Casaletto: Ranking the Blue Jays' top 30 prospects - Part 1 - 15 to 30

Ontario Blue Jays alum Dasan Brown (Oakville, Ont.) is ranked as the 23rd best Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect by Canadian Baseball Network writer Lucas Casaletto. Photo: Baseball Canada

Ontario Blue Jays alum Dasan Brown (Oakville, Ont.) is ranked as the 23rd best Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect by Canadian Baseball Network writer Lucas Casaletto. Photo: Baseball Canada

August 21, 2019

By Lucas Casaletto

Canadian Baseball Network

There has been a ton of change to the Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect pool this season.

Several of the club’s best young players have graduated to join the big league Blue Jays, while several newcomers have been acquired through trade or the draft.

In this two-part series, I will provide my updated ranking of the organization’s top 30 prospects.

Today, I will start with a list of the top Blue Jays prospects from the beginning of the 2019 season that have graduated to the big league level and then offer my ranking of the club’s 15th to 30th best prospects.

Watch for the second part of my series, which will focus on the Blue Jays’ top 14 prospects, tomorrow.

Graduated:

3B - Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

There isn’t much to say about Vlad other than the kid can rake. The 20-year-old is now up to 116 wRC+ and a .346 wOBA with 14 home runs in his first 94 games. The scary thing is, he’s only just getting started. Vlad has MVP potential, regardless of where he plays on the diamond.

SS - Bo Bichette

Bichette is among baseball’s most exciting young talents. One of the only reasons to watch the team these days is because of Bo and his electrifying skill set. There’s no other way around it; he’s going to be a terrific player for years to come, one with All-Star - and perhaps even batting title potential.

C - Danny Jansen

From early 2017 to the end of 2018, few prospects were generating more buzz than Jansen. When he got the call last year, he impressed, slashing .247/.347/.432 (115 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR) in 31 games. Many pegged Jansen as a breakout candidate (including yours truly) but it’s been a long year for him at the plate. Jansen has combined to hit .213/.283/.379 (74 wRC+), with 11 home runs. Some, or perhaps most of the struggles can be attributed to bad luck. His BABIP is low (.236 compared to .274 last season) and he’s been making great contact all season. Instead, Jansen’s value has come behind the plate (1.4 fWAR) and he’s among baseball’s best at Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs metric. Jansen has All-Star potential.

2B/OF - Cavan Biggio

Biggio has, and likely always will play third fiddle to Guerrero and Bichette, but he’s looked like a fairly serviceable major leaguer thus far. He’s striking out at a 29 percent clip, which isn’t great, and his 92 wRC+ isn’t superb, but there’s still a lot to like. Biggio hits the ball hard which is a good sign and has shown good plate discipline, as well. It also helps that he can play across the field. There’s room to grow but he projects as a 1.5 WAR player in the early going. There’s value in that.

1B - Rowdy Tellez

Tellez made his major-league debut last season and left an early impression. His swing and miss tendencies and struggles against left-handed pitching have plagued him, leading to a demotion this year. He was much better in Buffalo, though, and has since rejoined the Blue Jays.

OF - Billy McKinney

Neither Brandon Drury or McKinney have been particularly good since coming over from the NY Yankees for JA Happ, though both players have flashed some degree of upside. McKinney looked solid in a brief stint last year but has fallen off considerably since. He’s hitting .214/.269/.418 (76 wRC+) in the majors this season. Like Tellez, the 24-year-old outfielder has been much better in Buffalo (.271/.383/.478 with a .374 wOBA and 122 wRC+). He’s still got time to figure it out.

LHP - Thomas Pannone

Pannone was never projected to blow hitters away at the major-league level, and it’s remained true. His 8.8 K/9 is good but home runs, backed by a high fly ball rate, have hurt him. He’s a depth starter at best.

