Blue Jays Organizational All Stars: the Infield

In our last post, we looked at C Gabriel Moreno, the 8th overall prospect according to Baseball America. Let’s go around the infield to have a gander at the top performers in the Blue Jays system. Advanced warning: there will be some multi-positional players on this list.

1B Spencer Horwitz

Horwitz fashioned a High A West (formerly Northwest) League record 28-game hitting streak late in the season. Horwitz’ run ended after game 28, but with New Hampshire’s clubhouse hit by Covid protocols, he was summoned the next day to AA, where he didn’t miss a beat, going 6-16 in the Fisher Cats’ final four games of the season.

An on-base machine, the knock against Horwitz has been that he doesn’t have enough pop for a corner infielder, and even though he hit seven of his twelve round trippers after August 1st, it’s a fair rap. But the guy just gets on base, as his 70 walks were 3rd best in all of High A, and his 1.06 BB/K was the best.

Horwitz has a line drive swing that tends to find the gaps. He reminds one of Ryan Noda, now in the Dodgers organization, a hitter who liked to work the count, but sometimes was on the passive side. His 28 doubles (tied for the High A lead) suggest there’s still some room for him at 22 to tap into his power.

By the Numbers:

.464. – Horwitz’ average over his 28 game hitting streak

2B. Otto Lopez

The versatile Lopez played five different positions this year, but you have to find a spot for a guy who won a batting title (by thirty points, no less) for the second season in a row, and since he played the bulk of his games at 2nd, it’s where we’ll slot him.

Lopez puts the ball in play – he doesn’t walk or strike out a lot, and this year, his forty extra base hits suggest he’s starting to develop some pop. Lopez will never be a big home run guy, but he’s smart and quick on the bases. All he does is hit.

BA thinks we should start thinking of Lopez as a 2nd baseman, and while his versatility is important, it’s hard to argue with their logic:

By the numbers:

.412

Lopez’ BABIP, suggesting some hard contact that found some holes.

SS Orelvis Martinez

Ok, so the one guy not expected to stay at the position long term makes this team at SS. While his performance this year is not surprising given that he had some time at the alt camp late last season, but 2021 was truly a coming out party for Orelvis.

Martinez caught the attention of the prospecting world with a breakout July at Dunedin, posting a 1.218 OPS for the month, along with 13 HRs in a month that can be tough for hitters in the Florida heat. Promoted to Vancouver at the start of August, Orelvis struggled to make consistent contact against the higher level pitching, but he still managed to slug 9 HRs for the C’s. His 28 HRs easily led the organization.

Martinez does not strike out all that much for a power hitter, although he showed a propensity to chase at the higher level. Then again, he’s all of 19, so that is almost to be expected. He does have some physical as well as emotional maturing to do, from what we’ve been told, so a trip to High A West may have been designed to speed the process up.

Defensively, a brief sample of viewing of his play at Short at the end of July was not impressive. Martinez did not display good instincts or fundamentals, but that admittedly was likely not enough of a sample to form an accurate judgment. The Blue Jays apparently want to give him every chance to succeed at the position, because he had the majority of his reps at SS this year, with only a handful of games at 3rd.

Brendan Galowski of Fangraphs had a good look at Orelvis on the west coast, and offered this assessment :

Breaking balls are harder and sharper at this level, and he’s chasing them in the dirt; he’s also being a little too aggressive on fastballs in on his hands. He’s consistently out front on anything slow, as his coiled leg kick and timing mechanism leave him off balance against anything that isn’t a fastball. Sometimes he makes contact, sometimes he doesn’t, but it’s hard to impact the ball when you’re lunging.

Defensively, Martinez looks rough at shortstop. He clanged a few balls in my looks, and on a turf surface, too. He’s quick once he gets going, but his initial step is a bit slow, and given his size, I’d guess he’ll grow off of shortstop in time anyway.

Despite the struggles, there’s a lot to be excited about here. Martinez is very young for the level, and growing pains are to be expected at this stage in his journey. His bat-to-ball skills are well ahead of most of his teammates, which is encouraging, and the physical tools are potentially special. His hands are extremely explosive, and when he hits a ball well, it stays hit. There’s a little bit too much hit tool volatility for him to be a sure-thing type of prospect, but I’m nonetheless bullish. Even if he hasn’t found his defensive home yet, I suspect that when he returns to the Northwest for a second spin at High-A, he’ll do plenty of damage at the plate.

By the numbers:

109. The exit velo on one of his last Low A dingers.

3B Kevin Smith

Again, another guy out of position, but Smith played enough games at the hot corner, and that combined with the great all-around season he had (.284/.367/.553) qualifies him.

You just can’t count Smith out. Not only was he likely the Player of the Year in the Blue Jays system (you could make an argument for Orelvis), he’s a AAA East MVP candidate, and was arguably Buffalo’s best player for most of the year.

By the Numbers:

9

The number of offensive categories Smith finished among the top ten. Not bad for a glove-first player.

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