The Blue Jays farm system certainly took a hit in terms of upper level depth with the promotions of Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette over the last twelve months, but the organization has rounded quite nicely this summer.
There may be a bit of a drop off in terms of ready or close-to-ready MLB talent, but the system overall is in good shape. The team has built a decent stockpile of Starting Pitchers, as well as a stable of up-the-middle players to either move to other positions or use as currency to upgrade the Pitching staff.
Pitcher of the Year – Nate Pearson
Pearson’s innings were closely monitored this season in order to continue the process of building him up to be a one-day front of the rotation guy, but the body of work he compiled in the process of breaking the 100 IP threshold for the first time in his career gets him the nod.
Regularly working in the upper 90s, Pearson fanned 119 in 101 innings at three levels. He combines that heat with effective secondaries, including a low 90s slider from the same arm slot as his fastball which truly must be seen from behind home plate to appreciate its late break and depth. When he’s on with that pitch and locating his fastball, hitters don’t stand much of a chance.
-Joey Murray, who combined a deceptive delivery/low arm slot along with a high spin rate FB to pitch at three levels as well. Murray worked hard to improve his lower body strength in the off season, and added a vastly improved change up to reach AA in his first full season of pro ball. Murray’s 30.1% K rate led the organization.
-Adam Kloffenstein, who did not pitched all of two GCL innings in his debut season last year, then headed north for the annual exhibition game Lansing plays with Michigan State after the Midwest League season comes to a close. Reports suggest Kloff was not impressive in that stint, and at the end of Extended this year, the Blue Jays said “go west, young man,” and he responded with a fine season. Kloffenstein matured physically and emotionally this year, and was named Vancouver’s MVP as a result. His 60% GB rate led the organization, and his 14.2% SwStr led all full season pitchers.
-Alek Manoah and his size 17 cleats drew lots of attention as a first round pick would, and he didn’t disappoint. On an innings limit after throwing 90+ innings for West Virginia, Manoah pitched only 17 frames for the C’s, striking out 27. A source close the the Vancouver scene suggests that Manoah’s stuff and make up ‘screams’ future closer, but the Blue Jays will give him every opportunity to develop the rest of his repertoire as a Starter.
-Relievers in A ball are literally a dime a dozen, and so few successfully make it to the major leagues. Just the same, what Jackson Rees did in a season split between Lansing and Dunedin is worth noting. Undrafted last year after four years at Hawaii and two injury-plagued juco years, his age and history scared off all teams except the Blue Jays, even though he was a Friday starter his senior year. Rees underwent a huge overhaul of his mechanics last year, and literally came into 2019 a new pitcher – a guy with a new role and a relatively new pitch. Rees rode a mid-90s fastball with a wipeout slider to strike out 88 hitters in 61 innings, allowing only a .189 batting average against. He was all but unhittable in most situations, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a reliever have a season of dominance quite like Rees’.
Player of the Year – Griffin Conine
By his own admission, Conine has some things to work on this off season, but he and he Blue Jays have to pleased that his power showed up in the Midwest League.
Conine’s season did not begin until late May, thanks to a 50 game suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. But he returned with a strong focus on making hard contact, and his 21 HRs led the MWL despite playing in only 79 games. Conine’s .935 OPS led the organization. Some of his shots were of the jaw-dropping variety, like this one that seemed to have the Great Lakes’ play-by-play guy underwhelmed:
Along with a player with pop tends to come swings and misses, and Conine was no exception. The organization can probably live with his 37% K and 20% whiff rates for no, but there’s no doubt that some more consistent contact must be made.
Conine played solid defence in RF, but feels he needs to be more consistent with cutting down the arc on his throws.
All in all, a .278/.369/.566 season is something to build on, and it’s easy to project future power for the 2018 2nd round pick.
-early in the season, the Blue Jays had a need for a versatile, veteran type of player who could play the corner infield positions in the upper minors. Enter the 8 year minor league veteran Patrick Kivlehan, acquired from the Pirates for cash considerations in May. Kivlehan had amassed 200 plate appearances in the majors over the previous three seasons, but his acquisition was more about depth. And depth he provided, splitting time between 1st and 3rd at New Hampshire then Buffalo, smacking a system-leading 28 HRs (add in 4 while in the Pirates system). If not for his birthdate, of course (Kivlehan will turn 30 three days 3 days before Christmas), Kivlehan would have walked away with the POY honours.
-Otto Lopez did everything you could ask for at Lansing and more. The versatile Lopez hit .367 in August to help propel him to a Midwest League batting title. When Jordan Groshans went down with what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury in May, Lopez took the bulk of the reps in his place, as well as spending time at all three OF positions, 3B, and 2B. Lopez does not have a lot of power, but he does so many things well, and his first year of full season ball was a huge success.
-Alejandro Kirk came to training camp a slimmed down version of his 2018 self. Kirk’s bat was the surprise of the organization this year, but his new found fitness helped him behind the plate immensely, and after only a month with Lansing was sent off to High A. The Florida heat and Dunedin’s huge pile of doubleheaders seemed to wear him down, but he still managed to put together a fine line of .290/.403/.465 between the two level.
-Gabriel Moreno was promoted to Lansing from Extended in May, and at only 19 showed why he might be considered the top Catching prospect on both sides of the ball in the organization. A guy who likes to put the ball in play, Moreno held his own at the plate, and showed good leadership, blocking, receiving, and throwing skills behind it.
-Like Lopez, Santiago Espinal did a little bit of everything at New Hampshire and then Buffalo, and did it well. Espinal is the prototypical up-the-middle guy, and while he profiles more as a lower third of the order hitter, he adjusted quickly to AAA after his promotion. He doesn’t project as a first division player, but he can do a lot of things in a utility role to help a ball club.