The Blue Jays Top 20 – Five Who Just Missed

In putting together a top prospects list, invariably there’s some buyer’s remorse, and more than a few tweets or comments about who was left off – rest assured that the 11-20 list went through several drafts before it was published.

As anyone who has ever coached a team can tell you, when you’re selecting players at a tryout, depending on the sport, there is a percentile of players that stand out right away.  And there are some you know just aren’t going to make it.  The biggest group of players tends to be in between those two, and often there isn’t a lot of difference between them.  Maybe their skills sets are different, but their overall potential and ability to help the team are not, on balance.

Here are five players who were fringe candidates for the Top 20.  All are on an upward trajectory, but their tools don’t project as elite.  Still, if they continue to develop at the pace they did this year, it’s reasonable to expect one or more could break through to the Top 20 next year.

1.  Chavez Young, OF

The toolsy Bahamian had a breakout summer in his first crack at full season ball with Lansing, and was the only minor leaguer to combine 50+ extra base hits with 40+ stolen bases.  Young can play all three OF positions, has a patient approach at the plate, and makes thing happen on the bases.

Despite that, Young is not considered a top prospect.  His best tool is considered to be his speed, and even though he’s a switch-hitter, his bat is not considered elite.  It’s interesting that he didn’t appear on Baseball America‘s Top 20 Midwest League prospects despite a decent .285/.363/.444 line, nor was he moved up to Dunedin during the season.  Reports suggest he’s already tapped into his power, and 8 HRs will not get you far in the long run.  Still, there is some sleeper potential with Young, but we won’t get a true read on him until he plays at a higher level.

2.  Jordan Romano, SP

We always want to see someone who grew up a short distance from the Rogers Centre do well.  Especially when it’s someone as personable and available as Romano, who Future Blue Jays has kept close tabs on for several seasons.

Romano came out like a house on fire this season, winning his first eight decisions, and was named the Eastern Division starter in the Eastern League All-Star game.  He was also named a post-season EL All-Star, and was near the top of many Pitching stats.  Over the past three seasons, he’s missed a lot of bats, totalling 338 Ks over that span.

Romano’s post ASG numbers were not as glittering as his pre ones were.  He gave up more contact, and EL hitters batted .292 against him over that span.  Romano has worked diligently to develop a change up to complement his 93-94 fastball and slider, but he hasn’t fully learned the many nuances of it yet.

Interestingly, in his one-inning All Star game outing, Romano dialled his fastball up to 98, sitting 94-97.   If he isn’t added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster this month, there’s a good chance a team will take a chance on him in the Rule 5 draft and move him to the bullpen.

3.  Alejandro Kirk, C/1B

There’s a lot to like about a guy with roughly the same dimensions as an oversized fire hydrant.  In his first year of play in the system (he was a late 2016 sign, but in his first GCL AB last year re-injured a hand he had originally hurt in an off-season car accident), he slashed a ridiculous .354/.443/.558.

The issue with Kirk is that he’s a bat-first player.  At 5’9″/220, he has no real position except behind the plate, where reports say he was at least adequate in an emergency role.

We need to see more of Kirk at higher levels, but we suspect it might be fun to watch his plate appearances.

4.  Zach Jackson, RP

Owner of a funky, over-the-top delivery, Jackson is very tough on right handed hitters, who managed only a .108 batting average against him in AA this year.

Jackson has fanned better than a batter per inning since being drafted in 2016, and struck out 10.9/9 in 2018.  Control problems have plagued him, however, as he walked 7.4/9 this past year.

Jackson has a long reach in the back during his delivery, which makes it very difficult for him to achieve a consistent release point.  His fastball sits 93-94, and is paired with a 12-6 hammer of a curve.

When he was drafted, there was some thought that Jackson could move quickly.  Command issues have dictated otherwise, but there’s a live arm there.

5.  Cal Stevenson OF

Forget for a moment Stevenson’s video game numbers (.359/.494/.518) for Bluefield in the Appy League.  He’s a guy whose tools (except for his speed) grade out as average across the board.

So, why is he even in a top prospect conversation?

Maybe it’s his ability to work the count and get on base.  Or perhaps it’s because he’s one of those heart and soul guys whose approach and work ethic might help him to outperform his projections.  Or maybe even it’s because of his high baseball IQ, which is evident in just about every aspect of his game.

The odds against Stevenson are long, but it will be fun to watch him in full season next year.

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Who Will the Blue Jays Send to the Arizona Fall League?o

As the minor league season approaches its conclusion, we turn our thoughts to the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school of sorts for an organization’s top prospects.

In the past, the Blue Jays have used the AFL experience to give their top prospects a taste of competition against elite talent, or to give them added reps missed due to injury.

Toronto will send six prospects to play for the Surprise Saguaros, who will be managed by former Blue Jays minor league Manager Stubby Clapp, who’s now in the Cardinals organization.  New Hampshire Position Coach Andy Fermin will join Clapp’s staff.

The Blue Jays will be sending six players – they’re allowed to send any AAA or AA player, as well as one from High A.  Projecting the first three players is fairly easy:

1.  Vlad Jr

While fans are clamoring for Guerrero’s promotion to the big club when MLB rosters expand on September 1st, the Blue Jays are still building him up to play a full season (and holding off on his service time), so a shutdown for September followed by a trip to the desert is the most likely scenario.

2.  Bo Bichette

Bichette has had his ups and downs this year as his pitch recognition skills have been put to the test, but his .839 post All Star OPS suggests he’s come through his first taste of adversity as a pro.  Word travelled quickly around the Eastern League that he’d chase, and he struggled until he stopped expanding his strike zone.

Bichette would likely get an opportunity to split time between SS and 2B, adding to his versatility.

3.  Cavan Biggio

Biggio’s prodigious power (26 HRs, .532 SLG) has been one of the bigger surprises in the organization.  Toss in 90 BBs and 128 Ks, and you have a three true outcomes triple crown threat.

Some Toronto media members have been suggesting Biggio could be in the Blue Jays lineup as early as next year, but the team still likely would to see if that power surge is for real, and what his ultimate position might be.  Biggio has played mostly 2B, but has also seen time at 1B and 3B, and the club experimented with him in RF this week.

Facing tough competition in the AFL will give us a good barometer of the legitimacy of his power.

It starts to get a bit unpredictable at this point.  Some possible candidates for the other three spots include:

Nate Pearson

After spending April in shut down mode with an oblique issue, Pearson’s 2018 came to a screeching halt when he took a line drive off of his pitching arm in his first start of the season.  Reports suggested an August return, but he’s yet to pitch in a game since the injury.

It’s possible we see him in short stints in the AFL, but the likelihood of that depends on how his arm has healed.  And getting that kind of information out of the Blue Jays is a herculean task.

Travis Bergen

Injuries limited the 2015 7th rounder to 28 innings over his first three pro seasons.  He was a mainstay in Vancouver’s bullpen last year, helping to lead the C’s to a league title, and has taken over the Closer’s role in New Hampshire.  With Bergen eligible for the Rule 5 draft if he’s not placed on the 40-man roster by November, the team likely would like to see how he fares against top prospects.

Zach Jackson

The righty reliever with the funky delivery has fanned 66 in 56 innings for New Hampshire, but has walked 43.  Some added reps might be in order.

Patrick Murphy 

Like Bergen, Murphy has a lengthy injury history, but he’s bumped up his velo, hitting 100 this year, and sitting 96-98 deep into games.  Murphy has also blown past his previous high in Innings Pitched, so there’s every chance he’s shut down come September, given the Blue Jays usual caution with their young arms.  With the Rule 5 a possibility for Murphy, there’s a good chance he’s added to the 40 this fall.

Jon Harris

The 2015 1st rounder had a disappointing season in his first AA campaign last year, but has added velo and some deception to his delivery in his second crack at the level in 2018.  With the Rule 5 looming for Harris, the Blue Jays might give him time in Arizona after a decent second half with New Hampshire.

Jordan Romano

Romano came out like a house on fire at AA, winning his first 8 decisions and getting the starting nod at the Eastern League All Star game.  He hasn’t missed as many bats in the second half as he did in the first, and with scouts wondering if he wasn’t better suited to a bullpen role, the Blue Jays might want to begin that transition this fall if that’s what they have in mind.

Angel Perdomo

The tall lefty with the electric fastball has been a starter since joining the organization in 2012, but the team moved him into the bullpen this year in Dunedin.

Rosters are usually released in late August.  Play in the AFL begins in early October, and wraps up in late November.