Break out the egg nog, hang the stockings, and try to remember what you did with all those gift tags you bought on Boxing Day last year. It’s time to compile our wish list of gifts we hope Blue Jays prospects find under the tree this year.
For Nate Pearson, we hope he unwraps a hernia belt on Christmas Day. The top prospect in the system – and one of the top starting pitching prospects in the game – will have a heavy load to carry when he makes his MLB debut in late May/early June. The Blue Jays rotation at the moment is more of a wing and a prayer than a stable of proven, effective MLB starters, and Pearson is expected to become an ace sooner rather than later. That’s a hefty burden for any top prospect.
For Jordan Groshans, no more agony of de-feet (sorry about that…..it’s the eggnog). Groshans was sidelined with foot soreness in May, came back a week later, and then was sidelined once again before being shut down for the season in August. A visit to Lansing in April confirmed that Groshans looks every bit like a one-day big leaguer, and with his approach and ability to use the whole field it was hard to believe he had been playing high school ball just a year earlier. And getting back to his feet, the Blue Jays staff were working on Groshans’ footwork early in the season, a part of his game that will determine whether he sticks at Short Stop long term, or makes the move to 3rd eventually. If he’s healthy next spring, Groshans should quickly pick up where he left off, and it’s not out of the question to see him at AA by season’s end.
Alejandro Kirk came into spring training last season having shed 25 lbs from his bulky frame. The Blue Jays were impressed by that, and Kirk forced his way onto the top prospect radar as a result of his new found svelteness. But he faded in the second half of the season (4 HRs in August helped him post an .869 OPS for the month, though), likely due to a combination of factors including his first crack at full season, and diet/conditioning. We had eyes on Kirk while he was with Lansing in April, where every ball he hit seemed to be hard, but video from the last month of the season showed a player who looked tired. For Kirk, we hope Santa leaves him with an improved off season regimen that will help him to continue to transform his body to one that can withstand the rigours of a full season behind the plate.
For Alek Manoah, we hope old Kris Kringle drops off continued improvement of his secondary pitches for the Blue Jays top draft pick last year. There is no doubt that Manoah’s electric fastball is elite; it will be the development of those other pitches that will decide how far and fast he moves up the ladder as a starter.
For the Bluefield Blue Jays, we hope the status quo gets gifted to them. From what we have heard over the years, both sides are pleased with the Player Development Contract between the Toronto and Bluefield clubs, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher that MLB wants to cut this franchise (and level of play) from existence. Negotiations between MLB and MiLB on a new agreement to replace the one that expires after 2020 have been contentious to say the least. Minor League Baseball responded to comments Commissioner Manfred had made on the state of negotiations on Friday; MLB responded by suggesting they could just walk away. It all looks pretty ugly at the moment. With the Blue Jays having increased minor league salaries last season, it’s hard to see why they’re party to all of this. The two sides have been at odds before, but with a work stoppage looming once the current PBA expires, baseball could have a very different look in many ways 3 or 4 years from now. Let’s hope not.
For guys who were not protected on the 40 man or claimed in the Rule 5 like Kirby Snead, Jackson McClelland, and Bryan Baker: redemption in the form of a lights out spring that forces the Blue Jays to include one or all of them in their plans.
For Eric Pardiño, we’re very hopeful that Santa has found the top prospect’s missing velo, and can have it under the tree by the 25th. The Brazilian was not ineffective in his full season debut with Lansing, but was not as lights out as had been hoped. Perhaps elbow soreness that delayed his 2019 debut was responsible for his fastball dip, but Pardiño lost some prospect lustre this season, and a few upward ticks would help him get it back.
For Anthony Alford, health and a chance to play every day.
For Joey Murray, some recognition will hopefully be in Santa’s bag for the right hander. Murray pitched as well (if not better) as any starter in the Toronto system all year, and while all the attention is focused on Pearson, there is a chance that we see Murray in the Blue Jays rotation at some point this year. Maybe Santa could drop off some recognition for ground ball generator Josh Winckowski, too.
For Kevin Smith, a trampoline to help him have a bounce back year. No one’s stock in the system tumbled as much as Smith’s did this year. Last off season, after a breakout year on the field, he impressed the Blue Jays front office with his conduct before, during, and after his time at a top prospects Army Ranger camp, but a long swing made for an equally long summer for Smith. He’s made adjustments before, and the Blue Jays are still very high on him.
Drinks are on me, you guys. pic.twitter.com/jsitOxrUYS
— Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (1) (@jgoldstrass) December 14, 2019
For the Goldberg-Strassler, the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts and truly one of the great people in all of minor league baseball, we hope a playoff team worthy of an award winning broadcaster will be on the field next year. With Miguel Hiraldo, Leo Jimenez, and Orelvis Martinez likely to be in the Lugs’ lineup for at least part of the season, there is a good chance this will be a post-season team.
For Griffin Conine, we hope Santa comes down the chimney with a more complete game for the slugging Outfielder. Despite missing the first two months of the season due to a PED suspension, Conine led the Midwest League in HR, Slugging, and OPS. Conine also fanned in over a third of his PAs, and had a 21% whiff rate, all the while playing some defence that left plenty of room for improvement by his own admission. Making some more consistent contact without necessarily giving up all of his power, and playing better defensively would place Conine firmly on the prospect radar.
For the Dunedin Blue Jays, fans. Look, there are many things to do beside sit in a ballpark in Florida, but with the team kicked out of their home park due to renovations, the D-Jays were the most successful team in the organization once for the second time in three years. This year’s edition should have Manoah, Groshans, and Conine, to mention a few top names, on their roster, and would be well worth watching.