An Open Letter to Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins

Dear Mark and Ross:

Hi Guys.  Loved Jaysfest this winter.

Look, you both know it, I know it, and even the bandwagon fans on Facebook know it.  This season had considerable promise and started well, but with the starting rotation in shambles and the bullpen already showing the signs of overuse and this season about to become as disappointing as grocery store sushi, it’s time.

Time to make plans to break up the American League’s oldest roster, a group you knew last year was getting past the point of being able to realistically compete for a post-season berth.  But the higher-ups at Rogers wouldn’t let you take a wrecking ball to it, because they liked the sounds of the cash register ringing.

Even though you both have been on the job for only a couple of years, you’ve built an organization that is poised to become a leader in analytics, scouting, sport science, and minor league instruction.  You quickly understood that the key to long-term competitiveness for this franchise lay in its ability to unearth diamonds in the rough in the form of amateur players both through the draft and IFA markets, and use your system to give them the polish they need.

Mark, you spoke in the off-season about developing waves of prospects to come in an compete for MLB jobs.  The first of them is almost ready.  The best prospect in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, is part of that group, which includes Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, and Anthony Alford.  You certainly could make the argument that more development time is warranted for all four, but you could counter that by suggesting that if the roster is torn down to make room for them, that development could continue at the MLB level. We know all about the risk of failure that can come with accelerating players too quickly, but the Nationals decided to move top prospect Juan Soto (who is all of six months older than Vladdy) to AAA after (check that – he’s been promoted to the bigs) only 32 AA At Bats.  Granted, Jr has some more defensive development to complete before he graduates, and top pitching prospects still give him a bit of trouble, but move him up to Buffalo already.  If he succeeds there an and opening on the big league roster becomes available by, say, July 31st, bring him on up.  Who knows where any of us will be in six years – and it’s hard to see you sticking around that long if you have to keep banging heads with the suits upstairs.

After the first wave has established itself in a year or so, the next wave, with talent like Bo Bichette (who’s struggling for the first time in his pro career this year, but that’s ok – better to learn to deal with it in AA), Sean Reid-Foley,  and Cavan Biggio might be ready, and you could throw in Jordan Romano, too.  Behind them, you’ve got a collection that includes Nate Pearson, Logan Warmoth, Yennsy Diaz, and Kevin Smith, and farther down the road, Eric Pardinho, Miguel Hiraldo, and this year’s top draft choice -hopefully, another arm –  (and a possibly even better one next year) and IFAs.  Players dealt to make room on the MLB roster should be exchanged for more prospect depth.

It’s time to put a bow on this season and write it off, rather than continuing to apply duct tape to your broken roster.  The execs at Rogers are no doubt worried that time in baseball’s wilderness will plunge the team back into the bottom third of AL attendance figures, and that is a concern.  It’s bad enough that they seem to keep putting off badly needed renos to the Rogers Centre, but they should give you both a broad brush to undertake the makeover of the 25-man roster.  Yes, attendance will dip, but if/when Vlad is added to the 40 (part of a bigger set of roster decisions) and promoted, that should help stem the slide at the gates.  Yes, this team spent almost two decades wandering through the baseball wilderness before 2015, but you guys are putting together an organization that is becoming one of the top ones in baseball in terms of development.  Your time in the basement shouldn’t be long.

You have some decisions to make (although some of them are pretty obvious), but space needs to be made.  It won’t be easy, but it’s time.    And has they proved three years ago, the fans will come back.

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Ryan Borucki Rounding Into Form

Buffalo LHP Ryan Borucki may not be the best Pitching prospect in the Blue Jays organization, but he’s closest to MLB-ready at the moment.

Borucki made his first start of the year on April 10th, but because of the poor spring weather that settled in over the Northeast, he didn’t take the mound again until 10 days later.  His performance suffered as a result, but he made his best start of the season yesterday, throwing 7 shutout innings against Washington’s Syracuse affiliate.

Borucki was masterful with his sequencing yesterday, mixing all four of his pitches and keeping the Syracuse hitters off-balance.  He told milb.com:

“I just really had my fastball command. I was working it down, got a lot of ground-ball outs, which is always good. Whenever you keep it out of the air, it’s always a good thing. I had my offspeed. My slider was working to get ahead of hitters. I was putting them away with my fastball and my changeup, which are usually my go-tos. I just mixed my pitches pretty well today and the results showed.”

Consistently working down in the zone, Borucki retired 19 of the last 21 hitters he faced.  In addition to the pair of hits, Borucki surrendered a pair of walks.  10 of his outs came via the ground ball, and he fanned 5.  He was ahead of the hitters all day, making his change-up an even more effective pitch.

If/when the Blue Jays need a spot starter over the next few weeks or months, depending on how his turn in the rotation matches up, Borucki should be at the top of the list of Pitchers the team is considering promoting.

 

Top Blue Jay Prospects will be in Town Next Week

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Tim Leiper photo

Going through Customs, the different currency, and many other subtle day-to-day things are a fact of life for American and Caribbean players who venture north of the border to play for the Blue Jays.

For several years, the Blue Jays have held a January mini-camp at the Rogers Centre for their top minor league players to give them a little more exposure to life in the Great White North.  Starting on January 15th,  Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, DJ Davis, Reese McGuire,  Roemon Fields, newly-acquired Taylor Guerreri,  Lourdes Gurriel, Danny Jansen, Jason Leblebijian, Thomas Pannone, Ryan Borucki, Max Pentecost, Sean Reid-Foley, and the GTA’s own Jordan Romano will be in Toronto for a series of on-field drills and off-field seminars.   The group will be at the Blue Jays first annual Winter Fest that weekend.

When the announcement was made last week, Twitter instantly was full of rumours about Conner Greene, who was not part of this year’s contingent.  The rumours suggested Greene was being held back because he was going to be part of a package of players for Pirates star Andrew McCutchen.  As has been pointed out, Greene was part of last year’s tour, as were Rowdy Tellez, Anthony Alford, and Richie Urena.  Greene’s command issues were a concern last year, but that 100 mph fastball isn’t going anywhere just yet.

In the off-field sessions, players will receive training in dealing with the media, as well as how to deal with situations that might crop up as professional athletes.  It sounds like Romano is excited to have some of his fellow prospects to his paren’t basement:

Jansen, McGuire, Urena, Guerreri, and Pannone are all on the 40-man roster, and will be attending spring training with the big club.  The team has not announced which minor leaguers will receive an invite, but that it expected shortly.

Toronto Blue Jays Minor League System Top 10 Moments of 2017

It was a memorable season for a guy who follows the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.  Three of the four short season teams made the post season, as did one full season team, bringing home a championship and a co-championship to the organization.  I had a first-hand look at Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette opening weekend in Lansing, and finished the campaign with a press box view of Nate Pearson’s start in Vancouver’s final regular season home game.  In between, there were plenty of highlights:

1.  Vladdy Jr’s Rise to Prominence

  One has to go back to the days of Sil Campusano* to find a Blue Jay ranked as high as Vladdy Jr (*Baseball America didn’t start their Top 100 list until 1990 – Campusano was a multiple-times cover boy of the publication in the mid-80s).

Those of us in the know were not surprised that Guerrero is either the top or 2nd-ranked prospect in the game after only two pro seasons.  His advanced approach, pitch recognition, and lethal bat speed have the makings of a generational bat.

Guerrero dominated the Midwest League as an 18-year-old, and after a bit of a dip following his promotion to High A Dunedin, he was back to his productive self, leading the D-Jays to the post season.

Vladdy was such a model of consistency this year that it’s hard to pick out one highlight.  Was it going 2-4 with a Homer in his first game of Low A?  Leading the minors in OBP? Hitting .385/.483/.646 in August? Homering in three straight games that month?  Not going more than 3 games without a hit (twice) all season?

Thoughts of Guerrero continuing to climb the minor league ladder have helped to warm up the current record cold Southern Ontario winter.

2.  Bo Bichette Flirts with .400

Advanced stats have taken over with serious baseball fans, but who doesn’t like a good run at baseball’s hallowed .400 mark?

After tearing up the Gulf Coast League the year before, the 2016 2nd rounder picked up exactly where he left off in Lansing.  He hit .371 for April, and .388 in May, but not even in a prospect hunter’s wildest dreams did we expect what happened next.

In the first half of June, his average steadily creeped up into the .380s, and then an incredible 7-8 performance in a doubleheader on the 15th put Bichette over the top:

At Bat #1
   Facing Cubs’ RHP Duncan Robinson, who stood 3rd in the MWL in ERA entering the night, he took an 0-1 fastball on the outer edge of the plate to right field for his first hit of the game in Lansing’s top of the 1st.

At Bat #2
   Robinson clearly wanted no part of Bichette, offering up a steady diet of breaking balls in the top of the 3rd.  With the count 2-1, Robinson tried to get a fastball in on Bichette, but missed badly.  Bichette hammered it into the gap in Left Centre, driving in a run.

At Bat #3
  Bichette led off the top of the sixth, and Robinson continued to avoid giving him fastballs anywhere near the plate.  He hung a 2-2 change, and Bichette hammered it into the LF bleachers for his 7th Home Run, touching off a 5-run frame for Lansing.

At Bat #4
After sending 9 men to the plate the previous inning, Bichette led off the top of the 7th, the final frame of Game 1 against reliever Jared Cheek.
This 9 pitch AB may have been his best of the night.
Down 0-2, Bichette fouled off a number of borderline pitches, before Cheek caught too much of the plate with a breaking ball, which Bichette lined into CF for a base hit.  His average now stood at .394.

Game 2
At Bat #1
   Facing Cubs RHP Erling Moreno, Bichette hit a 2-1 pitch into the hole at short, and beat the off-line throw to first for an infield single.

At Bat #2
   Moreno continued the breaking ball regimen.  Bichette hammered a mistake fastball all the way to the wall in Right Centre field, raising his average to .399.

At Bat #3
   Facing soft-tossing reliever Tyson Miller, Bichette showed some rare impatience, chasing a breaking ball out of the zone, and foul-tipping a low fastball into the Catcher’s mitt for a swinging strikeout.  .400 would have to wait.

At Bat #4
   In his final at bat of the night, Bichette looped a fastball on the outer half to right field for a base hit, and his average finally reached .400.

A 3-5 night at the plate the following day kept his average at .400, but a slight dip after that saw his average go as “low” as .392, before another hot streak nudged him to .402 on June 28th.

It’s hard to remember such an individual performance in five years of following the Toronto farm system.

3.  NWL title returns to Vancouver

Minor league playoffs are a bit of an afterthought to fans, and a bit of a double-edged sword for MLB executives.  Kids are back in school, the weather has cooled, and some teams struggle to draw the crowds they had in warmer days.  For the front-office types, they certainly want their prospects to learn to win together on their way up the minor league rungs, but they certainly must hold their breath and hope injuries don’t take place in games that don’t matter much in the larger scheme of things.

Canadians fans couldn’t be blamed for being spoiled; titles in the first three seasons as a Blue Jays affiliate, and a trip to the finals in the fourth meant that fans in the Lower Mainland could reasonably expect competitive teams every year.

Except that 2015 and 2016 were lean years, and the team missed the post-season.  Despite that, C’s fans continued to pass through the turnstiles at venerable old Nat Bailey Stadium in record numbers, giving Blue Jays prospects an incredible atmosphere to play their home games in.

That loyalty was rewarded in 2017, as top draft picks Logan Warmoth, Nate Pearson, and Riley Adams led the team back to the playoffs.  And the 2017 post-season proved to be beyond memorable.  The C’s semi-final with Spokane was set to open in Washington State, but a season of wildfires had made the air quality unacceptable, and the series was moved to Vancouver.  The Canadians took the first game of the best-of-three behind an outstanding performance by Pearson (see below), and clinched a berth in the finals behind some standout relief pitching from Justin Dillon and Orlando Pascual.

The C’s travelled to Eugene to take on the defending champion Cubs’ affiliate in the final.  The teams split the first two games in Oregon, making the 10 hour bus ride to Vancouver after the 2nd game for Game 3, which was slated for the following day.  The C’s once again rode their brilliant bullpen (3 ER over 27 IP in the series) to victory in Games 3 and 4.

4.  Dunedin Wins FSL Co-Championship

Dunedin made the playoffs by virtue of finishing with the Florida State League North Division’s 2nd best record, a distant 14.5 games back of the Tampa Yankees.

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the Sunshine State, the league decided to declare the winners of the two divisions co-champions, while everyone packed up and got ready to get out of Dodge.

Dunedin hosted Game 1 of the best of three affair, and dropped a heartbreaking, extra-innings loss to Tampa after scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the 1st.

The D-Jays’ backs were clearly up against the wall for Game 2, which was played in Tampa, where Dunedin had lost 7 of 10 on the season to the Yankees.  And if they prevailed in Game 2, the 3rd and deciding game would take place minutes after – so, if they wanted to win the series and a share of the league title, the D-Jays would have to sweep a doubleheader in Tampa.

Dunedin easily took Game 1 by a score of 4-1, behind 6+ innings of solid work by Markham, ON native Jordan Romano.  Romano, who finished 2nd in the FSL in Ks, failed to fan a batter on the night, but he pitched well enough to turn a lead over to Kirby Snead, who pitched 2.1 scoreless innings to preserve the win.

In the final game, TJ Zeuch took to the mound for Dunedin.  Zeuch had spent much of the summer on the DL, and was making only his second start since his return.  Pitching on three days’ rest, Zeuch gave up only one hit over four innings.  Dunedin had given Zeuch a one-run lead in the 2nd, but Tampa tied it in the 4th, and took the lead in the 5th.  Dunedin tied the game up in the 7th on a Home Run by Toronto’s own Connor Panas.

Fast forward to Dunedin’s top of the 9th.  With a runner on and two outs, OF Edward Olivares singled, followed by a single to left by Jake Thomas, scoring the go-ahead run.  A bloop Double down the LF line by DJ Davis brought home both Olivares and Thomas, providing insurance for the D-Jays.  Tampa scored a run in the bottom of the 9th, but Dunedin held on to win their first FSL Championship.

5.  Nate Pearson Fans 10 in Playoff Game

NWL hitters were simply overwhelmed by the Blue Jays 1st round choice this summer.  The earned runs he gave up in his last regular season start were the first he had given up since he joined Vancouver in July – he had yet to even allow a runner past 2nd prior to that.

Pearson came back in the playoffs with a vengeance, tossing a dominant 10 strikeout effort in 4 innings against Spokane in Game 1 of the C’s semi-final series.  After an error allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in the 1st, Pearson set the side down on 9 pitches.  Pearson fanned the side in the 2nd, working around an error of his own, as well as the 3rd, sandwiching the Ks around a walk and a single.  Pearson lost the strike zone in the 4th, issuing three straight 4-ball walks after getting two quick outs.  He regrouped and fanned the final batter of the inning to end his night.

Pearson’s performance reminded C’s fans of a similarly dominant effort by a 17-year-old Roberto Osuna in 2012.  Osuna fanned 13 over 5 innings in his NWL debut.

6.  Danny Jansen’s Big Night

Jansen burst onto the prospect radar in 2017.  A season of good health, and new eyewear obtained in the Arizona Fall League allowed Jansen to post a .323/.400/.484 line at three levels.

Jansen went a career-best 4-4 for Buffalo in late August. After hitting a Single, Home Run, and Triple in his previous three ABs, Jansen came up in the 9th needing a Double to complete the cycle.  Jansen cranked his 2nd longball of the night, falling short of the cycle, but sparking the Bisons to a four-run 9th, and a come from behind W.

7.  Anthony Alford’s Sizzling Start

Alford had a breakthrough season in 2015 after abandoning his pro football dreams in order to focus on baseball.  A knee injury and a concussion suffered in an extra-inning OF collision upon his return set him back further, and whispers about his injury history began to surface.

Alford rode a successful Arizona Fall League campaign into 2017, and he got off to a scorching start, hitting .356/.427/.507 in April at AA.  Maintaining that hot start proved difficult, and Alford cooled off in May, but still got on base at almost a 40% clip.  Alford made his MLB debut that month, but broke his wrist, sending him back to the DL for six weeks.

Alford will very much be in contention for an MLB job this spring.  That hot April last year gave a glimpse into his work-the-count, use the whole field, game-changing speed on the base paths potential.

8.  Ryan Noda’s July

The 15th round draft pick saw his stock slip after a mediocre college season.  Noda laid waste to Appalachian League Pitching on his way to an MVP season, the highlight of which was a video game number-like July, in which he bashed his way to a .444/.580/.689 line.

Noda cooled off after that stretch, but his other-worldly July was enough for him to lead the Appy in Runs, Total Bases, Average, OBP, and Slugging.  Noda won’t be able to duplicate those numbers in full season ball, but it was fun checking Bluefield’s box scores every night for a month – here’s a brief sample:

Screenshot 2018-01-01 at 10.32.10 PM

9.  Ryan Borucki’s AA debut

It’s hard to believe that 15 months earlier, the southpaw was sent down to Lansing from Dunedin because Florida State League hitters had been hitting him hard and often.

But Borucki, who knows a thing or two about battling back from adversity (injuries cost him most of two of his first three pro seasons), refined his command, added some deception to his delivery, and came to rely on a change-up that’s already Major League-ready.

After repeating Dunedin to begin 2017, he earned a late July promotion to New Hampshire, and was masterful in his Eastern League debut, keeping hitters off-balance while tossing 7 shutout innings, allowing only two hits and a pair of walks.  Two starts later, he fired another 7 scoreless frames, fanning 7.

Barring some roster moves before spring training, Borucki and New Hampshire teammate Thomas Pannone will be among the candidates vying for the fifth starter’s role in the rotation.

10. Yennsy Diaz’ June 15th start

Diaz was just another hard-throwing righthander with control problems when he pitched in Bluefield in 2016.  He learned to harness his fastball last spring, and by June had been promoted from Extended to Lansing.

It was in the nightcap of Bichette’s pursuit of .400 doubleheader that Diaz made his second MWL start.  And South Bend hitters were all but defenceless against his 98 mph heat.  While Bichette was racking up base hits, Diaz was piling up the Ks, recording 8 in 4.2 innings.

While the rest of his season was full of ups and downs, Diaz had several outings where everything was working, and hitters were overmatched against his fastball.  Command of his secondaries is still an area requiring improvement, but there’s few things to compare with a Pitcher throwing easy 97 gas.

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects #9 Ryan Borucki

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Baseball America photo

I had a chance to meet Blue Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro in his Rogers Centre office a few weeks ago.  The plan was to talk about the state of the team’s farm system, but it developed instead into a wide-ranging discussion about the team and baseball in general.

One thing that Shapiro said toward the end of our conversation stuck with me.  In talking about finding and grooming young players in general, he observed that, “people forget just how hard it is, and how long it takes to develop starting pitching.”  And while that wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering observation, we do tend to forget sometimes that staring pitching is where this game begins.  But the gestation period of a minor league to MLB pitcher can be 4 years.  Or more.

Case in point:  LHP Ryan Borucki.

Concerns about his elbow had caused Borucki’s draft stock to tumble in 2012.  He suffered a partial UCL tear while pitching a no-hitter in March, but played primarily 1B in his senior high school season as he opted for rehab over Tommy John surgery.  The Blue Jays were at the peak of their “roll-the-dice” approach to the draft that year, and selected him in the 15th round.

The rehab ultimately proved unsuccessful, and Borucki underwent Tommy John, which cost him his entire 2013 season.  He had a strong return in short season ball in 2014, but shoulder and elbow woes limited him to 5 innings in 2015.  It wasn’t until his fourth year as a pro in 2016 that he graduated to full season ball – the Blue Jays opted to keep him in Dunedin to keep an eye on his health, but Florida State League hitters teed off on Borucki, and when he was sent to down to Lansing after 6 starts, there was little hint that 16 months later, he would be on the cusp of a big league job.

With the help of Lansing pitching coach Jeff Ware, Borucki added some deception to his delivery, giving hitters less of a glimpse of his pitches.  Borucki dominated Midwest League hitters as a result, and even though he’d had limited success above that level, the Blue Jays opted to add him to the 40-man roster in order to avoid the chance of losing him in the Rule 5 draft.

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told Shi Davidi, in a piece for Baseball America, that there was a huge consensus for adding Borucki to the 40:

“It’s rare that you have a group of people absolutely pound the table for a player without one exception. When that happens, when they are talented, albeit he was in low-A ball and had a previous injury, he did have a good year. It was unanimous across player development that from a work-ethic and competitive standpoint, what he means to this organization as a teammate, that it was somebody we were excited to add to our 40-man.”
   Borucki pitched at three levels, starting at Dunedin and finishing the year with a start in Buffalo.  He did not have enough innings to qualify, but his swinging strike rate (14%), and ground ball rate (50.4%) were both good enough for 4th among Florida State League pitchers.  Promoted to New Hampshire in late July, he picked up where he left off in Dunedin, tossing a scoreless 7 innings in his first start, and allowing only one run in his first three.
   Borucki does not overwhelm hitters.  His fastball sits 90-92, touching 94 on occasion.  He complements that fastball with a developing slider, but it’s his change up which generates the whiffs.  Easily the best in the system, he throws it with good arm speed and movement.  The back turn that he developed with Ware continues to offer some deception, and helps his fastball play up a little faster than it is.  He also has some arm-side run to his fastball, which often induces weak contact.  At 6’4″/175, Borucki is long and lean, which allows his to get good downward movement on all of his pitches.  His athleticism enables him to repeat his delivery and field his position well.  When you talk to people in the Blue Jays organization, they are unanimous about Borucki’s grit and resilience.  Even as far back as 2014, he has been called a big leaguer in the making.  Given the ups and downs of his career so far, he has more than learned how to bounce back from a bad outing.
    Borucki should have a shot at competing for a back of the rotation spot in spring training, but he’ll likely begin his 2018 season in Buffalo.  Injuries and/or inconsistency at the big league level will probably mean that he makes his MLB debut at some point next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vladdy and Bo Dominate Midwest and Florida State League Top Prospects

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Clutchlings Photos

   They began the 2017 season as two highly hyped teenaged prospects.  Vladimir Guerrero Jr (#3) and Bo Bichette (#25) ended it as two of the top minor league hopefuls (according to MLB Pipeline) in the game.

   Along the way, the pair swept up some Midwest League honours.  Guerrero was named the league’s top prospect by Baseball America, and Bichette took home the MVP award, as well as being named the MWL’s 3rd top prospect by BA.  Only Padres’ prospect Fernando Tatis Jr stood in their way.  In the Florida State League, it was a clean sweep by the duo, with Guerrero ranked 1st and his infield mate Bichette 2nd.

It was quite a ride this summer for the pair.  A visitor to Lansing on the Lugnuts’ opening weeking was not at all surprised by their rapid ascencion.  Both have outstanding work ethics which was evident in pre-game drills and practice, and both take a serious, studious approach to the game.

Vladdy Jr was dominant in full season play at an age where he would be graduating from high school if he had grown up stateside.  His .425 OBP led the minors, while Bichette, in his second pro season, led minor league baseball with a combined (between Lansing and Dunedin) .362 average, leading many to question how he lasted until mid-way through the second round of last year’s draft.

The comparisons between Guerrero and his soon-to-be Hall of Fame Father are many, and they really should stop.  Sr was a five-tool player for almost all of his career; Jr does not compare in terms of his defensive abilities or his speed.  Dad was known to have a strike zone roughly similar to the Big O roof in terms of size; Son has already gained a reputation as an astute manager of the strike zone (his plate discipline, stat-wise, is better than Joey Votto’s at the same stage in their minor league careers).  This is not to say that one is better than the other – both are impact, middle-of-the-order bats.

Bichette’s bat wrap caused some scouts concern in his draft year.  He has quieted it down, although he still has a pronounced and noticeable movement with it as he starts his swing.  But it’s his approach that had him flirting with .400 in late June.  Bichette uses the whole field, and unlike many players today, is willing to sacrifice some power in order to shorten his swing and protect the plate with two strikes.  The result is often solid contact.

The concern about both is their ultimate destination on the diamond, and in that regard, the pair appear to be heading in opposite directions.  Guerrero is rated by scouts as having above average arm strength, but his size and relative lack of speed are factors.  Guerrero makes up for some of his lack of range with his outstanding instincts and reactions to ground balls, and the Blue Jays are more than content to leave him at 3rd for now, but there seems to be a growing consensus that he will move across the infield one day.

Scouts for now appear to be giving Bichette a better-than-average shot at sticking at Short Stop.  Other SSs may cover more ground or having more arm strength, but Bichette gets to a great deal of the balls hit in his direction.  Under the guidance of the High Performance Department, Bichette has developed a more explosive first step, and coupled with a more focused pre-pitch set-up, he’s slowly increasing his range.  In a Sportsnet feature, Bichette admitted that defense wasn’t something he worked on a great deal as a high schooler, but he’s making up for that as a pro in a hurry.  Like Guerrero, he may ultimately move positions, but he will be playing Short for the foreseeable future.

The sky is the limit for the pair.  Both profile as high baseball IQ, impact offensive players.   Their bats will carry them to the big leagues.  The 18 year old Guerrero has stated that he wants to be in the bigs by the time he’s 20, and several national writers claimed this season that they could see him there by next summer, but the Blue Jays are not about to rush the timeline for either player.  As Mark Shapiro said last week, if the Blue Jays found themselves in the middle of a pennant race late next July, and were in need of a bat, and Guerrero had proven himself through the first 3-4 months of his minor league season (wherever that might be, likely New Hampshire by then), then there’s always a chance fans could see the prodigy in Toronto.  That’s a lot of “ifs,” however, and the planets would have to align perfectly for that to happen.

Both teenagers likely had major adjustments to make in their first full season.  Guerrero’s numbers predicatably tailed off a bit in June, and then again in July as he made adjustments following his promotion to Dunedin.  Bichette was consistent throughout the season’s first five months, but he hit only .263/.329/.421 in August.  The long season undoubtedly took its toll on the pair, but it served as an excellent experience for the future.

 

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C Max Pentecost, whose development has been significantly delayed by shoulder issues, checked in at 16th on BA’s Florida State League list.  There is little doubt about his bat, which has plus power potential, and his receiving skills have surprisingly showed well despite the rust that came with not having behind the plate for almost three years.  He showed plus arm strength, and good blocking skills.  The question will always be about Pentecost’s health. He did not Catch in back-to-back games this year, and BA speculates that he may develop into a hyrbird player like an Evan Gattis, Catching and seeing time in LF to keep his bat in the lineup.  So far in the Arizona Fall League, Pentecost has caught twice a week, with a day’s rest between games.  He has struggled against the advanced AFL pitching, going hitless in 15 straight PAs at one point, but he broke out and was a triple shy of the cycle in a huge 4-6 game last week.

The tools are there for Pentecost, but the Blue Jays may face a decision shortly:  keep him full time behind the plate, or begin to exploit his athleticism by starting to play him in the OF on occasion.  That decision may come as early as this year.

Neither LHP Ryan Borucki, who started the year with Dunedin and finished in Buffalo, nor TJ Zeuch, who missed two months’ action due to injury, made the list, but according to BA’s John Manuel (who has since accepted a scouting job with the Twins), both merited consideration.  Manuel comped Borucki with J.A. Happ, and while that’s an intriguing one, Happ’s changeup is not in the same league as Borcuki’s.  Zeuch has dominated Arizona Fall League pitching, indicating that he might well had made this list if not for the fact that he made only two starts after May.

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OF Edward Olivares made huge strides in his development in a breakout year that started at Lansing, and finished at Dunedin.  Lost a bit in the Vladdy/Bo hype, Olivares hit 17 Homers before his promotion, and popped up on the prospect radar.  BA’s Kyle Glaser had an interesting observation about him:

Olvares got a lot of love from scouts. Had a couple bring him up unprompted. Huge range in center field, plus runner, plus arm, good bat speed. There are some concerns about his setup and load and most evaluators see fringy power production moving forward once he faces better pitching, and in a deep MWL there are just more guys scouts saw as everyday-type players. Olivares is good though, and don’t be shocked if he keeps climbing

Olivares is not a Top 10 guy at the moment, but after being nowhere near the conversation about Blue Jays top farmhands last year, he has worked his way in, and bears future watching.  He’s one of those potential five-tool guys who can play all three OF positions.