After the draft, this week’s July 2nd start to the international free agent signing period was the other gold-rush event for teams to add young raw talent to their system. Unsurprisingly, the Jays gave what might be the highest bonus in this cycle — $3.5 million of their $4,983,500 pool — to 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Orelvis Martinez. Quoting Jesse Sanchez at MLB.com:
On offense, Martinez has a good rhythm and a short, compact swing with plus bat speed. He has a chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average power. He has shown solid actions on defense and good body control. He could end up at third base, which is fitting because he has been compared to Adrian Beltre at the same age.
Adrian Beltre? I’d take that, even if it’s a discount version.
Here’s a list of the Jays’ other IFA signings per Baseball America as of late afternoon on Tuesday:
- Javier D’Orazio, C, Venezuela
- Amell Brazoban, OF, Dominican Republic
- Wilfran Astudillo, SS, Venezuela
- Gary David, C, Venezuela
- Leo Callez, SS, Venezuela
- Jorman Gonzalez, RHP, Venezuela
- Wilgenis Alvarado, LHP, Venezuela
- Javier Perdomo, LHP, Venezuela
Brazoban and Gonzalez appear without scouting on MLB’s “best of the rest” list of potential signings. The others may well be of the “less than $10,000″ category, which means they don’t count against the salary pool.
Now, about the prospect list. I refrained pre-season from imposing my own personal list upon you, since it is largely just me trying to synthesize all the various reports available from both professional and amateur observers as well as “scouting the stats,” which is always problematic. That said, I do keep a very long running list that I modify every couple of weeks. I’m aware, of course, that beyond the top 15 prospects or so the rankings are subjective — there’s not really much way to make the case that the guy at no. 41 is significantly more promising than the guy you put at no. 58. But it does help to tier players in terms of whose stock is improving, whose is declining, and who it might pay to watch.
For example, in 2013 I had a little-known and lightly-regarded minor league starter who was ordinarily ranked in the 60s. The next season they moved him to the bullpen, his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved noticeably, and I bumped him up 15-20 spots. The year after that, Ryan Tepera made his major league debut. So while it’s true that the vast majority of “prospects” never amount to major league contributors, sometimes the guy who isn’t even close to the Top 30 ends up being a guy in the big leagues.
Since few (if any) major publications revise their entire prospect list for each team at mid-season, what follows is based on my own subjective processing of the information that’s been reported since March, statistical and otherwise.
If you were to look at most top 20-30 lists in March, including mine, the most prominent names you wouldn’t see would be shortstop Kevin Smith and second baseman Cavan Biggio. The former was no. 19 on the MLB list and no. 24 on Baseball America, putting him at no. 33 on the consensus list and at no. 31 on mine. The latter, meanwhile, was nowhere. These two hitters have, obviously, improved their stock significantly over the past few months.
The pitcher who may have most improved his stock is the one I will feature below. Former first rounder Jon Harris is now a month into a turnaround that, if legit, would put him back in the top 30. Another guy who’s improved his stock, at least with me, is Sean Reid-Foley. I had let him slide to no. 12 based on his so-so 2017, but he’s since reclaimed all his lost standing.
Conversely, some of the guys I and my most respected sources were high on have had not-so-good first-half performances. Logan Warmoth and Riley Adams have been, at a most charitable reading, pedestrian. Though I was admittedly higher on him than most professional sources, Max Pentecost has yet to find an offensive rhythm at Double A. Richard Ureña and Reese McGuire still don’t hit enough, and Rowdy Tellez still hasn’t re-established his power stroke. Tom Pannone was suspended. Nate Pearson and Justin Maese were hurt. Jordan Romano was excellent for two months, then wasn’t. Other list-making considerations include the newly-signed Martinez, the top three recent draft choices, and the recently-acquired and intriguing Santiago Espinal, who likely slots in alongside players like Brock Lundquist and Mc Gregory Contreras.
With all that in mind, here’s how my list right now would stack up:
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
- Bo Bichette
- Anthony Alford
- Nate Pearson
- Danny Jansen
- Ryan Borucki
- Sean Reid-Foley
- Jordan Groshans
- T.J. Zeuch
- Kevin Smith
- Eric Pardinho
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
- Cavan Biggio
- Logan Warmoth
- Adam Kloffenstein
- Ryan Noda
- Griffin Conine
- Miguel Hiraldo
- Jordan Romano
- Orelvis Martinez
- Thomas Pannone
- Patrick Murphy
- Angel Perdomo
- Riley Adams
- Jon Harris
Hottest Pitcher: Patrick Murphy
Murphy is a right-handed parallel to the Ryan Borucki story you no doubt read in our great piece by Sean Addis yesterday. Drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft, Murphy entered the 2016 season with a grand total of four innings pitched in professional baseball games due to a string of injury issues. He was fairly successful that year, but sported a higher walk rate than you’d like to see; in 2017, the outcome was similar. The ERA ticked lower, but the strikeout rate, not overwhelming before, dropped off noticeably.
He seems, however, to have figured something out in his first full year at Dunedin. When he walked off the mound on May 6, his ERA was 4.50, and he’d allowed 40 hits in 34 IP with a 9:24 BB to K ratio. Fine, ordinary, pedestrian work. He’s had 10 starts since, and over that time his line looks like this: 55 IP, 51 H, 26 BB (six in one start), 53 K, and a 2.29 ERA. He hasn’t given up more than 3 runs in an outing in any of those games. If this reflects a genuine sustainable change in approach, Murphy is a coming item.
