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.

 

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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.

 

The State of the Blue Jays Farm System

There were some ups and downs last year, but the Blue Jays farm system continues to be one on the rise.

The amateur scouting department has added some top-flight talent in the past several drafts, the international scouts continue to come up with top prospects, and the high performance staff is expanding its reach throughout the system.  Director of Player Development Gil Kim has added some top-notch minor league staff, many of whom have extensive coaching and teaching backgrounds.

On the negative side, several pitching prospects stumbled last season, a number of prospects (an MLB-leading 7 in all) tested positive for banned substances, and after several seasons of relative health among their minor league Pitchers, four underwent (or are about to undergo) season-ending throwing arm surgeries this spring.

The Draft

President/CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins have a well-known preference for scouting, drafting, and development.  With new Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders added to the mix, the Blue Jays have quickly re-stocked their system by adding college players with proven track records on day one of the MLB draft, and those whose draft stock fell, as well as toolsy-but-raw high schoolers on the following two days.

That approach has landed them likely future MLBers like T.J. Zeuch and Bo Bichette in 2016, as well as Nate Pearson, Logan Warmoth, and Riley Adams last year.  In addition, promising players like Josh Palacios, Kevin Smith, Ryan Noda, and Chavez Young (who has reached full season ball this year after being selected in the 39th round in 2016) have been added.

International Free Agents

Shapiro and Atkins were indeed fortunate to have inherited Vladimir Guerrero Jr, whose $3.9 million signing bonus may become one of the greatest bargains in baseball history since the Red Sox all but donated Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

The team was limited in the bonuses it could offer in 2016 in the wake of going over their limit after signing Guerrero, but they picked up where they left off last July 2nd, signing the top-ranked IFA Pitcher (Eric Pardinho), and the top-ranked bat (Miguel Hiraldo), landing 5 of the top 40 ranked prospects in all.  And they’re linked to Dominican SS Orelvis Martinez, who is expected to be one of the highest-paid IFAs this year.

The High Performance Department

He has not said so publicly, but having the resources to put together this group must have been a huge factor in persuading Shapiro to move to Toronto.

Long a staple in Olympic and European club sports, the HP group oversees every aspect of the team’s player’s nutrition, conditioning, and sleep.  They have added diet specialists to each minor league affiliate, and are very involved in evaluating draft candidates.  Concepts such as mindfulness have been introduced to prospects, as well as the importance of recovery.  Other clubs may be getting on board, but the Blue Jays are still very much at the forefront of this development, and may have the best-staffed department in the game.

The impact of the HP department won’t be seen overnight, but if the success in other sports are any example (Britain went from one gold at the 1996 Olympics to 2nd overall in the standings in 20 years thanks largely to a sport science-based approach to training and development), the Blue Jays may have a competitive advantage in this area, which should manifest in better developed prospects by 2020.

Coaching Staff

Today’s players don’t necessarily respond well to yesterday’s coaching.  As veteran minor leaguer Maxx Tissenbaum said in an interview with us earlier this year:

….it’s no longer good enough as an instructor to go in there and teach stuff and scream and yell.  You really have to be a manager of people, especially with the younger guys.  You can’t connect with 17-18-and 19 year olds if you’re constantly raining down, “This is what you have to do.”

With that in mind, the Blue Jays revamped their minor league staff last spring, bringing on board a number of coaches with extensive coaching and teaching experience, particularly at the college level.  Director of Minor League Operations Gil Kim has also indicated that the club has built its staff with the diversity of its players in mind:

We aim to provide these players with the best resources possible, and that very much includes the people that these players will work with and learn with.  We’re a diverse and multi-cultural game.  We have players in this organization from different backgrounds and from all over the world, so it’s an advantage to also build a diverse and multi-cultural staff as well.      

The Downside

Baseball America ranks the Blue Jays farm system 7th in the game, while MLB Pipeline has it 9th.  ESPN’s Keith Law is not as high on the organization, however, ranking the Blue Jays 17th.  In Law’s view, Guerrero and Bichette (who Law says, “plays as if his hair is one fire,”) skew the rankings, and cover up concerns like Anthony Alford’s injury history, and the struggles of the AA rotation last year – his suggestion is that once you get past the top guys, things get a little thin.

The struggling Fisher Cats starters

Sean Reid-Foley, Conner Greene, and Jon Harris all entered 2017 with high rankings.  SRF and Harris gave up a fair amount of hard contact, while Greene failed to miss many bats for a guy with his heat. Entering this season, Reid-Foley and Harris are repeating AA, while Greene was shipped to the Cardinals in the Randall Grichuk trade.

Zeuch missed much of 2017 with injury issues, but did redeem himself with a fine Arizona Fall League showing.  He will repeat Dunedin this year, at least until the northeastern weather warms up.

As a result, Pearson has become the top Pitching prospect in the organization – in fairness, he probably would be the top one in most other systems, but his ascent after a rather limited pro debut (20 IP) does point to the struggles of the other arms.

Injury Woes

The Blue Jays have quietly been at the forefront in implementing technology to help protect the arms of their young pitchers.  After 5 Blue Jays prospects underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 (not counting 1st rounder Jeff Hoffman, who had it before he was drafted), the team has had relative success in that area, with only three Pitchers requiring it since them.

2018 has not been as kind.  Eliesier Medrano fanned 26 in 23 innings for the GCL Jays last season, before being shut down at the end of July.  He had Tommy John in the off-season.  Southpaw Grayson Huffman had elbow issues all spring training, and was saying as April approached that he was headed for the operating room.  And as spring training closed, word came out that Canadian Tom Robson, who had a successful season after being converted to a relief role at New Hampshire, has torn his UCL again, and will need a second Tommy John.

Justin Maese became a Pitching prospect on the rise after a standout 2016 season, but struggled with his command at Lansing last year, and spent time on the DL.  Shortly afer spring training began, he had surgery to correct a shoulder impingement, and is likely done for the year.

Banned Substances

7 prospects connected with the Blue Jays Dominican complex tested positive for PEDs in 2017.  In March, we learned that LHP Thomas Pannone, acquired in the Joe Smith deal with Cleveland, had a positive test as well.  Say what you will about the judgement (or lack thereof) of their players, this does not reflect well on the Blue Jays as an organization.  The players may have taken the substances, whether they were aware of what was in them or not, but it’s up to the team to provide the education to make informed choices.

The Outlook

In Guerrero and Bichette, the Blue Jays have two of the top 10 prospects in the game.  Toss in Alford and Pearson, and you have 4 of the top 100.  Danny Jansen, Richie Urena, and Ryan Borucki all appear to be destined to join the team at some point this season.  Warmoth and Pearson are on the way, with Pardinho behind them, and a decent draft pick (12th overall) awaiting the team this June.

The goal of the Blue Jays front office is to build a farm system that continually produces waves of prospects to challenge and supplement the 25-man roster.  Shapiro told Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair that it was a point of pride that the team did not sign a minor league free agent position player this off-season, such was the depth in the organization, and that overall, he’s pleased with the direction the system is headed, but there’s room for improvement:

 

“We’ve made progress, but we need to have waves of talent. Not just good talent, but impact talent. We need to not just talk about [Vladimir Guerrero Jr.] and Bo Bichette, but we need to be able to reel off [several] names. [It’s] a really risky proposition [to] pin your hopes on two guys.”

The Blue Jays have pursued a different drafting and development philosophy than they did under former GM Alex Anthopoulos, but for those who are critical of AA, keep in mind that Guerrero, Alford, Borucki, Jansen, and Urena were all signed during his tenure.  With those players are on the brink of MLB jobs, and a growing supply of players behind them, strong minor league instructors, and a staff of sport scientists devoted to their training and development, the Blue Jays are poised to reap the benefits of a strong farm system.

Where Will the Top Prospects Play?

Cooley
Cooley Law School Stadium – Home of the Lugnuts

Thanks to the excellent resources that are available (beyond this one, of course), many Blue Jays fans are now keeping closer tabs on the team’s minor league players.

For someone who loves the minors just as much as the majors, that’s great.

There are many ways to keep track of your favourite minor league prospects.  At milb.com, minor league baseball’s website, you can check out box scores as games progress (something Mark Shapiro admits he does), or listen to live play-by-play.  Most of Buffalo and New Hampshire’s games are streamed live (subscription required), and word from Lansing’s GM is that select Lugnuts home games will be streamed as well.  Of course, depending on where you are, you can make the drive to Lansing or Buffalo to catch games lives.  I would heartily recommend a week in Vancouver to see the sights and catch a few C’s games – there’s a Sky Train station (Vancouver’s version of the TTC) a fifteen minute walk away from Nat Bailey Stadium.

