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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Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects

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Clutchlings Photo

With a preference for acquiring and developing up-the-middle players who can slide to other defensive positions, the Blue Jays farm system continued its ascension into the upper tiers of baseball’s elite organizations in 2018.

With 15 prospects scattered among the Top 20 in Baseball America‘s rankings of each minor league this fall (tied for 3rd with Arizona, behind Tampa and San Diego), the Blue Jays system is now ranked #3 by BA, and most analysts (not named Keith Law) would agree that it’s a system on the rise.

When he took the helm of the Blue Jays organization three years ago, one of the carrots that brought Mark Shapiro over from Cleveland was the promise of a bigger budget for player development.  Since coming to Toronto, Shapiro has instituted a ground-breaking (for baseball) High Performance department, and has brought in numerous sport scientists to help the organization’s prospects learn to eat, train, and recover more efficiently.  He has also brought onboard several key executives with extensive player development experience like Ross Atkins and Ben Cherington.  This off-season, under the direction of Player Development head Gil Kim, the team brought in a number of minor league coaches and instructors with considerable teaching and coaching backgrounds, a trend that will likely continue this off season.

The Blue Jays have had reasonably successful drafts (although 2017 1st rounder Logan Warmoth took a large step back this year) over the past several seasons, and have done very well in the International market as well – it’s not a coincidence that new Manager Charlie Montoyo is bilingual, and has a strong track record of working with young players.  Minor league systems have to balance development with winning (with the former taking precedence at the lower levels), but several Blue Jays farm teams have made the post season over the past two years, with Vancouver bringing home a Northwest League title in 2017, and New Hampshire winning one this past season. The experience is always worthwhile for the organization’s young players, who, unlike college players, are not necessarily used to the pressure to win.

 

1.  Vladimir Guerrero 3B

.281/.437/.636,   9.5K%/9.3BB%,  20HR ,194 wRC+

At the moment, Guerrero is laying waste to Arizona Fall League pitching, and demonstrating that his bat is more than MLB-ready.  While Blue Jays fans were clamoring for Vladdy’s promotion for much of the season, a strained knee helped pumped the brakes on his development.  And that wasn’t a bad thing –  Shapiro had indicated a year ago that the only way we would see Guerrero in 2018 was if the team was in the middle of a pennant race, and even with the infusion of offence he would have provided, the 2018 Jays were not going to the post season.

A few extra months of minor league seasoning allowed Guerrero to continue to work on the defensive side of his game.  He has sure hands, good footwork, and a strong, accurate arm.  Vlad makes plays on balls that he gets to, but in the major leagues, where he’ll be fielding balls hit by MLB hitters (and half of them on turf),  but he’ll need to expand his range, and that was one of the reasons he remained in the minors this summer.

Even though he’ll be under intense media scrutiny when he reaches Toronto, Guerrero is more than up for the challenge.  This summer, it seemed like when he was facing a top-ranked Pitcher, Guerrero turned his game up accordingly.  If there is one knock against him, it’s that he doesn’t always do so when facing a lesser guy on the mound.  Those days will be fewer and further between in MLB.

When we finally do see Guerrero in the Blue Jays lineup, his impact will likely be immediate.  He is the best prospect the Blue Jays have ever developed.  He will anchor the middle of the Toronto order for years to come.

 

2.  Bo Bichette SS/2B

.286/.343/.453,  17K%/8.1BB% , 11 HR, 120 wRC+

Bichette grabbed more than his share of the headlines in 2017 when he led the minor leagues with a .362 average, hitting above .400 as late as mid-June.

This year was a different story.  In late May, his average tumbled to a career-low .237, before Bichette began to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone.  Maybe it was the pressure that he created himself trying to match Guerrero, or maybe it was the greater command possessed by Eastern League Pitchers, but 2018 was a tremendous learning year for Bichette, one that may ultimately serve him well in the future.

Bichette’s numbers for the year may not be awe-inspiring, but he put together a torrid final six weeks of the season, slashing .339/.402/.475 in August, and hitting .346 as New Hampshire romped to the EL title.

Bichette continued to make strides as a defender this season, but he looked most comfortable when the acquisition of Santiago Espinal in July forced him to share time at SS by moving over to 2B.  His range, reactions to ground balls, ability to make the pivot, and arm strength just seem to look better suited to the position.  One thing is for sure:  the bat will play, possibly not next season, but before a long time has elapsed.

3.  Nate Pearson SP

1.2 IP, 5.4 K/9, 0 BB/9, 10.80 FIP, 44.4% GB

Don’t be fooled at all by Pearson’s numbers.  An oblique issue kept him out of the lineup until early May, and a line drive off of his pitching arm in the second inning of his first start ended his season.  Pearson has pitched in the Arizona Fall League, but has understandably shown rust, but has dialed his velo back up to 100.

Pearson has a starter’s build and four-pitch mix.  He sits 96-98, and mixes in an effective curve, change, and slider.  He gets good spin on his breaking pitches, and throws all four from a similar arm slot.  When Pearson commands his fastball, hitters don’t have much of a chance.

Even though he’s thrown only 21 innings as a pro (his pitch count was strictly monitored in Vancouver last year after he was drafted), he will be bound for New Hampshire next year, and could move quickly.  The word “ace” is thrown around far too much, but Pearson definitely has front of the rotation potential.

 

4.  Danny Jansen C

(MiLB) .275/.390/.473,  13.6K%/12.1BB%, 12 HR, 146 wRC+

Already the hardest-working player on the field, the job of the MLB backstop has become even more complex in this day and age of framing and spin rates.  The Blue Jays unearthed a gem in the middle rounds of the 2013 draft, taking the Wisconsite with their 16th round pick.  In the 31 games he suited up for the Blue Jays this year, he showed why he’s considered one of the top receiving prospects in the game, and a potential franchise Catcher.

