By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
Baseball America released their list of baseball's Top 100 prospects on Monday morning and four Blue Jays landed on the list with two in the top 10.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) was the top Blue Jay, sitting in the third spot while Bo Bichette is at No. 8. Anthony Alford comes in at No. 60 while Nate Pearson, last year's 28th overall pick, makes it to the list in his first year at No. 91.
We all knew that Guerrero Jr. was going to be the top Blue Jay but the question was going to be how high would he rank in the Top 100. In Baseball America's estimation, Guerrero Jr. is ranked just behind Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna and newly signed and eligible RHP/OF Shohei Ohtani. Acuna made it to triple-A last year and jumps to No. 1 from the No. 67 position after 2016.
Ohtani, of course, is new to the list after being a dominant pitcher and hitter in Japan for several years. He gave up millions in potential pay because he decided to leave Japan at the age of 23 when teams signing him were under baseball's international signing restrictions. Still, Ohtani's potential as a pitcher and as a hitter puts him at No. 2.
For Guerrero Jr., his maturity, dominance of two minor league levels at the age of 18 last year makes him a very-highly ranked prospect. Guerrero Jr. jumps into the third spot after being the No. 20 ranked prospect last year after hitting a combined .323/.425/.485 with 28 doubles, two triples and 13 home runs at low-A Lansing and class-A Advanced Dunedin. Guerrero was considered for the No. 1 prospect spot but ultimately Acuna won out despite some of the BA staff thinking that Guerrero could have the highest upside of the three. Baseball America's grades for his tools stands out with an 80 grade for hit and 70 for power. While he's given below average grades for speed and fielding his arm grades at just above average (Note: a 50 grade is major league "average").
Bo Bichette comes in at No. 18 after leading the minor leagues in batting average and trailing his teammate, Guerrero Jr., in OBP with a .362/.423/.565 slash line. Bichette is only a year older than Guerrero Jr. and yet had one of the best seasons in the minor leagues last year. The power production with 41 doubles, four triples and 14 home runs (to go with 22 stolen bases) sets Bichette apart although most scouts think that his upside is slightly below Guerrero's. Bichette gets a 70 grade for his hitting and a 60 grade for power with another 60 for his arm and average to slightly below average grades for speed and fielding.
Anthony Alford's combination of batting eye, speed, defence and hit tool put him back in the Top 100 although his ranking has slipped. On his first go-round in the Top 100 after 2015, Alford was ranked No. 25 and last year he was ranked No. 59, coming in at No. 60 this year. Injuries remain the biggest worry with Alford as he missed time again last year. Still, hitting .310/.406/.429 in double-A is a big positive in his favour. Alford got 60 grades for his hitting tool as well as his speed and fielding while his arm is rated as below average and his power potential is a 50 grade.
Finally, hard-throwing Nate Pearson was ranked at No. 91. He dominated in the Northwest League with a 0.95 ERA and 0.58 WHIP, striking out 24 and walking only five. Originally projected to be a Top 20 draftee, Pearson's 100-mph fastball dropped in the draft and the Jays managed to get him at 28th overall. Pearson gets a 70 grade for his fastball while his slider grades at slightly above average and his changeup is graded average. His control and curveball are "only" 45 grades right now, limiting his possible movement on the list.
Having four players in the Top 100 shows that the Blue Jays' minor league system is rebounding from the late- and post-Alex Anthopoulos period. There are several minor leaguers who have the ability to contribute to the club this year although the cream of the crop (aside from Alford) are likely a year or two away.
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