LHP - Ryan Borucki

Borucki graded out as Toronto’s best rookie last year. He finished with a 3.87 ERA and it matched up well alongside his nearly identical 3.79 FIP. The strikeouts were low (6.7 K/9) but the results were good, as he finished with 1.7 bWAR in 17 starts. Injuries halted his sophomore season as Borucki was recently shut down with an elbow issue. His ceiling is that of a no. 3 starter, but he’ll likely be an innings-eating, roundball inducing no. 4 or 5 guy.

RHP - Sean Reid Foley

Reid Foley has been one of the Blue Jays most polarizing prospects. He broke out in 2016, was bad in 2017, and then last season, regained the smoke that got him noticed in the first place. He’s taken another step back in 2019, mainly because of his inability to command and locate his pitches. Walks are his downfall as Reid Foley has walked 6.8 batters per nine innings in Buffalo, and it’s followed him in Toronto (5.5 BB/9). The stuff is still good, but until he’s able to limit the free passes, Reid Foley won’t be able to stick in the rotation. For now, he’s a high-upside arm.

RHP - Trent Thornton

In a perfect world, Thornton - acquired from Houston for Aledmys Diaz - would have gotten a bit more seasoning in Triple A. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays’ depth has been an issue all year, forcing Thornton into a permanent role in the rotation. Like most rookie starters, he’s been hot and cold, flashing strikeout upside (8.4 K/9) thanks to terrific spin rates on his pitches. The ERA is quite high (5.28), and the home runs are a concern (20 allowed thus far), but you can’t argue with Thornton’s overall productivity (1.0 bWAR). He should remain in a similar role next year.

RHP - Jacob Waguespack

The Blue Jays’ front office deserves some credit for this one. Waguespack, acquired from Philadelphia for Aaron Loup, has been a nice surprise out of the minors this season. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but the 25-year-old has pitched well as a member of the starting rotation (7.0 K/9, 109 ERA+, and 0.8 bWAR in 43 innings). Regardless if Waguespack sticks around long term, that’s good value for Toronto.

C - Reese McGuire

It seems like forever ago that McGuire was acquired in one of Ross Atkins’ most savvy deals to date. In 2016, the backstop was part of a trade that sent him from Pittsburgh to Toronto along with Francisco Liriano and Harold Ramirez for Drew Hutchison. A former first-round draft pick, McGuire’s taken some time to develop and at this point, he profiles as major-league depth. Toronto has a ton of good looking catching prospects, and with Jansen shaping up as the catcher of the future, McGuire should be able to slot in behind him as a defensive-minded backup.

SS - Richard Urena

Here’s a fun, but depressing fact for baseball fans: Urena was once ranked as Toronto’s best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. That was way back when in 2016 when the Blue Jays were competitive. He’s nothing more than depth, having slashed .256/.303/.338 (0.3 bWAR) in 77 major-league games.

2020 Prospects - 15 to 30

Outfielder Anthony Alford was once considered one of the top prospects in the Blue Jays’ organization, but injuries have hindered his development. Photo: Matt Antonacci

Outfielder Anthony Alford was once considered one of the top prospects in the Blue Jays’ organization, but injuries have hindered his development. Photo: Matt Antonacci

15 - Anthony Alford (OF)

Age: 25

Currently: Triple-A (Buffalo Bisons)

Alford has been one of my favourite prospects - and people - in the Blue Jays system for years. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency have slowed Alford down a ton, cutting into his development.

Alford’s stock dropped considerably after a poor 2018 season in which he finished with an 87 wRC+ and 27 percent strikeout rate in 105 games with Buffalo. It certainly didn’t look good in the early portion of this year, either, as Alford struggled in April. From May to June, he turned it around, slashing .308/.392/.465 with 13 stolen bases. He returned from a recent injury and pushed his wRC+ to 97 with the Bisons, though strikeouts are still a concern (28 percent), and he’s since returned to the IL. I really want to think Alford has what it takes to man centre ield in Toronto. At this point, it’s unlikely he evolves into the All-Star I thought he could become, but the hope remains.