There are no guarantees, but here’s where the Top 30 Blue Jays prospects (according to MLB.com) will likely begin the season:

 

1.  Vladimir Guerrero Jr

2.  Bo Bichette

Typically, the Blue Jays prefer to have their players spend a full season at one level.  Whether that happens over one season or two halves depends on the player, but that’s the usual trend.

Having said that, the pair of sluggers, who each spent half a season at Low A Lansing, and the other half at High A Dunedin, have little left to prove in A ball.  There are still wrinkles in their respective games to work out on the defensive side of the ball, but it would be highly unlikely you will see them in April anywhere other than the Eastern League.

Is it possible we see one or both in the majors by the end of the season?  Shapiro himself said last fall that if Vladdy continued to hit, and if the team was in need of a bat in the midst of a pennant race this summer, we could see him in Toronto, but that seems a tall (but not necessarily impossible) order.

Both players should spend the bulk of the season in New Hampshire, with late-season promotions to Buffalo a possibility.  Much will depend on playoff races – while minor league playoffs don’t mean a lot in the long run, teams do like to have their top players in that kind of environment for the experience.

3.  Anthony Alford

At the moment, Alford is putting forth a serious effort to head north with the Blue Jays when training camp breaks.

Failing that, he will make the trip down the QEW to Buffalo.  When an opening comes up in Toronto, Alford will be gone.  He’s that close to being MLB-ready.

4.  Nate Pearson

The 2nd of the Blue Jays two first round picks last June toyed with Northwest League hitters last summer.  His pitches and innings were limited, but he didn’t allow a runner past 2nd until his last start of the regular season, and fanned 10 in a crucial playoff start.  With a fastball that sits 95-97 and can top 100, Pearson is likely headed to Dunedin to start the season. 2016 1st rounder T.J. Zeuch followed that skip-Lansing path last year.

The Florida State League, unfortunately, is a bit of a black hole as far as streaming video is concerned.  The Pirates Bradenton affiliate had their home games online last year, giving us a couple of games’ worth of Blue Jays prospects.

5.  Logan Warmoth

With Kevin Smith behind him and in need of playing every day, Warmoth likely will skip Lansing in favour of Dunedin as well.  And that’s a shame for those of us who caught a few of his games last year.

Warmoth does not have one overwhelming tool, but he has to be seen to be appreciated.  He does a lot of things very well, and his bat looks legit.  He squared up a lot of pitches in Vancouver last summer.

6.  Danny Jansen

Perhaps no Blue Jays prospect improved their status in 2017 as much as the Wisconsin native.  New eyewear helped Jansen pick up the spin on pitches better, and he hit his way from Dunedin to New Hampshire to Buffalo by season’s end.

Jansen has an outside shot at backing up Russ Martin, particularly if the Blue Jays plan on cutting back on Martin’s workload.  Still, he probably could benefit by playing every day – injuries have limited his development somewhat.  Prior to last year, Jansen’s highest total of games caught in a season was 57.

By the way, credit has to go to the Blue Jays scouting director Blake Parker and GM Alex Anthopoulos for drafting Jansen in 2013.  The Blue Jays of that era made a practice of looking for players in non-traditional markets, or players whose stock had fallen due to injury or college commitments.  Jansen was a potential top-three rounds pick in his senior season of high school, but a broken wrist, coupled with the short Wisconsin prep season, kept most teams from getting a good look at him.  One team – Toronto – prevailed, and five years later, they have a player on the cusp of the bigs.

7.  Eric Pardinho

Those hoping to see last year’s top-ranked international free agent Pitcher will have to buy a plane ticket to Florida to watch the 16-year-old Brazilian sensation in the outdoor sauna that is the Gulf Coast League (luckily, the games are free).

Pardinho faces an adjustment to the competition and culture that is stateside play, and Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish (who oversees international ops for the team) suggested that Pardinho will spend the summer in Dunedin.

