Casaletto: Ranking the Blue Jays' top 30 prospects - Part 2 - 1 to 14

Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Nate Pearson tossed seven shutout innings for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons on Tuesday. Photo: Twitter.

Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Nate Pearson tossed seven shutout innings for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons on Tuesday. Photo: Twitter.

August 22, 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, the second of my two-part series (you can view the first part here), I’m sharing my ranking of the club’s 14 best prospects. I have also examined some of the team’s other prospects that are promising, have had their stock fall this season or could be considered minor league depth.

Top 30 prospects (2020)

1 - Nate Pearson (RHP)

Age: 23

Currently: Triple-A (Buffalo Bisons)

With Vlad and Bo now in the majors, it’s Pearson who takes over as Toronto’s best prospect. A 2017 first-round pick out of Florida, Pearson hasn’t pitched a ton of innings since - an unlucky injury cost him time last season - but in the appearances he has made, he’s been close to untouchable. His calling card is the fastball, which FanGraphs and Baseball America grade as a 70 right now, with 80 potential. Pearson can reach back and blow hitters away with the pitch and sits in the 99-102 mph range. His slider is his second above-average offering, topped off by a curveball and changeup. This season, he posted video-game-like numbers in Dunedin, earning a promotion to double-A New Hampshire, where he struck out just under 10 batters per nine innings with a 2.84 ERA and 2.95 FIP. In his recent debut with Buffalo, the right-hander pitched a career-high seven shutout innings, striking out three. The Blue Jays have been cautious with their prized arm, but if everything goes right, Pearson could debut with Toronto in 2020. He has no. 1 starter upside.

The Toronto Blue Jays selected right-hander Alek Manoah with their first pick in the 2019 MLB draft. He is shown here pitching for West Virginia University. Photo: West Virginia Athletics

The Toronto Blue Jays selected right-hander Alek Manoah with their first pick in the 2019 MLB draft. He is shown here pitching for West Virginia University. Photo: West Virginia Athletics

2 - Alek Manoah (RHP)*

Age: 21

Currently: Class A (Vancouver Canadians)

Manoah was the second pitcher off the board in the 2019 draft, selected 11th overall out of West Virginia by the Blue Jays. Like Pearson, Manoah is a beast on the bump, standing at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds. His heater sits in the mid-90s, reaching as high as 98 miles per hour.

Both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline have labeled it a 65 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, close to double-plus. There aren’t many pitchers that have had long careers at Manoah’s size, which many seem to point to in trying to project his future. Mark Shapiro, you may remember, was part of the Cleveland front office that drafted CC Sabathia in 1998.

After showing massive strikeout upside in his final season in college, Manoah has since made five starts in Vancouver, striking 19 batters in 13 innings, despite being a little wild at times. He should crack most top-100 prospects list for 2020, and has no. 2-3 starter upside.

3 - Simeon Woods-Richardson (RHP)**

Age: 18

Currently: Class A Advanced (Dunedin Blue Jays)

The decision to trade Marcus Stroman didn’t sit well with many fans, who instead felt an extension was more logical. Alas, along with Anthony Kay, Woods-Richardson was the second pitcher acquired in the unpopular deal from the New York Mets.

You’ll likely see the word “upside” associated with Woods-Richardson, which is fair, considering he’s only 18 years old. When we look back on the Stroman trade years from now, it will be Woods-Richardson that helps us determine who won the deal. He has flashed two plus-pitches with his fastball and curveball, that both grade out at 60. He also mixes in a changeup that scouts consider average, but it does have potential to become a solid third offering in his repertoire. The right-hander has been great all season and has continued to impress with Dunedin (10.1 K/9, 3.38 ERA, 2.63 FIP) since the trade.

There’s a ton to dream on here. Woods-Richardson is another pitcher that should slot among baseball’s top-100 prospects list entering the new year.

4 - Eric Pardinho (RHP)

Age: 18

Currently: Class A (Lansing Lugnuts)

Pardinho has been one of my favourite Blue Jays prospects since he signed with the organization out of Brazil. At 18 years old and standing around 5-foot-10, Pardinho is a wildcard at this point, making him one of the most difficult prospects to project. He’s flashed four average pitches in Rookie and A-Ball, with Baseball America grading his slider and changeup as a 60. His strikeout numbers (8 K/9 with Lansing) and advanced stats all look promising, but like other Blue Jays pitching prospects, the sample size is small. Pardinho’s start to the campaign was delayed due to right elbow inflammation, which cost him a few months. Scouts have lauded his advanced feel for pitching, with many believing that he could move quickly despite his age. Pardinho has all the makings of a major-league starter with room to grow if he continues on this trajectory.

