February 9, 2016
Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: Almost everyone on the 2015 list either graduated or got dealt. That’s what happens when a team is gunning for its first flag in decades.
The Top Ten
1. Anthony Alford, OF
Juggling professional baseball and big-time college football is a helluva lot to ask of a young athlete, and especially of a hitter, whose development is so dependent on the accumulation of in-game reps against live pitching. This is why Alford’s offensive breakout came as a bit of a surprise. It’s not that the raw ingredients weren’t present before the 2015 season (they most definitely were), but rather that Alford simply hadn’t been able to rack up a substantial rep volume, with only 110 minor-league plate appearances to his name over three years. Then again, Anthony Alford isn’t your average minor leaguer.
With double-plus speed, a solid-average arm and an instinctual feel for playing the outfield, Alford projects as a plus defender, and his lean, muscled body composition bodes well for his ability to sustain defensive excellence well into his late 20s. Speed, athleticism, and arm strength are the qualities you’d expect would be least affected by the competing demands of a college football career, but his hit tool—the aspect you’d expect would be most affected—is that of a more seasoned, baseball-only guy. With a relatively uncomplicated swing that features a shallow load and a direct bat path, Alford makes consistent, hard line-drive contact to all fields, and possesses an advanced feel for the zone. His hands do have a tendency to drift needlessly upward pre-launch, as opposed to moving horizontally and/or rotationally away from the pitcher at an angle that would be more conducive to initiating and maintaining a level plane through the zone. That said, even if Alford were to change nothing, he has the bat speed needed to make this load peculiarity work. The one aspect of his game that likely won’t reach average is power, as his swing isn’t particularly geared to induce loft. That’s of little concern, however, as the positive aspects of his offensive profile far outweigh this small blemish. While challenges still await Alford in the upper minors, he’ll figure prominently in Toronto’s plans at the major-league level as early as the 2017 season.
Major league ETA: 2017
2. Conner Greene, RHP
Anthony Alford isn’t the only guy in the upper echelon of Toronto’s system with exceptional non-baseball talent. Meet Conner Greene: right handed starter/model/actor—a guy who’s literally capable of selling jeans. We’ll spare you the full-on Parks-ian description of Greene’s physique and facial features but let’s just say he has “the good face.”
The ultra-projectable Greene possesses comically long limbs but is nonetheless able to coordinate his actions effectively. At 6-foot-3, with a high-three-quarters slot, Greene works downhill and creates excellent plane. He sits 92-94 with sinking action and can dial it up as high as 97-98 when he needs the extra velo in a pinch. His straight change flashes plus thanks to replicated arm speed. The curveball is below average at the moment and is more of a tumbler than a pitch with a deep, abrupt breaking point. He’d likely benefit from letting loose and throwing it harder, which would yield less of a pronounced arc but more in terms of tight, sharp bite.
He’s around the zone now, but expect the finer points of his command profile to solidify as he matures physically, and adds weight, strength, and increased coordination. Greene got a five-start taste of Double-A toward the tail end of 2015 and should open the 2016 season back there. With some rotation depth to work with, the Jays will take their time with Greene, who will have just turned 21 on Opening Day. If all goes according to plan in New Hampshire, Greene’s contribution window in Toronto, like Alford’s, could come as early as the 2017 season.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Greene saw his stock rise up in dynasty leagues quite a bit thanks to a very strong full-season debut, and he’s certainly worked his way up to being a top-150 fantasy prospect—while garnering some consideration for the very back of the fantasy 101. There’s SP3 potential here, with stronger ratios than strikeouts, but enough of the latter to get by.
Major league ETA: 2017
3. Jonathan Harris, RHP
Harris isn’t a football player or a model but he looks awfully good in a uniform. The lean, lanky right-hander features a projectable frame capable of adding another 20 or so pounds of good weight. His arm action is loose and free, he gets excellent extension out front, and he decelerates his arm efficiently. With four pitches that project as average or better, Harris has the arsenal depth required to turn over a lineup and keep left-handed hitters in check.