8.  Ryan Borucki

Two years ago next month, Borucki was getting hit hard and often in the Florida State League.  A demotion to Lansing and some mechanical adjustments helped to turn him into a guy who should make his MLB debut sometime this year.

The owner of the best change-up this side of Marco Estrada, Borucki will start the season in Buffalo.  His ascent to the bigs will be dictated by the health and consistency of the big league rotation.  Borucki ranks high for his pitchability and grit; it may take some time for him to stick, but he should be a solid mid-rotation Pitcher for some time.

9.  T.J. Zeuch

After a 2017 season with Dunedin that was interrupted by injury, Zeuch restored his growing reputation with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League, getting the start in the Championship game.

If there are any lingering injury concerns, Zeuch might stay in Dunedin until May, but he should be joining New Hampshire early in the season.

10. Sean Reid-Foley

The numbers don’t show it, but SRF pitched well at AA for the last half of the season.  He’s been roughed up a bit by catching too much of the strike zone in a couple of spring training appearances for the Blue Jays so far.

Reid-Foley may repeat New Hampshire to start the season, depending on rotation space in Buffalo, but he should reach AAA this season.

11. Richie Urena

Urena acquitted himself well in 20 games with the big team in September.  With the acquisition of Aledmys Diaz, Urena will begin the season in Buffalo.

12.  Miguel Hiraldo

One of the top bats in last year’s IFA class, Tinnish indicated that Hiraldo will most likely be in the lineup of the GCL Jays when their season opens in June.

13.  Samad Taylor

Taylor, along with LHP Thomas Pannone, was acquired from Cleveland in the Joe Smith deal.  Taylor fit in nicely with the Northwest League champs Vancouver Canadians after 2B Cullen Large broke his hand trying to break up a double play.

With Large healthy, Taylor may bypass Lansing and head to Dunedin this year.

14.  Reese McGuire

A knee injury cost McGuire much of his 2017 campaign, but he is still viewed as a skilled receiver, and his bat showed signs of promise.

With Jansen likely ahead of him on the depth charts, McGuire may return to New Hampshire.  With his defensive skill set, he also could be considered to have an outside shot as Martin’s back up.

15.  Rowdy Tellez

2017 was a bit of a lost year for Tellez.  He entered the season as a candidate to make his MLB debut if Justin Smoak struggled.

He hit a pair of Homers for Buffalo, then hit only 4 the rest of the year.  Tellez had some off-field issues, including his Mom’s battle with cancer (he left camp this week to be with her).

Tellez scuffled all season long at the plate.  Tellez usually works the count and sees a lot of pitches, but he rarely looked comfortable last year, and did not have the volume of quality ABs he usually has.

Tellez will return to Buffalo this year.

16. Riley Adams

One of the best athletes in an organization stocked with them,  Adams was the leader of the title-winning Vancouver squad after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft.

A bat-first player, Adams won some raves for his pitch calling and handling of Pitchers.  He does have a plus arm and good pop time, but his framing and blocking skills still need developing.

Adams will head to Lansing to begin 2018.

17.  Carlos Ramirez

The converted OF was lights out in relief at two levels before making his MLB debut last September.  Ramirez was not scored upon until his 8th appearance, putting him solidly in the mix for a bullpen job this spring.

If Ramirez doesn’t earn a spot on the 25-man, he’ll head to Buffalo.  Ramirez will no doubt become familiar with landmarks like the Burlington Skyway Bridge, and that rusting old ship near St Catharines this summer as he makes the trip up the QEW multiple times.

18. Ryan Noda

Noda’s draft stock dipped after a mediocre college season last year, but he tore a swath through Appalachian League pitching in 2017, leading the league in Average, OBP, and Slugging.

Noda was sent to the Appy because of the presence of Kacy Clemens, taken several rounds ahead of him.  The pair should share time at 1B and DH at Lansing this year – Noda can play the corner OF spots as well.

19.  Kevin Smith

Like Noda, Smith was sent to Bluefield last summer because Warmoth was ahead of him.

Smith has excellent defensive skills, and his bat proved adequate last year.  Like most players in his position, Smith needs to play every day, and will do so at Lansing this year.

20.  Hagen Danner

Danner was a storied prep player as both a Catcher and a Pitcher, and was the Blue Jays 2nd round pick in June.

