Today is the big day for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays prospects. Today, weather permitting – given that three of the four full season teams play in northern climates – is opening day for all four full season affiliates. Since full (tentative) rosters were announced at the first of the week, you have probably perused them by now if you’re really interested in knowing all the finer details. So I won’t bother to repeat those for you here. Instead I will provide appropriate links to the full roster for each team to browse at your heart’s content. This review will focus on the prospects and players that should be commanding your attention for various reasons as the season gets underway, starting at the top of the system and working our way down the ladder.
The Buffalo team is packed out with players with major league experience, and relatively light on legitimate prospects, so I’ll have to fudge a bit on this one. That’s not really unusual for the Jays or across the league. Major league teams like to have veteran depth they can summon if an injury creates a need on the big club. It’s not my purpose here to review those guys, however I will toss a shout-out to Drew Hutchison who had fewer than 32 IP above Hi-A ball when he was first promoted to Toronto at the age of 21. An argument could be made that on a stricter development plan, he’d have been a major league rookie at best last year. He’s still just 25.
Dalton Pompey of course. No longer in possession of rookie eligibility, he’s still legitimately a prospect even if he doesn’t appear on the lists. He only really needs to consolidate his hitting progress. His bat is probably major league ready. But the team believes the CF needs more consistency, that is more reps, on the defensive side of the ball. The 23 year old is another player that on another course might just now be arriving at AAA, and would probably be in the major leagues if not for last year’s breakout from Kevin Pillar.
One to Watch
Andy Burns, 3B, 2B, LF, sometimes SS, and more in a pinch, has slowly and steadily built his credibility in the Blue Jays system, culminating in his head-turning spring training performance. He was drafted as a SS and put up interesting slash lines in his first full professional season in 2012, and was even better in 2013. The offensive numbers cooled a bit in the last couple of years but his versatility has steadily increased. That factor alone may put him in a major league uniform sometime this season.
Don’t Sleep on…
Jesus Montero. So okay, he’s not a prospect at all, but he’s only 26 and if the Jays can fix his swing to complement the power. . .
Darrell Ceciliani is another guy you don’t really think of as one of the Blue Jays prospects, as he has never been a top 10 prospect in the Mets organization (the team from whom he was acquired). He was quite good in the Florida State League a few years ago, then raked in the high-octane Pacific Coast League last year before impressing Jays decision-makers in Spring Training with his power. Keep an eye on how he handles International League pitching, as he very likely will see time in Toronto this season.
There’s No Such Thing as A (Relief) Pitching Prospect
To be abbreviated henceforth!
Chad Girodo is a 25 year old lefty that stuck around a long time in Spring Training. While the Blue Jays’ relief depth is pretty impressive, this is a guy you may well see do some work for the team, if not this year then next. With rare exception, minor league relief pitchers hardly qualify as “prospects” but sometimes a guy comes through the system in the ‘pen and still makes an impact (Aaron Loup, for an example). A side-armer who dominates left-handed hitters, Girodo had a 0.62 ERA in AA New Hampshire last year with an 11/1 K/BB ratio. That’ll play.
Other notes – RH RP Blake McFarland is another guy that might sneak up on you this year. You don’t add a somewhat older, former undrafted free agent to the 40 man roster unless you think he can pitch in the bigs in a pinch.
Often double-A is viewed by major league teams as the real prospect proving ground and the best of them might leap-frog over the veteran-laden triple-a. Still, even when the Blue Jays are well stocked with prospects it always seems like the F-Cats have a rather plain roster. There’s only one real star here to start the season but look for that to change as the summer heats up.
Rowdy Tellez, the 21 year old first baseman with the nickname that demands your adoration, was raking in Dunedin last year when he was hit in the hand by a pitch that cost him the rest of his team’s season. He did come back strong in the Arizona Fall League, but given that he only played in 35 games in Dunedin, it’s a mild surprise he was assigned to New Hampshire right out of the gate. He has an advanced feel for hitting, both for average and for power, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the higher quality arms in double-A.
One to Watch
LHP Shane Dawson is an even more surprising assignment at this level. The Alberta-born starter is widely regarded as having marginal stuff but is also described as a player who maximizes his results with an advanced feel for pitchability. The surprise here is that the 22 year old pitcher got a mere 5 starts in Dunedin after a second-half promotion in 2015. I’m guessing not one observer had penciled him in for AA.
Don’t Sleep On…
Roman Fields. He’s always likely to be a guy with, at most, a barely tolerable bat but he also features impressive outfield defense and blazing speed. If the team can turn his bat up even a little, he could be a valuable bench outfielder. Remember, the upcoming season will only be his third in professional baseball.
John Stilson? You remember, right? The guy that everyone said the Blue Jays stole in the 2011 draft if he could stay healthy and then he . . . didn’t? Yeah. That guy. Well, that’s not entirely fair. He looked like an absolute stud out of the ‘pen in 2013 for the Bisons. But a series of shoulder woes cut short 2014 and wiped out 2015. Reports were he was throwing 98 mph easily in spring training, so his name could pop up again.
Brady Dragmire had one of the craziest game logs of 2015. He struggled so much in the early going that his ERA peaked at 10.80 and a 10/13 K/BB ratio on June 9 (in 21.2 IP). But after making an adjustment, he got so hot that he burst into flames (not literally). His ERA over the balance of the season was 2.38 over 41.2 IP, with a 40/7 K/BB. The 22-year old also didn’t give up a home run all year. His addition to the 40 man roster last fall showed that the Blue Jays were paying attention. He will basically go as far as his slider takes him. When it’s on, he’s very tough. When it’s not, he’s very hittable.
Other notes – The increasing crowd of players who play 1B/DH in the system, combined with the injuries and lack of development from once highly regarded Mitch Nay have created the opportunity for Matt Dean to return to the hot corner. He displayed considerable power for the cavernous environment of the Florida State League last year but it remains to be seen whether his bat translates to AA or his glove can still play at third base.
In stark contrast the the New Hampshire squad, the D-Jays are comparatively jacked up. a half dozen or more of these guys have significant major league potential. Much of this likely has to do with the virtual guarantee of early season warm weather, but regardless, the team is loaded.
Anthony Alford is the only real choice for the mention here. He came into 2015 with fewer than 80 professional at bats and promptly turned into an absolute stud. He started at Lansing for 50 games, then put up an even better line in 52 games after his promotion to Dunedin. He has an elite approach at the plate, which is stunning for someone who missed so much professional time, and has the defensive and speed tools that make scouts drool. While there’s certainly wisdom in holding a guy who grew up in Mississippi back in the Florida sunshine for a bit more seasoning, I’d be stunned if he played here beyond the FSL All Star Game on June 18. If you missed it, you can get an up-close look at the star prospect from Joshua Howsam’s excellent interview with Alford.
One to Watch
Well, technically, five! There is just too much talent on this team to limit the report to just one player.
Being on the same roster as Alford gets shortstop Richard Urena pushed out of the spotlight a bit, but he’s here too and he’s not short on buzz around the organization. Still just 20, scouts rave about the Dominican infielder’s instincts for shortstop, and he showed surprising power last year in Lansing. Executives and coaches are very impressed with him and are content to give him lots of time to develop his plate discipline, which is practically non-existent at this point. He walked only 16 times in 2015, so he’ll need to improve to be more than just a defensive wizard.
The D-Jays rotation has a ton of potential that I would be remiss start with anyone other than Conner Greene. You’ve probably heard a lot about him this spring already, but it bears repeating. Like Alford, Greene took a huge leap forward last year. The former seventh round pick threw well in Lansing, dominated in Dunedin for seven starts and eventually made it all the way to New Hampshire. Armed with a fastball that was touching 98 mph this spring and an improving curve, Greene is somebody that could come rather quickly. However, also like Alford, the new regime choose to slow him down a bit and let him pitch in the Florida sun after a wild 2015. He’s another one that should be in NH before July arrives.
The rest of the rotation brings more risk but a lot of upside. The most intriguing player for me is one-time bonus baby Adonys Cardona. The injury plagued Venezuelan, signed at 16, has just turned 22 and has only managed 83 mostly unimpressive professional innings (not counting the DSL), but the stuff is supposedly still elite. He is apparently bringing high nineties heat with his fastball and impressively sharp secondary pitches. If the newly revamped training staff (no doubt the reason he’s on the Dunedin roster rather than Lansing) can keep him on the mound, this could be the breakout candidate for the entire minor league system. [Last minute update: Cardona isn’t scheduled to start during the first turn through the rotation. The team may be using him in the bullpen initially, or even long term. This is a factor to pay attention to, putting him in relief may be something they feel is dictated by his inability to stay heathy. However, as a reliever he might move quickly]
Tom Robson is here too. In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery the watchful eye of the Dunedin trainers will be handy with him as well. While his numbers don’t reflect it, some around the team expect a lot from Robson this year. The same can be said for Ryan Burucki. Drafted in 2012, he’s mentioned among the high ceiling guys every year and every year he manages to get hurt. The lefty has fewer than 70 professional inning, but 57 of those were in 2014 and they were quite impressive. Like the two aforementioned, he’s likely in Dunedin specifically because the organization wants to employ the best possible resources to keep him healthy.
Don’t Sleep On…
Catcher Danny Jansen. It would be easy overlook the Illinois native if all you did was look at the stats from last season, one interrupted by a major injury. But many observers believe he has put himself into the conversation for the organization’s best catching prospect (given the even more severe injury issues of a certain former first round choice). I’m not ready to go that far yet, but he’s much better than last year’s results.
DJ Davis is here too! I don’t suppose you’ve completely forgotten the less successful of the team’s two Mississippi outfielders, but anyone can be forgiven for not seeing him past the white-hot intensity of Alford’s success. Davis showed dramatic improvement last year, but he’ll need to do just that again to convince the many skeptics that he has any hope of a major league future.
