Blue Jays CEO/President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins spoke several times this summer about the need to develop waves of prospects. With Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, and Ryan Borucki having established themselves after making their MLB debuts this summer, the next wave, featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Nate Pearson are not far behind them. Deeper into the system, another wave appears to be gathering momentum, as three Blue Jays prospects made Baseball America‘s Top 20 Appalachian and Gulf Coast League lists.
Toronto was all but shut out on BA’s Top Prospects by league after placing 3 (Guerrero, Bichette, and Cavan Biggio) on the Eastern League Top 20, only Kevin Smith appeared on the A ball rankings, placing 15th on BA’s Top 20 Midwest League prospects list, and 11th on their Florida State League rankings. For Smith, it was truly deserved, as possibly no Toronto farm hand did more to improve their stock than the 2017 4th rounder. BA sees Smith as a potential solid, if not outstanding MLBer.
-from the MWL Top 20 report:
Although not seen as a flashy player, Smith’s profile features a lot to like. He has demonstrated a much-improved hit tool, and he has average power as well. Smith has a blue collar feel to the way he plays and features the intangibles that scouts love to see.
-the FSL Top 20:
Evaluators who like Smith see a player who can stick at shortstop with a bat-first profile in the mold of Paul DeJong. He’s never going to be the flashiest player on the field, but his work ethic and all-around skills will help him produce impressive seasons. His bat can handle a slide to second base as well.
After being shut out in the Northwest League Top 20, three Bluefield Blue Jays could be found in BA’s Appalachian League Top 20, starting with P Eric Pardinho. The cream of last July’s IFA Pitching class, Pardinho skipped the complex league, and despite adjusting to a new culture and language on top of the travel and daily grind that comes with under the lights play, he was the top-ranked prospect Pitcher in the league, checking in at #4 overall:
Pardinho ranked third in the Appy League with 64 strikeouts and showed precocious control for his age, walking 16 batters in 11 starts. But what’s most impressive is his command and feel for changing speeds and locations for such a young pitcher.
Pardinho was joined on the list by his battery mate for the last half of the season, Alejandro Kirk. Kirk burst onto the scene this year after being a late 2016 sign. He injured his hand in an off-season car accident after signing, then reinjured the hand in his first pro AB in the GCL in 2017. A bat-first player, Kirk was forced into regular Catching duties at Bluefield this year after injuries limited Hagen Danner to DHing. Kirk managed to continue to mash despite the rigours of Catching, but there is some question as to his ultimate position:
Kirk has a solid approach at the plate and a smooth stroke, but he faces skepticism about his future defensive home because of his frame. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Kirk has well below-average athleticism and speed and will need to clean up his body to stick behind the plate.
And despite some inconsistency and injury issues through his first two seasons of pro ball, 2017 2nd round choice Danner showed enough to crack BA’s list at #16:
After walking just five times in 136 plate appearances (3.7 BB%) in 2017, Danner walked 20 times in 137 plate appearances (14.6 BB%) this summer, while improving his average and slugging significantly as well. He’s got strength and bat speed that should allow him to become an average hitter with average power.
2018 first round pick Jordan Groshans did not disappoint in his first season, and he made the transition from high school to pro ball seamlessly, finishing the season with Bluefield after starting in the GCL. With an impressive crop of Short Stops ahead of him, Groshans still showed enough on both sides of the ball to rank 5th on BA’s list:
Groshans has a polished hitting approach and a knack for finding the barrel. He squares up good pitching with quick bat speed and plus raw power. While Groshans has the sock in his bat to go deep from right-center over to his pull side, he mostly showed a line-drive, all-fields approach in the GCL, hammering fastballs and driving pitches on the outer half with authority to the opposite field.
The question is where Groshan’s ultimate position will be. He has an above average arm and has good hands, but some scouts suggest he lacks the quick-twitch reactions to allow him to stay at the position. New Hampshire hitting coach Hunter Mense, who worked with hitters at Instructs this fall, said Groshans was among the most impressive players he saw during his time there.
C Gabriel Moreno burst onto the radar this year. After a solid but not dominant performance in the Dominican Summer League last year, the 2016 IFA from Venezuela raked in the GCL this year, earning a late season promotion with Groshans to the Appy League. All indications are that Moreno has the tools behind the plate to stay there, although he has work to do on his blocking and receiving. At the plate, he’ll have to refine his approach as he works his way up the ladder:
Moreno has an aggressive approach and seldom walks, but he also rarely strikes out because his hand-eye coordination and barrel control is outstanding. He has a knack for finding the sweet spot, making consistent hard contact with enough power potential to hit 15-20 home runs.
Finally, 2B/SS Leo Jimenez made in onto the back end of the list at #19. Jimenez received the top bonus for a Panamanian player in July of 2017, and Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish singled him out as an IFA who could move in a hurry:
(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.”
BA may not agree that his long-term future lies at SS, but they like Jimenez’ all-around game:
Jimenez is a smart, instinctive player in all phases of the game, helping make up for the lack of typical quick-twitch athleticism scouts like to see from a shortstop. A fringe-average runner, Jimenez’s defensive range is a question mark but he reads the ball well off the bat, has soft hands, good body control and a knack for slowing the game down. At the plate he consistently puts together quality at-bats, staying within the strike zone and spraying line drives around the field.