Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects

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Clutchlings Photo

With a preference for acquiring and developing up-the-middle players who can slide to other defensive positions, the Blue Jays farm system continued its ascension into the upper tiers of baseball’s elite organizations in 2018.

With 15 prospects scattered among the Top 20 in Baseball America‘s rankings of each minor league this fall (tied for 3rd with Arizona, behind Tampa and San Diego), the Blue Jays system is now ranked #3 by BA, and most analysts (not named Keith Law) would agree that it’s a system on the rise.

When he took the helm of the Blue Jays organization three years ago, one of the carrots that brought Mark Shapiro over from Cleveland was the promise of a bigger budget for player development.  Since coming to Toronto, Shapiro has instituted a ground-breaking (for baseball) High Performance department, and has brought in numerous sport scientists to help the organization’s prospects learn to eat, train, and recover more efficiently.  He has also brought onboard several key executives with extensive player development experience like Ross Atkins and Ben Cherington.  This off-season, under the direction of Player Development head Gil Kim, the team brought in a number of minor league coaches and instructors with considerable teaching and coaching backgrounds, a trend that will likely continue this off season.

The Blue Jays have had reasonably successful drafts (although 2017 1st rounder Logan Warmoth took a large step back this year) over the past several seasons, and have done very well in the International market as well – it’s not a coincidence that new Manager Charlie Montoyo is bilingual, and has a strong track record of working with young players.  Minor league systems have to balance development with winning (with the former taking precedence at the lower levels), but several Blue Jays farm teams have made the post season over the past two years, with Vancouver bringing home a Northwest League title in 2017, and New Hampshire winning one this past season. The experience is always worthwhile for the organization’s young players, who, unlike college players, are not necessarily used to the pressure to win.

 

1.  Vladimir Guerrero 3B

.281/.437/.636,   9.5K%/9.3BB%,  20HR ,194 wRC+

At the moment, Guerrero is laying waste to Arizona Fall League pitching, and demonstrating that his bat is more than MLB-ready.  While Blue Jays fans were clamoring for Vladdy’s promotion for much of the season, a strained knee helped pumped the brakes on his development.  And that wasn’t a bad thing –  Shapiro had indicated a year ago that the only way we would see Guerrero in 2018 was if the team was in the middle of a pennant race, and even with the infusion of offence he would have provided, the 2018 Jays were not going to the post season.

A few extra months of minor league seasoning allowed Guerrero to continue to work on the defensive side of his game.  He has sure hands, good footwork, and a strong, accurate arm.  Vlad makes plays on balls that he gets to, but in the major leagues, where he’ll be fielding balls hit by MLB hitters (and half of them on turf),  but he’ll need to expand his range, and that was one of the reasons he remained in the minors this summer.

Even though he’ll be under intense media scrutiny when he reaches Toronto, Guerrero is more than up for the challenge.  This summer, it seemed like when he was facing a top-ranked Pitcher, Guerrero turned his game up accordingly.  If there is one knock against him, it’s that he doesn’t always do so when facing a lesser guy on the mound.  Those days will be fewer and further between in MLB.

When we finally do see Guerrero in the Blue Jays lineup, his impact will likely be immediate.  He is the best prospect the Blue Jays have ever developed.  He will anchor the middle of the Toronto order for years to come.

 

2.  Bo Bichette SS/2B

.286/.343/.453,  17K%/8.1BB% , 11 HR, 120 wRC+

Bichette grabbed more than his share of the headlines in 2017 when he led the minor leagues with a .362 average, hitting above .400 as late as mid-June.

This year was a different story.  In late May, his average tumbled to a career-low .237, before Bichette began to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone.  Maybe it was the pressure that he created himself trying to match Guerrero, or maybe it was the greater command possessed by Eastern League Pitchers, but 2018 was a tremendous learning year for Bichette, one that may ultimately serve him well in the future.

Bichette’s numbers for the year may not be awe-inspiring, but he put together a torrid final six weeks of the season, slashing .339/.402/.475 in August, and hitting .346 as New Hampshire romped to the EL title.

Bichette continued to make strides as a defender this season, but he looked most comfortable when the acquisition of Santiago Espinal in July forced him to share time at SS by moving over to 2B.  His range, reactions to ground balls, ability to make the pivot, and arm strength just seem to look better suited to the position.  One thing is for sure:  the bat will play, possibly not next season, but before a long time has elapsed.

3.  Nate Pearson SP

1.2 IP, 5.4 K/9, 0 BB/9, 10.80 FIP, 44.4% GB

Don’t be fooled at all by Pearson’s numbers.  An oblique issue kept him out of the lineup until early May, and a line drive off of his pitching arm in the second inning of his first start ended his season.  Pearson has pitched in the Arizona Fall League, but has understandably shown rust, but has dialed his velo back up to 100.

Pearson has a starter’s build and four-pitch mix.  He sits 96-98, and mixes in an effective curve, change, and slider.  He gets good spin on his breaking pitches, and throws all four from a similar arm slot.  When Pearson commands his fastball, hitters don’t have much of a chance.

Even though he’s thrown only 21 innings as a pro (his pitch count was strictly monitored in Vancouver last year after he was drafted), he will be bound for New Hampshire next year, and could move quickly.  The word “ace” is thrown around far too much, but Pearson definitely has front of the rotation potential.

 

4.  Danny Jansen C

(MiLB) .275/.390/.473,  13.6K%/12.1BB%, 12 HR, 146 wRC+

Already the hardest-working player on the field, the job of the MLB backstop has become even more complex in this day and age of framing and spin rates.  The Blue Jays unearthed a gem in the middle rounds of the 2013 draft, taking the Wisconsite with their 16th round pick.  In the 31 games he suited up for the Blue Jays this year, he showed why he’s considered one of the top receiving prospects in the game, and a potential franchise Catcher.

Jansen has always been an excellent framer, and Pitchers have long raved about working with him.  His bat came along last year, and he showcased good contact skills, and should hit the 20 HR plateau at some point.  If Reese McGuire continues to develop, the Blue Jays could employ him as more than a back up, allowing them to keep Jansen’s bat in the lineup when he needs a day off from behind the plate.

Jansen has given every indication that he will make the team out of training camp next year.

 

5.  Kevin Smith SS

.302/.328/.528, 21.1K%/ 7%BB, 25 HR, 149 wRC+

No Blue Jays prospect enhanced their status as much as the 2017 4th rounder did this year.  Stuck behind top pick Logan Warmoth last year, Smith surpassed him on both sides of the ball this year.

Smith owned Midwest League pitching before being promoted to Dunedin.  Along the way, he was named a Top 20 prospect by Baseball America in both leagues.  In naming him the FSL’s 11th top prospect, BA noted:

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

Smith did not make as much contact in Florida as he did in Michigan, with his K rate jumping from 16% to 24% after the promotion, with a corresponding drop in his BB rate as well.  Quite simply, Smith expanded his zone, and he may go through a dry spell similar to Bichette’s when he reaches the Eastern League next year.

Of all the up-the-middle prospects the Blue Jays have accumulated, Smith shows the most potential to stay at the position, and hit enough to become an MLBer.  An avid student of the game, he spent considerable time last off-season re-tooling his swing and refining his approach, and the payoff was significant.  He still may be a couple of seasons away, but he could provide a good complement to Guerrero on the left side of the Blue Jays infield.

 

6.  Eric Pardinho, SP

50 IP, 11.5K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.75 FIP, 46.3% GB

Dropped into a new country, with travel and under-the-lights play, and facing hitters that in almost every case were older than him (some by several years), all Pardinho did was produce one of the best debut seasons of any Blue Jays Starting Pitcher in recent memory.

The top-ranked 2017 IFA had his innings closely monitored in the Appy League, but he missed a lot of bats (15.4% K rate), and was very difficult to square up and loft (31% Fly Ball rate).  His four-pitch mix overmatched Appy hitters, as evidenced by a dominant mid-August outing against eventual league champs Elizabethton, a Twins affiliate.  Pardinho retired the first 19 hitters he faced before giving up a one out single in the 7th.

As might be expected of a 17-year-old, there’s still room for Pardinho to grow both physically and emotionally.  And even though he will one day be dwarfed in the rotation by Pearson, there’s a lot to like about Pardinho.  His athleticism allows him to repeat a clean, efficient delivery.  Already sitting 93-95 most nights, Pardinho should add some velo as he gets older, which will make his secondaries even more effective.

He’s still several seasons away – there’s even a good chance that Pardinho remains in Extended next spring until the Midwest League weather warms up.  But there is plenty of reason to expect to see him near the top of the Blue Jays rotation one day.

7.  Sean Reid-Foley SP

(AAA) 85.1 IP, 10.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 3.06 FIP, 42.7% GB

He had his struggles at the major league level, but his MiLB season was one of the most successful of Reid-Foley’s career, and gave fans a glimpse of what his potential could be.

After a dominant 8 starts at AA. SRF moved up to Buffalo, and continued to pile the whiffs, fanning 10.3/9, while walking only 3.6/9.  While in Buffalo, he came out firing, daring hitters to try to catch up with his mid 90-s fastball.  His problems at the MLB level came when he fell behind hitters, something he’ll have to fix and may come with added experience.

Starting Pitching is probably the hardest commodity to develop in all of baseball, and one look no further than the rising popularity of bullpenning and use of the Opener.  Even with a mid-rotation projection, there’s still plenty of potential value in Reid-Foley.

 

8. Jordan Groshans SS

(GCL) .331/390/.500, 18.8K%/8.2BB, 4 HR, 150 wRC+

The Jays broke out of the run of first round college picks last June when they took the Texas High Schooler, and he didn’t disappoint.  BA named him the 5th best prospect in the Gulf Coast League, with his bat the stand out tool:

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

Promoted to Bluefield for the Appy League playoffs, Groshans started slowly, but his bat came alive.  With a talented GCL infield this summer, Groshans split time at SS and 3B.  His arm is graded as above average, but the feeling among some evaluators seems to be that he winds up at the hot corner long-term.

 

9.  Anthony Alford OF

(AAA) .240/.312/.344,  26.9K%/7.2BB%, 5 HR, 87 wRC+

It’s hard to quit on the toolsy outfielder, even though 2018 was definitely a sideways year for him.  When he began the season on the DL, there were the usual concerns about his injury history.  Alford seemed lost at times at the plate this year, and did not barrel up balls like he did in 2017.

Still, there was some progress.  Alford began to drive the ball more in August, slashing .282/.324/.388 with 11 Doubles.  And the work he did with Coach Devon White helped him to take more efficient routes on fly balls.

The clock is starting to tick for Alford (he still has one more option year), but if he can stay in the lineup consistently, there could be a place for him in the Toronto outfield at some point next year.

 

10.  Orelvis Martinez SS

The top-ranked July 2nd bat in this year’s class did not look out of place at Instructs, from reports, as the Blue Jays added yet another up-the-middle player.  The Blue Jays spent 70% of their pool money on Martinez’ $3.5 million bonus – the second largest in club history.

We don’t know enough about his defensive skills yet, but there are a lot of indications that the bat will play.  In fact, there is word that Martinez will start his pro career stateside next year, and his bat may be advanced enough to skip the GCL.  Assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, who oversees Latin America for the club, raved about Martinez’ skills at the plate:

The combination of consistency, good results, good plan at the plate, has hit good velocity, has hit breaking balls and laid off breaking balls — those things make you as comfortable as you’re going to get with a player who’s obviously a long way away from his prime.

 

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What to Expect from Sean Reid-Foley

RHP Sean Reid-Foley is a study in prospect development.

Thought to be a late first round pick in 2014, the Florida High Schooler fell to the 2nd round due to a college committment.  The Blue Jays scooped him up with the 49th pick, and while he hit full season ball in just his second year as a pro, they have brought him along gradually, challenging him to improve his fastball command and secondaries at each level.  He changed his delivery at Instructs in the fall of 2015 in order to streamline his delivery – the knock from scouts is that he tended to lose his mechanics during games, and lacked the ability early in his career to make adjustments.  At every level, the Blue Jays have allowed Reid-Foley to find his own comfort level, and have not rushed him.

In naming him the Blue Jays 11th prospect after a disappointing 2017 season, Baseball America‘s evaluation is remarkably prophetic:

After Reid-Foley took a step forward in 2016, he struggled in 2017 in the Double-A Eastern League, where he struggled with fastball command, inconsistent stuff and gave up too much hard contact. Despite his struggles, Reid-Foley still flashes average to plus stuff across the board. Reid-Foley’s fastball parks at 91-94 mph with good movement and reaches 97. His best secondary pitch depends on the day. Usually either his curveball or slider are working for him. When they’re right, they’re average pitches, though they sometimes disappeared on him and contributed to his struggles. His changeup flashed average at times too. Reid-Foley must improve his fastball command, which is complicated because of his mechanics and arm action. That leads several scouts to think his future is in the bullpen, though the Blue Jays plan to keep Reid-Foley as a starter. Reid-Foley has the repertoire to project as a back-end starter, though his stuff could tick up in short stints if he’s moved to a relief role, with a chance to get to Toronto by the end of 2018.

With SRF, you will get a fastball that now sits in the mid 90s, a pitch that he often elevates with two strikes.  The trick for Reid-Foley is getting ahead of hitters, where his slider or that upstairs four seamer can become more effective.  But that’s been an issue throughout his minor league career – when he’s on, he misses bats and piles up the Ks.  When he’s not, his pitch count goes up in a hurry.  This year, the former has been the case far more often than the latter – Reid-Foley has fanned 146 batters in 126 innings at two levels, and has limited hitters to a .205 average.  His 13.3% Swinging Strike rate is good enough for 3rd in the International League for Pitchers who’ve thrown more than 80 innings.  He has the lowest pull rate (37.3%) for that same threshold.  The inconsistencies of last year have become a thing of the past.

Reid-Foley will likely be pitching tonight to his Buffalo battery mate Danny Jansen, which should be a tremendous bonus – Jansen knows Reid-Foley’s pitches, and could be a great comfort factor for him. Without a great deal of fanfare, the rebuild is on in Toronto, and SRF, Jansen, and Ryan Borucki should be regulars in the Blue Jays lineup for the remainder of the season, to be joined by several more of their Buffalo teammates when MLB rosters expand in September.

 

Blue Jays Last 10 Prospect Hot Sheet

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

1.  Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Buffalo

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

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

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

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

2.  Jordan Groshans 3B/SS, GCL Jays

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

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

3.  Jordan Romano, RHP, New Hampshire

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

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

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

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

4.  Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Buffalo

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

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

5.  Rodrigo Orozco, OF, Dunedin

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

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

Blue Jays Last Ten Days Hot Sheet

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Miguel Hiraldo mlb.com photo

Here’s a little project that has been long in the thinking process, but has only recently come into execution.

The following are the top five Blue Jays prospects based on their performance over the past week and a half.  It’s not a re-ranking of the top prospects, but just a snapshot of the hottest players in the system over that period of time, with their stats for that stretch.

1.  Ryan Noda, Lansing .500/.560/1.222

The 2017 Appy League MVP brought his on-base ways with him to full season ball as he transitioned to the OF (a position he played in college), but struggled for the first two months of the season to get his average over the Mendoza line, or tap into the power he demonstrated last season.

With the promotion of 1B Kacy Clemens to High A, Noda shifted to his spot, and seems to have found his comfort zone.  Noda hit his first HR on May 30th, and has hit 4 since then, including a pair in a 3-4 night on June 7th.

2. Patrick Murphy, Dunedin, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, .184 BAA

Murphy was promoted to New Hampshire for a spot start on May 27th, and acquitted himself well with six strong innings.  Sent back to Dunedin, Murphy has not been scored upon over his last two starts.

Murphy is not one of the higher profile arms in the system, but he has steadily put together a good body of work since reaching full season ball in 2016.

3.  Miguel Hiraldo, DSL Jays, .433/.485/.833

One of the top-ranked bats in last year’s IFA class, Hiraldo hammered DSL pitching over the course of its first week of play.  Hiraldo had a three-hit game, and a pair of four-hit games last week, knocking out his first two pro Homers in the process.

Hiraldo’s long-term future probably involves a move from SS to 3B.  His short-term one may see a move to the Gulf Coast League, which starts play next week.

4.  Tayler Saucedo, Dunedin 1-2, 2.55 ERA, 2.65 ERA, .234 BAA

Just over a month ago, Saucedo changed his arm angle, and he’s become one of the more effective starters in the system since then.

Saucedo’s latest effort was a career-high 8 inning effort, in which he allowed two runs on five hits.

Saucedo does not overpower hitters, but relies on a mix of pitches and some deception in his delivery to get them out.  He was Dunedin’s Pitcher of the Month for May.

5.  Sean Reid-Foley, Buffalo, 1-0, 2.00 ERA, .235 BAA

Reid-Foley seems to have alternated good starts with not-so-good outings since his promotion to Buffalo last month.  Knocked out in the 3rd inning in his first start, he fanned 10 over 6 in his next.  Following that, Reid-Foley lasted only two innings, which then was succeeded by one of his best starts as a pro – a career-first 7 inning complete game, a 9-hit effort in which he gave up only one earned run, and more importantly, he didn’t give up a walk.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Pitching Prospects

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.

 

Sean Reid-Foley Making the Transition from Thrower to Pitcher

2017 was going to be Sean Reid-Foley’s year.

Challenged with a promotion to AA after striking out almost 11 batters per 9 innings at two levels the previous year, the 2014 2nd rounder seemed to be on the fast track to the Major Leagues.

2017 proved to be a learning year for the righthander, who had reached full season ball in 2015 in only his second year as a pro.  Control problems skyrocketed his pitch counts as he admittedly tried to be too perfect, and he amassed only 15 innings over the course of his first 6 starts as a result.

Reid-Foley settled down and pitched reasonably well after that, but his 2017 did not meet up with expectations, and with youth on his side and a full rotation at Buffalo ahead of him, the Blue Jays opted to have him return to New Hampshire.

After two starts this season, he appears to be a changed Pitcher.  Reid-Foley retired the first 16 hitters he faced against the Rockies’ Hartford affiliate last night.  Going back to his last start, if not for a 6th inning error by 1B Juan Kelly, Reid-Foley had set down 28 consecutive hitters.

What’s been the difference so far for Reid-Foley?   Obviously, command has been a huge reason.  After walking three over the first three innings his first start, Reid-Foley didn’t issue another one until after allowing his first base runner last night, a one out single in the 6th.  Running out of gas, and maybe losing his focus a bit, Reid-Foley walked the next batter after that hit.  On the night, though he filled up the strike zone, throwing 67% of his pitches for strikes.

Reid-Foley’s hammer curve has been an effective pitch for him in both starts.  Sitting 93-95 with his fastball, the curve offers another look that disrupts hitters’ timing.  He also appears willing to sacrifice strikeouts for weak contact – Reid-Foley recorded 9 ground ball outs on the night.

The knock against Reid-Foley in the past that he was unable to make in-game mechanical adjustments when he fell out of his delivery and lost the strike zone.  Last year, when he fell behind in the count, he would catch too much of the plate, and gave up a lot of contact.  Through two starts, he appears to have refined his command, and those occasions when he’s fallen behind, Reid-Foley has worked on the margins on the strike zone to get hitters out.  As a result, he’s largely avoided barrels to this point.

Two starts does not a season make, but Reid-Foley is moving in the right direction.  He’s commanding his fastball, and mixing in his secondaries well.  It really appears that he’s started to make the change from a thrower to a Pitcher, relying on his smarts more than his physical talents to be successful.

 

Fisher Cats Release Roster

Fans in Manchester, NH, home of the Blue Jays AA Eastern League affiliate, have reasons to be excited.

Not only did the club extend its Player Development Contract with the Blue Jays for another two seasons last month, their roster released today includes two of the top prospects in all of baseball in the form of Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette:

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Much of the Florida State League co-champion Dunedin Blue Jays roster moves up to New Hampshire, giving fans potentially one of their most competitive clubs in several seasons.

The inclusion of Lourdes Gurriel Jr on the roster was something of a surprise, as he seemed ticketed for AAA after spending half a season with New Hampshire last year.  His play this spring had been described as lackluster, but whatever the case is, Gurriel still needs plenty of reps, after missing a good chunk of last year and all of the two season prior to that.

New Hampshire should have decent starting pitching, led by (in no particular order) Jordan Romano, Nick Tepesch, Sean Reid-Foley,  Francisco Rios, and Jon Harris.  The latter three are repeating AA, and there were hopes that SRF might reach AAA, but a disappointing spring has him headed back to New Hampshire.  There likely was no room for him in Buffalo’s rotation anyway, and after reaching AA at 21 last year, there’s still room for development.  Andrew Case, Dusty Isaacs, and Danny Young should form the core of an effective back-end of the bullpen, along with Zach Jackson, who was promoted from Dunedin.  Veteran reliever Craig Breslow signed a minor league deal with the Jays and had an opt out on March 22nd, but decided to stick with the organization.

Max Pentecost slipped through the Rule 5 draft last fall after being shut down late in the Arizona Fall League.  Veteran MiLB Patrick Cantwell joined the organization late last year, and appears to be splitting the Catching duties with Pentecost.  To be honest, it’s surprising there isn’t a 3rd Catcher on the roster, as Pentecost’s duties behind the plate have been limited.

The infield appears to be Guerrero at 3rd, Bichette at SS, Gurriel at 2nd (spelling Bichette on occasion), and Juan Kelly at 1st.  Cavan Biggio has played 2nd since being drafted two years ago, but was working out at 1st this spring.  Gunnar Heidt can play several infield positions.

The New Hampshire OF has returning CF Jonathan Davis, who had strong Arizona Fall League and Spring Training campaigns, anchoring it.  He’ll be joined by returnees Harold Ramirez, who did not hit as well has had been hoped last year, and the multi-talented Andrew Guillotte.  Connor Panas, along with Romano, represents the Canadian content on the roster.  Panas has mostly played 1st or DH’d since joining the Blue Jays in 2015, but he can play the corner OF spots.

Ladner, BC native Tom Robson starts the year on New Hampshire’s Disabled List.  Robson, who was converted to full-time relief last year after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2016, appears to be headed for surgery again.  Another Canadian, Lefty Shane Dawson, was a member of the Fisher Cats’ rotation the past two years, but was released this past week.

John Schneider moves up from Dunedin to helm the Fisher Cats.  Schneider played for 7 years in the system after being drafted by the Blue Jays in 2002, and is entering his 10th season as a Manager.  Huner Mense joins him as Hitting Coach. Mense played in the Padres system for five seasons before returning to school and receiving his Masters in Sports Psychology.  He served as the hitting coach for the Padres Northwest League affiliate before joining the Blue Jays this off-season.  Nova Scotian Vince Horsman returns as Pitching Coach.  Horsman originally signed with the Jays in 1984, and has been a coach in the organization since 2009.  Andy Fermin, who turned to coaching last year after 7 years as a player in the system, returns as Position Coach.

 

Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects – #5 Sean Reid-Foley/Richard Urena

pjimageFor the first time since I started ranking Blue Jays in 2013, I honestly can’t make my mind up about a pair of prospects.

RHP Sean Reid-Foley and SS Richard Urena had their struggles at AA this year, but there’s still tremendous updside to both.  Perhaps the biggest challenge this year was condensing what’s becoming a system with some decent depth into a Top 10 list, and I just could not fathom ranking either player any lower (or higher) for that matter.  Neither deserved to be at the top of the list, nor did they merit being left off altogether.  #5 is a suitable, mid prospect-range place to put them.

