A Look Back at the Blue Jays 2017 IFA Signings

Vladimir Guerrero headlined the Blue Jays 2015 International Free Agent class, and the bonus pool penalty the team experienced the following year, but their 2017 group may be the best the Blue Jays have ever assembled.

And that’s saying something.  The Blue Jays have been active in the International market for some time.  The 2011 class netted them Roberto Osuna and Jairo Labourt, while the 2012 group included Dawel Lugo and Franklin Barreto.

The issue with IFAs not named after their Hall of Fame fathers is that given their age (for most, 16 at the time of their signing), it can be half a decade or more (if ever) for them to reach their projections.  If a team can manage to get one big leaguer out of their bonus pool, that’s an accomplishment.  The 2017 class has a way to go, but five potential MLBers jump out.

Top-ranked RHP Eric Pardinho dominated the Appalachian League as a 17-year-old experiencing his first taste of life in America, travel and under the lights play, and pro ball itself.  The 4th ranked talent in a prospect-laden Appy,  Pardinho already possess three pitches which grade as plus, and room to bump his velo up to the mid-90s.  He passed the test this year with flying colours, and should pitch in Lansing by late next spring.

SS Miguel Hiraldo was the top bat in last year’s IFA class, and he didn’t disappoint, slashing .313/.381/.453 in 54 DSL games before earning a promotion to the GCL.  Built more like a Catcher than a SS, Hiraldo is projected to be a better fit at 3B down the road.

SS/2B Leo Jimenez was a player Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who heads up International Ops for the team, could barely contain his excitement about last fall.  Tinnish raved about his maturity and defensive skills.  With 2018 draftees Jordan Groshans and Addison Barger on the GCL Jays roster this summer, Jimenez had to split time between 2B (20 games) and SS (19), but his range and actions at the latter suggest that he might become one of the best defensive players at that position in the organization.  A top of the order-type hitter, Jimenez was ranked the 20th best GCL prospect, and adds to the stockpile of up-the-middle depth in the system.

P Ronald Govea was not a highly ranked signing last year, but he was someone Tinnish singled out last fall as a guy with, “sneaky upside.”  Not a hard thrower although there’s some room for projection, Tinnish said Govea knows how to spin a breaking ball, and throws, “a ton of strikes.”  While Govea fanned only 6.4/9 for the DSL Jays, he started 13 games, and once his pitch count was up, consistently pitched into the fifth inning, walking only 13 in 58 innings.  He will no doubt need to add some velo to progress, but it sounds like he already has a good grasp of command and sequencing.

P Alejandro Melean can dial his Fastball up to 94, and although his command is not where the team would like it (22 walks in 32 GCL innings), Baseball America said Melean has, “The delivery, repertoire and feel for pitching to project as a starter.”  His best pitch is said to be his curve, and his change made progress.

 

All of the above players should advance through the system this year at least as high as Vancouver or Lansing.

 

 

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Notes on Blue Jays’ IFAs from Extended

The lousy weather that hit much of the northeastern part of the continent meant that there wasn’t a lot of minor league ball to watch this weekend.  However, Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame on Twitter), who scouts prospects in Florida and contributes to several sites as well as his own, took in some Blue Jays Extended Spring Training action, and posted a number of videos.

First, some video and notes about SS Miguel Hiraldo, the top-ranked hitter in last July’s International Free Agent class:

Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees International ops for the club, said in an interview in December that Hiraldo has, “A compact build, sneaky athletic ability, and quick hands.”  The most impressive part of his game, according to Tinnish, is his bat:  “it’s a compact swing, he hits a lot of line drives (and) uses the whole field, is a smart hitter, and there’s a lot of projection there.”

Tinnish said that Hiraldo may eventually outgrow SS and shift over to 3rd.  Woodell’s observations suggest that maybe there’s more there defensively than was originally thought.  The Blue Jays will likely keep him at short until he plays himself off of it.  Hiraldo will begin the season in the Gulf Coast League.

RHP Alejandro Melean was the 32-ranked IFA last year, and was a player Tinnish mentioned as one to watch.  A bit undersized, Melean was impressive at Instructs last fall, sitting 90-94 with his fastball, and an ability to spin a breaking ball.

Melean likely starts in the GCL as well.

C Hagen Danner was not an IFA, of course, but he was a highly regarded two-way prep player who the Blue Jays decided to have focus on Catching last year.  Danner struggled in his first pro season, hitting .160/.207/.248, with a 26.5% K rate.  The news from Florida is encouraging:

Vancouver will probably be Danner’s destination when short season play begins in June.

And finally, while he’s not a Blue Jays prospect, there’s a pretty strong connection here:

Halladay is draft eligible this June, but has committed to Penn State.