His above-average fastball shows running and fading action, and can get up into the mid-90s at times. As any pitching coach will tell you, throwing both a slider and a curveball is very difficult, especially for a pitcher who has yet to truly master one or the other. Harris is able to make it work, however, as each pitch is distinct, standing on its own as a useful repertoire component. The projected grades for each breaking pitch are close but the slider has a slight edge, as it’s the more natural fit for Harris’ arm slot and he’s able to better match fastball arm speed when throwing it. While the curveball is an effective pitch in its own right, he has to manipulate his posture in order to get on top of the offering, which may become problematic as he moves up the chain and encounters increasingly refined hitters who will be able to pick up on his tell. Harris did not perform well at Short-Season Vancouver after signing, yielding far too many free passes and hard contact, but his stuff was more or less intact. Chalk Harris’s poor initial performance up to fatigue and buy into the stuff and projectability. Even at 22, he isn’t a finished product physique-wise, and once that added strength comes his mid-rotation starter value will begin to actualize.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a place and time to own a pitcher like Harris, but if I’m going to invest in a potential mid-rotation starter, it’s going to be one much closer to the majors. Harris profiles as an overdraft in dynasty leagues this year and is unlikely to have the stuff to be more than a mediocre SP4, even if it all works out.
Major league ETA: 2018
4. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP
Reid-Foley differs substantially—both physically and mechanically—from the two pitchers ranked above him on this list. While Greene and Harris feature lean, projectable frames and loose, unhindered arm actions, Reid-Foley is physically maxed and his arm action is problematic. With an offline arm swing toward first base, wrist-hooking, upper-arm pickup into the high cocked position, and elbow elevation relative to the shoulder line at foot strike, Reid-Foley displays multiple indicators that don’t bode well for consistent delivery replication and long-term health.
It’s a high-maintenance arm action but Reid-Foley has enough physicality and athleticism to compensate for the mechanical inefficiency. His calling card as a prep was his polished repertoire, and while he’s lived up to expectations stuff-wise, his command/control profile has not developed as expected. There’s hope, though, as he’s already made some strides smoothing out his delivery since signing. His lively fastball maintains a true plane, and while it isn’t well suited to pitching in the bottom third of the zone, it works well at the letters thanks to its riding action. His deep repertoire also features a curveball, which projects as average, and an above-average slider that shows tight, mostly horizontal break. Reid-Foley has the repertoire of a starter, but if his mechanical profile proves unsuitable for such a large workload, his stuff will play well out of the pen as a high-leverage reliever.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: This is a riskier profile, but Reid-Foley does have the type of SP3 upside that you want to see out of a dynasty pitching investment. If the command takes even a small step forward, he could be on a track to 200 punchouts—although his WHIP will likely always hold him back from being a high-end starter.
Major league ETA: 2018
Yes, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has some great bloodlines, but don’t let that fool you into thinking his upside is close to that of his father, or even that he’ll profile similarly. His offensive tools are obviously intriguing but he’s a well below-average runner, and carries a seriously high-maintenance frame that’s only going to get softer as he ages. Remember—he’s only 16 and he looks like this. It’s almost guaranteed that he’ll need to move to first base before long.
It’s going to be a steep developmental trajectory, but there’s a reason he received a bonus of $3.9 million. He shows plus raw power as a 16-year-old (which will likely turn into double-plus at maturity) and features natural loft in his swing, which gives him a strong chance to turn that raw power into usable game power. He shows plus, albeit effortful bat speed and some feel for finding the barrel. There’s above-average-regular upside here but more likely he’ll end up an average regular at first base. We’ll find out in five or six years.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a lot of offensive upside here, which is why Guerrero snuck into the top-30 of my 2015 signees list last month. However, the additional name value is going to leave him slightly overrated at this point. The baseline is there for big time power, but unlike his dad, it may not be accompanied with much else.
Major league ETA: 2021
6. Max Pentecost, C
Having endured two shoulder surgeries since signing, Pentecost’s development has been thrown off course a bit. While his window of contribution has been pushed back a year or two, his ultimate projection is more or less unchanged with four average or better tools driving his profile.
The well-proportioned Pentecost possesses speed and athleticism rarely seen in a catcher. He’s an above-average runner now, though the rigors of catching will likely slow him down as he matures. He’s limber, balanced, and nimble behind the plate, projecting as an above-average defender. He showed an above-average arm in college but it remains to be seen how quickly (or even if) it will rebound to its pre-surgery level. His simple, efficient swing produces hard, line-drive contact to all fields with a knack for consistently finding the barrel. His power is only fringy but his lack of over-the-fence pop won’t get in the way of him becoming an above-average hitter value-wise.
Pentecost’s broad collection of tools give him a number of plan B developmental trajectories to explore if his shoulder troubles end up being problematic in the long run—options that the vast majority of catchers do not have. He possesses the quickness, athleticism, and speed to handle any of the standing positions besides shortstop and center field, and while it’s far too early to start worrying about plan Bs, those hypothetical alternatives are nonetheless reassuring.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If he could prove his health and stay on the field, Pentecost has a chance to be a very good fantasy catcher. But there’s just so much long-term risk at this point, that his value has dropped significantly. The upside remains a .280 hitter with 8-12 homers and double-digit steals—which is very appealing for a catcher. Not so much for a non-catcher.
Major league ETA: 2018
7. Richard Urena, SS
With a slender, tightly wound frame, Urena has the classic look of a shortstop. He has a plus arm and a pretty good chance of sticking at the position, but he’s hardly a “no-doubter” given his average speed and only solid-average range. He’s been a bit error-prone thus far in his career, but then again, so is every young shortstop. He shows hand looseness and above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate, with more length from the right side and more of a quick, punching action from the left side.
He desperately needs to work on his pitch selection and the ball doesn’t really jump off his bat. The latter quality will almost certainly improve as he fills out and adds strength. Urena hit 16 home runs in 536 PA this past season, but don’t expect him to maintain that home run rate at higher levels. Realistically, expect a high-single-digits home run output. With fringy and below-average hit and power projections, respectively, Urena’s value will take a steep dive if his speed and quickness tick down a notch or two and he proves unable to play shortstop. While he’s much less appealing elsewhere, it’s easy to envision Urena still having a lot of value as a high-end utility man capable of handling regular duty for extended periods if needed.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Unless you’re in a deep league, Urena just isn’t that interesting, as neither his batting average nor power are likely to get him rostered in shallow mixed leagues. He might be someone who hits .250-.260 one day, while scraping double-digits in homers and steals.
Major league ETA: 2018
8. Rowdy Tellez, 1B
Tellez has worked hard to improve his conditioning, dropping 20-30 pounds of bad weight since entering pro ball. He’s never going to be mistaken for Bo Jackson, but his improved body composition gives him a better chance of avoiding the dreaded DH-only tag. He’s a bottom-of-the-scale runner and a below-average athlete but he has the hands and coordination to support the minimal defensive demands of first base.
On top of the physical adjustments, Tellez has made substantial strides at the plate, smoothing out a swing that had some steepness to it as an amateur and featured a severe bat wrap. It’s become much more fluid as his hands stay in motion without getting hung up at any potentially-troublesome checkpoints prior to launch, and increased load depth allows him to get on plane at an angle more conducive to making contact and inducing loft. He carries easy plus raw power, doesn’t sell out in-game, and has a strong chance of reaching his offensive potential thanks to an above-average hit tool. Tellez still has the upper minors to face, but if things go well at Double-A in 2016 he’ll catapult into the upper tier of first-base-only prospects.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There are only two names from this system to make the Fantasy 101, and one of them was Tellez. Lord knows I have a soft spot for soft-bodied sluggers, but Tellez took a legit step forward in 2015 towards becoming a .270, 30-homer bat. That’s awesome, eligibility be damned.
Major league ETA: 2017
9. D.J. Davis, OF
Top-of-the-scale speed is an attention grabber but Davis’ other tools haven’t developed into usable skills as hoped, even after three and a half seasons in the system. Imagine Ben Revere with a fringy hit tool but with better power and arm strength—that’s the type of profile Davis possesses and why comps are dangerous. As shown by a guy like Revere, the profile is heavily hit-tool-dependent, and while Davis won’t ever sniff a 70 (or a 55 for that matter), he’ll make up for it some with power that figures to manifest in the form of 7-10 home runs per 600 plate appearances, in addition to some speed-aided doubles and triples. Elite speed and athleticism allow Davis to play an above-average center field but his fringe-average arm leaves him better suited as a left fielder. He’s a classic high-risk Blue Jays prospect who has the upside of a top-of-the-order catalyst, but the more likely outcome is that he ends up as a relatively punchless fourth or fifth outfielder who maintains a roster spot thanks to his speed and outfield flexibility.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Oh man is that speed delicious, but the odds of Davis ever stealing 50-plus bases in the majors are getting slimmer and slimmer with each passing year. Of course, if you’re in the business of taking big risks in deep leagues, Davis is still quite interesting, but relying on him to be a contributor at this point is a fool’s errand.
Major league ETA: 2018
10. Ryan Borucki, LHP
An over-slot 15th-rounder in 2012, Borucki’s developmental trajectory has been slowed by injuries, as he missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, then missed most of the 2015 season with lingering elbow and shoulder issues. When healthy, the projectable Borucki shows a deep repertoire that features three average-or-better pitches. His fastball sits in the low 90s with arm-side run from a three-quarters slot. The curveball shows 12-6 action with some depth, and the change flashes above average now but will improve as he becomes more consistent replicating fastball arm speed. His present command is better than you’d expect from a guy who’s thrown fewer than 70 professional innings, and while he’ll nibble at times, his stuff is good enough to be more of a zone attacker. It’s too early to think about a bullpen conversion, but if the arm troubles persist that might prove to be the most reasonable option. Those three above-average pitches will play well in short bursts for a guy who can handle batters of any persuasion out of the ‘pen.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: No thanks
Major league ETA: 2019
Roemon Fields, OF – Fields never stops. He just keeps coming, and coming, and coming. He never lets up. He’s relentless. Every day he piles up more and more and more steals and you try to throw him out but the more you try to throw him out, the more he keeps stealing, and then the catcher’s throw goes into center field AND IT’S YET ANOTHER BASE TAKEN BY FIELDS!!! [high fives Kramer]
The speedy Fields almost became a postal worker after going undrafted in 2013 but was scooped up by the Jays after one of their scouts (Jays scouts are literally everywhere) saw him play in an obscure amateur tournament in Western Canada. In just two seasons, he’s climbed from Short-Season ball to Triple-A and has a shot at one day occupying a fourth or fifth outfielder role at the ML level. We here at Baseball Prospectus don’t typically play favorites but if there’s anyone worth taking a personal rooting interest in, it’s Fields, if for no other reason that his presence at the ML level would give us just cause to explore the deepest, darkest realms of mail-related nicknames and puns, in addition to Newman-centric Seinfeld references.
Justin Maese, RHP – An organization often compelled by the lure of upside and projection, the Jays were more than happy to grab Maese, an ultra-athletic but raw pitcher with big-time arm strength in the third round this past June. A D1 quarterback recruit as a prep, Maese didn’t really bear down on baseball until a velo bump his senior year pushed the matter. He sits comfortably in the low 90s but can reach back for more. His breaking ball is inconsistent and his changeup has a way to go, but that’s to be expected from an unrefined high school arm. With plus athleticism and arm speed in tow, he has the ingredients needed to turn his secondaries into usable offerings and learn the finer points of pitching.
Mitch Nay, 3B – With a well-proportioned, 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, Nay has the look of a major-league third baseman. But without a legitimate carrying tool to drive his profile, there’s little chance he ends up being an impactful contributor at that level. Nay shows above-average raw power but with below-average bat speed and hit tool deficiencies, it doesn’t show up as usable power in-game. The ball simply doesn’t jump off the bat like it should for a guy with his size and strength. Nay’s best tool is plus arm strength, but as a below-average athlete and runner, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be more than a fringy defender. If there was a bit more offensive upside, a shift over to first base would be the most reasonable option, but without an above-average hit or power tool, doing so wouldn’t really maximize his expected value.
Reggie Pruitt, OF – Pruitt was well-known by scouts leading up to last year’s draft but slid due to concerns over his offensive upside, eventually landing in the 24th round for an over-slot bonus. He’s wiry-thin and presently lacks the strength to do damage with a wood bat, but he’s ultra-athletic and shows above-average bat speed. He’s a double-plus runner, with a plus arm and a natural feel for manning center field. He’s absolutely tooled up and even the slightest positive developments in strength, swing mechanics, or approach will send him skyrocketing up prospect lists. In case you haven’t picked up on the trend yet, the Blue Jays love this kind of high ceiling-low floor player. If we were ranking strictly based on upside, he’d be placed somewhere within the top 10, but grounding oneself in reality takes precedence over getting lost in the dream world.
Dwight Smith, Jr., OF – The word “interesting” and Smith’s name likely shouldn’t be used in the same sentence but he is very close to contributing at the major-league level and should be one of the first guys called upon in 2016 should corner outfield needs arise with the big club. He has a solid-average hit tool with above-average speed, but everything else is fringy to below average. Realistically, he’s a fourth-outfielder type and at the very best, you’re looking at a second-division, strong-side platooner.
On the heels of a 93-69 season that included an American League East title and a trip to the ALCS, the Blue Jays are again poised to make a run at the playoffs. The original Top 10 prospect ranking may not inspire long-term dreamers, but with the 25-and-under talent, another crop of valuable players in the 26-30 range (Brett Cecil, Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, etc.), and some sparkling veterans (Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion) the overall roster has the look of a club that should contend for the foreseeable future.
