After a season in which five Blue Jays prospects found themselves on Baseball America‘s Top 100, and the system itself reached #3 in BA’s rankings, the Toronto farm system is on an upward trend. Prospects like Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Ryan Borucki, and Danny Jansen have established themselves as regulars, and Reese McGuire, Jonathan Davis, Sean Reid-Foley, and Rowdy Tellez have all had a taste of MLB life this month.
Time to dish out some awards to recognize the strong season the organization has had at the minor league level.
Top Hitter – Vladimir Guerrero Jr
A no-brainer if there ever was one. Guerrero was beating up on Eastern League Pitching and hitting above .400 before being sidelined for a month with a knee injury. Promoted to AAA Buffalo upon his return off the DL, he continued to mash before tailing off (if you could call a .333 August that) to a final line of .381/.437/.636. That line is easily the best in Blue Jays prospect history.
Guerrero’s teammates Cavan Biggio, who led the Eastern League in HRs, and Harold Ramirez, who won a batting title in a nice turnaround season, also merit mention. Dunedin SS Kevin Smith hit .302/.258/.528 with 25 HRs at two levels, and gets a nod for that season as well. His teammates Rodrigo Orozco and Ivan Castillo finished one-two in the FSL batting race as well.
Other honourable mentions go to a pair of Bluefield bats: OF Cal Stevenson led the Appalachian League in runs and walks, and was second in average (.359), and OPS (1.012). Close behind him was teammate C/DH Alejandro Kirk, who bashed his way onto the prospect radar with a .354/.443/.558 line.
Pitcher of the Year
This is a tougher decision. Nate Pearson would’ve been a contender for this honour, but an oblique issue and a line drive off of his pitching arm limited his season to just over an inning. He did return to action in an exhibition game with Lansing last week, and the news was encouraging:
Last pitch from @big_nate5…
— Lansing Lugnuts (@LansingLugnuts) September 4, 2018
A couple of Pitchers did stand out.
-Ryan Borucki, who overcame a rough April (caused by some snow-outs) to reach the majors;
-Sean Reid-Foley, whose 2017 fell short of expectations, but reached MLB as well, and fanned 150 batters in 129 innings this year;
-Eric Pardinho, who skipped the GCL in his first year and more than held his own as a 17 year old adjusting to pro ball and a new country in the Appy League – Pardinho’s 31.5% K rate would have led the league if he had enough innings to qualify.
-Vancouver’s Josh Winckowski, the Northwest League’s Pitcher of the Year.
-Lefty Reliever Travis Bergen, who fanned 74 hitters in 58 IP at two levels;
-Dunedin RHP Patrick Murphy, who topped 100 with his fastball late in the season.
And the award goes to……………………
Murphy. In his first full season as a pro, he led the Florida State League in Games Started, IP, and K’s, and was second in ERA. Murphy posted a GB rate of almost 60%, and a 10% SwStr rate. When he wasn’t missing bats, he was inducing a lot of weak contact. As he progresses up the ladder and has more skilled defenders behind him, expect Murphy’s numbers to get even better. With Murphy eligible for the Rule 5 draft this fall if he’s not placed on the 40-man, he’s a safe bet to be added.
The Meteoric Rise of Dave Stieb Award
During the Alex Anthopoulos regime, this was a reasonably easy award to dole out. The new management team is not as quick to promote prospects rapidly over a series of levels.
Vancouver’s Otto Lopez provides a template for the Blue Jays preference for up-the-middle prospects, who offer a team versatility and flexibility. This past season, this is how many games he started at several positions:
3B – 14
2B – 13
SS – 9
LF – 5
RF – 5
CF – 3
Lopez shows great baseball IQ, a solid approach at the plate, and smart base running skills. He’s an exciting player to watch in the field, and on the base paths.
Bluefield’s Kirk certainly came out of nowhere this year to become one of the top hitting prospects in the lower levels of the organization, and we eagerly await his ascension to full season ball next year. He attracted plenty of late season attention, not the least of which was from Baseball America:
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) September 3, 2018
While Kirk acquitted himself reasonably well behind the plate for Bluefield when starting C Hagen Danner had injury issues, there is a question as to where his long-term future lies on the diamond. One thing is for sure: the bat will play.
Kirk takes this award in a close vote.
Manager of the Year
This site has long been a fan of New Hampshire John Schneider, who has steadily moved up the ranks, and has come to be regarded as a player’s Manager. An MLB job may not be far off for him.
But the job Cesar Martin did with Lansing makes him a deserving recipient of the award. Lansing seemed to lose its top player to promotion every ten days or so, but Martin captured a playoff spot, and took a team that had a constantly changing cast of characters to an 80-60 record. Along the way, he helped turn promising but raw players like Chavez Young and Samad Taylor into more polished prospects.
Top Draft Pick
The team’s first choice in the draft does not always turn out to be its most successful player that year, but such was the case for 12th overall pick Jordan Groshans.
Groshans may not have been ranked as highly on other teams’ draft boards, but the Blue Jays were thrilled to take him where they did, and his presence was a heavy factor in the successful signing of his teammate Adam Kloffenstein, taken in the 3rd round.
Groshans mastered the GCL, slashing .331/.390/.500 before moving up to Bluefield in August, and after a slow start, finished the regular season with a trio of three-hit games in his final ten, hitting .333 over that span.
Groshans showed his versatility over the season, appearing in 42 games both at SS and 3B. He will be part of what promises to be a talented Opening Day roster at Lansing next year.
The Blue Jays signed the top-ranked arm and bat in the 2017 International Free Agent class, and they have to be thrilled with the results.
Pardinho had a sizzling start and finish to his season – in his next-to-last season start, he threw 7 near-perfect innings, retiring the first 19 hitters he faced in order.
SS/3B Miguel Hiraldo’s bat boomed in the DSL, earning him a late-season promotion stateside to the complex league. It will be interesting to see where he starts and finishes next season.