Blue Jays 2017 International Review

Pardinho
ESPN photo

The Blue Jays landed 5 of the top 40-ranked International Free Agents (according to Baseball America) during the IFA signing period this summer.

This was a far cry from 2016, when in the wake of sanctions as a result of going over their bonus pool in order to sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the Blue Jays could not sign a player for a bonus of more than $300 000.   Still, they were able to cull some quality out of that group – their accomplishments have been overshadowed, however, by PED suspensions handed out to 7 Blue Jays prospects at their Dominican complex.

Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees the international market and signings, was understandably not willing to discuss that development in a conversation this week (an investigation is ongoing), but he did provide updates about many of the players they did sign this year.  After signing, prospects converge on the Blue Jays complex at Boca Chica, near Santo Domingo.  Players learn about nutrition, training and take English classes, and play in the “Tricky” League against other complex prospects who recently signed.

At the top of the list is Brazilian RHP Eric Pardinho.  Ranked the top pitching prospect in the 2017 IFA class (and signed for a $1.4 million bonus), he did not disappoint.   Tinnish noted that Pardinho touched 97 in short outings with his fastball.  “A combination of athleticism, great delivery, advanced stuff and feel for pitching,” is how he described the young hurler. “I’ve never seen a 16 year old kid with that combination of skills.”  What’s impressive beyond that, says Tinnish, is how he “slows the game down – how much poise and compete he has on the mound.”  Pardinho is not the biggest guy in the world (5’9 1/2″, according to reports), but he is very polished – Tinnish says he has an extremely efficient delivery which he repeats well and uses his lower half effectively, and he can command multiple pitches.  That 97 came in Instructs, and it was, in his words, “an easy 97.”  He sat 90-94, but there’s room for added velocity as he matures.  Pardinho has always had a power curve, sitting 78-82, and has developed a slider with good depth and some added velo to it.  Tinnish had not seen Pardinho throw a change up prior to his signing, but was impressed with what he saw this fall.  “To me, he’s a starter,” he said, pointing to that four-pitch mix.  The team is not concerned about his size – there’s room for added strength.  The Jays have had success with smaller Pitchers, with Marcus Stroman the prime example.  Tinnish does not suggest that Pardinho is in Stroman’s class as an athlete, but he is in terms of stuff, delivery, and feel.  It’s all but likely that Pardinho begins his pro career stateside in the Gulf Coast League next year.  The Blue Jays will not rush him, but they certainly like what they’ve seen from the youngster, and he may move through the system quickly.

Dominican SS Miguel Hiraldo was rated the best overall bat in the class, and signed for $750K.  Tinnish says that Hiraldo has “a compact build, sneaky athletic ability, and quick hands.”  He’ll play SS as long as possible, but he may move over to 3rd.  The most impressive thing about Hiraldo, according to Tinnish, is his bat.  “It’s a compact swing, he hits a lot of line drives, he uses the whole field, is a smart hitter, and there’s power projection there.”  Hiraldo has a chance to be an everyday player if the bat develops, and he may join Pardinho in the Gulf Coast League next year.

A player Tinnish is very high on is Panamanian SS Leonardo Jimenez, who signed for $825K.  “A really, really great kid,” enthused Tinnish.  “(He’s) bilingual, great make up, ultra young in the class – a late May birthday – 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, who led off for the Panamanian national team, has a good approach at the plate.    He grinds out ABs, and hits a lot of line drives, and even shows glimpses of future power.  He hit a HR his last game at Instructs, and Tinnish admits of all the players the Blue Jays signed outside of Pardinho, Jimenez is the one he’s most excited about.

Venezuelan RHP Ronald Govea is what Tinnish calls a “sneaky upside player.”  Not one of the top 40 ranked players the Blue Jays signed, Govea is not a hard thrower, but has a good delivery, and can spin a breaking ball, and throws “a ton of strikes,” said Tinnish.  He tops out at 88 right now, but Tinnish feels he has “a lot more left in the tank,” given his arm movement.

RHP Alejandro Melean is also a player Tinnish says is one to watch.  The 32nd ranked IFA, the Venezuelan ramped things up toward the end of Instructs, sitting 90-94 with his fastball, with an ability to spin the breaking ball.  Command is not where Tinnish would like it to be, but he’s another undersized, athletic “quick twitch guy.”

Venezuelan SS Jose Rivas is a player Tinnish calls a “sparkplug,” and while he doesn’t like to label players, he compares him favourably with an Astros 2B named Jose.  “He’s got the Altuve frame and mentality,” and suggests that Rivas ultimately moves across the bag to 2nd.

BA’s Ben Badler offers his take on Pardinho: