As the minor league season approaches its conclusion, we turn our thoughts to the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school of sorts for an organization’s top prospects.
In the past, the Blue Jays have used the AFL experience to give their top prospects a taste of competition against elite talent, or to give them added reps missed due to injury.
Toronto will send six prospects to play for the Surprise Saguaros, who will be managed by former Blue Jays minor league Manager Stubby Clapp, who’s now in the Cardinals organization. New Hampshire Position Coach Andy Fermin will join Clapp’s staff.
The Blue Jays will be sending six players – they’re allowed to send any AAA or AA player, as well as one from High A. Projecting the first three players is fairly easy:
1. Vlad Jr
While fans are clamoring for Guerrero’s promotion to the big club when MLB rosters expand on September 1st, the Blue Jays are still building him up to play a full season (and holding off on his service time), so a shutdown for September followed by a trip to the desert is the most likely scenario.
2. Bo Bichette
Bichette has had his ups and downs this year as his pitch recognition skills have been put to the test, but his .839 post All Star OPS suggests he’s come through his first taste of adversity as a pro. Word travelled quickly around the Eastern League that he’d chase, and he struggled until he stopped expanding his strike zone.
Bichette would likely get an opportunity to split time between SS and 2B, adding to his versatility.
3. Cavan Biggio
Biggio’s prodigious power (26 HRs, .532 SLG) has been one of the bigger surprises in the organization. Toss in 90 BBs and 128 Ks, and you have a three true outcomes triple crown threat.
Some Toronto media members have been suggesting Biggio could be in the Blue Jays lineup as early as next year, but the team still likely would to see if that power surge is for real, and what his ultimate position might be. Biggio has played mostly 2B, but has also seen time at 1B and 3B, and the club experimented with him in RF this week.
Facing tough competition in the AFL will give us a good barometer of the legitimacy of his power.
It starts to get a bit unpredictable at this point. Some possible candidates for the other three spots include:
After spending April in shut down mode with an oblique issue, Pearson’s 2018 came to a screeching halt when he took a line drive off of his pitching arm in his first start of the season. Reports suggested an August return, but he’s yet to pitch in a game since the injury.
It’s possible we see him in short stints in the AFL, but the likelihood of that depends on how his arm has healed. And getting that kind of information out of the Blue Jays is a herculean task.
Injuries limited the 2015 7th rounder to 28 innings over his first three pro seasons. He was a mainstay in Vancouver’s bullpen last year, helping to lead the C’s to a league title, and has taken over the Closer’s role in New Hampshire. With Bergen eligible for the Rule 5 draft if he’s not placed on the 40-man roster by November, the team likely would like to see how he fares against top prospects.
The righty reliever with the funky delivery has fanned 66 in 56 innings for New Hampshire, but has walked 43. Some added reps might be in order.
Like Bergen, Murphy has a lengthy injury history, but he’s bumped up his velo, hitting 100 this year, and sitting 96-98 deep into games. Murphy has also blown past his previous high in Innings Pitched, so there’s every chance he’s shut down come September, given the Blue Jays usual caution with their young arms. With the Rule 5 a possibility for Murphy, there’s a good chance he’s added to the 40 this fall.
The 2015 1st rounder had a disappointing season in his first AA campaign last year, but has added velo and some deception to his delivery in his second crack at the level in 2018. With the Rule 5 looming for Harris, the Blue Jays might give him time in Arizona after a decent second half with New Hampshire.
Romano came out like a house on fire at AA, winning his first 8 decisions and getting the starting nod at the Eastern League All Star game. He hasn’t missed as many bats in the second half as he did in the first, and with scouts wondering if he wasn’t better suited to a bullpen role, the Blue Jays might want to begin that transition this fall if that’s what they have in mind.
The tall lefty with the electric fastball has been a starter since joining the organization in 2012, but the team moved him into the bullpen this year in Dunedin.
Rosters are usually released in late August. Play in the AFL begins in early October, and wraps up in late 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.
Held back for a month because of an oblique issue, the top pitching prospect had one Extended start under his belt before pitching in a game for the Blue Jays High A Florida State League affiliate Dunedin last night.
Pearson showed some obvious signs of rust, according to observers in attendance. His customary velo (sat 94-96 with his fastball, touched 99), but his release point was inconsistent. He gave up a two-run Oppo HR in the 1st, but appeared to be settling down a bit in the 2nd. Pearson gave up an infield single on a sawoff, then fanned a pair of hitters after falling behind. He fell behind 2-0 to the next hitter, then was walloped with that line drive on the arm after firing a 95 pitch down the heart of the plate. One eyewitness said there were two distinct cracks – one off the bat, the other off of Pearson’s arm.
Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins this morning said that x-rays revealed Pearson has a non-displaced fracture of the ulna, the long bone that runs from the elbow to the pinky. The best case recovery time will be about six weeks, with rehab after that. A late August comeback might not be out of the question, but his 2018 is pretty much a write off.
A Blue Jays official said today that Pearson’s return is “undetermined.” Pearson has not been put on Dunedin’s Disabled List as of this evening, suggesting that he’s day-to-day. Still, fans are anxious to see the player who became the club’s top Pitching prospect after only 20 innings make his season debut.
Pearson fell slightly in the draft due to a concern about a screw inserted into his elbow in high school, but the Blue Jays were convinced that his medical history was clear. Still, his pitch count was strictly monitored – he would have easily been a BA Top 20 Northwest League prospect, but didn’t have enough innings to qualify. His performance with Vancouver, however limited, was more than enough to convince Blue Jays brass to skip him over Lansing. With his history, it does cause one to wonder if they wanted to keep him in the warm weather, close to the team’s medical staff in Florida.
Unless he’s placed on the DL, it’s not all doom and gloom.
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.
The Dunedin Blue Jays will be rich in starting Pitching this year.
The defending High A Florida State League co-champs will feature a pair of first-round picks in their rotation in T.J. Zeuch (2016), and Nate Pearson (2017).
With Patrick Murphy, Josh DeGraaf, and Tayler Saucedo joining Zeuch and Pearson in the rotation, Dunedin’s greatest strength will come from that starting core. Pearson skipped Low A after a lights-out short season stint with Vancouver last year. Some eyebrows were raised that Zeuch has returned to Dunedin after a strong Arizona Fall League peformance. His return probably speaks more to the concerns the club may have over his injury-plagued 2017, as well as the depth at New Hampshire. If Zeuch gets off to a good start, he should be in the Northeast by the time the weather warms up.
Joining Pearson from the 2017 Northwest League champs are SS Logan Warmoth, Pearson’s first round mate from last year, as well as C Riley Adams. Warmoth’s leap was no surprise, but Adams’ is somewhat. A fine athlete who was Vancouver’s MVP last year, Adams has some work to do with his receiving.
Justin Dillon, Travis Bergen and William Ouellette from Vancouver’s lights out bullpen last year have made the leap over Low A as well. Juliandry Higuera is an interesting arm. The southpaw started out in the organization as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen at Lansing last year, and fanned better than a batter per inning.
Bradley Jones returns from an injury-shortened 2017 to Dunedin. He started the year at Lansing, but moved up to Dunedin in June. Jones led the Appy League in Homers, RBI, Total Bases, and Slugging two years ago as a First Baseman, and added 2B and 3B to his portfolio last year.
Josh Palacios, one of the best athletes in the organization, moves up from to Lansing to play the OF. 2012 1st round pick DJ Davis returns to High for a 3rd season. His .283/.357/.369 second half may be a sign that he’s coming close to finally fulfilling his tremendous promise.
P Justin Maese underwent surgery for a shoulder impingement last month, and is likely out for the season. His presence would have given Dunedin a truly dominant rotation.
MLB and long time MiLB vet Casey Candaele joins the organization to manage Dunedin. Donnie Murphy takes over as Hitting Coach, while Mark Riggins returns as Pitching Coach. Michel Abreu returns as Pitching Coach.
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.
What are we to make of this? Is the Blue Jays farm system even deeper than we thought? Pearson “gifted”? Alford “up there” with Guerrero and Bichette? Is Atkins giving Blue Jays fans the straight goods, or is he inflating the value of his top prospects, just in case a deal comes along?
The truth is somewhere between those two extremes.
Let’s get one fact straight first: it’s been a long time (ok, never) since the Blue Jays have had two top prospects of the calibre of Vladdy Jr and Bo. Both profile as potential impact, first-division, all-star players. We may not know where they’ll ultimately play, but they are legitimate elite offensive prospects.
Pearson has come a long way in just a little over a year. Not viewed as a prospect out of high school or even after a mostly nondescript first year of college, a vastly upgraded training program helped him hit 100 in bullpen sessions in the fall of 2016, and the scouting world took notice. Northwest League hitters were pretty much at his mercy after the Blue Jays selected him – it was a nice change to see a college draftee dominate at that level, because such has not been the case in recent years. Hitters must be very intimidated just digging in against the mountainous Pearson – I felt uncomfortable just sitting over home plate in Vancouver’s press box watching him.
And while it’s very exciting to dream of Pearson’s high 90s heat at the front of the Blue Jays rotation one day, he has yet to play a year of full season ball, and we should be tempering out expectations just a bit. There are secondary pitches to develop, as well as adjustments Pearson will have to make as he experiences the ups and downs of taking a regular turn in the rotation for five months. Is Pearson “gifted”? Is he “elite”? Potentially, yes. Atkins suggested that he would have gone much higher in the draft had teams known they were going to get that kind of performer, and while that’s true, much of his success this year can be attributed at least in part of the careful monitoring of his workload that the Blue Jays – 74 pitches was his highest game total for the season. There’s every reason to believe that Pearson can fulfill Atkins’ prophecy, but there’s also likely a long way to go before he does.
How about Alford? Does he compare to Vladdy and Bo? At first glance, no, but that’s not a slight. Alford’s game is different from the Slugging Twins’. He works the count and manages the strike zone, but there is a bit more of a swing-and-miss element to Alford’s approach. Alford gets on base less often, but his speed can be game-changing, which certainly separates him from Guerrero and Bichette (who are both smart base runners in their own right, but not in Alford’s lane when it comes to foot speed). In terms of power, there is no comparison, either. Home Run and/or Extra Base power is often the last tool in a player’s kit to develop, but some reports suggest a lack of loft in Alford’s swing will keep him from consistently reaching double-digit Homer totals. Alford does use the whole field, but his heat map from 2017 doesn’t suggest a prodigious slugger in the making:
Defensively, there is little to compare Guerrero/Bichette to Alford either. Alford has the makings of a premier defender. Scouts have downgraded his arm, but he gets excellent jumps and reads on balls, and his speed allows him to close quickly. It’s easy to see him cutting off Doubles to the gap in the Rogers Centre on a regular basis.
Is Alford the potential impact player the other two could possibly one day be? Yes, but perhaps it’s a question of magnitude. Guerrero receives grades for his power that you just don’t see on an 18-year-old, and Bichette has the smarts and skills to be a perennial batting title contender. Alford also has an injury history that could limit his future – his past two seasons have been interrupted for extended periods by injury. Still, you do get the sense that Alford, who really has only been playing the game full-time for a short period of time, is still on an upward curve in terms of his development, and that maybe we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg just yet.
One thing is likely: Bichette and Guerrero may anchor the middle of the Blue Jays order for the 2020s. Alford may be a fixture at the top of it.
So, Atkins, who is probably justifiably proud of the strides the team’s farm system has made over the past two seasons, was maybe over-inflating things, but not by a lot. Pearson does ooze with ace potential, and Alford may in fact be an impact player one day. Neither is a lock in the mold that Guerrero and Bichette appear to be, but there is plenty to look forward to one day.
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.
It may be hard to believe that we’re less than Russ Martin’s Number away from Opening Day, but it’s coming like a freight train through the dead of winter, which is what those of us in Southern Ontario are in the midst of right now. However, having spent a week in the frozen historical and gastronomical wonderland that is Quebec City, I’m not one to complain.
The Blue Jays have yet to confirm when their minor league players are to report to camp at the Bobby Mattick Complex, but it’s safe to say the dates will be somewhat similar to Oakland’s. The Athletics’ Pitchers and Catchers report on March 3rd, Position Players on the 9th, and their first games will be on the 13th. If you are heading to Florida to watch the Blue Jays in action in March, a little research on your part could land you at the Mattick (or any of the other complexes in the area) for some minor league action. There are usually a pair of games going on at once, and you can sometimes catch a rehabbing MLBer in action. Admission is free.
The Blue Jays have invited 13 non-roster players to Spring Training with the big club. These players will not necessarily be auditioning for a major league job – the purpose of inviting them is to give them a taste of big league life, and to shorten the workdays for the regulars. When asked who made the biggest impression on him two years ago during his first tour of a big league camp, Anthony Alford without hesitation answered Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson. Alford was impressed with their work ethic, and how they went about their daily routine in preparing for the season.
Among the invitees this year are:
P Andrew Case – there was thought that the New Brunswick native would be added to the 40 man roster last fall after a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he was left off, and was not selected in the Rule 5 draft. Case is not a big strikeout guy, but the reliever finished the season at AAA, and it would not be a surprise to see him make his MLB debut this year. He just seems to get guys out wherever he plays.
P Jose Fernandez – the lefty reliever has always had command issues, and struggled at AA last year, but has LOOGY potential.
P Chad Girodo – sidewinding southpaw battled injuries in 2017, and spent the bulk of the year at AAA. Girodo appeared in 14 games for Toronto in 2016.
P Jon Harris – the 2015 1st rounder found too much of the strike zone at AA last year, and Eastern League hitters hit .292 against him. This is a huge year for Harris, as he will be Rule 5 eligible next fall.
P Sean Reid-Foley – Last season was a learning year for the 2014 2nd rounder, who was one of the youngest players in AA. His numbers for 2017 don’t look great at first glance, but he was a very effective Pitcher from mid-May to the end of the season. There are some who suggest his control issues might mean an eventual move to the bullpen, but indications are the Blue Jays have every intention of continuing to use SRF in a starter’s role in Buffalo this year.
P Jordan Romano – the Markham native has long been one of our favourite Blue Jays prospects. He was a regular correspondent during his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2015, giving insight into the process. He’s been a K/inning guy over the last two seasons as a starter, and while some suggest that with his over-the-top delivery and still-in-development secondaries, he too might profile as a bullpen arm, he’ll continue as a starter in AA this year. You don’t give up on a guy that’s missed that many bats.
P Chris Rowley – was one of the most effective Pitchers in the system last year, and completed his remarkable rise from non-drafted/missed two years due to military service guy to the big leagues last year. Rowley was DFA’d in the fall to make room for the new arrivals on the 40, but he’ll be very much in competition for a big league job this year, with AAA his likely destination. Rowley can start or relieve, and his versatility may come in handy.
P Justin Shafer – the 2014 8th rounder has risen slowly through the system, steadily getting ground ball outs along the way. Converted to relief at AA last year, Shafer has long relief potential.
C Max Pentecost – eyebrows were raised when the 2014 1st rounder was left off the 40-man last fall. The Blue Jays were crossing their fingers that Pentecost’s injury history would allow him to slip through the Rule 5, and their gamble paid off. Many have recommended that the Blue Jays turn Pentecost into an Evan Gattis-like hybrid player, but when you read between the lines of the email responses from Jays execs, the plan is continue to have him Catch on a regular (perhaps not daily) basis.
IF Jason Lebelebijian – the versatile Leb can play all four IF positions, and has spent time in the OF, although he played mostly 2nd and 3rd in Buffalo last year.
IF Tim Lopes – the 5 year MiLB vet came over from the Mariners’ organization last year, and filled a valuable utility role for New Hampshire, appearing in 128 games.
OF J.D. Davis – I have to admit: there was a moment of excitement when a publication confused Davis with underachieving 2012 1st rounder D.J. Davis, who repeated Dunedin last year. This was not the first time someone had made this error, however. DJ had a remarkable 2nd half, putting balls in play in the second half at the best rate of his career, posting a .333/381/.449 August. JD Davis, on the other hand, has risen steadily through the system, and is a get-on-base speedster who can play all three OF positions.
OF Roemon Fields – the speed merchant posted career-best numbers at Buffalo last year (.291/.351/.352), and added 43 steals. Fields’ profile is more of a bottom-of-the-order, 2nd leadoff hitter, but he has clearly established himself as a fringe MLBer.
Add in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Rowdy Tellez, and Thomas Pannone, who were added to the 40-man in November, and there will be a lot of first-timers at Spring Training this year.
RHP Nate Pearson may have been in the shadows this year due to his short season after being selected in the 1st round of June’s draft, and with the seasons Vladdy Jr and Bo had, but his rise from high school non-prospect to Baseball America‘s Top 100 is a phenomenal story. The Blue Jays did not roll the dice on Pearson so much as they had done their homework on him, and knew what they were getting. Sam Dykstra of milb.com wrote about it here: https://www.milb.com/milb/news/toolshed-blue-jays-nate-pearson-prepped-for-takeoff/c-265720346
The Blue Jays Australian Baseball League affiliate, the Canberra Cavalry, are off to the ABL final after a come-from-behind victory over Perth in their best of three semi-final.
To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot to watch from a Blue Jays perspective down under. 1B Connor Panas, fresh off a monster second half in the Florida State League, was shut down for the year at Christmas. Relievers Tayler Saucedo and Dan Lietz have been used in a limited role on a veteran-laden Cavalry staff. Saucedo did get a huge 8th inning double play as the Cavs battled for a playoff spot in their final series of the season.
Canberra hosts Game 1 of the best of three affair against Brisbane on Friday night, with the series switching to Brisbane for the remainder.