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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.