With the roster freeze that will come in advance of December’s Rule 5 draft, the Blue Jays have openings on the 40, and decisions to make. Unlike in previous years, there is not necessarily a 40 crunch coming up.
The Blue Jays have 5 spots open at the moment, but that doesn’t automatically mean that number of prospects will be added. The pandemic meant that we were not able to get looks at any Blue Jays minor leaguers, but conversations and media reports are leaving a fairly clear picture.
The consensus is that C Gabriel Moreno will be at the top of the list for consideration. Only 20 and a backstop for only just over 100 games, Moreno has firmly established himself as the best catching prospect in the system. Despite not having played above Low A prior to this year, he was in Rochester at the alt site for half of this year’s shortened season, where he outshone higher profile Blue Jays farmhands. Behind the plate his athleticism is obvious, and his approach at the plate was compared in our last post by minor league hitting coordinator Hunter Mense as similar to Bo Bichette’s. He still needs development time and to further refine his knowledge of what works for him with the bat. When minor league play resumes, Moreno is likely ticketed for AA, but if he was exposed to the Rule 5, a team would likely grab him and find a way to hang onto him for a season.
OF Josh Palacios has long been one of the toolsiest players in the system, but he had trouble putting things together. 252 whiffs over his past two minor league seasons, and some curious routes in the field were indicative of a guy who had the skills, but couldn’t translate that to in-game success. All reports from Rochester are that this is the season where Palacios has finally broken through. With all due respect to Jonathan Davis, who had a marvellous 2020 and staked a claim to the 4th outfield spot, Palacios is four years younger and has a much higher upside.
C Riley Adams also made huge strides with the focused instruction at Rochester. There has never been a question about his bat, but he made adjustments at the alt site that may pay off in the long run. Adams has also made tremendous progress in his receiving skills. With 3 catchers already on the 40, and Moreno likely to be added ahead of him, it’s hard to say where Adams fits in the puzzle.
IF Kevin Smith, taken a round (4th) after Adams in 2017, has been something of an enigma. After a breakout 2018, he struggled for over half the season with advanced pitching of AA in 2019. But he’s a player the organization is very high on for his on and off field abilities. Like Adams, he’s on something of a bubble as far as the 40 is concerned. A full year of play in the minors in 2020 would have gone a long way to allowing one to make a forecast on his future prospects.
Reliever Ty Tice is another player who will merit consideration for the 40. An undersized power arm, you can’t ignore that he was at the alt site, and fanned 64 in 57 innings split between AA and AAA in 2019.
Other players who are eligible, but are longshots:
RHP Maximo Castillo – not a fireballer, but is a ground ball artist whose fastball could play up in a relief role.
RHP Josh Winckowski – again, a guy who 2020 would’ve given us a much clearer picture on. He’s been a riser in the system for several seasons, and generates a lot of GB outs.
IF Otto Lopez – won a MWL batting title in 2019, and can play several positions. With today’s premium on power production, guys like Lopez need to show more pop. But he can play.
2B Samad Taylor – made good progress at devo camp last month despite not playing this season after a disappointing 2019 at High A. Off to Australia for some live ABs – it will be interesting to see how he fares.
IF Logan Warmoth – it’s hard to believe he’s Rule 5 eligible already, and showed well at the alt site, but the 2017 1st rounder has fallen short of expectations to date, and has a career .678 OPS over three minor league seasons.
IF Cullen Large – every conversation about Large seems to involve the phrase, “if he could only stay healthy.” Large has made three trips to the IL in as many seasons, but the switch hitter is an under the radar hitter.
LHP Zach Logue – has had success on every rung of the minor league ladder, but is more of a finesse pitcher.
OF Chavez Young – had that breakout 2018 season, but had his challenges with High A pitching in 2019. Still valued by the organization, he has a speed/power combo that offers some promise, and can play all three outfield spots. Headed down under with Taylor.
1B/OF Ryan Noda – an on-base machine, his walk rate outpaced his strikeout percentage in 2019, a sign that he can still work the count, but has honed his two-strike approach. A year at AA in 2020 would have told us much more about him. A left-handed hitter, Noda is something of a dark horse in the organization, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in an MLB uniform one day.