time due to injury in his minor league career in one of the sport’s lengthier apprenticeships, and he still likely has some learning to do at the MLB level.  His initial trial in the bigs may not be successful.

Last fall, Blue Jays President/CEO Mark Shapiro indicated in an interview that the Blue Jays’ brain trust had the tool belts strapped on, and were ready to start a rebuild, but the corporate bosses at Rogers were not comfortable with the drop in attendance and ratings it would likely entail.  And the front office knows that progress is not always measured in a straight line, and that their prospects may need several cracks at becoming an MLB regular.  Shapiro has also talked about developing waves of prospects who will be ready to go if any of the group ahead of them don’t make the grade.  Development takes time, and doesn’t stop once a player is promoted to the 25-man.

The Blue Jays farm system holds as much promise as it has had in some time.  To the above list, you could add the recently graduated Ryan Borucki, as well approaching-readiness players like Sean Reid-Foley and TJ Zeuch, and not-far-away prospects like Nate Pearson, Kevin Smith, and Logan Warmoth.  With four prospects in Baseball America‘s Top 100, the system is becoming one of the top ones in the game.  But that’s not a guarantee of success – it depends on how well those players handle the transition from the minors to the majors.  And that’s why teams lacking a key piece will often pay a heavy price in prospects to acquire a player at the trade deadline.  A top player with a proven track record has more value – prospects are good, parades are better.

 

 

 

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What to Expect from Ryan Borucki

 

ryan_borucki_getty
Baseball America

Injuries and underperformance have been slowly combining to force the Blue Jays to dip into their farm system to begin a gradual overhaul of the team.  That trend will continue on Tuesday when LHP Borucki, who has a record of 6-5, 3.27 with AAA Buffalo, makes his MLB debut against the World Series Champs Houston.

Grit

Borucki was considered to be the second-best HS Pitching prospect in Illinois in 2012, until a mid-March UCL tear caused his stock to drop all the way to the 15th round.  The elbow didn’t hold up in pro ball, and he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2013 season.

Injuries robbed him of much of his 2015 season, as well.  When Borcuki came back with High A Dunedin in 2016, he was hit hard an often for Florida State League hitters, prompting a demotion to Low A, where he worked on adding some deception to his delivery, and refined his command.

The trials and tribulations Borucki experienced in his first 4 years of pro ball might have tempted some to call it a career, but he stuck with it. and two years after being sent to the lowest rung on the full season ladder, he’s on the cusp of making his MLB debut.

Fastball Command

Usually sitting 91-93 and touching 96, Borucki can command his FB to either side of the plate.  His height allows him to get a good downward plane on it, and he tends to live in the bottom half of the strike zone with it.

A Plus Change

The owner of the best change-up in the organization this side of Marco Estrada, Borucki’s change offers eye-level changing depth and movement.  When he’s ahead in the count, his change becomes a legitimate weapon, as he releases it from the same arm slot and speed as his fastball.

An Improved Slider

Once described as fringy, Borucki has improved his slider to the point where it has become a decent, keep-hitters-honest pitch.  A late-breaking pitch with good tilt, the development of this third pitch has helped Borucki progress from decent minor league starter to MLB call up.

Consistency

The lousy April weather wreaked havoc with Buffalo’s rotation, and Borucki went ten days before his first and second starts.  Since then, he’s pitched into the sixth inning in 11 straight starts.

Athleticism

Tall and lean at 6’4″/175, Borucki consistently repeats his clean delivery, and lands in a good position to field any balls hit back to him.  He can get off the mound quickly to grab choppers or slow rollers.

 

It’s been a long time coming for Borucki – 7 years as a minor leaguer (although he’s only 24), and countless hours of rehab and refining his pitches.  This may only prove to be an emergency start, and he may be back in Buffalo after it, but Borucki will become a mid-rotation anchor before long.

 

 

Blue Jays Last Ten Hot Sheet

Ok, if you’re scoring at home, it’s been a little more than ten days since the last post.