Jansen has always been an excellent framer, and Pitchers have long raved about working with him.  His bat came along last year, and he showcased good contact skills, and should hit the 20 HR plateau at some point.  If Reese McGuire continues to develop, the Blue Jays could employ him as more than a back up, allowing them to keep Jansen’s bat in the lineup when he needs a day off from behind the plate.

Jansen has given every indication that he will make the team out of training camp next year.

 

5.  Kevin Smith SS

.302/.328/.528, 21.1K%/ 7%BB, 25 HR, 149 wRC+

No Blue Jays prospect enhanced their status as much as the 2017 4th rounder did this year.  Stuck behind top pick Logan Warmoth last year, Smith surpassed him on both sides of the ball this year.

Smith owned Midwest League pitching before being promoted to Dunedin.  Along the way, he was named a Top 20 prospect by Baseball America in both leagues.  In naming him the FSL’s 11th top prospect, BA noted:

Evaluators who like Smith see a player who can stick at shortstop with a bat-first profile in the mold of Paul DeJong. He’s never going to be the flashiest player on the field, but his work ethic and all-around skills will help him produce impressive seasons. His bat can handle a slide to second base as well.

Smith did not make as much contact in Florida as he did in Michigan, with his K rate jumping from 16% to 24% after the promotion, with a corresponding drop in his BB rate as well.  Quite simply, Smith expanded his zone, and he may go through a dry spell similar to Bichette’s when he reaches the Eastern League next year.

Of all the up-the-middle prospects the Blue Jays have accumulated, Smith shows the most potential to stay at the position, and hit enough to become an MLBer.  An avid student of the game, he spent considerable time last off-season re-tooling his swing and refining his approach, and the payoff was significant.  He still may be a couple of seasons away, but he could provide a good complement to Guerrero on the left side of the Blue Jays infield.

 

6.  Eric Pardinho, SP

50 IP, 11.5K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.75 FIP, 46.3% GB

Dropped into a new country, with travel and under-the-lights play, and facing hitters that in almost every case were older than him (some by several years), all Pardinho did was produce one of the best debut seasons of any Blue Jays Starting Pitcher in recent memory.

The top-ranked 2017 IFA had his innings closely monitored in the Appy League, but he missed a lot of bats (15.4% K rate), and was very difficult to square up and loft (31% Fly Ball rate).  His four-pitch mix overmatched Appy hitters, as evidenced by a dominant mid-August outing against eventual league champs Elizabethton, a Twins affiliate.  Pardinho retired the first 19 hitters he faced before giving up a one out single in the 7th.

As might be expected of a 17-year-old, there’s still room for Pardinho to grow both physically and emotionally.  And even though he will one day be dwarfed in the rotation by Pearson, there’s a lot to like about Pardinho.  His athleticism allows him to repeat a clean, efficient delivery.  Already sitting 93-95 most nights, Pardinho should add some velo as he gets older, which will make his secondaries even more effective.

He’s still several seasons away – there’s even a good chance that Pardinho remains in Extended next spring until the Midwest League weather warms up.  But there is plenty of reason to expect to see him near the top of the Blue Jays rotation one day.

7.  Sean Reid-Foley SP

(AAA) 85.1 IP, 10.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 3.06 FIP, 42.7% GB

He had his struggles at the major league level, but his MiLB season was one of the most successful of Reid-Foley’s career, and gave fans a glimpse of what his potential could be.

After a dominant 8 starts at AA. SRF moved up to Buffalo, and continued to pile the whiffs, fanning 10.3/9, while walking only 3.6/9.  While in Buffalo, he came out firing, daring hitters to try to catch up with his mid 90-s fastball.  His problems at the MLB level came when he fell behind hitters, something he’ll have to fix and may come with added experience.

Starting Pitching is probably the hardest commodity to develop in all of baseball, and one look no further than the rising popularity of bullpenning and use of the Opener.  Even with a mid-rotation projection, there’s still plenty of potential value in Reid-Foley.

 

8. Jordan Groshans SS

(GCL) .331/390/.500, 18.8K%/8.2BB, 4 HR, 150 wRC+

The Jays broke out of the run of first round college picks last June when they took the Texas High Schooler, and he didn’t disappoint.  BA named him the 5th best prospect in the Gulf Coast League, with his bat the stand out tool:

Groshans has a polished hitting approach and a knack for finding the barrel. He squares up good pitching with quick bat speed and plus raw power. While Groshans has the sock in his bat to go deep from right-center over to his pull side, he mostly showed a line-drive, all-fields approach in the GCL, hammering fastballs and driving pitches on the outer half with authority to the opposite field.

Promoted to Bluefield for the Appy League playoffs, Groshans started slowly, but his bat came alive.  With a talented GCL infield this summer, Groshans split time at SS and 3B.  His arm is graded as above average, but the feeling among some evaluators seems to be that he winds up at the hot corner long-term.

 

9.  Anthony Alford OF

(AAA) .240/.312/.344,  26.9K%/7.2BB%, 5 HR, 87 wRC+

It’s hard to quit on the toolsy outfielder, even though 2018 was definitely a sideways year for him.  When he began the season on the DL, there were the usual concerns about his injury history.  Alford seemed lost at times at the plate this year, and did not barrel up balls like he did in 2017.

Still, there was some progress.  Alford began to drive the ball more in August, slashing .282/.324/.388 with 11 Doubles.  And the work he did with Coach Devon White helped him to take more efficient routes on fly balls.

