“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.