In our last post, we discussed likely promotion candidates, and lo and behold, Justin Shafer gets the call 24 hours later.
We didn’t see Jacob Waguespack moving up, however. His place on the roster appears to be as a placekeeper for Elvis Luciano, who is on the Bereavement List. But more power to the undrafted minor league vet.
So, beyond 2019, who are the next likely players in the system to make the grade in 2020? Here are a look at several.
1. Patrick Murphy
Murphy actually made the previous list, and even though he’s been the most successful high level Starter in the system this year, given the Blue Jays cautious handling of the potential front of the rotation starter, 2020 seems like a safer bet.
2. Nate Pearson
High 90s velo, command of all of his pitches, great extension on his delivery, and elite spin rates. Pearson checks all the boxes.
After toying with High A hitters in April, he hasn’t missed a beat in the jump to AA. Pearson delivers his four seamer and slider from the same arm slot, and when he has command of them both, which has been often, hitters really don’t have much of a chance.
After missing almost all of last year, the Blue Jays are understandably taking their time with Pearson, alternating 5 inning and 2 inning workloads in an effort to build up his stamina and arm strength.
There are some fans who look at his stat line (which is not a good way to evaluate prospects) and wonder why he’s not in the bigs here and now. The answer, of course, is that despite the hype, he’s started only 19 games in his minor league career. He’ll be in Toronto in time.
3. Jackson McClelland
The Blue Jays’ handling of McClelland has been curious, but there may be method to their madness.
McClelland spent most of last year at Dunedin for a second season, when he clearly had outgrown the league. Moved up to New Hampshire late last season, he’s made some mechanical adjustments thanks to Fisher Cats Pitching Coach Vince Horsman, which have helped him harness his high 90s/low 00s heat.
McClelland has struck out 25 in 21 innings so far this season, allowing only a .173 batting average. Right handed hitters have a very hard picking up the ball from his delivery, although he has reverse splits so far.
McClelland was Rule 5 eligible last fall, and the Blue Jays gambled by not adding him to the 40 man roster. They won’t be so lucky if they try the same strategy this fall.
4. Yennsy Diaz
The owner of the easiest-looking heat from a delivery standpoint in the system, Diaz, along with Hector Perez, Murphy, and Pearson, forms one of the more formidable top four in any minor league rotation.
What may slow things down for Diaz from an upward mobility standpoint, though, is that he’s shown a tendency to be prone to contact this year. He’s still missing bats at a high (10.4%) rate, but not dodging barrels as frequently, as a 44% flyball rate suggests.
Diaz tends to lose his focus as games wear on, and with his addition to the 40 man last fall, the Blue Jays will soon face a decision with him: continue to develop him as a starter, or move him into a relief role, where his velo will no doubt play up.
5. Santiago Espinal
This may seem like a reach, but Espinal is another one of those up-the-middle guys that the organization loves so much.
Formerly a glove-first guy, Espinal has expanded his versatility (22 games at 2B, 16 at SS, and a handful in CF), and made changes to his swing to produce more consistent hard contact. While he’ll never challenge for a triple slash title, he’s added enough offence to his game that if other moves are made, he might be a guy you see in Toronto next year.
He’s not a guy who necessarily profiles as an MLB regular, but he’s been a nice depth addition to the system, and has probably been New Hampshire’s best position player this year.
6. Forrest Wall
The baseball world has been waiting for the 2014 comp pick to live up to his lofty draft status, and he’s showing signs this spring that he may finally be doing so.
Wall still profiles as a fringe MLBer, but he’s made more hard contact, including a 4-5 effort yesterday, than any other Blue Jays upper level OF prospect. Wall is hitting .372 over his last 10.
7. Hector Perez
Like Murphy, Perez got off to a slow start, but has pitched into the 6th in each of his last five starts. Mid 90s velo and a plus breaking pitch generates the whiffs (12.6%) for Perez, who like Diaz and Murphy, was added to the 40 last fall.
In or Spin
One player who is conspicuous by his absence on the list is SS Kevin Smith, who has scuffled to a .169/.243/.300 line so far, and has swung and missed at a 16% rate.
Smith has been on the receiving end of a heavy diet of fastballs in, and breaking stuff away. His swing seems longer this year, which means even average velo on the inner half is causing him trouble, and he’s chasing a lot of the breaking pitches. A sampling of his ABs over the past months seems to see him mostly in Pitchers’ counts.
What’s interesting is that Smith’s 53.6% flyball rate leads the Eastern League; obviously, not much of that contact has been of the barreled-up variety.