The clock is starting to tick for Alford (he still has one more option year), but if he can stay in the lineup consistently, there could be a place for him in the Toronto outfield at some point next year.

 

10.  Orelvis Martinez SS

The top-ranked July 2nd bat in this year’s class did not look out of place at Instructs, from reports, as the Blue Jays added yet another up-the-middle player.  The Blue Jays spent 70% of their pool money on Martinez’ $3.5 million bonus – the second largest in club history.

We don’t know enough about his defensive skills yet, but there are a lot of indications that the bat will play.  In fact, there is word that Martinez will start his pro career stateside next year, and his bat may be advanced enough to skip the GCL.  Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees Latin America for the club, raved about Martinez’ skills at the plate:

The combination of consistency, good results, good plan at the plate, has hit good velocity, has hit breaking balls and laid off breaking balls — those things make you as comfortable as you’re going to get with a player who’s obviously a long way away from his prime.

 

Blue Jays Place Six on Rookie Ball Top Prospects Lists

Blue Jays CEO/President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins spoke several times this summer about the need to develop waves of prospects.  With Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, and Ryan Borucki having established themselves after making their MLB debuts this summer, the next wave, featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and Nate Pearson are not far behind them.  Deeper into the system, another wave appears to be gathering momentum, as three Blue Jays prospects made Baseball America‘s Top 20 Appalachian and Gulf Coast League lists.

Toronto was all but shut out on BA’s Top Prospects by league after placing 3 (Guerrero, Bichette, and Cavan Biggio) on the Eastern League Top 20, only Kevin Smith appeared on the A ball rankings, placing 15th on BA’s Top 20 Midwest League prospects list, and 11th on their Florida State League rankings.  For Smith, it was truly deserved, as possibly no Toronto farm hand did more to improve their stock than the 2017 4th rounder.  BA sees Smith as a potential solid, if not outstanding MLBer.

-from the MWL Top 20 report:

Although not seen as a flashy player, Smith’s profile features a lot to like. He has demonstrated a much-improved hit tool, and he has average power as well. Smith has a blue collar feel to the way he plays and features the intangibles that scouts love to see.

-the FSL Top 20:

Evaluators who like Smith see a player who can stick at shortstop with a bat-first profile in the mold of Paul DeJong. He’s never going to be the flashiest player on the field, but his work ethic and all-around skills will help him produce impressive seasons. His bat can handle a slide to second base as well.

 

After being shut out in the Northwest League Top 20, three Bluefield Blue Jays could be found in BA’s Appalachian League Top 20, starting with P Eric Pardinho.  The cream of last July’s IFA Pitching class, Pardinho skipped the complex league, and despite adjusting to a new culture and language on top of the travel and daily grind that comes with under the lights play, he was the top-ranked prospect Pitcher in the league, checking in at #4 overall:

Pardinho ranked third in the Appy League with 64 strikeouts and showed precocious control for his age, walking 16 batters in 11 starts. But what’s most impressive is his command and feel for changing speeds and locations for such a young pitcher.

Pardinho was joined on the list by his battery mate for the last half of the season, Alejandro Kirk.  Kirk burst onto the scene this year after being a late 2016 sign.  He injured his hand in an off-season car accident after signing, then reinjured the hand in his first pro AB in the GCL in 2017.  A bat-first player, Kirk was forced into regular Catching duties at Bluefield this year after injuries limited Hagen Danner to DHing.  Kirk managed to continue to mash despite the rigours of Catching, but there is some question as to his ultimate position:

Kirk has a solid approach at the plate and a smooth stroke, but he faces skepticism about his future defensive home because of his frame. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Kirk has well below-average athleticism and speed and will need to clean up his body to stick behind the plate.

And despite some inconsistency and injury issues through his first two seasons of pro ball, 2017 2nd round choice Danner showed enough to crack BA’s list at #16:

After walking just five times in 136 plate appearances (3.7 BB%) in 2017, Danner walked 20 times in 137 plate appearances (14.6 BB%) this summer, while improving his average and slugging significantly as well. He’s got strength and bat speed that should allow him to become an average hitter with average power.

 

2018 first round pick Jordan Groshans did not disappoint in his first season, and he made the transition from high school to pro ball seamlessly, finishing the season with Bluefield after starting in the GCL.  With an impressive crop of Short Stops ahead of him, Groshans still showed enough on both sides of the ball to rank 5th on BA’s list:

 Groshans has a polished hitting approach and a knack for finding the barrel. He squares up good pitching with quick bat speed and plus raw power. While Groshans has the sock in his bat to go deep from right-center over to his pull side, he mostly showed a line-drive, all-fields approach in the GCL, hammering fastballs and driving pitches on the outer half with authority to the opposite field.

The question is where Groshan’s ultimate position will be.  He has an above average arm and has good hands, but some scouts suggest he lacks the quick-twitch reactions to allow him to stay at the position.  New Hampshire hitting coach Hunter Mense, who worked with hitters at Instructs this fall, said Groshans was among the most impressive players he saw during his time there.

C Gabriel Moreno burst onto the radar this year.  After a solid but not dominant performance in the Dominican Summer League last year, the 2016 IFA from Venezuela raked in the GCL this year, earning a late season promotion with Groshans to the Appy League.  All indications are that Moreno has the tools behind the plate to stay there, although he has work to do on his blocking and receiving.  At the plate, he’ll have to refine his approach as he works his way up the ladder:

Moreno has an aggressive approach and seldom walks, but he also rarely strikes out because his hand-eye coordination and barrel control is outstanding. He has a knack for finding the sweet spot, making consistent hard contact with enough power potential to hit 15-20 home runs.