5 - Jordan Groshans (SS/3B)

Age: 19

Currently: Class A (Lansing Lugnuts)

Groshans is easily the Blue Jays’ best position player in the system and has done nothing but hit since being selected 12th overall by the club in 2018. Groshans was picking up where he left off this year before a foot injury slowed him down, and he’s been on the injured list ever since. In a recent update, David Laurila of FanGraphs had this to say about Groshans:

“A highly skilled offensive player with a balanced approach, early pitch recognition, and power to all fields.”

That seems to be the consensus on Groshans. He can hit, and projects as a bat-first contributor at the highest level, though defensively he’s more of a question mark. Groshans could someday be yet another dangerous weapon to slot in alongside Vlad and Bo in the lineup, and infield.

Right-hander Adam Kloffenstein, 18, has impressed with the class-A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians this season. Photo: Twitter

Right-hander Adam Kloffenstein, 18, has impressed with the class-A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians this season. Photo: Twitter

6 - Adam Kloffenstein (RHP)

Age: 18

Currently: Class A (Vancouver Canadians)

Kloffenstein was a fascinating selection for the Blue Jays in the 2018 draft. Regarded as a tough sign due to his commitment to TCU, the front office got a little creative, agreeing to terms with Groshans - his friend, and former teammate - to below-slot value, and using $2.5 million to convince Kloffenstein to join the organization.

At only 18 years old, the right-hander stands at 6-foot-5, featuring a solid fastball-slider as his one-two punch. His fastball currently hovers in the low-to-mid ’90s with good spin rates, and scouts think the velocity will increase with age. His curveball has also flashed upside, and grades out as a reliable third offering. In Vancouver, the strikeout numbers are good (8.5 K/9), with Kloffenstein generating a ton of ground balls, as well (62 percent). Along with fellow 18-year-old and prospect Woods-Richardson, there’s huge upside with Kloffenstein, and if he meets his potential, the Blue Jays could have three or four elite starting pitchers in the rotation when it’s all said and done.

7 - Gabriel Moreno (Catcher)

Age: 19

Currently: Class A (Lansing Lugnuts)

I didn’t know much about Moreno up until this offseason when I started to dig a bit deeper into his stats. He exploded in rookie ball last year, where he hit .413/.455/.652 (204 wRC+) in 23 games. With Lansing, Moreno has continued to dazzle at the plate .288/.348/.506 with 12 home runs and 141 wRC+. What impresses scouts the most about the 19-year-old is his feel for the strike zone. He’s struck out in only 10.4 percent of his plate appearances (31 strikeouts compared to 20 walks).

Like any young catcher, he’s a work in progress defensively, but he’s held his own this year, with a 35 percent caught-stealing rate. If he continues to hit, Moreno could have the makings of an offensive-minded regular at the major-league level.

8 - Anthony Kay (LHP)**

Age: 24

Currently: Triple-A (Buffalo Bisons)

The second pitcher acquired from the Mets for Stroman, Kay - a former first-round pick in 2016 - is advanced as a starting pitcher, featuring three above-average offerings with his fastball, curveball, and changeup. His downfall lies in his inability to command his pitches, leading to an uptick with the long ball. Kay’s advanced pitching stats weren’t good during his time in Triple-A Syracuse (6.61 ERA/ 6.21 FIP in seven starts), but Kay has looked a lot better in Buffalo, with 31 strikeouts and only two home runs allowed in just over 27 innings. Scouts have praised Kay’s demeanor and mentality on the mound, with The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath serving up a wonderful profile on one of the Blue Jays’ most recent additions. Unlike the other high upside arms in the system featured above him, Kay’s floor is that of a bottom-of-the-rotation starter, with his ceiling more in line of a no. 3 guy.

