Top Blue Jays Prospect Story Lines for 2018 – Beyond the Obvious Ones

DJ Davis
DJ Davis – Clutchlings Photo

If you’ve visited this site hoping to find out if Vladimir Guerrero Jr will continue to be one of the top prospects in baseball, or if Bo Bichette will continue to hit everything in sight, or if Nate Pearson will continue to dominate with a fastball in the upper 90s, let me save you some time – the answer is yes.

Those are not exactly compelling storylines.  While there are no guarantees, all three are on track to become front-line Major Leaguers.

But there are several in the Blue Jays system that will be worth following this year:

1.  Will Justin Maese return to health this year?

Maese climbed the prospect charts in only his second pro season in 2016.  Shoulder issues lead to a six week shutdown in June/July, and an end to his season in early August.

When healthy, Maese pounds the bottom of the strike zone with a sinker that has a good downward plane, which hitters find difficult to square up.  Last year, his shoulder problems kept him from getting the extension necessary to keep his pitches down, and his flyball rate jumped from around 20 to 25%, with a corresponding drop in his ground ball rate.  Maese in 2016 was an incredibly efficient Pitcher, averaging 13 pitches per inning.  In 2017, his pitch count and BB% jumped significantly as he struggled to find the strike zone.  A healthy Maese attacked hitters, but last year he pitched from behind more often than not, or so it seemed.

Pitching from a 3/4 delivery, Maese sits 91-95 with his sinker, which is complemented by a slider which he learned a new grip for at 2015 Instructs, and a changeup.  Both of his offspeed pitches flash above average potential.

After 2016, Maese was being talked about as a potential back of the rotation arm.  He didn’t exactly fall off the radar last year, but his stock dropped considerably.

2.  Will Riley Adams continue to develop?

The 2017 3rd rounder was Vancouver’s MVP as he led the C’s back to the league championship.

Thought of as more of an offensive Catcher with a plus arm, Adams made tremendous strides defensively last year, but scouts wondered if he might eventually have to move off the position.  His hands and receiving skills were rated below average, and two months of pro ball demonstrated that he has some work to do in regard to pitch framing.

One thing is for certain from viewing Adams a number of times last year:  his bat is of the potential big league variety.  Adams worked the count well, and while he didn’t tap into his power (3 HRs for the summer), he shows raw power that should show up as he moves through the system.  His K rate was on the high side, but fatigue may have helped to slow his bat down.

Likely destined for Lansing this year, Black-Belt Adams is part of an impressive haul of athletic players the Blue Jays netted last June.  If he can continue to develop his blocking and game-calling skills, Adams could add to the depth of Catching prospects the Blue Jays have accumulated.

3.  Can Jon Harris bounce back?

The 2015 1st round pick had a solid 2016, and was rewarded with a challenging assignment to AA to start 2017.

He caught entirely too much of the plate on many occasions, and hitters made him pay accordingly.

Harris sits 90-94 with his fastball, and while his secondaries are decent, like his fastball, nothing really stands out as a go-to pitch.  A FIP almost a full run lower than his ERA last year suggests that some BABIP issues were in play for him, but Harris gave up a lot of contact, with only 45% of it being of the groundball variety.

Harris was not drafted with promises of front-of-the-rotation potential; just the same, he showed the right mix of pitchability and athleticism to suggest a mid-rotation future.  He has the frame to add some more strength, and his height creates a good downward plane on his pitches.  He did not fall off the prospect radar entirely this past season, but his performance has him down the depth chart of minor league starters.

4.  Will Maverik Buffo be able to repeat his GCL success at a higher level?

Buffo’s story was one of the best in the Blue Jays system last year.

Elbow issues scared most teams off, but the Blue Jays took a flyer on him in the 34th round, and kept him close to their medical facilities in the GCL, where hitters stood absolutely no chance against him, as he gave up only 2 earned runs in 34 innings.

Buffo suffered a UCL tear in his Sophomore year at BYU, but he avoided Tommy John with Platelet-Rich-Plasma therapy.  His Junior numbers were not great, which probably convinced most teams he was headed for surgery, but Buffo says he’s 100% recovered.

Buffo attacks hitters with a fastball that sits 92-95, and throws a sharp breaking ball that has tight shape and horizontal break.  GCL hitters were overmatched by him, but it will be interesting to see how he fares against hitters at higher levels – he should reach Lansing perhaps to begin the season, or when the weather warms up.

 

5.  Was DJ Davis’ second half for real?

The 2012 1st rounder had long lost his top prospect status after repeating both Low A and High A, but a swing adjustment that lead to a .283/.357/.369 (featuring an OPS of .830 in August) brings some hope for this athletic Outfielder.

Pitch recognition and a long swing have held Davis back.  His speed has always prophesied top of the order potential, but he seemed to be more comfortable hitting at the bottom of the lineup last year.  After begin caught stealing more times than he was successful in 2014, Davis has quietly improved his base running skills, swiping 32 in 43 attempts.

Davis still certainly has miles to go before he ever regains his former prospect lustre, but the Blue Jays have to be encouraged with the progress he displayed in the 2nd half.  Described as toolsy-but-raw when he was drafted, Davis at least gave a glimpse of tapping into some of that potential in July and August last year.

6.  Can Ryan Noda come anywhere close to repeating his Appy numbers?

Noda was a candidate to go in the top 3 rounds of the draft last June, but a mediocre college season dropped him to the 15th round.  Sent to the Appy League because Kacy Clemens had 1B locked up at Vancouver, Noda laid waste to league pitching for the summer.

The Appy MVP, Noda led the league in average, OBP, and Slugging, and drew 25 more walks than the runner-up.  He has hitting above .400 as last as August 7th.

In the Appy, Noda could be patient, and wait for Pitchers to make mistakes.  At the higher levels, there is some concern that passivity could be taken advantage of.

Noda has the skills to play the OF, but there was little need for him with Bluefield with the presence of ballhawks like Chavez Young and McGregory Contreras. Likely ticketed for Lansing this year, he should split time between 1B/DH/OF.  It was fun to watch him post video game-like numbers last year, but he will be hard pressed to repeat that in Low A.

 

 

 

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Vancouver Places 4 in BA’s Northwest League Top 20

Warmoth
Logan Warmoth – MLB Pipelin

You can forgive Vancouver Canadians’ fans for being a bit spoiled.

The team won three consecutive Northwest League titles after they swtiched affiliation to the Blue Jays in 2011, and just missed a fourth in 2014.

2015 and 2016 were lean, sub .500 seasons for the short-season club, and there were some grumblings that the Blue Jays were not sending top prospects to the Lower Mainland despite setting Northwest League attendance records both seasons.

2017 saw the team smash their own gate record once again, drawing an incredible average of over 6300 fans per game as the team returned to the post season, and won their fifth NWL crown in front of a boisterous home crowd.  More importantly for fans of the big club, according to Baseball America, five top prospects played at The Nat this season.

SS Logan Warmoth led the group, placing 6th on BA’s list.  The first of two first round picks the Blue Jays had last June, the 22nd overall pick did not disappoint, looking very much like a future big leaguer, despite some initial concerns about his eventual position:

Most believe Warmoth has the range and athleticism to stick at shortstop, with more than enough arm strength to handle the position, while others view him as more of an offensive second baseman. At the plate, Warmoth often looks to pull the ball, as most of his power is to his pull-side. But Vancouver manager Rich Miller said Warmoth did a better job of covering the outside part of the plate and hitting the ball to all fields as the season progressed. He’s smart hitter with a quick bat and has shown the aptitude to make adjustments.

Warmoth does not have one outstanding tool; you need to watch a larger body of his work to truly appreciate his skills.  In viewing him over a half dozen games this year, he showed that he makes a lot of solid contact.  His reactions to batted balls are good, although he seemed to lack that explosive first step to allow him to get to balls faster.  He may not profile as a first division player, but it’s easy to envision Warmoth as a big leaguer one day, and he adds to the Blue Jays’ depth at Short Stop.

The next Canadian to appear on the list was C Riley Adams at #11.  The June 2017 3rd rounder is an intriguing prospect.  Compared to Matt Wieters because of his 6’4″ frame, Adams is an athletic prospect who can be termed raw behind the plate.  His blocking and receiving skills are still a work in progress, but he made progress this summer.  His work with 1st rounder Nate Pearson in the C’s final home game showed an observer that his pitch framing is a part of his skill set most in need of work, although in fairness to Adams, he did not work with many Pitchers with Pearson’s velo as a collegian.

At the plate, Adams has some holes in his swing that make for some swing-and-miss, but BA feels he’s a potential middle-of-the-order bat.  Adams is rawer than Warmoth, and may not move through the system as quickly, but he too has the look of a future MLBer.

Two C’s checked in at the bottom of the list.  SS Kevin Vicuna, a 2014 IFA who was more noted for his glove, hit reasonably well at Vancouver (.280/.333/.307) and in a late-season promotion to Lansing , was ranked at 19.  At 20th was OF Reggie Pruitt, a 2015 24th rounder whose draft stock had fallen to his commitment to Vanderbilt.  Pruitt has struggled at the plate through his first three minor league seasons, but began to make more consistent contact in the second half.  A burner on the bases and a ballhawk in the Outfield, Pruitt led the NWL in steals.  His ability to make more contact (26% K rate this year) will determine his future.

One name was absent from the list, and that was RHP Pearson, who did not have enough innings to qualify.  Pearson and his triple digit fastball were no match for NWL hitters, and had he qualified,  he may have been one of the top three prospects.  Pearson is a legit top-of-the-rotation arm, depending on the development of his secondary pitches to complement his overwhelming heat.

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While we’re talking about the C’s, here are a couple of final thoughts…

much was made in the aftermath of the C’s final game about the Blue Jays letting Manager Rich Miller go.  Miller has been a loyal employee, stepping in to take over the reigns when Manager John Schneider had to take a leave of absence during the C’s first championship run in 2011.  Miller, a baseball lifer who has been in the game for 44 years, did not see the firing coming.  I made several attempts to reach Rich (I wanted to talk about his time managing a young Catcher by the name of John Gibbons in the Sally League in the early 80s as well as the title this year), and he was willing to speak, but after several missed emails/calls, it was obvious that he was done with the matter and ready to move on.  Turnover is a fact of life in minor league baseball, and the Blue Jays are no exception, frequently turning over some or all of their staffs at each affiliate from one year to the next.  Miller seems to have done a favour to the organization by stepping in during the 2011 season, and he really enjoyed his role as a senior adviser between Managing gigs.  It’s not so much a shame that he would not be returning after winning a title; it’s more unfortunate that he was let go by the organization after doing so.  Miller is a savvy baseball man, and he still wants to work – it’s highly likely another organization will pick him up.

-Blue Jays fans have gained quite a bit of notoriety for taking over Safeco Field when their team pays their annual visit to the Mariners.  While it’s quite a site to see, I would suggest that for any Jays’ fan’s bucket list, a trip to Nat Bailey to see the C’s should be on it.  The Nat is a quaint old ballpark, and while it pales to some other state-of-the-art facilities elsewhere in the Blue Jays system, there is no other atmosphere that compares to it.  And unlike Toronto, Vancouver is a relative urban oasis.  A short drive in just about any direction puts you in the wilderness.  Stanley Park, the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain (the Grouse Grind climb is a must for Mrs C and I every time we visit, but is not for the faint of heat) all beckon.