The Blue Jays had him focus on Catching last year, and he struggled at the bat in the GCL as he adjusted to pro pitching.

Danner’s is an interesting situation.  His development would be accelerated by playing every day, but it’s uncertain as to whether he’s ready for that role.  As a result, he could open the season in Lansing come April, or stay in Florida for Extended Spring Training, and head to Vancouver once their season opens in June. The latter option seems the most likely.

21.  McGregory Contreras

A $10K IFA in 2015, Contreras has defied the odds by reaching the Appy League, where he was ranked the 19th best prospect by Baseball America.

Contreras has what one Appy Manager called, “sneaky power,” which has yet to translate into game action, but his BP sessions suggest future pop.

A toolsy OF who has some pitch recognition issues, Contreras probably showed enough last year to skip Vancouver in favour of Lansing this year.

22. Leonardo Jimenez

Assistant GM Tinnish heaped praise on the Panamanian in a conversation last fall:

  A really, really great kid…(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 our 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 likely starts in the GCL, but could move quickly.

23.  Kevin Vicuna

A prized 2014 IFA, the skinny (6’/140) Vicuna might have to run around in the shower in order to get wet, but he put up decent numbers at Vancouver last year, earning a late season promotion to Lansing.

It may be hard to find playing time for Vicuna, but he’s a useful middle infielder.  A return to Lansing is likely.

24.  Maximo Castillo

Castillo more than held his own as an 18-year-old in under the lights play in the Appy League last year.

He has a three-pitch mix that fits a starter’s profile, but fastball command has been an issue.  Castillo may be held back in Extended, but probably reaches Lansing by May.

25.  Justin Maese, RHP

Shoulder issues caused Maese’s prospect stock to slip after a breakout 2016.  If he’s healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t pitch his way back into the prospect picture.

Maese’s calling card is a fastball with heavy sink that tends to produce a lot of groundball outs.  Despite his off-year in 2017, he’s still very much in the Blue Jays long-range plans.

Dunedin will likely be his destination once spring training ends.

26.  Thomas Pannone, LHP

Acquired in the Smith deal from Cleveland, Pannone does not overpower, but the dude just knows how to pitch.  He commands all three of his pitches, and has some deception to his delivery.

He impressed in New Hampshire last year, and will head to Buffalo to start this year.  Like Borucki, he may make his MLB debut at some point this season.

27.  Jordan Romano, RHP

A personal favourite, I’ve followed Romano and kept in touch with him since his return from Tommy John surgery in 2015.

The GTA native has struck out exactly a batter per inning since making his return in May of 2016.  He has a fastball/slider combo that’s capable of missing bats, and he can be very tough on right-handed hitters.  The missing piece has been said to be his change-up.  If he can develop it, his future as a starter may be secured.  If not, Romano could become an effective bullpen arm.

Romano will be in a starter’s role in New Hampshire this year.

28.  Jonathan Davis OF

Davis is a versatile, get on base speedster who can play all three OF positions.

He’ll begin the season in Buffalo.  With the depth of  prospects in the system, he may have trouble getting playing time at the major league level, but he could fill an important role as a versatile fourth Outfielder for some team.

29.  Max Pentecost, C/1B/DH

The 2014 1st rounder has had a lengthy injury history, but has shown MLB-level tools when he’s been in the lineup.

Shoulder concerns kept him from being placed on the 40-man last fall, and it was a mild surprise that no team took a flyer on him in the Rule 5.

Pentecost’s development has been impacted by the time he’s missed, but a stretch of good health could see him in Toronto before we know it.  He should begin 2018 in New Hampshire, splitting time between three spots in the lineup.

30.  Jon Harris, RHP

Harris’ stock tumbled last year when Eastern League hitters squared him up as he caught too much of the strike zone on a regular basis.

The 2015 1st rounder  may not have one go-to pitch, but Harris commands all four of his pitches, gets a good downward plane on his fastball, and has proven his durability (76 starts over the past 3 seasons).

Like Reid-Foley, the depth of starters at the top of the system may see Harris repeat New Hampshire to start the season.

 

Who’s the Next Blue Jays Top 100 Prospect?

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Logan Warmoth – Clutchlings Photo

After some lean years in terms of elite prospects, these are heady times for Blue Jays fans.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr (4th), Bo Bichette (19th), and Anthony Alford (58th) cracked Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 list earlier today , and just a few hours ago, Fangraphs released their Top 100,  with Guerrero 3rd, Bichette 9th, Alford 36th, Danny Jansen 71st, and Nate Pearson 76th.

To be honest, this space has long been a booster of Jansen’s, and while we anointed him the Blue Jays Catcher of the Future 8 months ago, his inclusion was a bit of a surprise.  Fangraphs is all in, especially with his hit tool:

We’re buying that Jansen’s 2017, which included more walks than strikeouts across three levels of the minors, is a sign of real improvement, perhaps due to the new prescription frames he got before the season.

Earlier this month, Baseball America released what is regarded by many as the standard-bearer of prospect lists.  Guerrero was ranked 3rd, Bichette 8th, Alford 60th, and Pearson came in at 91.   MLB Pipeline had Guerrero 3rd as well, with Bichette 14th,  and Alford 47th.

By this time next year, it’s a safe bet that Bichette and Guerrero will occupy even loftier positions.  Alford will most likely graduate from the list, and Pearson will no doubt continue his ascent.  Who are the Blue Jays prospects most likely to break through can crack the Top 100, representing the next wave of talent in the system?

For your consideration, here are a pair of players – kind of a high/low scenario:

Eric Pardinho

It seems folly to get so excited about a 17-year-old (Pardinho’s birthday was shortly after New Year’s Day), and it may take a year or so before he cracks any Top 100 lists, but there is no doubt that the young Brazilian is headed there.

“A combination of athleticism, great delivery, advanced stuff and feel for pitching,” is how Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish described Pardinho in November.   “I’ve never seen a 16 year old kid with that combination of skills.”

Pardinho hit 94 as a 15 year old in a WBC Qualifier a year and a half ago, and according to Tinnish hit 97 in short outings in the Dominican prospects league this summer.  But it’s just not that fastball – it’s his mechanics, the ability to command that fastball, and complement it with secondaries and pitchability.

There is every reason to believe that Pardinho will begin his career stateside this summer, most likely starting in the GCL.  And while one should always be cautious with young International Free Agents, the Blue Jays have had a good track record with them – namely Franklin Barreto, Richie Urena, Roberto Osuna, and some guy named Vladdy Jr.

 

Logan Warmoth

While Pardinho may not make any Top 100 lists until 2020, there’s a good chance Warmoth may work his way into the back end of some a year from now.

You might walk away from watching one game’s worth of the 2017 1st rounder’s work and wonder what the fuss is.  Taking in a larger sample might change your mind.  According to Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders, the Blue Jays clearly got their man:

He’s a player we’ve scouted for a long time….he wasn’t a prospect out of High School, but he steadily improved at North Carolina, and that really showed this year.  He’s very steady and a well-rounded player, with a chance to stay at SS and hit for power.  His make up is off the charts, and he has the intangibles to be a top of the lineup hitter.

Warmoth does not have one overwhelming tool  – BA called him a “bucket full of 50-grade tools,” in naming him the Blue Jays 8th overall prospect this fall, but he makes consistently hard contact and has a good approach at the plate.  In the field, scouts are split as to whether he sticks at SS or moves across to 2B, but there was plenty of promise in his footwork, arm, and reactions to ground balls to suggest he can stay there.

While none of this may scream Top 100 material, there’s plenty to make one believer that Warmoth will be a productive MLBer one day.  He had to fight a tendency to be a little pull happy last year, but otherwise there are no holes in his game.  His power will likely continue to develop, and he should make huge strides this year, most likely with Dunedin.

 

BA Releases Blue Jays Top 10

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BA/Paul Gierhart Photo

Baseball America published their Top 10 Blue Jays prospects today, and the results are similar to many other versions, including FBJ’s.

There were some minor variations – BA included Lourdes Gurriel and Danny Jansen, but left Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, and T.J. Zeuch off of their Top 10.

The detailed reports are behind BA’s paywall, and while I won’t list them all here, I will feature some highlights:

On Vlad Jr (no surprise at #1):

Guerrero is a prodigious offensive talent, with the combination of hitting ability, plate discipline and power in the mold of Manny Ramirez.

Bo Bichette (#2):

Bichette has the potential to be one of the most talented offensive players in baseball. Double-A New Hampshire is his next step.