Hottest Hitter: Dominic Abbadessa
So here’s a guy most of you don’t know about. So obscure is the 2016 23rd-round choice out of a Huntington Beach, CA high school that his player page on MiLB.com still doesn’t have his headshot two years into his career. He played all of 2017 in the Gulf Coast League and was quite a good hitter, slashing .340/.402/.408. But it was the Gulf Coast League, so few put a spotlight on him. This year he’s at Bluefield, on a team with five players currently carrying an OPS over 1.000 and another three over .800. Abbadessa is a cut above, slashing .500/.568/.658 (as of Monday) in the early going. Does this mean he’s something special, or just having a hot start? I don’t know. He’s a 5’10” right handed-hitting center fielder with some speed. He seems to have both a solid skill set and an idea how to use it. He’s definitely one to watch.
5 Other Stat Lines
- Eric Pardinho – RHP – Bluefield – In honor of Signing day, these stat lines will highlight some players from last year’s signing period, even though the pro-sample is small. Pardinho is the most prominent of these players by far. In a very unusual move the Jays started his career above the complex league, despite his young age. So far the returns are good: In each of his first two starts, he’s given up one run on two hits over four innings while striking out five. Tuesday night he dialed it up another notch, striking out nine in five innings and giving up a single hit. For those doing the math, that’s a 1.38 ERA, 13 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, and 19k. Remember, this kid won’t turn 18 until January.
- Miguel Hiraldo – SS – DSL – The third-highest bonus the Jays gave out in 2017 was to Hiraldo, who was said to be among the best hitters available. Like Martinez, there was talk he’d eventually move off shortstop, but the hitting is as advertised: In 25 games he’s carrying a .951 OPS.
- Leonardo Jiminez – SS – GCL – Jiminez got the second-highest July bonus last year, and is a player Gil Kim has gone out of his way to brag on several times. Said to be an impressive defender, he’s played nine games in the GCL and carries a .303 average to go with an .819 OPS.
- Jhon Solarte - CF – DSL – While not a “bonus baby,” this swift switch-hitting Venezuelan has already drawn 15 walks in his 25 games, leading the team and contributing to his .438 OBP (and .889 OPS).
- Santos Moreno – RHP – DSL – Who? Moreno is a diminutive righty from Mexico, who was so far off the radar that he wasn’t even on the published list of signings last July. But in the early going this season he’s made five starts and recorded a 2.08 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 21.2 IP.
The Bisons continue to hang around .500 and continue to deal with the Jays raiding their rotation. With McGuire gone, and Gaviglio, Biagini, and now Borucki promoted, they badly needed the addition of Jon Harris last week to go along with the previous promotion of Sean Reid-Foley. Don’t be shocked if TJ Zeuch is up here by early August.
Thomas Pannone, back from his suspension (though technically still on “rehab” assignment until Thursday), has stepped into Harris’ vacated slot and performed well, as the Cats continue to hold first place even in the absence of Vlad Guerrero Jr. You may see Murphy join this team after the Double A All-Star break, along with lefty Angel Perdomo and newly acquired shortstop Santiago Espinal.
The D-Jays are 5-5 in the newly-begun second half, which is an improvement on their last-place finish in the first half. But they have had losses: Their most consistent hitter Eduard Pinto was promoted, their home run leader Bradley Jones retired unexpectedly, one-time prospect DJ Davis was released, and Logan Warmoth was barely off the DL until he was back on it.
The ‘Nuts are 9-2 in the second half and are riding a string of strong starting pitching performances out of the break. Including the game ongoing at the time of this writing, Maximo Castillo, Maverick Buffo, and Donnie Sellers have combined for seven of the last 12 starts and a collective line of 40 IP, 30 H, 4 ER, 8 BB and 35 K — which works out to a 0.90 ERA. Not bad for a team that lost its two best starters to Dunedin and a third to the DL.
Despite initially struggling to produce offense, the C’s are 8-10 and just a game and a half out of first, so they have plenty of room to get rolling. Griffin Conine is here and seems to be gathering steam, but the recent draftee who’s contributing the most is second baseman Nick Podkul, who’s got an .849 OPS in the early going.
As mentioned earlier, Bluefield has been an offensive powerhouse so far. Besides Abbadessa and his 1.226 OPS, there’s right fielder DJ Neal (1.165), shortstop Luis De Los Santos (1.126), and third baseman Davis Schneider (1.112), as well as just-promoted infielder Otto Lopez (1.019). Last year’s second pick, catcher Hagen Danner, is hitting .350 in his last six games — a small sample, but encouraging nonetheless.
Jordan Groshans is still here, but not for much longer with his .414 BA and 1.238 OPS. Other than him and Jiminez, the other hot-starting hitters have already moved up. I wonder if they are holding him back a few days in order to let him travel with Kloffenstein, who has yet to be assigned to a team.
By the time I write again on this subject, the MLB All-Star game will be in the offing, and the Triple A and Double A games a week in the past. I anticipate promotion news coming as the second half begins, and I may well be remarking on new acquisitions from major league trades. In the absence of contention, at least we can look forward to a potentially newsworthy month.
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