This is not a ranking of the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects – it’s a snapshot of who the top performers have been.

1.  Ryan Noda, Lansing

Noda tops the charts for the second straight time.  This guy is having a monster June, and has posted a ridiculous 1.460 OPS over the last ten days.

Many will be suggesting that the 2017 Appy League MVP has slugged his way into the Top 10 Prospects list.  That conversation should probably wait until we see what he does at the next level, but he certainly has slugged his way into consideration.

Noda’s 59 walks and .455 OBP lead the Midwest League by a wide margin – his BB total is second highest in the minors, and his OBP trails only some guy named Vlad.

Patient almost to a fault, the knock against Noda was that he sometimes was too selective.  He’s now doing a much better job of managing the strike zone.  Midwest League Pitchers pay a heavy price for their mistakes as a result.

After a long wait, Lansing’s games finally came online this past week with milb.com’s subscription service.  Let’s celebrate with some Noda video, narrated by our good friend Jesse Goldberg-Strassler:

 

2.  T.J. Zeuch, New Hampshire

Zeuch did not give up a run over two starts totalling 15 IP over the past ten days, and is really starting to open some eyes with his ability to generate ground ball contact and work deep into games.

Zeuch’s detractors will point to his low strikeout totals as evidence that he doesn’t miss enough bats to get MLB hitters out.  With his bowling ball sinker, he pitches to contact, and this season is getting hitters to ground out about 60% of the time.

In his first of two starts over this period, Zeuch worked a career-high 8 innings, and allowed only two hits and one walk, needing less than 90 pitches.  He followed that up with 7 innings, giving up a pair of unearned runs.  Zeuch was worked into the 7th in six straight starts.

3.  Eric Pardinho, Bluefield

Two years ago, the Blue Jays sent their prize IFA signing from the season before to the Appalachian League for a challenge to begin his pro career.  They’ve done the same with Pardinho, last year’s top ranked Pitcher.

Last fall AGM Andrew Tinnish indicated that Pardinho would likely start 2018 in the Gulf Coast League.  This is a common path for IFAs, allowing them time to acclimate to playing stateside.  Pardinho impressed so much this spring that the decision was made to send the Brazilian far from home to Bluefield.  If his first start is any indication, he may not last long there.

Pardinho pitched 4 strong innings in the Jays’ season opener, fanning 5.  He gave up 2 hits, which a witness said were more like swinging bunt singles.  He did allow a stolen base and followed that up with a wild pitch, likely indicating some nerves.  Pardinho hit 97 with his fastball, and showed a curve that already ranks as a plus pitch.  As Tinnish said last fall, it’s not just that velo that makes Pardinho special – it’s his secondaries, and his feel for pitching.

He’s still a long way away, and there will be bumps on the road, but that was an incredibly encouraging start.

4.  Yeltsin Gudino, Lansing

Long regarded as a glove-first player, Gudino is having some success at the plate this year.

The Blue Jays have focussed extensively through their amateur scouting efforts on up-the-middle players, which has led to a bit of a glut of middle infielders.  Gudino started the year in a utility role with Dunedin, but was overmatched by Florida State League hitters.  Sent to Lansing in early May, he’s responded to the regular playing time he’s received since Kevin Smith’s promotion, filling Smith’s 3B/SS role.

Gudino has hit .364 for the month, with a 1.162 OPS over the last 10 days, with three straight two-hit games.

5.  Miguel Hiraldo, DSL Jays

Imagine, for a moment, being Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim.  He has a pair of blue chip SS prospects in the upper levels in Richie Urena and Bo Bichette,  another brace of top prospects at Dunedin in Kevin Smith and Logan Warmoth, a couple at Low A in Gudino and Kevin Vicuna, and now with the complex leagues getting underway, he has to find playing time for top picks Jordan Groshans and Addison Barger, as well as Hiraldo, the top-ranked bat in last year’s IFA class.

It’s likely that Kim would prefer to have Hiraldo, who scouts suggest will have to move off of SS, a full season in the DSL to play the position.  If he continues to rake as he has, Kim will have a dilemma on his hands.  Hiraldo posted a 1.080 OPS over the last ten, and with 9 hits in his last 4 games, brought his average up to .418.

It’s hard to see him staying in the DSL much longer, but playing time could be an issue.  Kim likely would agree that’s a nice problem to have.

 

Blue Jays Draft Picks by Signing Scout

Theirs is a largely thankless job.

Since the early days of the last century, scouts have toiled largely in anonymity,  criss crossing the back roads of the U.S. and Canada, looking for the “arm behind the barn.”

Times may have changed – scouts are more apt to be found now at Showcase events across the county, but the basic concept of scouting remains the same:  get to know the player, his strengths and weaknesses, his character, and (perhaps most important of all) what his price tag will be.

This year’s draft may be over, but preparations for next year’s has already begun.  Summer is peak Showcase season, as teams begin the lengthy process of building their draft board for next June.

Here are the draft picks the Blue Jays have signed, with their signing scouts.

Round Number Scout Last Name First Name POS School
1 12 Brian Johnston Groshans Jordan SS Magnolia HS
2 52 Jason Beverlin Conine Griffin OF Duke
3 88 Brian Johnston Kloffenstein Adam RHP Magnolia HS
4 116 Gerald Turner/Brandon Bishoff Wymer Sean RHP TCU
5 146 Pete Holmes Bec Christopher C U Maine Orono
6 176 Matt Bishoff Barger Addison SS C Leon King HS (FL)
7 206 Matt Huck Podkul Nicholas 2B Notre Dame
8 236 Coulson Barbiche Murray Joseph RHP Kent State (OH)
9 266 Randy Kramer Brodt Jake 1B Santa Clara U
10 296 Darold Brown Stevenson Cal CF U Arizona
11 326 Dallas Black Steinmetz Hunter CF Missouri St (MO)
12 356 Wes Penick Allgeyer Nick LHP U Iowa
13 386 Coulson Barbiche Wilson Brad RHP Ohio Dominican
14 416 Jason Beverlin Aiello John 3B Wake Forest (NC)
15 446 Darold Brown Watson Troy RHP U North Colorado
17 506 Coulson Barbiche Havekost Austin RHP Kent State
18 536 Darold Brown Stadler Fitz RHP Arizona State U
19 566 Matt O’Brien Ramos Adrian CF Miami Dade CC (FL)
20 596 Doug Witt Capra Vinny SS U Richmond
22 656 Ryan Fox Burland Gage RHP Lewis-Clark St Col
23 686 Nate Murrie Squires Troy C U Kentucky
24 716 Brian Johnston Pascoe Mike RHP San Jacinto Col N
25 746 Brian Johnston McAffer Will RHP Tulane (LA)
29 866 Matt O’Brien Finfrock Cre RHP U Central Florida
30 896 Matt Bishoff Johnson Cobi RHP Florida State
32 956 Brian Johnston Pulido Joey RHP U Houston
33 986 Matt O’Brien Harris Matt RHP Florida Atlantic
34 1016 Dallas Black Townsend Grant RHP Oral Roberts
38 1136 Matt O’Brien Ruiz Francisco C Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy
NDFA Jim Lentine Rees Jackson RHP U Hawaii
NDFA Nate Murrie Thurston Ryan LHP Western Kentucky

 

Teenager Pardinho Dominant in Pro Debut

17-year-old Eric Pardinho, the top ranked international free agent Pitcher last July 2nd, made his first start as a professional last night, and it was everything Blue Jays fans had hoped for.

Hitting 97 with his fastball, Pardinho allowed a run on two hits, walked a pair and fanned five over four innings.  The other 7 outs were recorded by ground outs.  Pardinho missed a number of bats on the evening, getting 10 swinging strikes.  One of his strikeout victims was Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals 1st round pick.

The 2nd inning presented the only difficulty for Pardinho on the evening.  A one out single by RF Sanel Rosendo was followed by a Wild Pitch.  Gorman’s ground out moved Rosendo to 3rd, where he was cashed in by 2B Donivan Williams’ RBI single.  Pardinho retired the side in order in the 1st and 3rd.  He threw 65 pitches on the night, 39 for strikes.

