Five Prospects to Keep an Eye on in 2019

As 2018 slowly winds its way down, it’s a good time to look at players who put up solid numbers last year, but have been overlooked somewhat in the overall Blue Jays prospect picture.

Ryan Noda

What he did:   Noda led the minor leagues in walks with 109 last year, as did his .421 OBP.  Only 3 players posted a higher OPS than Noda’s .905,  who was aided by his ability to get on base and the 20 HRs he hit for Lansing.

Why he was overlooked:  A 15th rounder in 2017, Noda put up video game-like numbers in the Appy League, a loop he was clearly too advanced for.  His numbers dropped off once he reached full season ball, but no one could continue production like that.

As a bat-first player, evaluators feel that Noda’s hit tool (45 grade) and power (55) aren’t quite enough to compensate for his deficiencies in other areas of his game.  Noda played some OF in college, but was primarily a 1B in his first pro season.  The presence of Kacy Clemens in Lansing to start last season meant Noda had to spend some time in the corner outfield spots again, and while he showed some definite signs of rust early in the season, he improved as the season progressed, and does have the athleticism to play there.  1B is where he’s most comfortable.

Noda showed power to all fields, but he had a tendency to pull line drives and ground balls:

 

newplot
mlb.com

What he has to do:   

  1.  Become more aggressive early in the count.  To his credit, Noda saw a lot of pitches – only a handful in all of minor league baseball saw more than the 4.3 pitchers/PA Noda saw last year.  While that patience allowed him to get on base, it also cost him some fastball counts, which would allow him to put his above average bat speed to use.
  2.  Continue to develop his versatility – with Chad Spanberger and/or Clemens likely to start 2019 in Dunedin with him, Noda will see more time in the OF.  And in the long run, being able to play multiple positions will only add to his value.
  3. Hit Lefties better.  Noda drew the majority (88) of his walks against RHP, and had a huge differential in OPS (.968 vs .764).
  4. Put the ball in the air more.  As his heat map shows, Noda can use the whole field when he elevates the ball.  As a supposed slugging First Baseman, a 40% FB rate isn’t putting that skill to use.   This probably goes back to #1 on this list.

 

Chavez Young

What he did:  Young showed a power/speed combination that led him to become the only player in MiLB to steal 40 bases and have 50 extra base hits.  His 33 Doubles were just one off the lead for all of Low A, and he drew raves for his defence at all three OF spots, and earned the nod for the best OF arm in the system.  Pretty heady stuff for a guy who left his native Bahamas to play high school ball stateside, and was a 39th round pick (albeit one who the Blue Jays had to offer a $200K bonus to get him to sign).

Why he’s overlooked:  Young is viewed as a prospect who lacks one outstanding tool beyond his speed.  He wasn’t a Baseball America Top Prospect this year despite his numbers.  This evaluation from 2080baseball.com sums up how scouts view him:

The rosiest projection for Young’s ceiling is that of a lesser everyday regular in centerfield, though the lack of a true carrying tool on either side of the ball makes that outcome unlikely. More realistically, he’s an extra outfielder who can play all three spots and provide late-inning substitution value while spot-starting against left-handed pitching.

Of course, power is the last tool to develop, and Doubles are a good indicator of future power.

What he has to do: 

  1.  Develop a better launch angle.  Young does have the ability to be a threat to get on anytime he makes contact, but a 49% GB rate suggests a lot of weak contact.
chart (1)
mlb.com

2. Become better from the left side.  This is an area where Young improved a great deal this year, but continuing to develop his pitch recognition against RHP will allow him to utilize his speed more.

 

Josh Winckowski

What he did:  The 2018 Northwest League Pitcher of the Year dodged a lot of barrels this year, leading the short season loop in FIP (2.77), GB% (54.4%), K-BB (19.4%), and the second highest (12.4%) whiff rate.

Why he’s overlooked:   As a lightly recruited 15th round pick who hasn’t pitched in full season ball after three years as a pro, and didn’t pitch well in his first shot at under the lights play in Bluefield last year, Winckowski is not considered a top prospect just yet. He’s touched 97, but generally is around 93-94 with his fastball, which is respectable, but that sits in the lower echelon of elite FBs.

What he has to do:  

  1.  Continue to pound the edges of the strike zone with his bowling ball sinker.
  2.  Develop a more effective change-up to help get LHH out more frequently (they hit .322 against him last year).
  3. Continue to add velo.

 

Cal Stevenson  

What he did:  In the case of the 10th round pick from Arizona, it’s more of a case what he didn’t do, because he did pretty much everything for Bluefield:  walked almost two and a half times more than he struck out, got on base almost 50% of the time, and was a threat on the basepaths.  A hand injury this spring may have dropped his stock, but he was one of the most exciting players in short season ball, and is already one of the fastest players in the organization.

Why he was overlooked:  Because it was in the Appalachian League.  The Blue Jays’ OF depth meant that Stevenson didn’t get a plane ticket to Vancouver after the mandatory test flight in the GCL. Credit the Blue Jays scouting department for selecting a guy who was too good for the Appy.

What he has to do:

  1.  Continue to get on base.  Like Noda, his numbers will dip in full season ball, but Stevenson has that get-on-base, top-of-the-order potential.
  2. Put the ball in the air more.  Stevenson’s current power projection falls short of what you would expect from a corner OF.  The Blue Jays have had some success in this area, it should be noted.

 

Alejandro Kirk

What he did:  Kirk mashed his way to #12 ranking of the Appy League prospect list, literally coming out of nowhere to post a line of .354/.443/.553.  Bluefield broadcaster Zach Helton, who grew up in the area watching games at beautiful Bowen Field, said Kirk hit a ball out to straightaway CF this year that was the longest he’s ever seen at that park.

Why he was overlooked:  Unlike the above names, Kirk did at least receive some prospect recognition.  His size (5’9″/220) and lack of a position held him back from higher acclaim.  Kirk did acquit himself well when he filled in for regular Bluefield Catcher Hagen Danner, but when a guy is listed as a C/DH at his age, his future likely isn’t behind the plate.

What he has to do:  

  1.  Improve his defensive skills (wherever his ultimate position may be).
  2. Like others on this list, make adjustments to put the ball in the air more.  When you have a 50% GB rate but post a 1.001 OPS, that means you hit the ball hard, but as Kirk moves up and defences improve, that’s not a formula for success.
  3. Use more of the field:
    newplot (1)
    mlb.com
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6 thoughts on “Five Prospects to Keep an Eye on in 2019

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