Finally, 2B/SS Leo Jimenez made in onto the back end of the list at #19.  Jimenez received the top bonus for a Panamanian player in July of 2017, and Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish singled him out as an IFA who could move in a hurry:

(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.”

BA may not agree that his long-term future lies at SS, but they like Jimenez’ all-around game:

Jimenez is a smart, instinctive player in all phases of the game, helping make up for the lack of typical quick-twitch athleticism scouts like to see from a shortstop. A fringe-average runner, Jimenez’s defensive range is a question mark but he reads the ball well off the bat, has soft hands, good body control and a knack for slowing the game down. At the plate he consistently puts together quality at-bats, staying within the strike zone and spraying line drives around the field.

Blue Jays Minor League Awards

After a season in which five Blue Jays prospects found themselves on Baseball America‘s Top 100,  and the system itself reached #3 in BA’s rankings, the Toronto farm system is on an upward trend.  Prospects like Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Ryan Borucki, and Danny Jansen have established themselves as regulars, and Reese McGuire, Jonathan Davis, Sean Reid-Foley, and Rowdy Tellez  have all had a taste of MLB life this month.

Time to dish out some awards to recognize the strong season the organization has had at the minor league level.

Top Hitter – Vladimir Guerrero Jr

A no-brainer if there ever was one.  Guerrero was beating up on Eastern League Pitching  and hitting above .400 before being sidelined for a month with a knee injury.  Promoted to AAA Buffalo upon his return off the DL, he continued to mash before tailing off (if you could call a .333 August that) to a final line of .381/.437/.636.  That line is easily the best in Blue Jays prospect history.

Guerrero’s teammates Cavan Biggio, who led the Eastern League in HRs, and Harold Ramirez, who won a batting title in a nice turnaround season, also merit mention.  Dunedin SS Kevin Smith hit .302/.258/.528 with 25 HRs at two levels, and gets a nod for that season as well.  His teammates Rodrigo Orozco and Ivan Castillo finished one-two in the FSL batting race as well.

Other honourable mentions go to a pair of Bluefield bats:  OF Cal Stevenson led the Appalachian League in runs and walks, and  was second in average (.359), and  OPS (1.012).  Close behind him was teammate C/DH Alejandro Kirk, who bashed his way onto the prospect radar with a .354/.443/.558 line.

 

Pitcher of the Year

This is a tougher decision.  Nate Pearson would’ve been a contender for this honour, but an oblique issue and a line drive off of his pitching arm limited his season to just over an inning.  He did return to action in an exhibition game with Lansing last week, and the news was encouraging:

A couple of Pitchers did stand out.

-Ryan Borucki, who overcame a rough April (caused by some snow-outs) to reach the majors;

-Sean Reid-Foley, whose 2017 fell short of expectations, but reached MLB as well, and fanned 150 batters in 129 innings this year;

-Eric Pardinho, who skipped the GCL in his first year and more than held his own as a 17 year old adjusting to pro ball and a new country in the Appy League – Pardinho’s 31.5% K rate would have led the league if he had enough innings to qualify.

-Vancouver’s Josh Winckowski, the Northwest League’s Pitcher of the Year.

-Lefty Reliever Travis Bergen, who fanned 74 hitters in 58 IP at two levels;

-Dunedin RHP Patrick Murphy, who topped 100 with his fastball late in the season.

And the award goes to……………………

Murphy.  In his first full season as a pro, he led the Florida State League in Games Started, IP, and K’s, and was second in ERA.  Murphy posted a GB rate of almost 60%, and a 10% SwStr rate.   When he wasn’t missing bats, he was inducing a lot of weak contact.  As he progresses up the ladder and has more skilled defenders behind him, expect Murphy’s numbers to get even better.  With Murphy eligible for the Rule 5 draft this fall if he’s not placed on the 40-man, he’s a safe bet to be added.

The Meteoric Rise of Dave Stieb Award

During the Alex Anthopoulos regime, this was a reasonably easy award to dole out.  The new management team is not as quick to promote prospects rapidly over a series of levels.

Vancouver’s Otto Lopez provides a template for the Blue Jays preference for up-the-middle prospects, who offer a team versatility and flexibility.  This past season, this is how many games he started at several positions:

3B – 14

2B – 13

SS – 9

LF – 5

RF – 5

CF – 3

Lopez shows great baseball IQ, a solid approach at the plate, and smart base running skills.  He’s an exciting player to watch in the field, and on the base paths.

Bluefield’s Kirk certainly came out of nowhere this year to become one of the top hitting prospects in the lower levels of the organization, and we eagerly await his ascension to full season ball next year.  He attracted plenty of late season attention, not the least of which was from Baseball America:

While Kirk acquitted himself reasonably well behind the plate for Bluefield when starting C Hagen Danner had injury issues,  there is a question as to where his long-term future lies on the diamond.  One thing is for sure:  the bat will play.

Kirk takes this award in a close vote.

Manager of the Year

This site has long been a fan of New Hampshire John Schneider, who has steadily moved up the ranks, and has come to be regarded as a player’s Manager.  An MLB job may not be far off for him.

But the job Cesar Martin did with Lansing makes him a deserving recipient of the award.  Lansing seemed to lose its top player to promotion every ten days or so, but Martin captured a playoff spot, and took a team that had a constantly changing cast of characters to an 80-60 record.  Along the way, he helped turn promising but raw players like Chavez Young and Samad Taylor into more polished prospects.