9 - Orelvis Martinez (SS)

Age: 17

Currently: Rookie Ball (Gulf Coast League Blue Jays)

Martinez was one of the most explosive talents in the 2018 International class, getting the second-highest bonus at $3.5 million, later compared to a young Adrian Beltre. It’s important to pump the brakes on player comparisons of that magnitude, but there’s a lot to like about Martinez in the early going. He’s big, strong, and can hit the ball hard. The power isn’t there yet, but many scouts expect him to gain more as he ages. After a slow start in the GCL, Martinez has turned it on as of late, with his power and pure hitting ability on display .285/.353/.528 with four home runs and five triples to date.

He could stick at shortstop, but scouts believe that he’ll end up at third base or second. Martinez is going to require a lot of patience, but the payoff could be huge; as such, he has the most upside of any Blue Jays position player in the system and could be featured among the game’s top-100 prospects soon.

10 - Kendall Williams (RHP)*

Age: 19

Currently: Rookie Ball (Gulf Coast League Blue Jays)

Analysts were bullish when the Blue Jays selected Williams, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, 52nd overall in the 2019 draft, praising it as a tremendous value pick. The 18-year-old throws three pitches right now, including a fastball that tops out at 93-94 mph. At his age, that’s promising. His other two pitches flash upside, with him mixing in a quality curveball and the fell of a good changeup. In eight innings pitching in the GCL, Williams has struck out 12 batters and given up only three hits. Like any high school pitcher, Williams has a ways to go, but he could be yet another gem behind some other notable names in this system.

Miguel Hiraldo, 18, shown here after hitting the ball at the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league complex in Dunedin, Fla., has proven to be a solid contact hitter during his short tenure in the organization. Photo: YouTube

Miguel Hiraldo, 18, shown here after hitting the ball at the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league complex in Dunedin, Fla., has proven to be a solid contact hitter during his short tenure in the organization. Photo: YouTube

11 - Miguel Hiraldo (3B)

Age: 18

Currently: Appalachian League (Bluefield Blue Jays)

Hiraldo is the new regime's third international signing to crack my list, behind Pardinho and Martinez. Since making his debut with the organization, Hiraldo has hit at every stop.

A contact machine, the 18-year-old has managed to keep his strikeout totals low thanks to a swing-first approach that has led to a ton of extra-base hits. Known for his stocky and strong frame, Hiraldo is bigger than most 18-year-olds his size. He doesn’t profile as a plus defender and is likely to move to second base. Still, the production can’t be ignored, and though the Blue Jays have been overly cautious with his development, Hiraldo continues to shine as a hitter - albeit one without much power at the moment.

12 - Kevin Smith (SS)

Age: 23

Currently: Double-A (New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

Smith gained a full head of steam last season, with one of the best performances of any prospect. A fourth-round pick in 2017, he spent time with Lansing and Dunedin, finishing with 25 home runs, 93 RBIs and a combined .302/.358/.528 in 129 games.

Promoted to double-A at the start of 2019, Smith hasn’t been the same player. He’s striking out in 32 percent of his plate appearances, with his wRC+ falling to 91. Marc Hulet of FanGraphs covered Smith’s progression at length in May and noted a mechanical issue with his swing. That could explain Smith’s struggles.

As of now, the infielder projects as a versatile bench piece due to his solid glove that plays at shortstop and third base, and could be more if he figures it out at the plate.

13 - Alejandro Kirk (C)

Age: 20

Currently: Class A Advanced (Dunedin Blue Jays)

Few prospects have fascinated me more than Kirk this year. It’s not every day you see a 5-foot-9, 220-pound catcher. Then again, not every catching prospect can hit like Kirk.

Signed out of Mexico in 2016, Kirk established himself as a legitimate prospect with a breakout 2018 campaign by hitting .354/.443/.558 with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs in the Appalachian League. This year, Kirk has somehow managed to impress, even more, currently hitting .292/.403/.466 with 29 doubles and more walks than strikeouts across 88 games with Lansing and Dunedin. This is what FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen had to say about Kirk in mid-July.

“Scouts are beginning to buy that Kirk can catch despite having one of pro baseball’s heavier builds. He may reach his physical decline early because of it, but if he keeps hitting like he has and Toronto keeps promoting him, his athletic prime may line up with more big-league years than we thought at this season’s onset. He could catch once or twice a week and DH on other days to keep him fresh, too. There are lots of ways to ensure Kirk’s bat plays.”

Kirk continues to up his stock as an offensive threat while holding his own behind the dish. His development will be one to keep a close eye on.

14 - Patrick Murphy (RHP)

Age: 24

Currently: Double-A (New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

Murphy would have ranked much higher on this list had it not been for an unfortunate stroke of bad luck. From early April to July, Murphy has one of the best pitchers in the Blue Jays system, striking out 65 in 63 innings pitched in double-A, with a 3.69 ERA. Then, in one game, umpires grew concerned with Murphy’s mechanics, which were then deemed illegal by the league. He’s since been forced to alter his delivery altogether, leading to a shoulder injury.

It’s hard not to feel for Murphy, who was coming off a terrific 2018 campaign. If Murphy can get back on track, he has a great chance at a September call up for the Blue Jays. He’s a good, young pitcher, and looks like a good bet at slotting in at the bottom-end of a rotation. Murphy is currently on the 40-man roster.

Could be something:

OF - Forrest Wall

Promoted to triple-A recently, Wall can get on base and run a little. The upside is small so he projects as a fourth outfielder. He was acquired from Colorado in the Seung Hwan Oh trade last year.

C - Riley Adams

Adams is having a nice season in double-A but he’s behind Moreno and Kirk on the catching prospect depth chart. His swing and miss tendencies are a concern.

RHP - Julian Merryweather

Merryweather, the lone player acquired from Cleveland for Josh Donaldson, continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery. He’s pitched six innings this year, striking out seven. He’s currently on the IL and will be 28 in October. He’s on the 40-man roster.

SS - Kevin Vicuna

Vicuna is another glove-first infielder. He has no power to speak of and the offensive stats, while not awful, don’t jump off the page. He could someday become a bench piece. Vicuna recently made his debut with triple-A Buffalo.

OF - Demi Orimoloye (Orleans, Ont.)

Once considered a top prospect, the Afro-Canadian outfielder was sent to Toronto from Milwaukee for Curtis Granderson. The 22-year-old has flashed upside but remains a work in progress (97 wRC+ with Dunedin).

Minor-league depth:

OF - Jonathan Davis

At 27 years old, Davis is no longer a true prospect. He’s a speedy outfielder with good defensive tools and has shown a knack for getting on base at the minor-league level. Davis is on Toronto’s 40-man roster.

OF - Joshua Palacios

A fourth-round pick out of Auburn, the speedy outfielder has produced in the minors. He’s at 123 wRC+ with the Fisher Cats but has no power to speak of - yet.

LHP - Kyle Johnston

Johnston was acquired from Washington for Daniel Hudson. He’s been awful thus far with Dunedin but was pitching well prior to the switch. He’s bullpen depth.

LHP - Thomas Hatch

Unlike Johnston, the lefty has been good with his new team in double A. He’s not a big strikeout guy, so the bullpen looks like his landing spot. A former third-round pick, Hatch came to Toronto from the Cubs for David Phelps.

OF/1B - Ryan Noda

Noda has been featured on some top Blue Jays prospect lists in the past. The 15th-round pick has produced at the dish but has also struck out a ton at each stop. The pop in his bat could help him in the future.

SS - Santiago Espinal

Espinal is a toolsy infielder with a decent offensive profile. He doesn’t strike out much and can get on base. He’s been relatively consistent, and, like Wall and Vicuna, recently made his Bisons debut. Espinal was acquired by the Blue Jays from Boston for Steve Pearce.

Fallen off:

2B - Samad Taylor

Another speed demon, Taylor can steal bases and play good defence in the infield. His offence has dried up this year in Dunedin, though. Taylor was sent to Toronto with Pannone from Cleveland for Joe Smith.

RHP - David Paulino

Paulino was the other prized arm acquired from Houston in the Osuna trade. His time in Toronto was brief, as injuries limited the once-heralded prospect. He was released by the Blue Jays in early August and is now a free agent.

OF - Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.)

Pompey’s minor-league page is overwhelming because of how much he’s bounced around. Injuries, most notably, concussions, have crushed a once-promising career. He’s still around with Buffalo but is no longer on Toronto’s 40-man roster.

SS - Logan Warmoth

Barring an unforeseen change, Warmoth is going to go down as a first-round bust. Taken 22nd overall by Toronto in 2017, Warmoth has struggled offensively due to injuries, limited power, and a high strikeout rate.

RHP - Elvis Luciano

Luciano was the first player born in the 2000s to play in the Majors. He was selected by Toronto from Kansas City in the Rule 5 Draft. He’s injured at the moment and remains on the 40-man roster.