For someone pressed for time this spring, watching SRF’s first half-dozen starts was a Godsend.  Wildness drove up his pitch count early, and he failed to last beyond the 3rd inning in five of those.  By his own admission, Reid-Foley was trying to blow his fastball by hitters in his first go at AA (where he was one of the youngest starting pitchers in the league).  He tended to rush his delivery, and threw his four-seamer up and out of the strike zone.  Hitters at the lower levels often chased that pitch, but the more disciplined Eastern League hitters refuse to offer, putting him behind in the count often.  Hitters then sat on that fastball when he caught too much of the strike zone.

Early in the season, with his pitch count up quickly, he found himself pulled.  It wasn’t until he hit rock bottom on a May 2nd start, when he couldn’t get out of the first inning (lifted with two outs, having given up four runs, three walks, needing 37 pitches to do so), that SRF began to turn things around.  In his next 16 starts, Reid-Foley pitched into the 6th inning 9 times, and began to look more like the mid-rotation starter that he was projected to be.

The knock against him has long been that he lacked the experience to make mechanical adjustments on the fly, resulting in long innings and early hooks.  After a 2016 split between Lansing and Dunedin, in which he fanned 130 batters in 115 innings, Reid-Foley had appeared to learn how to make those in-game changes.  He had moved up to #4 in Baseball America‘s Top 10 Blue Jays rankings, and had even cracked their Top 100, coming in at #75.

When Reid-Foley rushes his delivery in attempt to bump his fastball (which already sits 93-95), he opens up early, and his command is very inconsistent.  As the season progressed, he repeated his delivery with greater frequency.  He could still dial it up to 97, with what was termed “effective wildness.”   SRF had one of the highest (10.6%) swinging strike rates in the Eastern League, and his line drive rate of 18.5% was reasonably low.  Only two pitchers had a higher K/9 rate than SRF’s 8.28.  There’s still plenty of reason for optimism with those numbers.

The bread and butter of Reid-Foley’s arsenal is that fastball.  His slider is probably his best secondary pitch, but both that pitch and his curve have plus potential.  His inability to command that fastball at times this year, of course, limited the effectiveness of his secondaries.  One scouting report from May suggested that his mechanics have been an issue:

Reid-Foley works from an abbreviated delivery that appears as being from the stretch, with a side-step delivery and compact arm action and above-average arm strength. His trouble repeating seems rooted in what’s appears be some limited athleticism in keeping the moving parts of his large frame working together through to an online finish. He had trouble working down in the strike zone and getting over his front side in this viewing.

Given his struggles this year, there was more talk that like rotation mate Conner Greene, who had his issues as well this year, Reid-Foley would be better suited to a back-of-the-bullpen role, where his fastball would play up.  The club will more than likely continue to give him every chance to succeed as a starter, however.  He has the build and three-pitch mix to turn a lineup over and give the team a lot of innings.  SRF was sent back to Lansing in 2016 after finishing in Dunedin in 2015.  One wonders if he may repeat AA to start 2018, before moving up to Buffalo’s rotation.

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Urena, of course, finished the season as Troy Tulowitzki’s injury replacement at SS.  He’s been almost a perennial Top 10 guy since his first pro season in 2013, but as Urena has moved up the ladder, his flaws have been exposed. He acquitted himself well in September, however.

All of Urena’s tools except for his speed show glimpses of above average potential, but consistency and a lack of polish at the plate and with the glove seem to relegate him to average status.

A swtich hitter, we observed earlier this year that he has different swings from each side:

Ureña hits from both sides, but he has shown markedly different mechanics and approach with each.  From the left side (his natural one), he utlizes a leg kick, and has a long, looping swing that can leave him susceptible to off-speed pitches, and can result in weak contact.  From the right side, Ureña uses only a toe tap and a much more compact swing, which allows him to drive the ball to the opposite field.

Urena got off to a very slow start this year, flirting with the Mendoza Line for much of the first two months.  His approach can best be described as aggressive; he can hammer mistakes, especially from the left side, but he gives away a lot of ABs going after pitcher’s pitches.  He has slowly demonstrated improving strike zone judgement over the course of his minor league career, but he struck out a whopping 37.5% of the time against MLB pitching.  Urena has quick wrists and good bat speed, but he does not make a lot of hard contact.

In the field, Urena has a plus arm, good reactions, and decent footwork, but he often makes careless throwing errors when he doesn’t plant his feet, and he has been known to boot the odd routine groundball.  His reactions help to make up for his relative lack of speed when it comes to his range.

Urena could profile as an above average offensive player, and a generally average defensive one.  The performance this year makes one question whether he’ll ever reach that ceiling.  At the same time, there are those tools, which just can’t be ignored, and the fact that he’s only 21.  Given his age and Tulowitzki’s contract, Urena should be headed to Buffalo for more seasoning come April.

Alford Sole Fisher Cat to Crack EL Top 20

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cbc.ca photo

New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ OF Anthony Alford had a season to write home about.

After a sideways 2016 which was interrupted by injury, the 2012 3rd rounder did not break out this year like he did in 2015, when he burst onto the prospect scene after three seasons to abbreviated action while he pursued his college football dreams, but he had a fantastic  2017 campaign just the same.  After making his MLB debut in May, he returned to AA in August after breaking his wrist, and was named the Eastern League’s 9th Top Prospect by Baseball America.

Alford blitzed Eastern League pitching, and was hitting .325/.411/.455 when he was called up to the Blue Jays.  He broke his wrist after only 8 ABs, and was out of action for six weeks.  When Alford returned, the Blue Jays wisely decided to sent him back to AA after a rehab stint at Dunedin.

That Alford was ranked only the 9th-best Eastern League prospect is not an issue; the loop was full of premium prospects this year.  But he did show a combination of speed, reactions to fly balls, and power potential that led several EL Managers to compare him to former MLBer Rondell White.  One Manager went as far as to say:

His breaks on balls were so good…….that it looked like he got going before the ball was hit.

Alford had a great deal of development time to make up for after committing to baseball in 2015.  His baseball education is almost complete, and it’s time for him to compete for a major league job at spring training.

Conspicuous by their absence on the list were Pitchers Sean Reid-Foley and Conner Greene.  Both had their struggles this season, to put it mildly.  Reid-Foley’s command issues early in the season had him running into pitch limit troubles early in starts.  He did improve as 2017 progressed, but his numbers were inflated by those April and May difficulties.  Greene hit 100+ on his fastball numerous times, and wowed the hometown crowd at the Eastern League All Star game,  but command issues plagued him for much of the season.  No other starter in the Blue Jays organization had a higher  pitches per inning average than Greene.  BA stated:

He had the best fastball in the league and his curveball was in the conversation for best breaking ball, but he was more of a thrower than a pitcher, in managers/scouts eyes. He lived up in the zone a lot, for example, and could get hit. If he irons out the finer points of pitching and keeps the same stuff, the ceiling is very high. He wasn’t far off the list.

This season may just have been a speed bump for both, but it did bring about mumblings that we’ve heard before that one or both of them profile in the long run as power bullpen arms.

C Danny Jansen played at 3 levels this year, and had a breakthrough year at the plate.  Jansen hit career highs in most offensive categories, putting up a combined line of .323/.400/.484, with 10 Home Runs.  The EL list was the only one he qualified for, but BA’s Josh Norris felt he profiles more of a bat-first Catcher:

 Scouts who I talked to saw him more as an offensive-minded backup type of catcher with work still to be done defensively. Particularly, needed work on his lateral agility as a blocker.

Prior to this season, Jansen had a reputation as a solid defensive Catcher.  I have to admit that this was not the first time his skills had been questioned this summer.  Jansen is a big guy, and he did seem challenged on some pitches in the dirt off the plate this year.  Still, he is an excellent pitch framer, and presents a nice low target for his size.  It will be interesting to see where his development goes from here.  You have to think that he has an excellent shot at landing a position as Russ Martin’s understudy next spring.