There has been a lot of alleged drama surrounding the young talent that was shipped out of the Blue Jays’ organization last July when Alex Anthopoulos went all in at the 2015 trade deadline. The common sentiment is that the system is now rather barren, especially at the upper levels.
There is no arguing that the Blue Jays lost a significant amount of prospect capital via trade last season, but another contributing factor to the absence of high minors talent is the class of players that have graduated to become members of the major league team. As recently as 2014, Marcus Stroman, Robert Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, and Ryan Goins were all still prospects; and if you can believe it, Kevin Pillar possessed the best hit tool in the Jays’ minor league system. Now, they are all members of the big club. It’s also possible that Dalton Pompey, Drew Hutchison and Devon Travis will join them sometime later this season.
This scenario is not uncommon. Within the AL East, the Rays experienced a similar loss of minor league talent between 2013 and 2014. The Rays farm system dropped from the 8th in baseball to 26th as a result of Wil Myers, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi becoming major leaguers. The New York Mets are the latest case, as Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, and Noah Syndergaard have all graduated to the major league team – taking a Mets’ farm system that was ranked 5th in 2015 all the way down to 21st in 2016. Assuming the Jays’ newly promoted youngsters will hopefully play a significant role in the team’s future, how do they stack up against the young players of other teams throughout baseball?
A quick and dirty rank by Wins Above Replacement shows the Jays grade out towards the bottom of the pack in 2015 WARP from players age 26 and under – with a total of 7.7.
|9||Red Sox||14.61||24||Blue Jays||7.71|
While they ranked 24th in baseball, there is reason to expect this number could grow; if Aaron Sanchez continues to experience success in the starting rotation (and there is reason to think he can), he should produce more than the -1.1 WARP he did last season. Also, injuries in 2015 led to partial seasons from two key contributors in Marcus Stroman (0.2) and Devon Travis (1). In addition, Roberto Osuna (1.7) could make the transition to the rotation in 2017 and appears to be heading towards a career as a 2+ WARP reliever even if he does stay in the bullpen. If Marcus Stroman ever marries his current groundballing ways with the strikeouts he was able to generate in the minors, he could take another step forward. While it is far too early to draw firm conclusions from this season’s data, the Sanchez/Osuna/Stroman trio have already produced 1.2 WARP through six weeks. And if things break right for Joe Biagini, there is one more potentially useful arm in the Jays’ stable of young talent.
Another positive to draw from the Blue Jays graduating class is that they are receiving production from several players, as opposed to having one young star responsible for all of the team’s added value. While several teams have a cumulative WARP total higher than the Blue Jays, like the Orioles, Nationals, and Angels, these totals are buoyed almost entirely by one player – Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout, respectively. In the case of the Orioles and Angels, both teams lack any other production from young players outside of their stars. There is obvious value in having a player of this caliber on the roster, and a team like the Blue Jays would be better off for it, but having several young contributors does protect a team like Toronto against injury in a way that the Orioles or Angels are not.
When it comes to other players still on entry-level contracts, Kevin Pillar, who turned 27 this year, can also provide value, putting up a WARP of 3.8 in 2015 with less than two years of service time. And while they do not appear to be part of the team’s immediate plans, Dalton Pompey and Drew Hutchison could also provide value if and when they are able to return to the big club.
Because the Jays’ most recent graduating class of prospects is primarily made up of pitchers who throw hard, there is a higher risk of players like Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna losing significant time to injury. Will Drew Hutchison be able to stick in the major leagues? Despite being heralded as a potential breakout candidate in 2015, he looked awful at times last season and doesn’t appear to be in the team’s immediate plans. When it comes to the young position players, Devon Travis is still far from a known quantity. As much as we’d like to just pencil him into the starting lineup, he has only 238 plate at the major league level and hasn’t played in a game at any level since July. As for Kevin Pillar, his value is tied up almost entirely in his defense and if it starts to slip, his value will be lost.
The Jays also lack the high end talent or quality of depth that the best young teams possess. Barring a major development with someone like Stroman, the Blue Jays don’t possess any elite young players that can produce 6+ WARP in the same way the Cubs, Mets, or Astros do with guys like Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, or Jacob DeGrom. They also lack the depth of young, controllable players like the Rays and Cardinals, both of whom employ significantly more 26-and-under contributors than Toronto. If the Blue Jays are to remain competitive, much of the heavy lifting will have to be done by older players on the Jays’ roster. This puts the onus on Blue Jays currently signed to long term contracts to continue to play at a high level if the team is to remain competitive. Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin will need to remain productive (or return to productivity) in order to drive the success of the team in the near future.
The Blue Jays current class of graduating prospects have the potential to be significantly more valuable than they have been thus far in their young careers. However, Toronto’s lack of close-to-ready prospect depth could leave the team vulnerable, not only in terms of filling holes on their own roster, but in relation to the rest of the league. This small margin for error means that the team’s older players will continue to be relied on to keep the team in contention more so than with some other clubs.
Do the Blue Jays’ young players provide enough of a talent base that the team can continue to spend money this season/off-season to keep the team competitive? In a year where the main focus should be defending the division championship, keep an eye on the most recent graduating class; it could be an interesting subplot. Their on field performance and development could provide Mark Shapiro’s front office with more information on how good this young core can be. And just as importantly, how that will affect roster decisions whenever the 2016 season does come to an end.
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