It began as a slow trickle, and ended as a torrent.
Danny Jansen was promoted to the bigs in September of 2018, with Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and Bo Bichette following in quick succession the following year. With the ascension of Nate Pearson this year (and the addition of Lourdes Gurriel Jr in April of 2018), the upper tier of the Toronto Blue Jays top prospect ranks has been emptied fairly quickly.
But not to worry. Thanks to solid amateur and international scouting, as well as some good old fashioned luck, the Blue Jays still can boast of a farm system that is at least in the upper third of organizations (sixth in the latest Baseball America rankings) across baseball in this Covid confused season.
1. Austin Martin IF/OF
Imagine being Blue Jays new amateur scouting director Shane Farrell. In your first draft, the best all-around player by a fair margin falls into your lap with the fifth pick. Martin’s hit tool, in a complete sense, is elite. He combines elite bat speed with an ability to make consistent hard contact, impressive strike zone management, and the willingness to take a walk if need be. His speed may not be of the elite variety, but he is an above average runner, and combines that with a high baseball IQ to be what Baseball America calls a “disruptive runner on the basepaths.” Simply put, Martin profiles as a guy who puts the ball in play, gets on base, and lets his speed take over from there.
The question is, of course, where Martin’s ultimate future lies on the defensive side of things. He started at short stop for Vanderbilt this year, after playing center field and third base previously for the Commodores. Again, not possessed of burning speed, Martin’s instincts and reactions seem to suggest that he could patrol CF for a big league team. Farrell pointed out that in the modern game, positions are becoming more and more fluid, so it seems undecided at this point where he will play, although in his brief time with the big leaguers at summer camp in Toronto, he was taking reps at 3rd. He still has the tools to be a solid defender at a premium position.
ETA’s for many prospects are hard to determine at this point, but it’s very likely Martin makes his sometime next year. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that we see him this year.
2. Jordan Groshans SS
In April of 2019, a guy sitting in the press box at Lansing watched Groshans barrel up pitches over the course of a three game series, launching line drives all over Cooley Law School Stadium. Here Groshans was, ten months out of high school, and squaring up minor league pitching.
Like Martin, Groshans is a bat-first player whose approach and bat-to-ball skills have elite potential. Groshans has a solid idea of what he’s doing at the plate, puts the ball in play, and uses the whole field. If he had opted to go the college route, like Martin he would’ve been in consideration for the first overall pick in his draft year.
And similar to Martin, there is question as to where Groshans ultimately winds up defensively. The Blue Jays are content for now to led him play himself off the position, although his offensive profile nicely fits with 3rd or a corner outfield spot. Last year, the club was focused on Groshans’ footwork, especially his first step reactions. And while it was only one play, you have to be impressed by this play he made at summer camp:
If not for the acquisition of Martin, Groshans would have succeeded Pearson as the top Blue Jays prospect without question. His timeline may be longer than Martin’s, but he figures to be another impact player when he arrives, which could be as early as 2022.
3. Simeon Woods Richardson RHP
There was only one 18 year-old pitching in High A last year, and it was SWR, acquired from the Mets along with Anthony Kay in the Marcus Stroman deal.
Woods Richardson already possesses a mid 90s FB (with room to add more) that features plenty of arm side run and high spin, and generates plenty of swings and misses up in the zone. His curve and slider both flash plus, and his change should grade as average or better as he develops. Despite his youth, he’s already cracked BA’s Top 100, coming in at 67 in their June rankings.
Woods Richardson was invited to summer camp, and did not look out of place against players above his most recent level of competition. Despite the temptation to rush him, it’s hard to see him in a big league rotation until 2022.
4. Alejandro Kirk C
The legend of Alejandro Kirk continued to grow this spring, as he more than held his own in spring training in an audition with the big club.
Simply put, Kirky is an offensive dynamo, a player with an ability to put barrels on pitches that is already big league in its caliber. He puts balls in play, and with more aggressiveness when he’s ahead in the count, he may be able to tap into his power.
The elephant in the room is Kirk’s body. As BA put it:
The first thing that jumps out is Kirk’s body, like a shorter version of Pablo Sandoval, which is an immediate turnoff for many scouts.
Still, his bat is his calling card, and while he won’t remind anyone of Jerry Grote (Google him, kids) behind the plate, he shows signs of being at least an adequate, if not an everyday receiver. Kirk is still very much a work in progress, but he has shown a willingness to train hard and learn. How much he is able to develop in terms of his flexibility, agility, and defensive skills will determine how far he goes.
One (minor) criticism of Kirk and the Blue Jays: his short, choppy strides that make him, uh, entertaining on the base paths. Part of that is a product of his physique, but is there not someone in the organization who could work with him on his running? Not that he’s ever going to run a marathon, but there’s a lot of wasted motion in his running style. Streamlining his stride could maybe gain him an extra step. So could continuing to do the same with his body. Kirk is actually a smart runner who can sense opportunity on the bases.
But oh, that hit tool. Pinning an ETA for Kirk in the bigs is something of a puzzle. This spring, he looked to be not far off from being able to hit big league pitching, but there’s his defence and the fact that Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire seem set for a long run as a tandem. If he continues to hit, though, the front office will have a decision to make. 2022 seems a reasonable bet.
5. Alek Manoah RHP
Last year’s first round pick made quite a splash, but he’s been lost in the shuffle a bit with the debut of Pearson and the rise of SWR.
