When the Blue Jays announced their top July 2nd signing last year – Dominican SS Rikelvin de Castro – they continued an industry trend which sees most of the heralded signings come from the island nation.
But the Blue Jays, like many other organizations, have been active around the globe to acquire talent. While players from the DR tend to dominate July 2nd signings, there have been a number of quality signings from other countries. Blue Jays VP and Head of International Scouting Andrew Tinnish, along with Director of Latin Ops Sandy Rosario, have stepped up their presence over the past several years, from Mexico to Colombia to the Netherlands, to add talent to the organization.
Here’s a look at the best of their efforts.
Alejandro Kirk, Mexico – Kirk has made a lot of believers in the past twelve months. Back in 2016, the club was under sanctions for blowing the budget on Vladimir Guerrero Jr the previous year, so Tinnish was looking for value. Toronto signed Kirk to a $30K bonus that September, and after missing almost all of the following season due to a car accident, Kirk made a huge splash with Bluefield in 2018. There were concerns with his body type (5’7″/220) that finding a position to play Kirk might be a challenge for Toronto, but he erased a lot of doubts last year by coming into training camp having lost 20 lbs, and showcasing solid receiving skills at Lansing. His bat continued to play, moving him up the ladder in May to Dunedin, and after impressing many in his first big league camp, Kirk will be at New Hampshire when play resumes.
There is no prospect in the system with Kirk’s ability to control the strike zone. He adds sneaky athleticism with a high baseball IQ, and has continued to reshape his physique.
Chavez Young, Bahamas
Young was the ultimate under-the-radar draft pick, a 39th rounder after he moved from the Bahamas to Georgia to play high school ball. There may not be a player with a better all-around set of tools in the system.
Young had a breakout season at Lansing in 2018, the only player in all of MiLB to record 40 extra base hits with 40 steals. He struggled in the first half at High A last year, as the more advanced pitching in the league forced him to make adjustments. The switch-hitting Young can play all three outfield positions, and is a threat to steal on the basepaths.
Young fared much better against RHP last season, and may find New Hampshire’s short RF porch to his liking when play resumes.
Gabriel Moreno, Venezuela
Another one of those 2016 bargains, no Blue Jays prospect – not even Kirk – made as much progress as Moreno did last season. Moreno may not have the upside of Kirk offensively, but despite his relative lack of experience behind the plate (Moreno is a converted infielder), he has the skills to become an elite receiver. Moreno has athleticism, quick twitch reflexes, game sense, and leadership abilities. A former soccer mid-fielder, Moreno has carried many skills from the beautiful game to the diamond. He has the endurance, agility, and awareness of the game around him that the position demands. His approach at the plate does not match Kirk’s in terms of strike zone judgement at the moment -it’s more of a put-the-ball-in-play style that has worked well in the lower levels, but he’ll need to learn not to chase as much when he takes the field for High A Dunedin this year (we hope).
Eric Pardinho, Brazil
The top-ranked 2017 July 2nd Pitcher, we have watched the education of Pardinho with great interest for the past two seasons. He already was quite polished considering his age and background, but Pardinho has made as much progress with the game between his ears as he had with the one on the field.
Last year at Lansing, his season debut was delayed by shoulder and elbow issues, but he managed to pitch well despite a drop in velo which ultimately led to Tommy John surgery in March. The Blue Jays are hopeful that he will take this time to refine himself. I found what Gil Kim had to say about Pardinho a few weeks ago to be interesting:
….he’s finding right now the the silver lining in this, and is finding another another level in his body and his strength, so we’re hoping that as much as you can take advantage of times like these that Eric is doing that.
When he signed, scouts lauded Pardinho’s clean, efficient mechanics, but obviously even those are no guarantee when a teenaged UCL meets a mid 90s fastball. I’m sure the surgery was as much of a shock to Pardinho as it was to anyone else. Reading between the lines, Kim seems to be suggesting that Pardinho needs to pay more attention to his physical development during his TJ-induced layoff. Regardless of what happens, we won’t be seeing Pardinho until 2021.
Sem Robberse, Netherlands
The more I talk to people about Robberse, the more I think his signing was an absolute coup for Toronto. Tinnish calls his one of this top signings anywhere, and it’s hard to disagree, even though Robberse has all of 10 GCL innings on his pro resume.
Robberse shows a feel for pitching beyond his years and limited experience. He added 20 lbs and dialled his FB up to 93 within months of his signing, and his was a name no doubt a lot of other teams brought up during the trade talks with the Blue Jays this winter.
When the Covid-19 restrictions hit, Robberse was unable to return home from Florida. But he’s been making the best of the situation, working out and learning Spanish to add to his bank of skills. If/when/2020…….Robberse should see some time in either Vancouver or even Lansing.
Jiorgeny Casimiri, Netherlands
Like Robberse, Casimiri was technically a 2018 sign, as the Jays used bonus pool money acquired in spring deals to land him last June. Only 18, Casimir touches the low 90s with his FB, and his slider flashes plus on occasion. If Vancouver takes to the field this season, you could expect to see Casimiri in B.C. at some point.
Leo Jimenez, Panama
Overlooked in our original post, let’s add the up-the-middle, bilingual Panamanian. Tinnish raved about him after signing him in 2017:
….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.
Jimenez is more of a glove-first player at this point, but the the Appy League’s 14th-ranked prospect by BA has an advanced approach at the plate. He has slugged on .360 in two minor league seasons, but has shown a knack for getting on base. Lansing will likely be his destination when play resumes.
The 2019 Guys
Three Venezuelan players stood out to Tinnish in our conversation late last fall:
–RHP Dahlian Santos was not pursued by a lot of teams because of his 5’11″/160 size, but Tinnish rates his signing “an absolute steal.” The 18 year old touches for 94, throws three pitches for strikes, and, according to Tinnish, “everything he throws has movement.”
–C Victor Mesia who Ben Badler of Baseball America calls an “arrow up” player with his work over the past year.
–SS Estiven Machado, who may be a more advanced player than de Castro at this point. The Blue Jays first saw Machado at a tournament in Colombia, and made a strong impression.