16 - Griffin Conine (OF)

Age: 22

Currently: Class A (Lansing Lugnuts)

Yet another son of a former All-Star, Conine has the best power profile of any prospect in the Blue Jays system. FanGraphs ranks that part of his game as a max of 55 (game power) and 65 in raw power.

After serving a suspension for a banned substance, Conine has hit 20 home runs (.418 wOBA and 162 wRC+) in only 68 games with Lansing. Those stats jump out, but the biggest issue with Conine is the strikeouts. He might be able to get away with it in low-A, but a 38 percent K-rate is ugly any way you spin it. Still, scouts love the power, and that will play at the highest level. His arm is also regarded as a plus out of right field, which sets me up to believe that Conine has what it takes to become a slugging outfielder in the middle of a major-league lineup.

17 - Leonardo Jimenez (SS)

Age: 18

Currently: Appalachian League (Bluefield Blue Jays)

Another international signing of 2017, I’m not as high on Jimenez as others, but his overall game is intriguing. From what I have gathered, scouts weren't enamoured with any particular skill set. Instead, they view Jimenez as a complete ballplayer at a young age. He’s regarded as a plus-defender with a wonderful feel to the game, with analysts lauding his makeup and baseball IQ. The power is non-existent thus far, and his advanced hitting stats aren’t anything to write home about, which is why I have a hard time envisioning improvement as he faces better pitching. Yet another difficult projection, it’s too early to say what Jimenez will become.

18 - Hector Perez (RHP)

Age: 23

Currently: Double-A (New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

Perez was part of the trade that sent Roberto Osuna to Houston, and at the time, it looked as though Toronto was getting two valuable prospects in David Paulino and Perez. Ken Giles, the other piece, has been great, but Paulino has since fizzled.

Similar to his days in Houston’s system, Perez has struggled with high walk totals, despite flashing strikeout upside. Scouts love his fastball, which is graded anywhere from 60-70 on the future scale. His ability to throw strikes with his pitches is where the concerns are raised. He’s had an up-and-down season in Double-A (4.70 ERA and 4.05 FIP) with just under 9 K/9. The BABIP is high (.357) which indicates some bad luck in that regard, and he’s limited the long ball, too. To me, Perez looks like a reliever in the making, one that screams “opener”; a guy that can start a game out of the bullpen, in large part thanks to his good fastball. If he can harness the secondary offerings a little, he could soon join the Blue Jays. Like Murphy, he too is on the 40-man roster.

19 - Chavez Young (OF)

Age: 22

Currently: Class A Advanced (Dunedin Blue Jays)

Young was another breakout player from last season that has since garnered some attention. In the field, Young’s powerful arm is regarded as one of, if not the best in the system. His offensive profile is a bit tricky, as there's quite a bit of swing-and-miss to his game (22 percent K-rate up from 18.6 last year) and his production has dipped some (129 wRC+ to 102 with Dunedin). Those numbers aren’t awful, so there’s still reason to believe Young can make strides. But as of now, I don’t see him as anything more than a fourth outfielder at the highest level.

20 - Joey Murray (RHP)

Age: 22

Currently: Double-A (New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

Murray has made the biggest jump for me, as he wasn’t on anyone’s radar entering the season.

An eighth-round pick in 2018, Murray has been promoted three times this year thanks to his performance at each stop. He looked best in his stay with Dunedin, where he posted a 1.71 ERA (2.50 FIP) while striking out 11 K/9.

Now in double-A, Murray has continued to impress, as his strikeout totals have remained consistent despite an uptick in walks. The BABIP is also high right now (.338); another indication that better numbers could be coming, as evidenced by his 3.14 xFIP. The main reason why he’s not higher on this list is because of the fastball. It hovers around 89-90 mph, with the right-hander getting by thanks to the offering’s deception and movement. It remains to be seen if that will fly once he faces better competition, but the strikeout totals (155 in 121 innings) is impossible to ignore. He’s one to watch closely.

Otto Lopez (Montreal, Que.) has continued to show improvement with the low-A Lansing Lugnuts this season. Photo: Lansing Lugnuts

Otto Lopez (Montreal, Que.) has continued to show improvement with the low-A Lansing Lugnuts this season. Photo: Lansing Lugnuts

21 - Otto Lopez (2B/SS)

Age: 20

Currently: Class A (Lansing Lugnuts)

Where there’s smoke there’s fire. I’m a little surprised I didn’t catch wind of Lopez sooner because he’s done nothing but produce. The Montreal native took off in Vancouver last season, slashing .297/.390/.434 while drawing more walks (26) than strikeouts (21), and stealing 13 bases. Now with Lansing, the 20-year-old has looked equally solid. Lopez’s speed has resulted in 10 triples dating back to last year, and though he’s striking out just a tad more (13 percent), he’s now hitting .310/.360/.394 with a 120 wRC+ across 96 games this year. A dual Dominican/Canadian citizen, Lopez is a fun ballplayer to watch, and though there won’t ever be much power associated with his game, he has the tools to someday become a utility infielder, with speed to burn.

22 - Tanner Morris (IF)*

Age: 20

Currently: Class A (Vancouver Canadians)

Selected in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, Morris’ profile is all about the bat. As noted by MLB Pipeline, Virginia has a great track record of developing players that go on to become good hitters at the major-league level. Morris is lauded for his raw power potential and feel at the dish. It’s been on display early in Vancouver, where the left-handed hitter has slashed .256/.388/.378 with a .369 wOBA and 120 wRC+. It’s far too soon to predict what Morris will become, and the sample size is much too small, but the offensive upside is enticing.

23 - Dasan Brown (OF)*

Age: 17

Currently: Rookie Ball (Gulf Coast League Blue Jays)

It was surprising to see Brown, an Oakville, Ont., native, taken as high as the third round by the Blue Jays in the most recent draft, but it was terrific news for Canadian baseball, where Brown developed into one of the country’s most interesting prospects.

Brown is all about potential and future development which means the Blue Jays can be patient with him. His offence is a work in progress and will require a lot of work, but the upside is there - he’s a decent contact hitter already - and he could unlock more power as he fills out. He immediately grades out as the fastest runner in the system due to top-scale speed and base-stealing ability, which bodes well for his future as a centre fielder. There’s a long way to go, but Brown has the skill set to become an exciting major-league player.

24 - TJ Zeuch (RHP)

Age: 24

Currently: Triple-A (Buffalo Bisons)

I have fallen a bit off the Zeuch train dating back to last season. A first-round pick in 2016, Zeuch’s profile was never dreamy. He’s a big right-hander that relies on ground balls and doesn’t strike many batters out. After missing time this year due to injury, Zeuch has struggled to find his footing, is still posting low strikeout totals, and uncharacteristically high walk rates.

One terrific story to come out of the minors this season is Zeuch’s recent no-hitter with Buffalo; a game in which he induced 15 ground outs and struck out three. At best, Zeuch has what it takes to be a back-end, ground ball inducing starter. That could still be true, and if his no-hitter proved anything when Zeuch is on, the results speak for themselves.

25 - Maximo Castillo (RHP)

Age: 20

Currently: Class A Advanced (Dunedin Blue Jays)

Castillo doesn’t have a “wow factor” that other Blue Jays pitching prospects carry with them, but he could be something if everything clicks. He throws a fastball in the 92-93 mph range, as well as a good changeup and curveball. His 131 innings of a year ago was among the highest in the system, and he pitched relatively well, despite his high 4.54 ERA (4.04 FIP and 3.81 xFIP).

He’s been slightly better this year with Dunedin, where he’s struck out just under 8 K/9, maintained low walk totals, while currently working with a 2.72 ERA and 3.18 FIP.