Top Draft Pick

The team’s first choice in the draft does not always turn out to be its most successful player that year, but such was the case for 12th overall pick Jordan Groshans.

Groshans may not have been ranked as highly on other teams’ draft boards, but the Blue Jays were thrilled to take him where they did, and his presence was a heavy factor in the successful signing of his teammate Adam Kloffenstein, taken in the 3rd round.

Groshans mastered the GCL, slashing .331/.390/.500 before moving up to Bluefield in August, and after a slow start, finished the regular season with a trio of three-hit games in his final ten, hitting .333 over that span.

Groshans showed his versatility over the season, appearing in 42 games both at SS and 3B.  He will be part of what promises to be a talented Opening Day roster at Lansing next year.

TOP IFA

The Blue Jays signed the top-ranked arm and bat in the 2017 International Free Agent class, and they have to be thrilled with the results.

Pardinho had a sizzling start and finish to his season – in his  next-to-last season start, he threw 7 near-perfect innings, retiring the first 19 hitters he faced in order.

SS/3B Miguel Hiraldo’s bat boomed in the DSL, earning him a late-season promotion stateside to the complex league.  It will be interesting to see where he starts and finishes next season.

 

Canada’s Newest Favourite Team – the Bluefield Blue Jays

BluefieldBlueJayscap

Move over New Hampshire Fisher Cats and your Vlad/Bo travelling Boy Band road show;  take your twenty games over .500 despite shipping out your top prospect every few weeks, Lansing Lugnuts, and have a seat.  Canada has a new favourite minor league team – the Appalachian League’s Bluefield Blue Jays.

A solid 2017 draft, a decent 2016 international free agent group, and the top IFA from 2017 have all converged on Bluefield to create a team that is laying waste to Appy League pitching, and sits atop the East Division with a 15-4 record.

We asked Zach Helton (@z_helton on Twitter) to describe the players who have stood out so far to him:

Hitting – Dom Abbadessa continuing to swing a hot bat all while playing tremendous defense in Center Field.  Thru 19 games he’s hitting .385, slugging .477, 3 doubles and 1 HR.

DJ Neal also another outfielder who continues to rake and make all faciets of the game look easy. .359 Avg. 10 extra base hits including 3 Triples, and 15 RBIs here in the early going.

Alejandro Kirk has been splitting time between Catcher and DH but has found a spot in the cleanup spot in the order. .333 Avg, among the Appalachian League leaders in RBI with 19 along with 5 Doubles and a HR.

Davis Schneider .327 Avg, has split time at 2B and 3B, great glove, great bat. 7 extra base hits so far, 4 Doubles, 1 Triple, 2 HRs, and 9 RBIs.

Luis De Los Santos Finally the SS has shined in the field making everything look smooth and effortless.  Hitting .313 as well with 4 Triples (Leads League), 4 HRs (in Top 10 in League), and 13 RBIs (Also in Top 10 of League).

Bluefield has outscored every Appy League team to this point, and their .299 team mark is second-best.  They’ve also drawn more walks and stolen more bases than any other team.

But it’s just not the bats that are worth noting, according to Helton:

Pitching – Sean Racokoski out of the pen has come in and shut the door on everyone face so far. 3 and 0, 4 Saves leading the Appalachian League in both categories. In 8 IP, only allowed 2 runs, on 7 hits with a 1.38 WHIP to go along with 10 Ks.

Eric Pardinho the face of Brazilian baseball has not disappointed so far this summer. Despite the 1 and 2 record, he has had 3 tremendous outing. 1.38 ERA, 0.54 WHIP, among the League Leaders in Strikeouts with 19, while walking only 2 in 13 IP.

Claudio Galva is another solid starter in Bluefield. 2 and 0 in 3 starts, 2.40 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 12 Ks, 4 BB, in 15 IP.

Cre Finfrock is 2 and 0 out of the bullpen. 3.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 10 Ks, 1 BB, 9 IP.

It may be early in the Appalachian League schedule, but this has been a great experience for Helton, as you might expect:

Such a fun team to watch! Only one bad loss on the year (16-3 loss to Kingsport July, 8th.) This team has the tools to not only compete for an Appalachian League title but feed the Toronto Farm for years to come.

Players toiling for Bluefield this summer are still several years away from even approaching the big leagues.  For all of them, this is their first extended taste of “under the lights,” play, and dealing with the travel that accompanies this level.  That this team is off to such as good start is a testament to the drafting and development the Blue Jays have done as an organization over the past two years.

Blue Jays Last 10 Prospect Hot Sheet

These are the top performers in the Blue Jays minor league system over the past ten days.

1.  Grffin Conine, Vancouver OF

The 2nd round pick in June’s draft needed a short period to acclimate to pro ball, and he’s been on a tear ever since.  Conine blasted 3 Home Runs over the past 10, and posted an OPS of 1.236.

The 2017 Cape Cod Summer League top prospect, Conine’s stock saw him slip out of the first round this year as he attempted to sell out for more power.  His downgrade and bloodlines were a perfect match for the Blue Jays.  Perhaps as a pro he’s now settled into a routine, and might be tapping into his projected power.

2.  Eric Pardinho, Bluefield P

The top-ranked 2017 international free agent has not disappointed in his pro debut.  Playing in the Appalachian League against players 2 and 3 years older, Pardinho tossed a gem in his third start, allowing only 1 hit over 5 scoreless innings while fanning 9.

The plan for Pardinho is to gradually increase his pitch count – he’s at 65 pitches at the moment.  Whether or not that means a promotion to Vancouver later this summer remains to be seen, but the fans of Bluefield may have a season to remember this year, and Pardinho will probably be a huge part of that.

