By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
Baseball Prospectus gave us a gift to ring in the new year with as they released their Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects report for the 2018 season. Baseball America was first to the party, but, since I had already written a lot of words summing up with BP said, we'll save a comparison of the lists for another day.
First let's look at the list.
1. Vladimir Guerrero
2. Bo Bichette
3. Anthony Alford
4. Nate Pearson
5. Conner Greene
6. Logan Warmoth
7. Danny Jansen
8. Sean Reid-Foley
9. Ryan Borucki
10. T.J. Zeuch
Now that that much is out of the way, the rest is behind a paywall and since you should always pay for your premium content (hint, hint), I'm only going to obliquely discuss the comments that the BP Prospect staff make about the players.
The top four players - Guerrero, Bichette, Alford and Pearson - on the list appear in the same order that they do for Baseball America. International signees Eric Pardinho and Lourdes Gurriel are notably absent from the list while Logan Warmoth is in at six. Somewhat surprisingly, Conner Greene ranks fifth, with his premium velocity keeping him high on the list while Sean Reid-Foley's struggles in double-A also didn't scare off evaluators. T.J. Zeuch cracks the top 10 for BP and Danny Jansen also shows up after a stellar year.
Now that we've got a sense of the list, I do have to say that I've always had issues with the list that BP puts out although, in this one, there's less to take umbrage with. Most of the questions I have is whether Logan Warmoth is going to be a big league regular or whether he hits his ceiling in the high minors. Questions about whether Conner Greene and Sean Reid-Foley will be able to continue as starters as they move up in the system are also fair.
One of the best things about the list is that they include a lot of information (behind the paywall) including "The Good," "The Bad," "The Role," "The Risks" and a "Major League ETA." I like how they divide up "The Role" into an ideal-world Overall Future Projection (OFP) and a likely rating, both given in the 20-80 scouting scale, which you could also look at as a "ceiling" and a middle-point that is more likely than just a "floor."
Raves about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are commonplace. His raw power, his eye, as well as his arm are all pluses but his major weaknesses are due to his body's tendency towards thickness and "stiff hands and limited range" at third base. The biggest risk with Guerrero Jr. is that he may be stuck at first base as a pretty good, but not great hitter.
For Bichette, the Midwest League MVP, his raw power gets raves (BP calls it a 70) that plays in games. BP doesn't actually discuss his contact ability, which, to me, is what makes all of his other hitting tools play up. I've seen Bo have a very advanced sense of what he can do with the pitches he's getting but it's his contact tool that enables him to drive the ball hard, or just place it into a gap. BP is a little bit down on his defence, calling his footwork "inconsistent," and suggests that he's going to be better off at third or second base. His plate discipline doesn't draw great reviews either.
At No. 3, Anthony Alford is the closest of the Top 10 prospects to making an impact at the major league level. With a handful of triple-A games and big league games under his belt, most prognosticators suggest that he'll challenge for a starting role in Toronto as soon as April, if the Jays don't significantly upgrade their outfield situation in this (slow) off-season. He gets loads of points for his athleticism and defence but the longer he goes without starting to pull the ball and drive it over the fence, the more he gets the label of an "opposite field" hitter. With injury issues coming each season, people wonder if he can stay on the field. Or maybe that's what getting a guy who played a whole lot of football gives you: a body with a lot of miles on it already.
Nate Pearson is a guy whose fastball is intoxicating to prospect evaluators. With the heater coming in at triple digits from a high angle with downwards movement, it's hard not to like that aspect of his game. Pearson also earned kudos for the improved consistency of his off-speed pitches in his pro debut. Because of his size, mechanical issues could be a problem and he still wasn't as a consistent with his off-speed pitches as he will need to be as he moves up in the organization. With Pearson, I think the "likely" projection of a very good reliever is fair but they do have him as a starter if everything breaks right.
Conner Greene stands out as a guy who has struggled with control but still has premium velocity. His changeup has always been his best off-speed pitch (I've thought so since the first time I saw him pitch) but the slider and curve aren't as consistent. BP thinks that he could finish the season in Toronto this year and appears to be more likely heading to the bullpen than the rotation.
BP calls Logan Warmoth "very polished" and "well rounded" with "potential for a plus hit tool." Like with many evaluations of Warmoth, there aren't a lot of superlatives on his tools and the profile here considers that to be a slight negative, saying that "there just isn't much elite physicality here." They like him a solid player who will probably make the majors at least as a "fringe starting middle infielder."
BP calls Danny Jansen's 2017 season "one of the more impressive breakouts anywhere in the minors." Good marks in defence were always there but his bat has improved dramatically. BP wants to see a longer track record of solid hitting and they think that his "power is somewhat limited."
I didn't expect to see Sean Reid-Foley on this list. I only got a brief look at him this year myself as he didn't last long in the only regular season start I saw (in Erie). There's a lot of the word "still" in BP's analysis of Reid-Foley, mainly because he's not doing anything new. There's not a lot of improvement in what he's doing and the jump to double-A wasn't easy on him. With a mostly unkind evaluation of Reid-Foley ranked at No.8 in the Jays' prospect list, it's hard to understand why he made the top 10 this year. With guys with higher upside lower in the system that are less tarnished by struggle at the minor league level, it's a wonder why they weren't on the top 10. Is it because their tools don't flash as high as Reid-Foley's?
Coming in at No. 9, Ryan Borucki is getting solid reviews on his fastball and changeup, but his slider needs work being sharper, harder and more consistent. BP also isn't impressed by Borucki's injury history which, while fair, doesn't give him much credit for his two consecutive healthy seasons.
T.J. Zeuch rounds out the Top 10, thanks to a solid year in 2017 to go with a very strong finish in the Arizona Fall League. BP likes his command and the movement on his fastball that induces a lot of ground balls, as well as his curveball, which they project as a 55 (above average) pitch. Zeuch's command within the zone is a negative in the analysis and his tendency to leave pitches up and out over the plate can be a big problem.
Some interesting names that show up in the rest of the Top 20 are Zach Jackson (as a relief arm) and Elieser Medrano, who made his debut in 2017 and flashed velocity in the low-to-mid-90s as a 19-year-old. Edward Olivares is a guy who stayed under the radar because he was living in the shadow of Guerrero Jr. and Bichette but he has five tools that are near major-league average.
On this list, Rowdy Tellez, Max Pentecost and Richard Urena have all dropped to the next tier of prospects, mostly due to struggles as they've moved up the ladder (although for Pentecost, it's injury related). BP also looks at Felipe Cataneda, coming out of the low minors.
In terms of omissions, neither Eric Pardinho nor Thomas Pannone were included. This is a bit surprising because Pardinho comes with a lot of positive buzz despite his youth and the fact is that the Jays are likely to start him in the GCL or Bluefield. Pannone is another guy who is surprising to not be in the top 20 players listed, mainly because the Blue Jays added him to their 40-man roster this year and, after seeing him pitch, I'd rank him about half a grade below Ryan Borucki on the Jays' lefty starter depth charts. While desire to keep a guy in the system by protecting him from the Rule 5 draft and his prospect upside are two different things, there's a lot to like with Pannone who is 23, just like Borucki (actually, Pannone is about a month younger) and he has a full season of double-A pitching under his belt (rather than just seven starts in double-A and one in triple-A for Borucki).
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The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available! Check out the Handbook page for more information!