By the time I write the next bi-weekly installment of this feature, the minor league seasons, even the playoffs, will have finished. In fact, the DSL Jays played their last game Saturday and Bluefield’s last regular season game is Thursday.
At this point in the year whatever conclusion one might draw from statistical results and observer/scout commentary can be firmed up pretty well, as well as conclusions about the overall state of the system. One of the obvious conclusions to draw from 2017 is that the Blue Jays are suddenly awash in catching prospects.
Let’s take a look. I’ll list these in order of where they are in the system, rather than trying to guess what the organization thinks about them relative to each other to form a ranking.
Danny Jansen – A VERY great deal has been written this season about the stunning rise of Jansen. It is certainly true that his above average defense was fairly well known (among prospect watchers) a year ago and there were observers who thought he had offensive upside if he could avoid the freak injuries that limited both 2015 and 2016 to fewer than 60 games played. He did hit quite well in Bluefield in 2014 so that belief was not without foundation. But anyone who says they saw this coming is lying. Jansen’s OPS over three levels this year is .910 (as of this writing). Truth be told, his actual talent level likely isn’t that high (his most extended number of at bats on one level was at AA where his OPS was just under .800), but if he produces next spring anything reminiscent of what he has this year, he may force the Jays to break camp with him backing up Russell Martin. He’s due to need 40-man protection this winter so Toronto will be strongly tempted to let him get his feet wet in the majors next month.
Reese McGuire – I confess that when the Blue Jays acquired McGuire last summer I was only very mildly interested. I liked him better than the other guy received in the deal (OF Harold Ramirez) but despite both of them having been pretty highly ranked in the Pirates system, I saw a guy who hadn’t been hitting minor league pitchers with any authority who was trading on (reportedly) otherworldly defense to have any prospect status at all. This season, he went off to knee surgery in early May sporting a .216 BA and a .684 OPS which seemed to only be killing his trade value.
Things have changed. Things have REALLY changed.
In 13 games since returning to the Fisher Cats, McGuire’s hitting .383 with a 1.155 OPS and four home runs in 47 at bats. Has someone actually fixed McGuire? If so this is a massive unexpected boon to the system. Realistically, you cannot completely reassess a man’s whole minor league career based on a few incredibly hot weeks, but it’s also fair to wonder (as an outsider) how long has the knee been a problem and to what extent it has impacted his hitting. At any rate, if McGuire finishes strongly it dramatically boosts his potential trade value (he’s still the first guy in this group I’d try to deal to upgrade the big league roster).
Max Pentecost – Coming into the year a lot of people were busy sliding Max down their prospect lists on the thesis that he’d been unable to catch for so long due to shoulder injuries that it was fair to assume he might never get back to that role. Being anything other than a catcher, they reasoned, made him a much less valuable prospect. For the most part it seems fair to say those fears have been put to rest. When Blue Jays’ player development personnel are ask about Pentecost, and specifically about his future as a catcher, they always give an enthusiastic response stating he still profiles very well as a defensive catcher. Like Jansen (and McGuire) this is the winter that he will need 40-man protection so the answer to that question was very crucial.
Pentecost is currently on the DL – I don’t know what the injury is; teams are notoriously secretive about why in the minors – and slid into that stint on a 2 for 20 jag that might have been injury related. But before that slump he was right their among the best run producers in the system. Most importantly though, the defense question was answered. Even though he split time between C and 1B (partly because he started the year on the same roster with Jansen) as the organization exercised caution, they speak highly of his ability to stick behind the plate.
Javier Hernandez – highly regarded defender, playing for Lansing who some feel has a chance to hit – he hasn’t yet.
Riley Adams – Broadcaster Rob Fai has declared the 2017 3rd rounder the Vancouver Canadian’s MVP. He’s 6’4″ and a 2nd degree blackbelt who has won praise for his athleticism behind the plate and his hitting results are no illusion. He’s sitting on an .850 OPS and extended his current hitting streak to 16 games with a home run on Saturday.
Ryan Gold and Yorman Rodriguez – Here are the guys you’ve likely heard nothing about. Both are playing for the Bluefield Jays and are having impressive offensive years. I haven’t heard much about their defensive skills, but – with the caveat that a lot of guys hit in low rookie ball who can’t handle full season even a little bit, both are worthy of praise. Gold, 19, was a 27th round selection in the 2016 draft. He’s hitting .340 in August and as a LH hitter starts almost exclusively vs. RHP. On the season his OPS is .844. Rodriguez, a 20 year old Venezuelan gets more at bats vs LHP and he’s hitting .339 with an .814 career OPS over 185 games.
Hagen Danner – the 2017 second round two-way prospect hasn’t hit much yet in the GCL, but he’s highly regarded by the organization and scouts.
Hottest Pitcher: Nate Pearson
Can we just go ahead and nickname this guy “The Hammer?” Northwest League hitters can’t touch this.
Check out this line on his career so far:
7 G – 17 IP – 4 H – 0 R – 2 BB – 21 K
The 6’6″ 245 Pearson, who can run his quality fastball into the triple digits fairly often, has been compared to the very best pitchers to ever take the mound in Vancouver. Broadcaster Rob Fai, who’s been with the team since 2007, says he’s the best they have had – and that includes Noah Syndergaard. Pearson is already probably the Jays best pitching prospect (He’ll probably be in their top 5 on every list by spring) and likely lands on the Dunedin roster to start 2018. There’s talk he could be an above average reliever in the majors right now but that would be an insane choice.
Hottest Hitter: Vlad Guerrero Jr
Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Vlad, along with Bo, were promoted to Dunedin just after the major league Futures Game. After opening in the FSL with a hot week, he had a cold one – his first significant slump in months – going 2 for 26 both hits being singles.
But beginning July 27 he caught fire in a way that provided a full display of why he’s regarded as maybe the best prospect in baseball by hitting .388/.512/.633/1.145 in 28 games. Don’t be shocked if he breaks camp next spring in AA or if not he’s up within 4-5 weeks of opening day.
Other players to note
- Nathaniel Perez – A 19 year old RHP who spent the year in the just completed DSL. Perez was not a highly coveted bonus baby, but 7 walks and 55 K’s in 57 IP, and a 1.42 ERA over 13 starts is eye opening. He’s given up nine earned runs this year, seven of them in his first two outings. His ERA in his last 11 starts? 0.35 good enough to impress you? (also worth mentioning from the DSL staff – the awesomely named Elixon Caballero and Naswell Paulino)
- Maverick Buffo – Feels like we ought to just call this guy “The Name” but he’s done more than provoke Top Gun references this summer. The RHP who was the 34th round pick in this year’s draft has given up two earned runs and a mere two walks in 29 IP while striking out 33
- Matthew Gunter – The lefty taken one round before Buffo, Gunter has almost matched up pitch for pitch this summer. He has 32.1 IP but an identical 33 strikeouts. He’s surrendered only four earned runs and four walks. Remember both are in the GCL so just scouting stats is wildly premature in terms of prospect status but a hat tip was certainly in order.
- Connor Panas – Almost entirely overlooked in the shadow of the Bo & Vlad hype, the Toronto native outfielder turned his season around midseason and has been running right there with his more famous teammates in the second half. By July 5 he’d bottomed out to a .222 BA and .667 OPS but somewhere in there he flipped the switch. Since then he’s slashing .350/.409/.645/1.054.
- Zach Jackson – the somewhat forgotten 2016 3rd rounder has stepped up his game since hitting Dunedin. In 25 appearances at the level he’s sporting a 1.80 ERA and and a 12.6 K/9. On the other hand, his walk rate has spiked back up too (after seeming to have improved a bit in Lansing) so there is clearly work yet to do.
– 22.5 games back, the epitome of running out the clock at this point. Someone might play themselves into or out of a September call up but otherwise, there’s not much to see here.
– Thirty two games out. Fans will get one more look at Ryan Borucki, two to check out Tom Pannone and a couple of more looks at the frustrating threesome of Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, and Jon Harris.
– Dunedin is 8 games back of the division leading Yankees, but with the latter heading towards being repeat winners (first and second half) this means the next best overall record makes the playoffs. Right now, that’s the D-Jays with a three game lead and eight games to play.
– No playoff push here, as the Nut’s haven’t gotten consistent quality starting pitching all year (next year looks promising though, depending on who impresses in camp). They sit in last place, 18.5 games out.
– The Van Cs are tied for first place in their tightly packed division, but they already qualified for the playoffs by winning the first half. The have lined up the aforementioned Pearson to pitch game one in the playoffs and likely the also impressive Zach Logue (1.29) and Justin Dillon (1.89) will follow.
– Bluefield fans are already buying tickets to playoff games with their local Blue Jays leading the division by 4.5 games with 5 to play. The team’s winning percentage is .683.
GCL and DSL
– The GCL Jays sit 3 back of the division leading Phillies after having lost to them twice in the last two games. They have a week to overcome that and make the post-season. The two teams play again in the last two games of the regular season. The DSL squad finished up by 3.5 games to win their division (MiLB has published no info on whether they even have playoffs in the DSL).
Lead Photo © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports