By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
While we still have to wait another couple of months before MiLB.com releases the Blue Jays' Organization All-Stars, which are coming on December 18, we thought we'd complete our examination of the Blue Jays' minor league system by looking beyond individual teams to the players who excelled at each position.
We're using the same format as MiLB.com does, with one player at each position on the infield, three outfielders and a DH/utility player getting the honours plus one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter and one reliever.
There are several positions that will involve very little brain power and catcher is one of them. Danny Jansen, our organization All-Star backstop met every challenge given to him on the way to a .323/.400/.484 slash line in 104 games (a career high) playing for Dunedin, New Hampshire and Buffalo. Amazingly, his best OPS came in his limited playing time in Buffalo with a .975 OPS on the back of a .328/.423/.552 slash line. Over the course of the season, Danny hit 25 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs. I think we're all excited to see what Danny can do in a full year in Buffalo.
Ryan Noda was the Jays' 15th-round draft pick out of University of Cincinnati in 2017 and the 6-foot-3, 217 pound first baseman dominated the Appalachian League with a .364/.507/.575 slash line, hitting 18 doubles, three triples and seven home runs. While he was flirting with a .400 average at times, his numbers took a drop in the back half of the season although his walk numbers skyrocketed so I'll wager it was because pitchers in the league were just not giving him anything to hit. Noda will surely be tested at higher levels next year and we'll see if the results were merely because he was a college player who outclassed the level or if he has the potential to be a dominant hitter as he moves up through the organization.
Tim Lopes came to the Blue Jays as a player to be named later, joining his older brother, Christian, in the organization when the Jays sent Pat Venditte to Seattle. With a solid line-drive swing, Lopes was a year-long contributor to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in double-A, hitting .271/.338/.390 with 27 doubles, four triples and a career-high seven home runs in 128 games.
Eighteen-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has begun doing amazing things and scouts are starting to remove the age qualifier when talking about him. He's just doing some amazing things, period. Over the course of the season, Guerrero played at two levels, hitting .323/.425/.485 with 28 doubles, two triples and 13 home runs, actually improving his offensive stats at class-A Advanced Dunedin despite the Florida State League being a worse environment than the Midwest League is for hitters. We're going to be talking about this guy for years to come and he looks like he can be a perennial big league All-Star rather than just an organization All-Star.
Bo Bichette, 19, joined his teenage compadre Guerrero in tearing up whichever league they were in. Bichette was unstoppable in the Midwest League, cruising towards a league batting title (despite having to have numerous hitless at bats added to his line in order to qualify) and, at .362, had MiLB's higher batting average, with a .423 OBP and .565 slugging percentage, hitting 41 doubles, four triples and 14 home runs in 110 games. His numbers did drop significantly when he moved up to the Florida State League but still had a .323/.379/.463 slash line at the age of 19. Most scouts agree that Bichette's ceiling may not be as high as Guerrero's but whatever it may be, Bichette had a season for the ages.
Anthony Alford, the 23-year-old uber-athletic phenom is more than finding his place in the professional baseball world. While another injury cost him time this season, he still managed to hit .310/.406/.429 in 68 games with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and had a strong start in three games with Buffalo. Of course, we really remember Alford's big league debut and while he wasn't all that great (just 1/8 with a double), it was his swing in the majors that broke his hand, costing him about six weeks of playing time.
It's hard to omit Toronto native Connor Panas from our list. The 24-year-old outfielder spent the season with the Dunedin Blue Jays, leading the league (and the Jays' minor league system) with 18 home runs and having a .276/.364/.475 slash line, improving a great deal over his numbers from 2016 in Lansing. Panas seems to just be able to work his way into a regular role despite how many potential stars may surround him, showing a great work ethic and ability to drive the ball.
While Guerrero and Bichette were drawing the attention around him, Edward Olivares, 21, was slamming his way into an outstanding season for the Lansing Lugnuts. In 101 games in Lansing, he hit .277/.330/.500 with 26 doubles, nine triples and 17 home runs while stealing 18 bases and hitting for the cycle. He didn't hit as well after his promotion to Dunedin, hitting just .221/.312/.265 in 19 games but has gotten his feet wet at that level and should be a regular there next year.
Jason Leblebijian's numbers declined after two outstanding months but he still had a solid season with a .258/.323/.405 slash line in 120 games in Buffalo, playing at the highest minor league level. Leblebijian's defensive versatility also helped get the nod at this position.
Usually, I'll give this award to players who contribute more over the course of the season but 2017 first-rounder Nate Pearson had such a dominant professional debut with the Vancouver Canadians that he couldn't be overlooked. Quite possibly the hardest thrower in the organization (although Conner Greene and Kelyn Jose could give him a run for his money), Pearson generally overmatched his competition, throwing 20 innings overall with just two runs against and only seven hits allowed with five walks and 26 strikeouts. Many scouts think that Pearson could easily be the best pitching prospect in the organization right now and he could be a steal as a 28th-overall pick in the draft.
Ryan Borucki really got his climb to the major leagues on track last season when, after a horrible start with the Dunedin Blue Jays, he rebounded with a strong campaign pitching for the Lansing Lugnuts. This year, while his first few starts with Dunedin weren't the best, he righted the ship quickly and stuck there, making 19 appearances with a 3.58 ERA and 1.24 WHIP before moving up to New Hampshire where he was the best starter on the team immediately, making seven starts and posting a 1.94 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 42 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings before he was rewarded with a start in Buffalo, throwing six scoreless innings with just one walk and six strikeouts. Borucki is now poised to start the 2018 as a 24-year-old in New Hampshire or Buffalo and, being already on the 40-man roster, is almost assured of getting a call to Toronto at some point.
While the Blue Jays have a number of excellent relievers with a lot of potential, none showed the absolute dominance and fearlessless that Carlos Ramirez did. Ramirez, 26, went the entire minor league season without giving up an earned run, posting a 0.69 WHIP to go with his 0.00 ERA over 37 2/3 innings with 45 strikeouts and just 10 walks. He even got to pitch in the majors leagues (as we predicted back at the beginning of August), excelling with a 2.70 ERA and miniscule 0.54 WHIP over 16 2/3 innings with 14 strikeouts and only three walks. The key to Ramirez is how hard he was to hit this season. In 54 1/3 innings at three levels, he allowed just 22 hits. Ramirez is going to be given a shot to make the big league bullpen in 2018.
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The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available! Check out the Handbook page for more information!