3.  Tanner Kirwer, Vancouver OF

The Sherwood Park, AB native, a 20th round pick last year, was just beginning to hit his stride with Bluefield last July when he was hit by a pitch, ending his season.

Shipped out to Vancouver this year, Kirwer is starting to show the power/speed combo the Blue Jays saw when they selected him, posting a 1.192 OPS ans swiping 5 bases in 6 attempts.

4.  Yennsy Diaz, Dunedin P

The hard-throwing right hander has not missed a beat since being promoted to Dunedin last month, fanning 13 in 12 innings over his last 2 starts, posting a tidy 2.25 ERA.

What is becoming impressive about Diaz is how he keeps his mid 90s velocity deep into games; he’s also starting to pitch to contact more, allowing him to do so.

5.  Harold Ramirez, New Hampshire OF

Something of a forgotten man since being acquired from the Pirates in 2016, Ramirez repeated AA this year, but his bat seems to finally be on track after he slashed .394/.447/.727 with a trio of long balls over the last ten.

With that outburst, Ramirez has brought his average for the season over .300, and has helped to offset the absence of Vladimir Guerrero Jr in the Fisher Cats’ lineup.

 

Blue Jays Last Ten Hot Sheet

Ok, if you’re scoring at home, it’s been a little more than ten days since the last post.

This is not a ranking of the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects – it’s a snapshot of who the top performers have been.

1.  Ryan Noda, Lansing

Noda tops the charts for the second straight time.  This guy is having a monster June, and has posted a ridiculous 1.460 OPS over the last ten days.

Many will be suggesting that the 2017 Appy League MVP has slugged his way into the Top 10 Prospects list.  That conversation should probably wait until we see what he does at the next level, but he certainly has slugged his way into consideration.

Noda’s 59 walks and .455 OBP lead the Midwest League by a wide margin – his BB total is second highest in the minors, and his OBP trails only some guy named Vlad.

Patient almost to a fault, the knock against Noda was that he sometimes was too selective.  He’s now doing a much better job of managing the strike zone.  Midwest League Pitchers pay a heavy price for their mistakes as a result.

After a long wait, Lansing’s games finally came online this past week with milb.com’s subscription service.  Let’s celebrate with some Noda video, narrated by our good friend Jesse Goldberg-Strassler:

 

2.  T.J. Zeuch, New Hampshire

Zeuch did not give up a run over two starts totalling 15 IP over the past ten days, and is really starting to open some eyes with his ability to generate ground ball contact and work deep into games.

Zeuch’s detractors will point to his low strikeout totals as evidence that he doesn’t miss enough bats to get MLB hitters out.  With his bowling ball sinker, he pitches to contact, and this season is getting hitters to ground out about 60% of the time.

In his first of two starts over this period, Zeuch worked a career-high 8 innings, and allowed only two hits and one walk, needing less than 90 pitches.  He followed that up with 7 innings, giving up a pair of unearned runs.  Zeuch was worked into the 7th in six straight starts.

3.  Eric Pardinho, Bluefield

Two years ago, the Blue Jays sent their prize IFA signing from the season before to the Appalachian League for a challenge to begin his pro career.  They’ve done the same with Pardinho, last year’s top ranked Pitcher.

Last fall AGM Andrew Tinnish indicated that Pardinho would likely start 2018 in the Gulf Coast League.  This is a common path for IFAs, allowing them time to acclimate to playing stateside.  Pardinho impressed so much this spring that the decision was made to send the Brazilian far from home to Bluefield.  If his first start is any indication, he may not last long there.

Pardinho pitched 4 strong innings in the Jays’ season opener, fanning 5.  He gave up 2 hits, which a witness said were more like swinging bunt singles.  He did allow a stolen base and followed that up with a wild pitch, likely indicating some nerves.  Pardinho hit 97 with his fastball, and showed a curve that already ranks as a plus pitch.  As Tinnish said last fall, it’s not just that velo that makes Pardinho special – it’s his secondaries, and his feel for pitching.

He’s still a long way away, and there will be bumps on the road, but that was an incredibly encouraging start.

4.  Yeltsin Gudino, Lansing

Long regarded as a glove-first player, Gudino is having some success at the plate this year.

The Blue Jays have focussed extensively through their amateur scouting efforts on up-the-middle players, which has led to a bit of a glut of middle infielders.  Gudino started the year in a utility role with Dunedin, but was overmatched by Florida State League hitters.  Sent to Lansing in early May, he’s responded to the regular playing time he’s received since Kevin Smith’s promotion, filling Smith’s 3B/SS role.

Gudino has hit .364 for the month, with a 1.162 OPS over the last 10 days, with three straight two-hit games.

5.  Miguel Hiraldo, DSL Jays

Imagine, for a moment, being Blue Jays Director of Player Development Gil Kim.  He has a pair of blue chip SS prospects in the upper levels in Richie Urena and Bo Bichette,  another brace of top prospects at Dunedin in Kevin Smith and Logan Warmoth, a couple at Low A in Gudino and Kevin Vicuna, and now with the complex leagues getting underway, he has to find playing time for top picks Jordan Groshans and Addison Barger, as well as Hiraldo, the top-ranked bat in last year’s IFA class.

It’s likely that Kim would prefer to have Hiraldo, who scouts suggest will have to move off of SS, a full season in the DSL to play the position.  If he continues to rake as he has, Kim will have a dilemma on his hands.  Hiraldo posted a 1.080 OPS over the last ten, and with 9 hits in his last 4 games, brought his average up to .418.