Bichette and Guerrero, according to BA, form the best 1-2 prospect punch in all of baseball.  While we can argue that Anthony Alford may have an all-around higher ceiling, it’s hard to quibble with that.

After viewing Big Nate Pearson from the Vancouver pressbox, I can vouch for this assessment:

Pearson gives hitters an uncomfortable at-bat. He attacks them with downhill angle from his 6-foot-6 frame and pitches with a lively, heavy fastball that parked at 92-94 mph and touched 98 regularly in his college starts.

Having seen a fair amount (for a guy based east of Manitoba) of #8 Logan Warmoth, this is an apt description:

Warmoth is a bucket full of 50-grade tools on the 20-80 scouting scale, with no one true calling card but a high overall baseball IQ and no glaring holes either.

 

We’ll run a summary of BA’s accompanying Blue Jays Top 10 chat.

This is a decent list, and having seen a fair amount both live and online of all of the members of this group outside of Eric Pardinho (#6), I think the reports are accurate. It will be interesting when we eventually get a glimpse of the Brazilian youngster.  Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish could not say enough about him when we spoke a few weeks ago.

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:

 

 

Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects – #10 Eric Pardinho

This is the first in a series of ten articles about the Blue Jays top minor league prospects.  I try to take a fairly deep dive with these posts, so I thought I would try posting them individually.

Projection is the name of the game when you are talking about minor leaguers.  These are always written with that in mind.  Since minor league stats can be very misleading (at least without some context), my goal is to provide insights that are difficult to find anywhere else.

I called up the Brazil-Pakistan World Baseball Classic online last fall in order to get a first-hand look at Bo Bichette, who hit over .400 for the Gulf Coast Blue Jays after being drafted in the 2nd round in June, and was playing for Brazil.  Bichette was as advertised – a kid with a funky load that translated into lethal bat speed.  His breakout 2017 was no surprise.

Pakistan, in its first taste of big-stage international play, was predictably overmatched against Brazil.  With no MLB-affilated players in their lineup, they were likely just happy to be there.  What really caught my eye, however, was a 15 year old RHP Brazil brought into the game in relief named Eric Pardinho, who the Blue Jays signed for a $1.5 million bonus on July 2nd.  He hit 95 that inning, and was dominant (he did give up a hit on a 1-2 cement mixer breaking ball) against the hitters he faced, most of whom were about twice his age.

Pardinho hails from the Sao Paolo region of Brazil, which has a fairly rich baseball heritage thanks to an influx of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s (Pardinho’s grandparents on his mother’s side.  When he was 12, Pardinho trained at Brazil’s famous CT Yakult Academy, which specializes in “traditional Japanese training methods.”  Whatever those methods might be, they’ve worked.  Pardinho has a smooth, low-effort delivery with a clean arm action, and while that’s no guarantee for a young arm that already dials it up to 94, it bodes well for the future.   The ball seems to explode from his hand from those polished mechanics.  Baseball America compiled video of his delivery:

Pardinho was the 14th-ranked international prospect by BA, and the top-ranked pitcher.  His best secondary offering is said to be his curve.  His overall command already grades at 50, and will likely improve under the Blue Jays’ tutelage.

Blue Jays Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees international scouting, told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi in August that Pardinho is a rare find:

“I’d never seen a kid at this stage with this kind of fastball command and overall fastball effectiveness……Not only does he have velocity, but he does it easy, he repeats his delivery and he throws strikes.”

Why rank a player who has yet to play in a pro game a Top 10 prospect?  The velocity and location helps, as does the delivery.  It suggests there’s room for further velo, and the athleticism he displays holds hope for further development of his secondaries.  Even though he’s not the biggest of kids (listed at first at 5’10”, the reports now mostly seem to say 5’8″, so let’s call him 5’9″).  He may not turn out to be a Pedro Martinez, Tim Lincecum, or Marcus Stroman, but that’s enough of a sample size to make you think his size will not be an issue.  That downward, eye-changing plane that tall pitchers get on their pitches makes them the preferred recruit among most MLB teams, but there’s a lot to be said for movement, location, and general pitchability, which Pardinho has in abundance.  He will only improve in his first few pro seasons.

Pardinho should make his debut in the Gulf Coast League next summer.