Thursday night the Dunedin Blue Jays opened the MiLB season for the Toronto farm system (the other three full season teams saw their games postponed by weather) and the final adjustments have been made to each team’s opening roster, and coincidentally, the last of the major Top Prospect lists dropped this week as well. So the time has come at last to look at the Blue Jays’ Consensus Top Prospect list.
The methodology here is to consolidate the rankings of six major outlets, tallying them “poll style” (i.e. 15 points for a #1 ranking, 14 for #2 and so forth). The sources used are Keith Law’s list for ESPN, along with Baseball America, FanGraphs, John Sickels, MLB, and our own mothership, Baseball Prospectus. One caveat: the latter only ranks 10 prospects, from the others I used the top 15 names they ranked, so towards the lower end of the list the point totals drop off a bit awkwardly. What follows is an aggregate Top 15. If you live near Manchester, NH, get ready to smile.
1. Vlad Guerrero, Jr. – 3B – 18 – Lansing – 88 points
You can’t possibly be a Blue Jays fan and not know everything I could possibly tell you about this guy. What might be under appreciated is how unusual it is to be opening the year in full-season ball just after the passing of your 18th birthday. Multiple writers have reported that scouts both inside and outside the organization predict Vlad could reach the majors before his 21st birthday. While in general it is super-easy to overhype your own prospects, every bit of excitement you are tempted to regarding VGJ is warranted.
2. Sean Reid-Foley – RHP – 21 – Hew Hampshire – 81 points
One of the things that people look at when analyzing a prospect is how they do relative to the age of their competition. Being 21 and playing in AA is a challenge, but it’s also a sign you’re a special prospect. What has helped SRF progress to this point is that he’s shown a gift for teachability and adjusting. Early on his secondary pitches were below average and his command was inconsistent resulting in too many walks. Last season he improved in all areas and when the Fisher Cats play their first game of the season, he’ll be on the mound.
3. Anthony Alford – CF – 22 – New Hampshire – 80 points
So much has been said and written about Alford in the last year or two, resulting from his unique path to top prospect status, that he’s another player about which I can give you little new information. One point you might have missed was John Gibbons’ effusive praise for Alford after he was sent out from the major league camp last month. Like Guerrero, a lot of the buzz around this kid is about how smart, passionate and hard working he is. Veterans around the game are really impresses when a prospect really invests himself in learning all he can when the opportunity arises. These three make up a clear top tier in the system.
4. Richard Urena – SS – 21 – New Hampshire – 68 points
Sensing a pattern yet? A 21 year old shortstop who’s made it to AA already has something going on. He showed impressive offense in spring training, although there were some mental lapses in the field to go along with overall impressive defensive ability. With Tulo and Travis seemingly in for years to come in Toronto, this guy might be the big chip if a mid-summer trade comes along.
5. Conner Greene – RHP – 22 – New Hampshire – 58
In contrast to rotation mate Reid-Foley, Greene has shown much greater difficulty adjusting and adapting to maximize his stuff. He features an electric moving fastball, but his secondary pitches have not improved to the point of allowing him to establish the high strikeout, low walk profile you’d want and expect from such a prospect. His change-up is described as potentially plus, but unless he finds an effective third pitch the team may begin to give consideration to using him in a power-reliever role.
6. Jon Harris – RHP – 23 – New Hampshire – 55 points
Harris falls more in the “high floor/low ceiling” mold of pitching prospects. He’s effective, consistent, looks to eat up innings, and is described as a potential 4/5 starter in the majors. For those tempted to compare him to the likes of Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire, those comparisons seem unfair. That’s five of the top six prospects headed to New Hampshire, and the top three pitchers in the system.
7. Rowdy Tellez – 1B – 22 – Buffalo – 55 points
While the scouts seem somewhat divided on how Tellez will produce in the majors, the industry leaders ranked him fairly consistently, all in the second half of the top 10. Blue Jays personnel rave about Tellez, noting, as they do with Alford and Guerrero, his passion for learning and improving. This goes beyond hitting techniques and fielding drills to the science of diet and conditioning that’s allowed him to largely turn around the initial “bad body” evaluations.
8. T.J. Zeuch – RHP – 21 – Dunedin – 49 points
In my previous discussion of the farm system I projected that the 2016 first rounder would pitch the opener for the Lansing Lugnuts, if only because the Dunedin rotation was largely full. Thereafter I was informed by broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler that there was some buzz that Zeuch might be elsewhere. That turned out to be right. Zeuch is perhaps the Blue Jays prospect best positioned to increase his profile this year.
9. Bo Bichette – SS – 19 – Lansing – 43 points
Other than Guerrero, there’s probably no other guy in the Blue Jays minors that has more “buzz” among Jays fans than Bo. He’s almost exactly one year older than Vladdy, and he tore up the GCL last year before being sidelined by appendicitis and pushing him to full season ball would appear on the surface to be awfully aggressive particularly given the current administrations reputation for not rushing their prospects. One can only surmise he was as impressive this spring as he was last summer.
10. Lourdes Gurriel – SS – 23 – Dunedin – 34 points
The high profile Cuban signing could have been could have been ranked noticeably higher were it not for the fact that some of the industry leaders did not consider him eligible for ranking. Only three of the six sources called his name, but among those three his average rank would put him in the top five. He opens the season in the warm weather of Florida, initially on the DL, but if he shows well the team is likely to challenge him with one or more promotions.
11. Justin Maese – RHP – 20 – Lansing – 30 points
Lansing’s Opening Day pitcher features great control and a ground ball repertoire that, with a little polish, will earn the love of Jays fans like me who love a guy who limits the free pass.
12. Max Pentecost – C – 24 – Dunedin – 19
I’m going to keep calling this guy a catcher until they give up on the idea. He’s shown himself to be a quality hitter and he’s said to be athletic enough to play elsewhere if his shoulder doesn’t come back. Some question his in-game power but that might just be a matter of the right adjustment.
13. Reese McGuire – C – 22 – New Hampshire – 16
The buzz is that management loves this guy. If you could arrange a transporter accident to merge his defense with Pentecost’s bat you might have the best catching prospect in the game. As it stands, if they could just figure out how to get him to hit a little bit he could have a long career as a bench catcher in the majors. He’ll repeat AA, at least initially, in search of that skill.
14. J.B. Woodman – CF – 22 – Lansing – 10 points
Suggestions are that between the competing candidates in Lansing for the CF job, Woodman is the one who projects long term as a right fielder and odds are that’s where he’ll get the most appearances this year. Watch his strikeout totals to see if he can improve on them as the season.
15. Harold Ramirez – CF – 22 – New Hampshire – 8
He doesn’t have the arm for CF, and with Alford also on the team, he’s sure to get more time in left than anywhere else. He’s a high average, good bat control guy with no power and no arm. Frankly I kind of think this is more a Ezequiel Carrera profile than that of a starter in the majors.
Other Prospects Receiving Ranks: Joshua Palacios – CF – Lansing; Ryan Borucki – LHP – Dunedin; Patrick Murphy – RHP – Lansing
As you can see, these are exciting time in New Hampshire, with five of the top six prospects and seven of the top fifteen on their roster to open the season. For a system that has been some years without upper level prospects, this is a refreshing change of pace. That roster will also feature Spring Training golden boy Tim Mayza (LHP), power hitting 1B and possessor-of-great-baseball-name Ryan McBroom, and a few other names you are likely to hear again this year.
In Buffalo, the promising names apart from Tellez and the currently injured Dalton Pompey are all in the bullpen, where literally every single pitcher is a credible candidate to appear in the majors this year.
For the D-Jays, it’s all about the rotation. Beyond Zeuch, the aforementioned Borucki started the opener last night. Jordan Romano who gets no love on the prospect lists, but was dominating last season in his first year back from Tommy John, will follow him. Huge lefty Angel Perdomo will try to build on last year’s success. In the field, you can also watch for catcher Danny Jansen, 2B Cavan Biggio, and maybe a comeback season from so-far disappointing CF Lane Thomas.
Finally, in Lansing 2016 draftee Zach Jackson heads a deep bullpen, and the rotation also showcases hard-throwing Osman Gutierrez. In the field a trio of Bluefield graduates accompany Vlad Jr. to Michigan: speedy outfielder Nick Sinay, high average utility man Nash Knight (who was hitting over .400 when he was promoted to Vancouver late last year), and slugging infielder Bradley Jones. None of the three are, properly speaking, top prospects, but each brings a track record that makes them worth watching.
This is the first time I can remember in the years I’ve been watching the prospect rankings in which every top end player was assigned to a full season team for opening day. Sickels ranked 19 guys without naming a short-season guy, BA didn’t get to one until #28, MLB until #25, and while Fangraphs didn’t officially rank beyond 17, the “other guys” list didn’t get to a short season player until #26. This represents good news for the organization, for fans in those cities, and for potential trades over the coming year. Now all we need is some good weather so they can get started.
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