By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
Acting as a precursor to spring training’s grand arrival next month, MLB Pipeline released its pre-season listing of the top 100 prospects in affiliated baseball on Saturday.
Cultivated by some for the most informed prospecting scribes in the business, the website, complete with video analysis, scouting grades and detailed ranking systems, provides a valuable resource for fans who wish to track the development progress of each team's draftees on a player-by-player basis.
Updated twice yearly, Pipeline’s Top 100 captures the highest ranked players who still fall under rookie classification. In order to do so, the individual must not have accumulated 45 days on the team's active 25-man roster, exceeded 50 innings pitched at the MLB level or surpassed 130 at-bats in the Show.
List positioning is based off a number of individual factors including key input from industry scouting directors, potential immediate impact at the MLB level and standard 20-80 scouting grades with 40 or under representing below-average and 70-80 constituting an above-average rating.
In total, four Blue Jays prospects are featured on 2017’s pre-season chart, the majority of which received significant upgrades over their individual rankings from this time last January.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (not ranked in 2016, #34 in ’17 – Blue Jays #7)
In only his first season of pro ball, Guerrero Jr. slashed .271/.359/.449 with eight home runs and 46 RBI in 62 games as a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays (RK) in 2016. Even more impressive than his overall line, the 17-year-old Montreal native exhibited a great deal of plate discipline by walking 33 times and striking out in only 35 occasions across 276 plate appearances
Entering 2017, Guerrero Jr. owns above-average hit and power tools (both of which check in at 55) and his arm strength has continued to improve since the Blue Jays moved him from the outfield to third base after his signing in 2015.
Sean Reid-Foley (not ranked ahead of ’16, #64 in ’17 – Blue Jays #2)
Beginning the year in low-A, Reid-Foley made 21 starts split between Lansing and Dunedin in 2016. Pitching to a combined ERA of 2.81, the 21-year-old righty racked up 130 punch-outs, allowed only four home runs and held opposing hitters to an OBA of .190 across 115.1 innings of work on the year.
Aided in part by a repeatable delivery, Reid-Foley’s fastball topped out at 98 MPH in 2016 while earning a scouting grade of 65. The former 2nd-round draft selection (2014) also boasts an above-average slider (55) and is currently developing his changeup (50) and curveball (45).
Anthony Alford (ranked #42 ahead of ‘16, # 70 in ‘17 – Blue Jays #3)
Having spent the entire season with high-A Dunedin, Alford appeared in 92 games while slashing .236/.344/.378 with nine home runs, 17 doubles and 18 stolen bases in 2016. For his strong regular-season showing in Florida, the 22-year-old outfielder was rewarded with a trip to the Arizona Fall League last October, and helped the Mesa Solar Sox capture the circuit’s title by knocking three homers and driving in 15 over 23 games.
Regarded as a promising young outfield prospect with above-average speed and athleticism, Pipeline ranks Alford with an overall grade of 55 entering the 2017 campaign. While he experienced trouble with strikeouts last season (117 over 339 at-bats), evaluators expect to see that number reduced thanks to a keen eye at the plate and continued development of his hit tool (55) in the upper minor leagues.
Richard Urena (not ranked ahead of ’16. #94 in ’17 – Blue Jays #1)
After clipping Florida State League pitching to the tune of a .797 OPS over 97 games with the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2016, Urena received a promotion to double-A New Hampshire last August and finished the regular season with the 69-73 Fisher Cats. In all, the 20-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder slashed .295/.335/.434 with 24 doubles, 12 triples and 66 runs scored between the two stops.
With an overall ranking of 55, Urena leaves evaluators impressed with his plus arm strength (60), intriguing power (50) and developing defensive prowess (55). Having only adapted a full-time switch-hitting approach in 2014, scouts expect to see his ability to hit for a higher average improve from the right side of the dish as he continues to advance towards a major league debut.
Including Guerrero, Canada is well represented with four players listed on 2017’s pre-season top 100.
Tyler O’Neill (not ranked ahead ’16, #36 in ’17 – Mariners #2)
Appearing in 130 games with double-A Jackson in 2016, O’Neill slashed an impressive .293/.374/.508 with 26 doubles, four triples, 24 home runs and 102 RBI in 492 at-bats on the year.
Checking in with an above-average power tool of 60, the 21-year-old product of Burnaby, B.C. has now cranked a total of 70 home runs since making his professional debut in 2013. With power comes strikeouts and this is an area that many expect to see improve as the former third-round selection continues to make his way up the MiLB ladder. O’Neill also possesses a strong arm (55) and, with further reps in the minors, his general athleticism should help him become one of the most intriguing outfield prospects in the game.
Mike Soroka (not ranked ahead of ’16, #78 in ’17 – Braves #7)
With 2016 representing only his first full-season of affiliated ball, Soroka pitched to an ERA of 3.02 while walking 32, striking out 124 and allowing an OBA of .244 over 143 frames for the Rome Braves last season.
The 6’4” native of Calgary, AB currently features a fastball grade of 60, complemented by a curveball of 55 and a changeup that checks in of 50. When asked, scouts often point to an ability to pound the zone as the 19-year-old right-hander's strength while his developing secondary pitches have shown promise over the past two seasons.
Cal Quantrill (not ranked ahead ’16, #97 in ’17 – Padres #5)
Having recovered from Tommy John surgery, Quantrill was selected by the Padres in the eighth round of 2016’s draft and pitched for three teams last season en route to compiling a cumulative ERA of 5.11 with 46 strikeouts against eight walks in 37 frames.
With a fastball (60) that sits in the low-90’s, the 6’2” product of Port Hope, ON commands both a curveball (55) and slider (50) but is most effective with his above-average changeup (55).
These rankings are subject to change as the season moves forward and in no way do they guarantee a player’s success in the big leagues. If anything, the list acts as a means of showing the reader where each individual prospect stacks up amongst their current peers.
In 2011, Scott McKinney of SB Nation’s Royals Review conducted a study on the success rate of the games top prospects as ranked by Baseball America. In short, his findings indicated that, between 1999 and 2003, just over 30% of the publications highest regarded prospects actually succeeded in the majors while the other 70% failed to realize their potential.
Prospecting is an educational exercise but, with some hanging their hopes and dreams on those who have yet to play in a major league game, it can also be a heartbreaking practice.