Manoah fanned 27 hitters over 17 innings over six pitch count-limited outings with Vancouver last year. Northwest League hitters were overmatched by his fastball, which sits 94-97 with tons of sink in the bottom half of the zone. This season, we were looking forward to watching the development of his secondary pitches at a higher level. He didn’t really need much more than a slider (which shows signs of being a plus pitch) last year.
Manoah is still relatively new to starting. With a compact delivery and an ability to fill up the strike zone, he will be a big leaguer before long. If he can add to his off speed pitches, there’s a real chance that he lands in the middle of the Jays’ rotation. If he doesn’t, there will be spot for him toward the back of the Toronto bullpen.
6. Orelvis Martinez, SS/3B
This was going to be an exciting spring to be a baseball fan in Lansing. The Lugnuts’ infield likely would have included three of the organization’s top prospects in Miguel Hiraldo, Leo Jimenez, and Martinez, the jewel of the Jays’ excellent haul of 2018 IFAs.
Of the three, Martinez easily has the most offensive upside. Last year, his bat was advanced enough to start his pro career stateside in the GCL, and was named that league’s top prospect by BA:
Martinez has excellent hands and uses them well at the plate to generate quick bat speed and easy, above-average power. He has some moving parts in his swing, but he has good enough hand-eye coordination to make frequent contact, with a swing geared for loft that allows his power to show up in games. His seven home runs tied for second in the league. He has a calm approach, manages his at-bats well and controls the strike zone.
Although he grades well across all of his tools, it’s Martinez’ bat that draws the most attention. He did receive the majority of his reps at SS last season, he already shows signs of outgrowing the position, and likely will slide over to 3rd more frequently when minor league play resumes. Numerous publications have suggested Martinez is not far away from Top 100 status. His ETA will likely be in 2023.
7. Gabriel Moreno, C
If you’re looking for the best all-round receiving prospect in the system, Moreno is your man. A converted infielder, Moreno combines cat-like reflexes with a strong arm/quick release.
At the plate, Moreno has a see-the-ball/hit-the-ball approach, and will need to lay off pitches out of the strike zone as he advances. His bat-to-ball skills are such that he can get to a lot of those pitches. There is some Home Run potential there, but reports predict that he’ll hit more for average than power. His blocking and receiving skills are what you would probably expect from someone still so new to the position, and are a work in progress.
One of the best athletes in the system, Moreno showed a take-charge attitude in his first crack at full season ball last year. He adds to a wealth of talent at the position in the Toronto system.
8. Adam Kloffenstein, RHP
And now we’ve reached the point in the system where it becomes more about projection, and where cracks in a player’s game that they’ll have to overcome start to appear. Hiraldo could be a fit here because of his bat, but he’s all but played himself off of SS. Otto Lopez, who can play multiple positions and won a Midwest League batting title last year, could sneak in as well, but his power has yet to make an appearance.
No, this spot belongs to Kloff, who was limited to 2 innings in his draft year, but had a coming out party in his second pro season with Vancouver last year. He has the frame, the athleticism, and the mix of pitches to one day become a mid-rotation innings eater.
MLB Pipeline’s report on Kloffenstein:
Kloffenstein can work in the low 90s with heavy sink on his two-seam fastball and reach back for 96 mph with his four-seamer. He has advanced feel for a breaking ball, showing the ability to morph his sharp slider, which flashes above-average potential, into a bigger-breaking curveball or a harder cutter. He also has a deceptive changeup with tumble which could be another above-average offering for him once further developed.
That’s a profile that just can’t be overlooked. ETA would be 2023.
9. Miguel Hiraldo, IF
Hiraldo was pegged as one of the top hitters in the 2017 IFA class, and he’s done nothing to dispel that in two pro seasons. He led the Appy League in doubles last year, and made a lot of hard contact.
Toronto has been conservative with Hiraldo’s development, moving him up one step at a time. 2020 would have been his first shot at full season ball, likely alternating time at 2nd/SS/3rd with Martinez and Jimenez.
Hiraldo has a compact swing that gets the barrel through in a timely manner, and an aggressive approach, but recognizing spin and learning to use the whole field are two challenges he faces as he develops. On the defensive side, he’s been described as a fringy defender at short, but has the hands for 2nd and the arm for 3rd.
10. Sem Robberse
If you’re a fan of our Top 10 lists, you know that we’re not averse to going out on a limb with this slot. When in doubt, always bet on upside.
And the native of the Netherlands fits that bill. Blue Jays VP and head of international ops Andrew Tinnish could barely contain himself when we spoke last fall, and his words are worth repeating:
.”it’s (his delivery) a top 10 in terms of Pitchers I’ve scouted. He has excellent rhythm and movement, great hip and shoulder tilt and separation, has a firm front side, and pitches in a good line to the plate. He has a good landing, and clean arm action.
Since signing with Toronto fourteen months ago, Robberse has added 20 lbs to his frame, and has dialled up his fastball to 93, with plenty of room for more. His athleticism and makeup are reportedly off the charts; Robberse is driven to improve all aspects of his game. He even started to learn Spanish during the pandemic in order to communicate with his Latin teammates.
Robberse throws a three pitch mix (FB/CV/CH), with a strong feel for his secondaries. A student of the game, scouts say he’s already transforming from a thrower to a pitcher.
Robberse probably would have arrived in Lansing by now if not for the pandemic. We’ve never had eyes on him, but you there’s too much in the reports we’ve read to overlook.