By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
John Sickels, who writes most of the articles over at Minor League Ball, annually releases a Top-20 prospects list of each major league team and this year, his Blue Jays article came out in early March.
I'll admit that I've always liked Sickels's analysis, mostly because it really goes along well with my own philosophy of minor league watching. Basically, Sickels is more of a "Prove It" type of minor league analyst. He weights performances at higher levels over loud tools mainly because even toolsy players flame out in the lower minors.
He also has a unique system of grading prospects. Rather than using numbers on the 20-80 scouting scale, he gives each player a letter grade. As he explains, "Grade A prospects are the elite." These guys are most likely to develop into major league stars or regulars. "Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers." These guys are a little more hit and miss and finally, "Grade C prospects are the most common type." There's something positive with these players but they often have many question marks or, as he writes, they "are just too far away from the majors to an accurate feel for." He notes that if you're given a "Grade C" label, there's still a chance to develop and improve that grade as you rise through a system.
Sickels reminds us that a "Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in triple-A is likely just a future role player."
So what strikes me immediately about Sickels's list? The first thing is that the overall grades are much higher, showing how deep the Blue Jays' system has become in the past year. In 2018, there are two A grades, one clear B+, two B/B+s, five Bs, two B-s, 3 B-/C+s and then a whole whack of C+s, basically saying that, since there's only five spots left (#16-20), he would just write about the five about whom he gets the most questions. He lists 22 further players who earned a grade of C+.
In 2017, however, there were no A grades given. Three players earned a B+, three more a B, one a B-/B, one B-, four at B-/C+, five more at C+ and then four more at C+/C grades (with Dwight Smith, Jr. being the final player added as an "other C+/C."
In 2016, there are no B+s or even Bs, just Anthony Alford at B/B+, two B-/Bs, three B-s, and three B-/C+ grades before the C+s come out, with even the #10 prospect (D.J. Davis) getting a C+ grade.
In just two years, the maturing talent combined with the increase in draft picks performing well in the minors has elevated the whole system, even when we don't look much at the dynamic duo of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
Where are the surprises? Sickels breaks with the consensus and slides lefty Ryan Borucki into the #4 slot above Nate Pearson. This is probably due to the fact that Borucki has proved himself as a starter in the upper levels of the minors and Pearson still has some question marks in the durability and ability to develop his third pitch.
Another surprise has catcher Riley Adams at the number nine slot praising his defensive numbers overall. I also think that Samad Taylor is a bit high at number 12, although there is a lot to like with the second baseman who is still 19. Eric Pardinho, considered by several international prospect watchers to be the best pitcher in the 2017 signing class, gets ranked 19th with a C+ grade with the comment "I am too traumatized by the ghost of Jose Pett and his hype back in the 90s to rank Pardinho higher in such a deep system until we see him in pro ball but the potential is clear."
Sickels also ranks Lourdes Gurriel in the "Other Grade C+" category which most evaluators are very low on. A couple of other sleepers ranked in the "Other Grade C+" group that I think have real potential are Dwight Smith Jr., Connor Panas (Toronto, Ont.), Taylor Guerrieri, Mc Gregory Contreras and Maximo Castillo.
For the most part, the players who have done well at higher levels of the minors get higher grades and the younger ones who have yet to prove their mettle in full season ball get graded more cautiously. But I think that there are a few players who are going to surprise Sickels in 2018.
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