What will make or break Castillo is whether or not he has the stuff to strike batters out at higher levels. His fastball isn’t overpowering, so he’ll need to work on the command and feel of the pitch. The upside isn’t very high, so Castillo should be regarded as a low-tier prospect.

26 - Will Robertson (OF)*

Age: 21

Currently: Class A (Vancouver Canadians)

Robertson’s bat is what led to him being selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, just after Brown, and right before Morris.

His power profile is what had scouts flocking to Creighton’s game, as the outfielder improved those totals in each of his three years in college. Defensively he’s subject, with scouts projecting him to land in a corner outfield spot. In his brief stint with Vancouver, Robertson has hit .240/.342/.354 with a 104 wRC+ in 47 games. Much like Morris, it will be interesting to see how Robertson’s offense further develops moving forward.

27 - Jackson Rees (RHP)

Age: 25

Currently: Class A Advanced (Dunedin Blue Jays)

Rees is the first and only relief pitcher to crack this list, though some starters included in the top-30 could eventually make the move to the bullpen. Rees makes the cut because of his incredible numbers with Lansing and Dunedin this year. In 35 games across both levels, Rees has struck out 83 batters in 57 innings, surrendered no home runs, while pitching to a current 0.64 ERA. There isn’t much upside here, but bullpen arms are always needed. If he continues to pitch well through the minors, Rees could easily have a spot in the Blue Jays bullpen in September.

Right-hander Josh Winckowski starred with the low-A Lansing Lugnuts this season before being promoted to the class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays.

Right-hander Josh Winckowski starred with the low-A Lansing Lugnuts this season before being promoted to the class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays.

28 - Josh Winckowski (RHP)

Age: 21

Currently: Class A Advanced (Dunedin Blue Jays)

Winckowski generated buzz after a great showing in Vancouver last year. In 13 starts, he struck out 71 batters in 68 innings, allowed only two home runs, to go with a 2.32 ERA. He carried that success over to Lansing this season, posting near-identical numbers, having since been promoted to Dunedin. Despite possessing a pretty good fastball, he hasn’t fared off as well with the Blue Jays, with his strikeouts way down (6.9 K/9) and the home runs on the rise. A 15th round pick in 2016, if Winckowski evolves into anything it will be a win. At this stage, a reliever looks to be his future, but there could be room to grow.

29 - Yennsy Diaz (RHP)

Age: 22

Currently: Double-A (New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

Diaz was someone I was keeping a close eye on entering the season. There was a ton of smoke after his breakthrough, 2018 campaign that saw Diaz finish the year with a 3.05 ERA and 147 innings pitched split between Lansing and Dunedin. The strikeouts were there (just under 8 K/9) and his advanced stats were promising. This year in double-A, his strikeouts are down, albeit just a little (7.2 K/9), and his command and pitch location has been spotty at times (12 home runs allowed and nine hit batters). Diaz lives with the fastball, a good one, that has touched 98 mph this year but lives in the 93-95 mph range. If Diaz can hone in on his secondary offerings, that fastball should take him to the majors, where he has the potential to become a very good reliever. He’s currently on the 40-man roster and made his brief big league debut in early August.

30 - Yorman Rodriguez (1B)

Age: 22

Currently: Class A (Lansing Lugnuts)

Rodriguez cracks the list because of the unbelievable season he’s having. The sample size isn’t huge, but in 50 games with Vancouver and Lansing, the 22-year-old is hitting .373/.400/.522 (.421 wOBA and 161 wRC+) with four home runs and 39 RBI’s. Perhaps more remarkably, Rodriguez has only struck out 14 times, this coming in 201 at-bats. This isn’t the first time he’s mashed. In 2017, playing in the Appalachian League, he hit .346/.374/.429 in 57 games; the biggest sample size of his career to date. It’s far too early to predict his future, but the results thus far are so impressive, that Rodriguez warrants a spot among the group. He could see an even bigger jump if he finishes the season strong.

* Denotes a 2019 MLB draft pick.