Various sites and publications, some carrying more weight than others, publish top prospect lists throughout the offseason each year. They are each informative in their own way, as they can include players others didn’t mention or provide you with some tidbit of scouting information you may not have seen otherwise. For a prospect fangirl like myself (I literally have a personal list of over 100 names, knowing full well that only those at the very top are really considered legit prospects), this stuff is baseball crack. Even when I know that the source may not be any more objectively credible than I am, the only way that I can really consider myself informed about the farm system is to take in all these scraps of info I can find, given that I never get a chance to actually watch them play and — even if I could watch them — am nothing like a scout.
So when my good friend at Future Blue Jays relates to us how much Gil Kim loves SS Leonardo Jimenez (a 2017 July 2 signing), I’m there for it. When Marc Hulet of FanGraphs has Maximo Castillo in his personal Top 10, I take note. For my personal use I’ve created a consensus ranking of eight “non-professional” sources for these lists. But what I’m about to share with you is the consensus of five of the six most respected professional sources. Along with reviewing how that list turned out, I’ll contribute some thoughts about where these guys are going to spend their 2018 season. But first, some methodological notes.
There are six sources that I use each year for this list: MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, ESPN/Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, John Sickels, and FanGraphs. Sadly, the latter has been so slow about finishing their lists I can’t include them fully in this story. (When they do publish I’ll edit this post with any resulting revisions in the ranking.)
EDIT: The Fangraphs rankings have been added to the point total and the list adjusted where necessary. This resulted in a slightly different order from #12-19. I have restrained myself from correcting the predictions I made that were in error while I’m here.
Also, Baseball Prospectus only ranked 10 names, and one of those — Conner Greene — is now out of the system. This means something of a caveat is required in terms of point totals once you get to #12. Judging by their unranked list of “others” no matter how they might have been ranked the order for the top 12 guys mathmatically couldn’t change. Otherwise, I took each source’s Top 20 (Sickels and Law only rank 20 names) and assign points in typical reverse-order fashion (20 points for #1, 19 for #2 and so forth). The resulting list coincidentally produced 20 players with double-figure point totals. The top four or five names on this list contain exactly zero surprises, but I’m going to go reverse order anyway.
#20: Ryan Noda – 1B/OF – Age 21 – It may be appropriate that the first name addressed here is Noda, because he’s the biggest mix of “get excited” and “cool your jets” on the list. On the one hand, he was a legit monster in Bluefield in 2017. With an OBP/SLG slash of .507/.575, he was easily the best hitter in the league. On the other hand, he was a college guy playing against mostly 19-year-olds. He will likely land in Lansing, but as a college draftee he might break camp with Dunedin. He has played almost exclusively at first base as a pro, but has some outfield experience and should be expected to see some time out there this year. (12 points)
#19: Miguel Hiraldo – SS/3B – 17 – The second-highest bonus paid out by the Jays last July 2nd, the Dominican shortstop was said by some to be the best hitter in the class. He may well end up at third base before long. Probably plays in the GCL most of this season. (15 points)
#18: Carlos Ramirez – RHRP – 26 – More evaluators bought in on the converted outfielder than I expected. He’s been hurt most of spring, and some speculate he might hit the 60-day DL in order to free up a roster spot. When he’s healthy he’ll be assigned to Buffalo and pitch for a spot on the bullpen shuttle crew. (16 points)
#17: Rowdy Tellez – 1B – 23 – If you follow prospects at all, you know Rowdy had an awful year in ’17, thanks in part to some off-field family distractions (which are not completely resolved). He’ll be back for a second go at Triple A. (20 points)
#16: Thomas Pannone - LHSP – 23 – By now you are surely aware of Pannone’s 80-game PED suspension. He’ll serve that at Triple A and spend the rest of the year presumably in the Buffalo rotation. He gets Borucki-like results, though is said to have less impressive stuff. (22 points)
#15: Riley Adams - C – 21 – Like shortstop, the catching position is backed up. There are three guys here, and another — Max Pentecost – who received votes. There’s an argument that Adams, a big-bodied buy who was drafted third last year and showed well in Vancouver, being a college guy, should be in Dunedin. But for all four guys to get a lot of reps, I’m postulating that Adams starts in Lansing so that Pentecost (and his injury history) can start the year in the warmth of Dunedin, close to the medical staff. Then, around mid-to-late May if everyone is playing well, there might well be some chain promotions, which would mean Adams would spend most of the season in Florida. (24 points)
#14: Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. – IF – 24 – Here’s where I need to bring up something that will be a recurring theme on this list — positional crowding. Laying aside Gift Ngoepe for a moment, Toronto has four shortstop prospects on this list that project to the full-season rosters, and while Gurriel is being developed as a Zobrist-type utility man, he needs more defensive reps at shortstop than anywhere else. For me, he starts the season with Buffalo getting all those reps he needs, with Ngoepe playing second base while he does. (24 points — two sources did not consider him qualified under their rules, so likely should have landed higher if they did)
#13: Samad Taylor - 2B – 19 – Like Pannone, Taylor was part of the return for Joe Smith. Most reactions at the time said he was the lesser of the two, so I was quite surprised for him to end up this high. Other than shifted shortstops, this position is much more thin, but Taylor fits best to begin the year at Lansing. (31 points)
#12: Reese McGuire – C – 23 – The same situation affects McGuire. He is a polished defender and can in theory DH some days to continue refining his hitting, but ideally you want catchers catching. With a really good prospect in that position in Buffalo, McGuire could begin the year back in Double A. To be fair, his offensive breakout after returning from injury was only about a month long before the season ended, and it’s not crazy to ask him to show you that was real before a promotion. That said, I expect all four catchers to advance a level by the first of June (assuming all perform up to their projections). If that happens, McGuire will ultimately get more time in Buffalo than in New Hampshire. (35 points)
#11: Richard Ureña – SS – 22 – All the beat writers seem to take it as a given that he’s destined for Buffalo, but I don’t buy it. His numbers in New Hampshire last year were paltry (.286 OBP/.359 SLG), and he didn’t finish hot. Given the aforementioned need for all the shortstop prospects to get repetition at the position, particularly Gurriel, I don’t see any argument at all for promoting Ureña until he proves his bat is ready. There is pressure on him from Bichette, and at that means it seems reasonable to think that Ureña is going to have to play a lot of games at second base (where he does have some experience). But whether he’s playing on the left side or the right, he needs to show he can hit his way out of Double A. (44 points)
#10: Eric Pardinho – RHSP – 17 – The Brazilian whiz kid that was Toronto’s top July 2nd signing last year has everyone’s attention. He’s compact but polished well beyond his years, and the thinking that is he’ll open the year in the GCL with good potential to advance before the season is over. (56 points)
#9: TJ Zeuch – RHSP – 22 – There’s a somewhat similar situation with the upper-level pitching for the Blue Jays. At each level there are guys who’d normally be in the rotation crowded out due to the number of options. Zeuch has a case for opening the season in New Hampshire, but injuries limited his innings in Dunedin last season, and I think it’s reasonable that he might begin there for eight to 10 starts before moving up to Double A. (69 points)
#8: Sean Reid-Foley – RHSP – 22 – If you assume players just get promoted because it’s the next year, Reid-Foley would be in Buffalo, But he had inconsistent results in New Hampshire, and the triple-A rotation is overflowing with options. Smart money says Reid-Foley will go back to Double A and be asked to prove he’s ready to move up. How he’s fairing when Zeuch comes to town might be the first inflection point the team looks at for a potential promotion. (71 points)
#7: Ryan Borucki – LHSP – 23 – This guy has been on a steady upward track since he got to Lansing in 2016, and showed no sign this spring of being in over his head. He’ll begin the year at Buffalo as the nominal #2 behind Joe Biagini. (83 points)
#6: Logan Warmoth- SS – 22 – Returning to the shortstop crowding issue, Warmoth, in a less stacked situation, would be an easy call to jump over Lansing and get the Dunedin assignment. If my argument here is right, however, (Edit: it’s not, see below) he’ll need to start in Lansing on Opening Day and wait for the chain promotion episode I’ve postulated. Given the news about Bo Bichette’s assignment that means Warmoth is much more likely to begin with Dunedin. (87 points)
#5: Danny Jansen – C – 22 – Jansen is at the top of the pecking order for catchers. To open the season he’ll be the primary starting catcher in Buffalo. If he hits and fields well, there’s a strong possibility that the Blue Jays will eventually give up on Luke Malie or, alternately, that Russell Martin will find himself on the DL. If and when that happens, then in theory McGuire, Pentecost, and Adams would each have an open door to move up to the level they actually need to be assigned to. On the other hand, perhaps I am wrong, and the Jays will accept the situation that would see Jansen and McGuire splitting time in Buffalo. But that seems less than ideal. (91 points)
#4: Nate Pearson – RHSP – 21 – Big Nate was absolutely dominant at Vancouver and has carried that impressiveness over into the spring. As a college draftee who has had big success as a pro, it would be rather surprising if he didn’t break camp with the D-Jays. (100 points)
#3: Anthony Alford – CF – 23 – It’s not impossible that Alford will spend some part of the season in Toronto, but at a minimum he will, if healthy, be an everyday starter in the Bison’s outfield. (108 points)
#2: Bo Bichette – SS – 20 – While he’s not technically the closest to the majors, Bichette is head and shoulders above the other shortstop prospects in the Jays’ crowded situation. He’s also the axis around which all these potential assignments turn. There’s a strong case to be made that he was so successful at Dunedin in the second half of ’17 that he has nothing left to prove there and ought to break camp in double A. But as discussed above, doing so crowds the situation with Ureña and Gurriel. In fact, this is one reason I had thought that Ureña was likely to be traded over the winter. It is entirely possible that management will find fast-tracking Bo so desirable that pushing Ureña off shortstop to second is an acceptable price to pay. If not, then the other alternative is to let Bo go back to Dunedin for six to eight weeks and let the situation shake out a bit. In either case, he’ll certainly play more games at Double A than in Dunedin. (114 points)
Update: As is so often the case when speculating, the decision makers come out immediately after publication and render your speculation pointless. Mark Shapiro has confirmed both Bo and Vlad will open in New Hampshire but comments in this article have not been edited accordingly. See update below.
#1: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. – 3B – 19 – Vlad Jr. was the unanimous choice to top this list, which will come as a shock to exactly none of you. As with Bo, the strong argument is that Dunedin holds no remaining challenge for him. The displays of power that he’s offering up in Spring Training reinforce that notion. The bulk of Guerrero’s year will surely take place in Double A, but it’s not even a little crazy to suggest that he may dominate there so thoroughly as to prompt a move to Buffalo in the second half. (120 points)
Other players who were mentioned on at least one of the lists considered: Elieser Medrano, Justin Maese, Leonardo Jimenez, Yennsy Diaz, Maximo Castillo, Max Pentecost, Hagen Danner, Louis De Los Santos, Joshua Palacios, Kevin Smith, Jol Conception, Harold Ramirez.
Assignment updates as of 4/20/18: I’ve left my poor predictions in the body of the article but, for complete information, Guerrero and Bichette were indeed assigned to AA as was Max Pentecost; having had their path cleared,Warmoth and Riley Adams went to Dunedin; Lourdes Gurriel started out in AA and was promoted today to the major league club; Reese McGuire is splitting time with Jansen in Buffalo as all the beat media expected. That’s what I get for trying to be more clever than anyone else.
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