Blue Jays Place Six on Rookie Ball Top Prospects Lists

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

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

-from the MWL Top 20 report:

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

-the FSL Top 20:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(He’s) bilingual, great make up, ultra young in the class – a late May birthday – he really has lead-off or #2 hole potential….if you asked me right now who has a chance to play SS in your system, Leo would be at the top of that list.  The way the body moves, the way the arm works, the instincts, he’s a really good, future upside defender.”

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

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

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Blue Jays Minor League Awards

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

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

Top Hitter – Vladimir Guerrero Jr

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

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

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

 

Pitcher of the Year

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

A couple of Pitchers did stand out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the award goes to……………………

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

The Meteoric Rise of Dave Stieb Award

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

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

3B – 14

2B – 13

SS – 9

LF – 5

RF – 5

CF – 3

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

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

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

Kirk takes this award in a close vote.

Manager of the Year

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

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

Top Draft Pick

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

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

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

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

TOP IFA

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

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

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

 

Blue Jays Last 10 Prospect Hot Sheet

Hey, folks – time to see who the hottest 5 players were in the Blue Jays farm system over the past week and a half.  This does not necessarily replace the usual Top 10 rankings.

1.  Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Buffalo

Once an enigma wrapped in a riddle shrouded in mystery, Reid-Foley has had a serious coming out party in 2018, and continued his helium ways with two gems over the past week, and was named International League Pitcher of the Week.

On July 17th, SRF allowed one run and as many hits over 6 innings, fanning 5, and followed that up with six scoreless frames on the 22nd, allowing only a pair of hits while striking out 7.  Just as impressive was his (for him) low walk total – 3 – over those two starts.

There are many that suggest that if/when JA Happ is dealt, Reid-Foley will step right into his place on the 40-man and in the rotation.

Not so fast, we say.  Pitch economy still is an issue for Reid-Foley, who has pitched into the 7th inning only 4 times over 20 starts this year.  Yes, you say that pitch counts probably are a factor, and they most assuredly are, and we think that since Thomas Pannone is already on the 40, he may be a suitable replacement for Happ at least in the short term, if the team deems him ready after his return from a PED suspension.  Reid-Foley doesn’t have to be put on the 40 until after the season to avoid the Rule 5, and with this team all but out of a playoff race, it wouldn’t hurt to keep SRF at AAA for the rest of the season.

2.  Jordan Groshans 3B/SS, GCL Jays

The 1st round pick has not disappointed in his pro debut, posting a line of .500/.542/.800 over his last ten, boosting him to an impressive .370/.442/.580 so far in the Gulf Coast League.

With Vancouver and Bluefield both looming as playoff contenders later this summer, it’s highly likely that Groshans will be joining one of those teams.  We look forward to speaking to Scouting Director Steve Sanders about him later this week.

3.  Jordan Romano, RHP, New Hampshire

Romano was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after tossing a pair of gems for the Fisher Cats.

The Markham, ON native was the Eastern Division Starter at the EL All Star game, after a 9-0, 2.04 first half.  He’s hit a bit of a wall since then, but after giving up only two Earned Runs over his last two starts over 14.2 IP, he may have found a higher gear.

His second start of the week, facing the Senators’ Harrisburg affiliate, was a thing of beauty.  Romano tossed a career-high 8 innings, giving up no runs, three hits, and fanning a season-high 8.  He retired the final 12 hitters he faced.

Left off the 40 man last fall, the Blue Jays will have a decision to make with Romano this November.  Some teams may be interested in taking a chance on him and converting him to relief if he is exposed to the Rule 5.

4.  Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Buffalo

Once the heir-apparent to the 1B job in Toronto, Tellez’ off and on field difficulties last year led to a disappointing season, and he fell off the prospect radar.

A .370/.400/.889 week and a half, with 4 HRs may not have restored all of Tellez’ former prospect lustre, but surely it’s a step in the right direction.  A current line of .260/.335/.432 still is short of expectations set at the lower levels of this system.

