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. Jackson is also Rule 5 eligible.
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.