Ahead of Anthony Alford, the Blue Jays have three players critical to their long term plan in right-handers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and outfielder Dalton Pompey. Back on the field and healthy after a knee injury, Stroman will headline the Jays rotation as they hang in contention over the next few years. Long considered a divisive prospect with scouts split on his ability to pitch at a high level in the rotation versus transitioning to the bullpen, Stroman’s feel for pitching, aggressiveness, and high-octane arsenal have worked well operating every fifth day. An optimist would believe that Stroman’s strikeout rate will climb back to a more reasonable level now that he’s at full strength, giving him a greater margin for error and a better chance at fulfilling his promise as a no. 2 or no. 3 starter.
There’s no sugar coating how much trouble Pompey had in Toronto last year, but he rebounded in the minor leagues and looked like the same player I saw in 2014, in my views at both Double-A and Triple-A, following his demotion. Pompey is a multi-tooled talent with the ability to contribute in every facet of the game. His ability to hang in center field with quality defense, a good batting average, on-base ability, enough pop to drive the ball around the yard, and the ability to steal 20-30 bases a season makes him exceptionally valuable.
I am still one of the guys who would like to see Sanchez given a longer leash in the starting rotation. I’ve seen him at his best and worst, and the potential impact to the big league rotation is so tantalizing, it would be a shame to see it abandoned before he turns 24 years old. Even with the shortcomings in Sanchez’s game, there’s a very real chance he turns into an A.J. Burnett-caliber starter, which most would prefer to a high-leverage bullpen arm. Given that lingering belief—however strange that belief may appear—he sits atop a grouping of players that includes Alford, Travis, and Osuna; all of whom are a step behind the Stroman/Pompey tier.
While I’ve consistently been on the lower end in the projection of Travis, a large part of that centers on his inability to stay on the field; something that was a problem again in 2015, and will be in 2016 as he’ll miss at least the first month of the season recovering from a shoulder injury. When healthy, Travis has exceeded expectations and has hit at every level of professional ball. That said, the injuries had begun to take a toll on his athleticism before he was traded to the Blue Jays, and the continued beating his body has taken likely won’t help that cause.
Though it appears Osuna ranks considerably behind his bullpen comrade Aaron Sanchez, the gap is actually quite small. The difference in the rating of the two powerful right-handers is purely the remaining belief in Sanchez’s ability to start. Other than that, the two would be nearly inseparable on this list.
Rounding out the veteran additions to this list, right-hander Drew Hutchison hangs in ahead of prospects Sean Reid-Foley and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. While the prospects in this tier have considerable upside, both are several seasons from reaching the big leagues, and if Hutchison can manage to figure out how to pitch on the road (2015: 2.91 ERA in 92-2/3 innings at home, 9.83 ERA in 57-2/3 innings on the road), he’ll fulfill his promise as a quality no. 4 starter. That represents a valuable commodity in today’s game and a resource that cannot be ignored despite the presence of high-ceiling prospects like Reid-Foley and Guerrero.
All said, with youngsters like Stroman, Pompey, Sanchez, and Osuna already helping the big club and additional resources on the way in the form of Alford, Greene, and Harris, the Blue Jays have a strong crop of reinforcements ready to augment the star players already on the big league roster. From my seat, I don’t think it should be any secret that Toronto is poised to be in contention for several years. — Mark Anderson
The running joke in the industry is that if there’s a meaningful baseball game occurring anywhere in the world where there might be a glimmer of talent to be found, there’s almost certainly a Blue Jays scout present. They have one of the largest - if not the largest - scouting staffs in baseball. more than twice the size of some of the smaller departments out there. And that breadth of coverage has really paid dividends, as home-grown talents Marcus Stroman, Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, and Roberto Osuna have developed into key contributors on the current roster, while a number the non-homegrown players on the roster were acquired for quality prospect currency.
The Blue Jays are known as a “Scouting Organization,” and if nothing else that’ll be Alex Anthopoulos’ lasting legacy after he built the department into one of the best in the game. That doesn’t figure to change under the new regime, but Mark Shapiro and new General Manager Ross Atkins come from Player Development backgrounds, and the recent hiring of Gil Kim to man the newly-created Director of Player Development post signals that the club may shift its focus a bit. Mark Shapiro has a long track record of building teams from the ground up in Cleveland while Atkins, a trusted Shapiro deputy, has occupied a number of posts in the Player Development ranks over the course of his career, most recently as Cleveland’s Vice President of Player Personnel. It’s not to say that the department wasn’t capable under Anthopoulos’ rule, but rather that we’ll likely see the club become more patient with the guys in their system and build toward a critical mass of internally-developed talent, as opposed to aggressively dealing that talent to land win-now pieces when needs arise.