It’s hard to see him staying in the DSL much longer, but playing time could be an issue.  Kim likely would agree that’s a nice problem to have.

 

Teenager Pardinho Dominant in Pro Debut

17-year-old Eric Pardinho, the top ranked international free agent Pitcher last July 2nd, made his first start as a professional last night, and it was everything Blue Jays fans had hoped for.

Hitting 97 with his fastball, Pardinho allowed a run on two hits, walked a pair and fanned five over four innings.  The other 7 outs were recorded by ground outs.  Pardinho missed a number of bats on the evening, getting 10 swinging strikes.  One of his strikeout victims was Nolan Gorman, the Cardinals 1st round pick.

The 2nd inning presented the only difficulty for Pardinho on the evening.  A one out single by RF Sanel Rosendo was followed by a Wild Pitch.  Gorman’s ground out moved Rosendo to 3rd, where he was cashed in by 2B Donivan Williams’ RBI single.  Pardinho retired the side in order in the 1st and 3rd.  He threw 65 pitches on the night, 39 for strikes.

Pardinho displays excellent athleticism with a polished delivery, and a good feel for pitching as evidenced by his ability to sequence his mix of pitches.  The Blue Jays challenged him with a first assignment to the Appalachian League, as they did with top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr two years ago.

Bluefield was unable to muster any run support for Pardinho and the relievers who followed him, as the Blue Jays went down to Johnson City 2-0, tagging him with his first pro loss.

 

 

 

 

A Look at the Bluefield Blue Jays

The Bluefield Jays of the Appalachian League start play tonight.

The Jays have been a Toronto affiliate since 2011.  Even though it’s near the bottom of the minor league ladder, playing in Bluefield is a big jump from the complex leagues.  For many players, particularly high schoolers, it’s their first extended experience with travel, and “under the lights” play.

Leading the list of prospects on the Bluefield roster is RHP Eric Pardinho, last summer’s prize IFA signing.  Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees international operations for the club, compares Pardinho favourable with Marcus Stroman, saying last fall that he’s never seen such athleticism, or feel for pitching from a sixteen-year-old.

C Hagen Danner, a 2nd round pick last year, will likely form a battery with Pardinho.  A storied youth player, Danner struggled in his debut with the GCL Jays last year, but indications are he had a tremendous spring with the bat in Extended.

Bluefield’s Outfield will likely be its strength, featuring last year’s GCL batting champ Dom Abbadessa, toolsy but raw OFs DJ Daniels and DJ Neal, and Hunter Steinmetz, who was taken in the 11th round of this year’s draft.

2017 draftees 1B Pat Morris and 3B Davis Schneider should man the corners of Bluefield’s Infield, joined by sparkplug 2B Otto Lopez.

A couple of surprises are on the Pitching roster:  former OF Josh Almonte, who began the conversion to Pitching at Instructs last fall, and has hit the high 90s with his fastball, and former 1B/3B Emilio Guerrero, who has played over 500 games in the system, and has reached as high as AA.  Guerrero’s switch has been recent, as he was still a position player in spring training.

Veteran Blue Jays staffer Dennis Holmberg returns to Manage Bluefield.  A skipper in the system since 1979, it was announced las week that Holmberg will be inducted into the Florida State League Hall of Fame in November.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Pitching Prospects

It may be only early June, but we’re rapidly reaching the half way point in the minor league baseball season.  Players have had their ups and downs, which is to be expected, because the minors are one big learning process.  No other sport has a developmental system as elaborate as baseball’s, and it’s inevitable that for some players, progress will be made in a steps forward/steps back manner.

After a spring of watching a great deal of the four full season Blue Jays affiliates (well, three of them, but I have a good set of eyes in Dunedin), here’s how the team’s Pitching prospects shape up in this observer’s eyes:

1.  Ryan Borucki, LHP

Few players breeze through the minors free of injury and/or inconsistency woes, and Borucki is no exception.  With the possible exception of RHP Patrick Murphy, there is not a grittier prospect in the organization.  Borucki has fought his way back from Tommy John, back issues, and a demotion two years ago to become the brightest light in the system from a starting perspective.

The execrable April northeastern weather wreaked havoc with Buffalo’s rotation, but Borucki has now settled in nicely, pitching into the 6th inning in 6 of his last 7 starts.  His mix of pitches has kept hitters off-balance, and when he gets ahead in the count, his change-up becomes an absolute weapon.  He’s held International League hitters to a .239 average, and lefty hitters have been limited to .172.

Given the issues with the major league rotation, that we haven’t seen Borucki in Toronto yet may be a combination of readiness (or slight lack thereof) and his turn in the rotation not matching up with the Blue Jays’.  Nonetheless, it would be a shock if he did not make his MLB debut this summer.  At the moment, he’s the most polished and most MLB-ready arm in the system.

2.  Nate Pearson, RHP

Pearson dazzled in his pro debut last year, overmatching Northwest League hitters, and becoming the Blue Jays top Pitching prospect after only 20 Innings Pitched.

Speaking of a step backward…..

Pearson’s 2018 debut was derailed for a month due to oblique issues.  The Blue Jays at first thought he would only miss his first start, but that stretched into May.  Pearson was rocked in the first inning of his first Florida State League start, and appeared to be settling down in the following frame when he took a line drive off of his Pitching arm.  Pearson suffered a non-displaced fracture of his ulna, and was shelved for at least ten weeks.

Pearson is expected to make a full recovery, and will be reevaluated this week, with a probable return later this summer.  Still, it’s a setback in the fireballer’s development.  He has the highest ceiling of any Blue Jays Pitching prospect, but his timetable has been set back at least a year.

3.  Sean Reid-Foley, RHP

No Blue Jays Pitching prospect has had as jagged a line of progression as Reid-Foley has.  Sent back to AA to begin the season to work on his command and pitch economy, SRF has been dominant, fanning 52 Eastern League hitters in 44 IP, and holding them to a .174 average.

Promoted to Buffalo in late May, he found too much of the strike zone in his AAA debut and was touched for 8 Earned Runs in just over 2 innings.  Reid-Foley’s second start was a thing of beauty, though, missing bats en route to a 6 inning/10 strikeout outing.  Just as impressive, he walked only 1.

Reid-Foley needs more seasoning, and it’s not reasonable to expect to see him this year, barring either a major breakout, or a significant meltdown in the Blue Jays’ rotation.  But after talk of converting him to a back of the bullpen power arm in years past, his future as a starter seems more than secure.  He has learned to correct the mid-game inconsistencies in his delivery that led him to lose the strike zone and drive up his pitch counts.

4.  Thomas Pannone, LHP

Pannone is the forgotten man in the Blue Jays system for some, but he is still very much a part of the organization’s plans.  Suspended prior to the season for a positive PED test, Pannone is still over a month away from returning to action.

Pannone has a mix of pitches and feel for Pitching that, combined with Borucki, would have given Buffalo a solid 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.  His debut with Buffalo probably will not happen until late July/early August.  If Borucki and Reid-Foley are still there, the addition of Pannone makes the Bisons legitimate post-season threats.

5.  Jordan Romano, RHP

Romano has been one of the most pleasant surprises from a Pitching standpoint.  Romano tied for the Florida State League in K’s last season, but there was a concern about how many bats he would miss when he made the jump to AA, particularly against left-handed hitters.

Romano has been lights out this season, and his newfound effectiveness against lefties is a big part of that.  His change-up, a pitch which takes time to develop a feel for, has helped him limit left-handed hitters to a .163 average, and when Buffalo needed a starter last week, Romano deservedly got the call before returning to New Hampshire.  His 0.87 WHIP for the Fisher Cats leads the Eastern League, and is evidence of his ability to hang out on the margins of the strike zone.  Romano is giving up more flyball contact this year, but not a lot of it has been of the hard-hit variety.

Like Reid-Foley, Romano is not quite ready for the bigs.  But after being left off of the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft, he appears to be a lock to being added to it this offseason.  On Jeff Blair’s show on The FAN590 this week, Romano admits that the development of his change has what has helped him break through this year,  and is helping him as the opposition batting order turns over a third time.

6.  T.J. Zeuch, RHP

The 2016 1st round pick made up for an injury-interrupted 2017 with a fine Arizona Fall League showing.  Sent back to Dunedin to start 2018,  Zeuch has continued to pound the bottom half of the strike zone, generating a 62% groundball rate.

Promoted to New Hampshire, he’s giving up better than a hit per inning over his first 5 starts.  Zeuch will always pitch to contact (he gave up a couple against the shift in his last start), and will need to refine his pitches in order to continue his upward progression.

Zeuch profiles as an inning-eating, mid-rotation starter (he’s failed to pitch into the 6th in only one of his 11 starts so far), who will need a solid infield defence behind him.

7.  Yennsy Diaz, RHP

Outside of Pearson, no Blue Jays Pitching prospect has boosted their stock over the past calendar year as much as the hard-throwing Diaz.

Diaz made his full-season debut for Lansing last June 10th, and he’s allowed only 55 hits in 106 innings over 20 starts since then.

Diaz’ main offering is a 96 mph fastball that he can command to both sides of the plate, and a curve that is shaping up as a decent complement to it.  He gets that velo from a nice, easy delivery.  After a 10 K performance over 5.2 innings in his first start of the season, his whiffs have tailed off somewhat.  In his last start for Lansing before his recent promotion to Dunedin, Diaz was leaving his fastball up, and hitters were not chasing it as much as they were a month ago.

The challenge for Diaz at Dunedin will be for him to continue to develop his secondaries, and refine his mechanics.

8.  Angel Perdomo, LHP

The enigmatic Perdomo teases with a mid-90s fastball with late life, but injuries and inconsistency have set his development back.

Shut down for the final two months last year, Perdomo returned to Dunedin for 2018, and the Blue Jays have continued to bring him along slowly, limiting him to around 80 pitches per start.

Still, Perdomo has been effective, fanning just over a batter per inning over his first 7 starts, and limiting FSL hitters to a .191 average.  Still, when the call has come from the higher levels for spot starters, Perdomo has not been sent to answer the call, indicating that the Blue Jays are not quite ready to take the reins off just yet.

9.  Eric Pardinho, RHP

He has yet to throw a professional pitch, but it’s hard to keep the Brazilian off this list.  The top-ranked IFA Pitcher last year, Pardinho received raves from Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, saying he’s never seen a combination of stuff, command, velocity, and feel for pitching in a 16-year-old.

Pardinho hit 97 after signing last fall, and will no doubt be the focus for a lot of eyes when he makes his debut in the GCL in a few weeks.

10. Zach Logue, LHP

A mainstay in the rotation of NWL Champs Vancouver last year, Logue continues to use a combination of location, movement, and sequencing to get hitters out.   He began the year with Lansing, and used his command and ability to pound the bottom of the strike zone to advance to Dunedin this past week.   In 10 starts for Lansing, he pitched into or beyond the 6th in 8 of them, tossing a career-high 8 innings in his last start.

Logue does not overpower hitters, but keeps them off-balance.  It’s always interesting to see how college Pitchers who dominated at Low A fare once they move up.