The Blue Jays always wait as long as possible to release the rosters for their full-season minor league teams. True to form, this season they again left me jonesing for the news all weekend (which probably says unpleasant things about my priorities in life) before finally revealing the placement of their prospects and organization filler players for Opening Day of the upcoming minor league season.
107 names were published for our consideration, many of them familiar prospects you’ve looked for on the lists already, many others players who’ll never have that proverbial cup of coffee. The very best prospects are already getting a lot of digital ink, but who are the rest of these guys? Here’s a team-by-team breakdown.
Top 20 Prospects: Anthony Alford* (3), Danny Jansen (5), Ryan Borucki (7), Richard Urena (11), Reese McGuire (13), Carlos Ramirez (16), Rowdy Tellez (18), Thomas Pannone** (19)
Other important players: Joe Biagini, Taylor Guerrieri, Tim Mayza, Luis Santos, Teoscar Hernandez, Roemon Fields
While the Double A squad is understandably the focus of most of the attention this season, this team is loaded. Alford and Pompey are not technically on the roster yet as they recover on the major-league disabled list. But when they are healthy, they will join with Hernandez, who along with Pompey has lost his rookie eligibility, to form perhaps the most talented and dynamic outfield trio in all of Triple A. Fields, an excellent fielder with game-changing speed, is a player who’d normally be a sleeper for a major league promotion, but he along with Dwight Smith, Jr. will struggle to find playing time unless injuries clear a path. On Wednesday they added a journeyman CF named Darnell Sweeney to the Bisons roster, but he looks like the most basic sort of roster filler.
Urena begins the year on the DL but he’s still a ranked prospect, if one with questions about his progress. I was frankly surprised that he was assigned here. He still has yet to prove his bat is legit. The same could be said for Rowdy Tellez, who’s back for his second tour and hoping to put last year’s lost season behind him. System veterans Jason Leblebijian and Jon Berti are also back, along with Tim Lopes, who also moves up from Double A. Recently signed veteran shortstop Danny Espinosa is remarkably the only minor league hitter signed this winter who’s present on this roster. He has an opt-out at the end of April if he doesn’t make the Toronto squad before then.
Behind the plate, two of the team’s top 13 prospects will share time. If you read my last piece, you saw me speculate the team would hesitate to crowd this position out of the gate, which shows you I don’t have insider connections. McGuire needs to prove his bat is real, and Jansen will continue to refine his defense. Expect the latter to get more reps behind the plate and the former to take some turns at DH — which puts him in competition with all those extra outfielders.
On the mound, four out of the five projected starters are legitimate candidates to pitch in Toronto if the need arises. When Thomas Pannone gets back from his suspension it will be five out of five. Assuming he performs well, Biagini is likely to be first in line. But Borucki, too, is highly regarded, and Guerrieri is not so very far removed from having been a top-100 prospect. There’s also Deck McGuire, who acquitted himself well in the Reds system last year.
In the bullpen both Carlos Ramirez and Tim Mayza remain on the 40-man roster after debuting in the majors last year, and are thus at the front of the line to provide support to the major league team. They are joined by major league veteran Al Alburquerque (who likely also has an opt-out, though I’ve not seen any indication of it), Chris Rowley, Matt Dermody, and Chad Girardo. Currently-injured Jake Petricka could also contribute later in the season. The Bisons are well-equipped to win a lot of games this year.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Top 20 prospects: Vlad Guerrero, Jr (1), Bo Bichette (2), Sean Reid-Foley (8), Lourdes Gurriel, Jr (15)
Other important players: Jon Harris, Jordan Romano, Zach Jackson, Max Pentecost, Jon Davis, Connor Panas
As noted, the NH roster is all the rage because of the Vlad & Bo show. Overall, though, it’s not as strong as Buffalo’s. The rotation features the return of Reid-Foley and 2015 first-round pick Jon Harris, but both underperformed expectations last season. Francisco Rios, who was pushed into the ‘pen last year, also returns, and rising prospect Jordan Romano (a Toronto area native) joins the rotation. The latter is a very good bet to pitch in the majors, and is only a refined changeup away from doing so as a starter.
In the bullpen the prominent name is 2016 third-round choice Zach Jackson, who’s beginning to pop up on various Top 30 lists. His walk rate is still a bit high, but he was otherwise dominant at two levels last year. He’s not very far from being a real candidate to join the Jays bullpen. Canadian Andrew Case impressed a lot of people last year, and lefty Danny Young also improved his stock considerably. The sleeper name here is RHP Dusty Isaacs, whose stats have been eye-catching at every level in his career.
In the outfield is diminutive Jon Davis. Some had thought he’d get the Triple A call, but there’s just no room. Toronto native Connor Panas moves up from Dunedin, where he led the FSL in homers. He might play some 1B as well. They are joined by “Everyday” Andrew Guillote, who is said to get the very most out of his abilities by doing everything right.
Besides the Big Two, the infield will see fellow “bloodline” prospect Cavan Biggio looking for playing time due to the presence of Gurriel, who presumably will be moving around the diamond but will surely get a lot of time at second given the presence of Bo. At first is versatile Juan Kelly, who can also catch and play third but is unlikely to do much of either on this roster. Behind the plate all eyes will be on Max Pentecost, as he looks to prove that he’s finally ready to get a starter’s workload at the catching position.
Dunedin Blue Jays
Top 20 Prospects: Nate Pearson (4), Logan Warmoth (6), TJ Zuech (9), Riley Adams (14)
Other important players: Patrick Murphy, Jackson McClelland, Kirby Snead, Joshua Palacios, Bradley Jones
This team will struggle to repeat last season’s co-championship success. The top of the rotation looks great, but would have been even better with the injured Justin Maese and Angel Perdomo involved. (Maese looks to be out for the year.) Pearson and Zeuch will form a formidable 1-2 until Zeuch is promoted sometime mid-season, and Murphy has shown well since he finally returned from years lost to injury. Justin Dillon put up excellent numbers in Vancouver last summer, but at 24 will need to prove that was legit at this higher level.
In the bullpen McClelland and Snead both stand out as players who had a case to open the year in Double A. The former had a 1.07 ERA in 33.2 IP for the D-Jays last year (after a mid-season promotion from Lansing where he also was dominant); the latter, a lefty, was almost as good, showing a 1.36 ERA 33 IP in Dunedin. I look for both to move up by June. Other potential breakout pitchers include well-regarded but oft-injured lefty Travis Bergen, Nick Hartman and lefty Juliandry Higura.
The offense will largely hinge around two 2017 draft picks, one of whom is third-round catcher Riley Adams. He’s very big and strong for the position and should be the power threat on the team. The other is first-round choice and top selection Logan Warmoth, who, like Adams, acquitted himself well in Vancouver last summer. He is described as a polished player who does everything well, and presumably slots in as the #3 hitter in front of Adams. Jones has the potential to be the breakout sleeper on this roster. A modest 18th round choice in 2016, he can play third, second and first, and he pounded the ball both in short-season in 2016 and in Lansing last year (.394 OBP, .560 SLG). An injury sidetracked him after he moved up to the FSL last summer, but he’s one to watch this year.
Joshua Palacios is a toolsy center fielder who had a tremendous second half in Lansing last year. He’ll look to retain that momentum and refine his baserunning to maximize his speed. DJ Davis, the infamous 2012 first-rounder who was selected before Marcus Stroman, returns for his third go at the level. He showed his first offensive promise in the second half of last season, but he’ll need more than one good month to get folks excited.
Top 20 Prospects: Samad Taylor (12), Ryan Noda (20)
Other important players: Yensy Diaz, Zach Logue, Mavrik Buffo, Maximo Castillo, Kevin Smith, Chavez Young
While the team is thin on consensus-ranked prospects, many of these other guys did show up in various top 30 lists. The rotation seems to be the strength of the team. Diaz is very talented, but still raw and erratic. Castillo and Buffo both got some love on the lists — the former is only 19 years old — and while no one seems to be saying anything about Logue except me, the lefty was almost as dominant against Northwest League hitters last summer as Pearson. He struck out 28 in 25.2 IP, walking only six and allowing 19 hits, and held opposing batters to a .209 average. The name I’m watching among the relievers is Orlando Pascual, who was similarly dominant out of the Vancouver bullpen. Another reliever to watch is 5’9″ RHP Ty Tice.
Besides Taylor at second base, Kevin Smith at short got some notice on prospect lists. He’s said to be an outstanding fielder who still needs to show his bat plays in pro ball. That description could also apply to another middle infielder on the roster — Kevin Vicuna.
Ryan Noda is the power threat on the team, if he shows that last year’s massive output in Bluefield was no fluke. With Kacy Clemens and his fine glove established at first, Noda will see more reps this year in the outfield. Joining him is speedy glove man Reggie Pruitt, who improved in the second half last year but still has much work to do getting on base, and up-and-coming Bahamas native Chavez Young.
Lansing will likely see a fair amount of turnover — particularly on the pitching staff, as there were a lot of good performances in short-season last year among players who are not on this roster. Look for names like Brandon Bouchey, Jake Fishman, Colton Laws and maybe Wilfri Alerton at some point. The catchers here are a bit of a mystery. While Ridge Smith was here last year, the continued presence of punch-less Matt Morgan is a mystery to me. I’m not sure where the injured Javier Hernandez is, and I was anticipating Ryan Gold, who hit well in Bluefield last year, and potential first baseman Yorman Rodriguez being candidates for this squad. I also would not be surprised if Brandon Grudzielanek or Davis Schneider, both third basemen, appeared at some point, as the ‘Nuts are thin at third.
All these teams get started Thursday night, save the Bisons who open on Friday — weather permitting, of course.
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