5.  Rodrigo Orozco, OF, Dunedin

He may have been overshadowed by more toolsier players in his six years in the Blue Jays system, but all the Panamanian (.281 career average, .371 OBP)  has done is hit and get on base.

With 10 hits over his past 5 games, including a 4-4 night on July 21st, Orozco slashed .500/.552/.654 over his last 10 games.  With that outburst, Orozco has pushed his average on the season to .303, and has added 14 stolen bases.

Blue Jays Draft Recap

Sorry for being a bit tardy with this review, dear readers.  Life comes at you fast sometimes, and last week was Formula One-like.

Only the hardiest of prospect hunters could really offer an evaluation of the Blue Jays picks on Days Two and Three.  It’s during that time that teams look to scoop up players who may have slipped through the draft cracks; it’s also time that they also look to building rosters at their short season affiliates for the Day One guys to play with.  At the same time, as Director of Amateur Scouting Steve Sanders told us last year, every player they select had someone who believed in them enough to convince the team to draft them.  That’s how you come up with a Kevin Pillar in the 32nd round, a Danny Barnes in the 35th, and Chavez Young in the 39th.

A quick review of several sources suggests that the Blue Jays had a decent draft, particularly on the first day.  Selecting Texas prep teammates Jordan Groshans and Adam Kloffenstein may have been a bit of a coup, but there were other picks that observers centered out.  Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline feels that Florida HS SS Addison Barger, taken in the 6th round, ” has a strong arm and the potential for at least average tools across the board.” Carlos Collazo of Baseball America is even more sold on Barger’s ceiling, saying he “has solid tools across the board, impressive bat speed and a high baseball IQ.”

Over at Fangraphs, Eric Longehagen and Kylie McDaniel were enthused about 8th rounder Joey Murray, he of the deceptive delivery and high K totals, predicting that he, “could turn into a Yusmeiro Petit type who makes fringe stuff work due to an invisiball.”

Our good friend Jeff Ellis, who probably knows as much about the draft pool as any scouting director, listed a couple of names that jumped out at him, starting with Murray’s Kent State teammate, RHP Austin Havekost.  Ellis says that Havekost is, “a player I had seen a bunch, good velocity and size.”  At 6’4″/220, he throws in the low 90s and can hit 95, and seems to profile as a back end of the bullpen guy.  Havekost also has what BA calls a “sharp” split-change and a slider, and that, “He pounds the strike zone with both offspeed offerings and pitches with above-average control.”

There are many stories about Wake Forest 3B John Aiello, who the Blue Jays took in the 14th round.  A legendary high school slugger, Aiello hit 20 HR as a sophomore, but had a poor draft year season.  That sounds like a similar scenario to Ryan Noda, who was taken in the 15th round last year, and after being named the Appy League MVP last year, has started to heat up for Lansing.  As Ellis puts it, Aiello has, “Big power, but horrible pitch recognition.”

Toronto selected a number of middle infielders, and Ellis singled out 20th round pick Vinnie Capra from Richmond, who he says, “is undersized and from a small school, but was really good back to back years in Atlantic 10, type of guy who makes a ton of sense as a day 3 gamble. There are reasons he is there, but also are reasons he could find success.”

Finally, Ellis mentioned 30th round pick Cobi Johnson from Florida State, son of the Blue Jays bullpen coach and longtime minor league instructor.  Ellis says of Johnson:

I thought he would be drafted out of high school as a first rounder. Turns 23 this year, struggled in college but did miss bats the last two years. Maybe hope he can straightened out and turn into a reliever.

There are likely several other names that stood out to others, but these are several intriguing players who are worth a follow.  We won’t know, of course, how successful this draft will be for several years, and we don’t know how many of these players will reach MLB, but it will probably only be a handful.  The fun is in watching their development, and seeing how far they can go.  The draft is more than an educated guess, but not a lot more.  Teams can follow players for several years, get to know them, and analyze the growing mountain of data that’s coming from college programs, but ultimately no one can predict a player’s maturity, and their ability to overcome adversity.  Many wash out at short season, but if a player reaches full season ball and manages to stick around for at least a season there, you have to consider that a small victory for the prospect, and a small success for the team.

Blue Jays Select a Pair of Bats in MLB Draft

The Blue Jays, who have shown a preference for middle infielders and pitchers with their top picks in the most recent drafts, added to their growing stable of Short Stops by selecting Texas HS slugger Jordan Groshans with their first pick, 12th overall.

Most mock drafts had the bat-first Groshans in the 30s, but the Blue Jays valued his offensive skills.  “We just feel Jordan has a lot of the attributes we look for both in his swing, his combination of contact, of power, plate discipline,” Amateur Scouting Director Steve Sanders told Sportsnet. “He’s got a great feel and approach in the box, he’s able to drive the ball to all fields and we’re confident that his offensive ability will certainly transfer with wood at the next level.”

Toronto has been following Groshans extensively last summer on the showcase circuit, and continued to keep close tabs on him this spring.  Reports suggest that he will moved to 3B eventually, but his bat will play.  Baseball America‘s draft report:

A 6-foot-4, 190-pound shortstop, Groshans has quick bat speed and plus raw power and he showed the ability to square up elite pitching on the summer showcase circuit in 2017. He hit 90-plus mph velocity hard all over the field in multiple events, including a home run against a 95-mph fastball from New York righthander Lineras Torres Jr. in the Perfect Game All-American Classic. Over the summer, Groshans used a big leg kick to get start his load and when he was on time it didn’t hinder him, instead helping him generate more power. But there were instances where Groshans would get out on his front side and fly open early, leaving some scouts to question whether the big leg kick would create more timing issues as he advanced against better pitching. This spring, Groshans has quieted the leg kick and improved his balance and hand path to the ball, attempting to lift the ball less frequently and has been hitting lasers the entire season. He’s also added around 10 pounds of muscle while maintaining his lean body. Groshans has an above-average arm and he’s shown good defensive actions at a number of infield positions, though most scouts believe he will eventually move to third base with a chance to be an above-average defender as he continues to fill out his frame.

With a commitment to join his brother at Kansas, there is some risk to this pick, but along with tools and makeup, the Blue Jays have heavily scouted his signability.  The slot value for the 12th pick is $4.2 million, or almost half of the Blue Jays’ assigned value for the first ten rounds.  The Blue Jays will likely sign lower picks to smaller bonuses to elevate what they offer Groshans, who won’t improve his draft position by going to college.

In short, expect Groshans to sign well in advance of the July 15th deadline, but he will be one of the last players to affix his name to a contract.  Groshans will begin his pro career in the Gulf Coast League, and if a position switch is in the offing he may spend some time there.  Vancouver may be a late-season destination.

 

Duke OF Griffin Conine was originally thought of as a first round pick, but an inconsistent spring caused his stock to drop.  The Blue Jays covet players in that type of situation, and his blood lines only help his cause in the eyes of the organization.  The consensus seems to be that Conine sold out and went for more power as he came under more intense scrutiny from scouts this year.  As a pro, there’s a good chance that the Cape Cod League’s 2017 Top Prospect rediscovers his stroke.

2080baseball.com’s report on the son of Mr Marlin:

Athletic right fielder with plus bat and power potential; good, sound approach at the plate from a slight open stance; good balance; plus bat speed with quick hands and quick wrists; plus barrel control, barrels up balls and projects as a plus hitter; present strength; loft and leverage to all fields, projects to plus power; below-average run; did not produce home-to-first run time; above-average arm strength (55) with good carry; average defensive actions; tools to be above-average major league regular contributor.

Conine could prove to be a steal.  Like Groshans, he may be one of the last draftees to sign, but expect him to head northwest to patrol RF for the Vancouver Canadians shortly after he does.  C’s fans should be excited – Conine may be the best bat to join the team since they became a Blue Jays affiliate.