Pardinho displays excellent athleticism with a polished delivery, and a good feel for pitching as evidenced by his ability to sequence his mix of pitches.  The Blue Jays challenged him with a first assignment to the Appalachian League, as they did with top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr two years ago.

Bluefield was unable to muster any run support for Pardinho and the relievers who followed him, as the Blue Jays went down to Johnson City 2-0, tagging him with his first pro loss.

 

 

 

 

A Look at the Bluefield Blue Jays

The Bluefield Jays of the Appalachian League start play tonight.

The Jays have been a Toronto affiliate since 2011.  Even though it’s near the bottom of the minor league ladder, playing in Bluefield is a big jump from the complex leagues.  For many players, particularly high schoolers, it’s their first extended experience with travel, and “under the lights” play.

Leading the list of prospects on the Bluefield roster is RHP Eric Pardinho, last summer’s prize IFA signing.  Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees international operations for the club, compares Pardinho favourable with Marcus Stroman, saying last fall that he’s never seen such athleticism, or feel for pitching from a sixteen-year-old.

C Hagen Danner, a 2nd round pick last year, will likely form a battery with Pardinho.  A storied youth player, Danner struggled in his debut with the GCL Jays last year, but indications are he had a tremendous spring with the bat in Extended.

Bluefield’s Outfield will likely be its strength, featuring last year’s GCL batting champ Dom Abbadessa, toolsy but raw OFs DJ Daniels and DJ Neal, and Hunter Steinmetz, who was taken in the 11th round of this year’s draft.

2017 draftees 1B Pat Morris and 3B Davis Schneider should man the corners of Bluefield’s Infield, joined by sparkplug 2B Otto Lopez.

A couple of surprises are on the Pitching roster:  former OF Josh Almonte, who began the conversion to Pitching at Instructs last fall, and has hit the high 90s with his fastball, and former 1B/3B Emilio Guerrero, who has played over 500 games in the system, and has reached as high as AA.  Guerrero’s switch has been recent, as he was still a position player in spring training.

Veteran Blue Jays staffer Dennis Holmberg returns to Manage Bluefield.  A skipper in the system since 1979, it was announced las week that Holmberg will be inducted into the Florida State League Hall of Fame in November.

 

So Long, DJ Davis

DJ Davis
Clutchlings Photo

The Blue Jays released DJ Davis, their first pick (17th overall) in the 2012 draft this week.

Davis was a bit of a reach, and the Blue Jays were likely more focussed on their other 1st rounder, Duke RHP Marcus Stroman, who went 22nd overall with the pick they received for failing to reach a contractual agreement with high schooler Tyler Beede the year before.  Young for his draft class, the Blue Jays were prepared to be patient and give Davis plenty of time to develop.

Slot for the 17th pick was $2 million – Davis signed for $1.75, and some of the savings the team realized from signing him went to fellow Mississippi HS OF Anthony Alford, who they drafted in the 3rd round after most teams shied away due to his college football commitment. Alford signed for about $300K over slot.

Mississippi is not exactly a hotbed of high school baseball talent, but the Blue Jays at that time were full on into their strategy of looking for players in non-traditional markets.  Baseball America‘s draft report pointed out his strengths:

He’s faster even than Reds prospect Billy Hamilton, the state’s current standard-bearer, turning in 6.4-second 60 times, and has more than enough range for center field, with below-average but playable arm strength. Moreover, Davis has good strength in his hands and forearms, with a real chance to hit for average. He’s fast enough to be a slap hitter but isn’t one. He has an old-fashioned handsy, whippy swing and has shown gap power and consistent hard contact against good competition, such as at East Coast Showcase and playing for the Mets scout team in the fall. He has better instincts more polish than the average Mississippi prep player, which gives some ammunition to counter the state’s track record in the first round. He’s considered signable, having committed to Meridian (Miss.) CC.
   Davis’s pro career got off to a good start – he was ranked the GCL’s 3rd prospect after his debut season, and he moved up to #2 in the Appalachian League rankings the following year.  When he reached full season ball, however, Davis’ inability to make consistent contact, or take advantage of his speed when he did get on base caused him to repeat Lansing after he struck out 167 times in less than 500 ABs in 2014.
  Davis’ second go at the MWL in 2015 produced some better numbers (.282/.340/.391, 21/31 stealing), but he was very overmatched when he was promoted to Dunedin the following year, appearing in only 83 games, as he struggled to reach .200, and got on base less than 30% of the time.  Pitchers could easily overpower Davis, and when he did hunt the fastball, he often got badly fooled on off speed pitches.
  The club sent Davis to Australia this off-season in the hopes of giving him some further reps and extra education in pitch recognition, but the veteran pitchers in the ABL took full advantage, and Davis could produce only a .174/.252/.266 line.
  Davis has an impressive toolkit starting with that speed, but he never learned to harness it effectively on either side of the ball.  There was a glimmer of hope last year, when he posted a .283/.357/.369 second half and cut down on the whiffs, but his numbers returned to their former numbers this year, as he fought for playing time in his third tour with Dunedin.  The strike zone management and bat speed was just not there, and his reads in the OF were not where one would think it would be for a player entering his eighth year of pro ball.
   Also released along with Davis was SS J.C Cardenas, a 6th round pick in 2015.  Cardenas played 78 games with Dunedin last year, but with the focus on middle infielders in the draft and IFA market, he was unable to crack a full season roster this year.

Kevin Smith Is This Year’s Prospect on the Rise

Smith
milb.com photo

One of the best aspects of following the Blue Jays system is watching the rise of a breakout prospect.  In 2014, we watched Dalton Pompey begin the year in High A, and finish it in the majors.  Anthony Alford was 2015’s breakout prospect after giving up his college football commitment.  In 2016, Conner Greene added velo to his curve ball, and pitched at three levels.  Last year, after an off-season visit to the optometrist, it was Danny Jansen’s turn.

This year, it’s been Kevin Smith who has been on the helium watch.

A 4th round pick last June, Smith had a reputation as a glove-first player.  Baseball America was not wild about his bat:

Offensively, Smith shows above-average bat speed and raw power. He batted .301 as a rising sophomore in the Cape Cod League last summer, giving evaluators hope that his pure batting had improved. Smith struggled early on this spring, casting further doubt on his ability to make contact and dropping him to the lower third of the Terrapins’ order. His power remains ahead of his hitting ability. In a college shortstop class devoid of players likely to stick at the position, Smith should still be a high draft pick, in spite of his shaky offensive track record.
  Most picks of his stature and background would have been updating their passport and heading off to Vancouver after the draft, but with Logan Warmoth selected ahead of Smith, his travel plans were re-routed to Bluefield of the Appalachian League.  Smith had a decent year at the plate (.271/.312/.466), but gave little indication that he was about to break out the following season.
   A dedicated student of both the game and his own skills, Smith set out to fix a mechanical flaw he had detected, telling Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi:

“I had a loop in my swing and I’m not really sure how it got there. Looking at swings, I can tell when something’s off. I was getting way under the ball, coming way up through it and I really wasn’t on plane with it for a while. The whole off-season was just trying to work on that ball up and that was what was giving me trouble, fastballs up, I’d try to cheat to it and then get exposed with breaking balls away.

The adjustments helped Smith get to the ball on time in a more consistent fashion, and allowed him to make harder contact to all fields:

 

Smith got off to a slow start after his promotion to Dunedin, going for 4-25 in his first half-dozen games.  Since that time, he’s been on fire, with six multi-hit games in his last seven, brining his line up to .351/.406/.491.

A regular observer at Dunedin games quickly became impressed with Smith.  “Plays hard, carries himself well. Dependable at SS, above average arm,” he noted.  “I watch him pre pitch, he never takes his glove off his hand, he’s always aligned properly where the catcher is set up. Is equally adept at going left or right for ground balls, rarely makes mistakes from obvious carelessness or mental lapse. Pretty even, flat swing plane.”

A relentless worker, Smith takes the game seriously, and is very prepared when he steps between the lines.  He told milb.com:

“I give a lot of everything to my routine. I want to go into every game where I’m comfortable where I’m at and what work I put in before the game, after the game, on off days and stuff like that. It’s all about trying to stay consistent with my approach and my swing. I want every day to be I don’t have to worry, just I know I put my work in and the game will sort itself out.”

We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves at this point, but if Smith can continue to hit at the higher levels, he may truly become the Short Stop of the Future.  Bo Bichette has shown adequate defensive skills, but he’s not in the same class as Smith, and there has been considerable debate as to Warmoth’s eventual position.  Splitting time between 3rd and SS at Lansing with the presence of Kevin Vicuna, Smith showed some growing pains at the hot corner, but threw himself into learning the position.  With Warmoth returning from the DL, that trend will probably continue, but Smith has already shown that he has the defensive tools to be a Major League SS.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Position Prospects

“There are no shortcuts.”

Of all the correspondence this blog has had with Blue Jays President/CEO Mark Shapiro over the past year, that aphorism stands out the most.  It underscores the approach this management group takes to organization building, a methodology that eschews the quick fix.  Players will be challenged, but they won’t be rushed.  Benchmarks will be established at each level, and a player doesn’t move on until he’s reached them.  With the Blue Jays already double-digit games behind the last Wild Card spot, there are those who are grumbling about the lack of accomplishments since Shapiro took over the reigns of the team 32 months ago (although a 2016 post season appearance seems to be forgotten).  But Shapiro and Co won’t be deterred.  Throughout the system, there is a growing collection of athletes who are receiving instruction from some of the most qualified staff in the game, as well as nutrition and training support from one of baseball’s leading high performance departments.  Building a winner takes time, and while Rogers has not necessarily shown an appetite for a full on rebuild, one is surely coming.  Until they prove themselves at the MLB level, prospects are just that, but a growing stable of them gives teams the best shot at a contending future.

1.  Vladimir Guerrero Jr

There’s little to be said here that can add to the utterly dominant offensive performance Vladdy has put together over the past two months.  One of the youngest players in AA, he has laid waste to Eastern League Pitching.

Despite the gaudy numbers, there are nights when Guerrero plays like a 19-year-old.  Veteran pitchers can have him chasing, and he sometimes short-arms throws to 1st.  While those occasions are few and far between, there have been enough to convince the team to stick to the timetable, despite the clamouring of fans who look up his stats.

With the Blue Jays free-falling from contention for a wild card spot, there’s little need to waste service time and bring him up to the majors.  Shapiro hinted last October that if the Blue Jays were in a playoff race in July, and if the club needed a 3rd Baseman, then there was a good chance we would see him in 2018.  That’s looking less and less like a possibility, now that he’s on the DL for at least a month with a knee strain.

2.  Bo Bichette, SS

With 11 hits in his first 6 AA games, Bichette looked like he had picked up right where he left off last year when he led the minors in hitting.

Bichette soon began seeing a heavy diet of off speed pitches away, and for the first time in his young pro career, he struggled at the plate, and his average dipped to as low as .244 on May 23rd, as he chased a lot of pitches, and seemed to abandoned his excellent two-strike approach.

With a .361 average, including four multi-hit performances over his last 10 games, Bichette appears to have adjusted.  And with every game, he appears to be solidifying his prospects as an everyday SS.  Bichette makes both the routine and the spectacular play, and there is no question as to his focus on the field.

3.  Danny Jansen

Jansen had a breakout 2017, the first time head had been healthy for a full campaign since being drafted in 2013.  After posting a line of .323/.400/.484 last year, he’s almost matched those numbers with this year’s .313/.414/488.

Jansen has excellent pitch recognition, with more walks than strikeouts, and often puts himself in favourable counts, which he takes full advantage of.  On the defensive side, Jansen still had work to do in terms of his blocking skills, but he’s made tremendous strides.  Jansen has an excellent report with his Pitchers, and calls a good game behind the plate.

A couple of factors have led to Jansen’s breakout at the plate.  Corrective lenses, which he started wearing in the Arizona Fall League in 2016 to help him track pitches better while behind the plate have allowed him to improve his pitch recognition greatly.  Being healthy for a prolonged period has helped, too – three of his first four pro seasons prior to 2017 were interrupted by injury.  And working with Buffalo Hitting Coach Corey Hart, who he had at Dunedin last year, Jansen has tweaked his mechanics to keep his weight back (using a slight turn with his leg kick), allowing him to make harder contact.

The development time for Catchers often takes longer than it does for most players.  Jansen has caught just over 300 games as a minor leaguer, and is reaching the time when he’s ready to graduate to MLB.

4.  Anthony Alford, OF

Alford last played a full season in 2015, and it does cause one to wonder if he’ll ever be able to stay healthy.  His last three seasons have been interrupted by injury, and the inconsistency in obtaining reps has hampered his development.  A pro since 2012, Alford has really only been a full-time player since 2015, and still needs seasoning.

Alford is currently hitting only .196/.237/.257 for Buffalo, a reflection of the fact that he’s been in the Bisons’ lineup for only 25 games.  He is hitting .333 over his past 10 games, an indication that he may be turning things around, and more evidence that he just needs to stay healthy for a prolonged stretch.

5.  Cavan Biggio, 1B/2B/3B

Biggio’s K% and Flyball% were career highs last year, an indication of his attempt to put loft on the ball.  The humid Florida air and large Florida State League ballparks conspired to keep many of those flyballs in the park, and Biggio’s numbers were very pedestrian as a result.

This year has been a different story.  Biggio’s 13 Homers to date are good for 2nd in the Eastern League, and outside of Guerrero, he’s become the most dangerous hitter in New Hampshire’s lineup.

There is little doubt about Biggio’s bat, but his glove is a different story.  Labelled a fringe defender in his draft year, the Blue Jays have added duties at 1st and 3rd in an attempt to boost Biggio’s versatility.  His range and arm strength are modest, however, and despite calls from those stats-loving fans for his ascension to Toronto, Biggio isn’t going far until he’s made more progress as a defender.

6. Logan Warmoth, SS

The 2017 1st rounder hasn’t been a pro full calendar year, yet there is already debate as to his long-term future.

Some scouts suggest that Warmoth, who doesn’t have one overwhelming tool, but does an incredible amount of little things well that add up over time.  Others suggest the potential for MLB success just isn’t there, and the Blue Jays may have missed with this pick.

Currently on the 7-day DL, Warmoth has not set the Florida State League on fire on either side of the ball, but his bat was showing some signs of progress before we was injured.  He made a lot of loud contact with Vancouver this year, but has not had a similar impact so far in Florida.  The jury is out on Warmoth at the moment.

7.  Kevin Smith, SS

Warmoth’s replacement was leading the Midwest League in a number of offensive categories before he got the call to Dunedin.  After a slow start with the D-Jays, he’s had 1six straigth multi-hit games, and is playing peerless defence.

A 4th round pick last year, there were concerns about Smith’s bat.  So far this year, he’s gone a long way to start to erase them.  Smith has a good approach at the plate, and barreled up a lot of balls enroute to a .355/.407/.639 line with Lansing.

Smith is a student of the game, and a very hard worker.  His defence has always been his calling card, but now it appears that his bat is catching up.  With a glut of SS at the lower levels, Smith split time at SS/3B at Lansing, but depending on the length of Warmoth’s absence, he has some time to settle in for a long stretch at Short.

8. Chavez Young, OF

You wouldn’t ordinarily expect much from a 39th round pick, but Young is truly proving to be a diamond in the rough.  The Bahamian may have been behind his peers in terms of development when he made his pro debut two years ago, but he’s more than made up for that.

Young has been a fixture atop Lansing’s order, although he’s now slid to 3rd with the promotion of Smith.  Young has a simple set up at the plate, gets good plate coverage, and seldom chases.  He can play all three outfield spots, and has been set loose on the basepaths this year, stealing 13 in 19 attempts.

Outside of Alford, there is perhaps no toolsier player in the system.

9.  Richard Urena, SS

It’s becoming harder to see Urena as a top prospect, although one suspects he’d have some value if he was in the right situation.

April was a write off because of time on the DL, and he was on the QEW shuffle for May.  All of that has transpired to limit his season to 20 games at AAA.  And the results reflect the lack of reps.

Maybe it’s focus, maybe it’s that he’s more of a AAAA player, but one gets the feeling that the Blue Jays don’t see a lengthy future for Urena.  The best thing for him now is to contineu to play every day at Buffalo.

 

10.  Miguel Hiraldo, SS

Hiraldo was one of the top-ranked bats in last year’s IFA class, and with a line of .395/.452/.737 in his first 9 games in the DSL – it’s a bit of a surprise the Hiraldo started there, but he likely won’t be there for long if he continues to hit at that clip.

The consensus is that Hiraldo, who is built more like a Catcher, will evenutally move over to 3B, but the Blue Jays are in no rush to move him.

Blue Jays Last Ten Days Hot Sheet

Hiraldo2
Miguel Hiraldo mlb.com photo

Here’s a little project that has been long in the thinking process, but has only recently come into execution.

The following are the top five Blue Jays prospects based on their performance over the past week and a half.  It’s not a re-ranking of the top prospects, but just a snapshot of the hottest players in the system over that period of time, with their stats for that stretch.

1.  Ryan Noda, Lansing .500/.560/1.222

The 2017 Appy League MVP brought his on-base ways with him to full season ball as he transitioned to the OF (a position he played in college), but struggled for the first two months of the season to get his average over the Mendoza line, or tap into the power he demonstrated last season.

With the promotion of 1B Kacy Clemens to High A, Noda shifted to his spot, and seems to have found his comfort zone.  Noda hit his first HR on May 30th, and has hit 4 since then, including a pair in a 3-4 night on June 7th.

2. Patrick Murphy, Dunedin, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, .184 BAA

Murphy was promoted to New Hampshire for a spot start on May 27th, and acquitted himself well with six strong innings.  Sent back to Dunedin, Murphy has not been scored upon over his last two starts.

Murphy is not one of the higher profile arms in the system, but he has steadily put together a good body of work since reaching full season ball in 2016.

3.  Miguel Hiraldo, DSL Jays, .433/.485/.833

One of the top-ranked bats in last year’s IFA class, Hiraldo hammered DSL pitching over the course of its first week of play.  Hiraldo had a three-hit game, and a pair of four-hit games last week, knocking out his first two pro Homers in the process.

Hiraldo’s long-term future probably involves a move from SS to 3B.  His short-term one may see a move to the Gulf Coast League, which starts play next week.

4.  Tayler Saucedo, Dunedin 1-2, 2.55 ERA, 2.65 ERA, .234 BAA

Just over a month ago, Saucedo changed his arm angle, and he’s become one of the more effective starters in the system since then.

Saucedo’s latest effort was a career-high 8 inning effort, in which he allowed two runs on five hits.

Saucedo does not overpower hitters, but relies on a mix of pitches and some deception in his delivery to get them out.  He was Dunedin’s Pitcher of the Month for May.

5.  Sean Reid-Foley, Buffalo, 1-0, 2.00 ERA, .235 BAA

Reid-Foley seems to have alternated good starts with not-so-good outings since his promotion to Buffalo last month.  Knocked out in the 3rd inning in his first start, he fanned 10 over 6 in his next.  Following that, Reid-Foley lasted only two innings, which then was succeeded by one of his best starts as a pro – a career-first 7 inning complete game, a 9-hit effort in which he gave up only one earned run, and more importantly, he didn’t give up a walk.