This is particularly true in Dunedin to start the year. So in the absence of a guy I can tell you has upside (I guess Justin Schafer might be . . . something . . . maybe) I’ll give you an interesting storyline. Remember Gustavo Pierre, the hacking Dominican bonus baby SS-turned-3B who struggled with both the bat and the glove? Well the Blue Jays are giving him a shot on the mound. If they assigned him to a full season roster, particularly Dunedin, he must have shown them something.
Not much to get excited about here in the field, save one guy, but there’s the potential for a big-time starting rotation.
Sean Reid-Foley, who’s also 20, was one of the most aggressively promoted prospects under the previous regime. After a taste of Gulf Coast League ball in 2014 following his second round selection out of high school, he surprisingly broke camp last year at low-A Lansing. Armed with a mid 90s fastball and a wicked slider, Reid-Foley actually pitched well enough, despite evident control issues, to eventually receive eight starts in Dunedin. Neither assignment would have have been a shock this year, but it seems the team is daring Reid-Foley to dominate in low-A and harness his commend before getting any promotion. Chances are if he holds up his end of that proposition, Reid-Foley will move quickly.
One to Watch
The other potential star turn would 2015 First Round pick Jon Harris. The 6’4” RHP was thought to be quite the steal when the team drafted him and some observers said he’d be able to move as fast as anyone in the draft due to a very mature approach. But fatigue largely ruined his debut so he’s looking for a rebound for the full-season Lugnuts. He works with a sinking fastball between 92-94 and has a true four pitch mix, with curveball, slider and changeup all flashing plus at times. The fast-mover tag hasn’t faded too far into the rear-view and if he shows any consistency, he’ll challenge Reid-Foley for the honor of first promotion.
Don’t Sleep On…
Lane Thomas is a third baseman-turned center fielder-turned second baseman who now listed again as a center fielder, but my sources tell me not to assume the 2B plan is dead. Thomas announced his presence with authority in 2014, putting up an .814 OPS as an 18 year old at Bluefield. However, he struggled all year at Vancouver last year and I, among others, were troubled to see such a promising player falter to that degree. I kept my eye out for reports on what was going wrong and it turns out he was dealing with a pretty serious wrist injury all year which obviously greatly affected his hitting. My source says he is healed and strong now and this may be the hitter that gets the most “where did this guy come from?” chatter in the coming year.
Pop quiz! Who was the 1st round (35th overall) pick by the Blue Jays in 2011? If you said Jacob Anderson then possibly you, like me, spend far too much time paying attention to minor leaguers. Anderson was described by some as a nice bargain at the pick. After he hit .405 in a handful of GCL at bats that year I was perhaps overly invested in him for a while. Then he struggled in 2012, missed all of ‘13 and effectively all (10 AB) of 2014. He managed to get 63 AB last year as a 22 year old at Bluefield before a pitch to the head put him out of commission again. I had basically moved on from him, but here he is, on a full season team, trying to hold himself together long enough to rediscover the talent he had on Draft Day.
Noting truly remarkable here, but Travis Bergen was the team’s 7th round pick in 2015 out of Kennesaw State and he might be a fast mover.
Other notes – Another SP that you must pay attention to on this team is 6’6” Dominican lefty Angel Perdomo. Word is that when he’s on he’s a monster on the mound, but just lacks some consistency, particularly with control. He could combine with Harris and Reid-Foley to deliver this team it’s seemingly annual first-half title.
“But what about…?”
Max Pentecost? Pentecost is technically on the Lansing roster but disabled. No one seems to know anything about the former first rounder and “Catcher of the Future”. He’s probably still physically in Dunedin working with the training staff to get game ready and the Lansing assignment is a paperwork matter. [Last minute update: Pentecost has disappeared from the Lansing roster. Presumably he does remain in extended]
Clinton Hollon? Hollon is finishing up his amphetamine suspension that carried over from late last season. He is due back in early May and stands to give the Lugnuts a four man quartet in the rotation that would be unrivaled in the system. As for the suspension, see the great piece on this site by Gideon Turk for the inside scoop.
Mitch Nay? Nay opens the season on the Dunedin DL. He left the field last summer because of a staph infection which apparently took a pretty big toll on him. No word on the nature of his disability this spring, or whether or not it’s related.
Matt Smoral? I continue to hold out hope for the big lefty since he spent the winter working with Driveline Baseball. He will likely remain in Extended Spring Training with a potential assignment yet to be determined. He may yet end up with Dunedin or Lansing before the short-season teams begin play.
Ryan McBroom? He’s in Dunedin, playing 1B, wishing he didn’t have Tellez soaking up all the press in front of him on the depth chart.
If there’s any other player you saw mentioned on a Top Prospect list anywhere I didn’t mention, the odds are very high indeed that said player is young enough that he’ll be playing on a short-season team. Yes, that includes Vlad Guerrero, Jr. – which probably puts a damper on his plans to get to the bigs in two years. Kudos go to my friend, the ever-gracious Jesse Goldberg-Strassler for valuable insight on some of these guys.
Lead Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports