As of now, there is only one Blue Jays minor league affiliate still playing ballgames. That team — your New Hampshire Fisher Cats — now sit one win away from being crowned Eastern League champions. Both Lansing and Bluefield also played in the postseason, but each was eliminated in the first round, while the Cats have yet to lose a playoff game.
With the season over for most players, the dust is rapidly settling. We know most, but not all of the names of players getting tickets to Arizona next month. We know most — if not all — of the players who got a chance to suit up for Toronto this month. And we can anticipate with confidence the minor league free agents who’ll likely leave the organization this fall (only one of whom I’d consider a regrettable loss). We also know who the 30+ players are who’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December, but I’ll save speculating on that and other roster decisions for my last MLU of the season next time.
The purpose of this entry is to review the season past, and call attention to players who earned praise. I’ll have a pitcher of the year drawn from a list of the 10 most successful hurlers, an offensive player of the year (who no doubt will come as a complete shock to the baseball universe), and the rest of the 10 most successful hitters. We’ll also have a most improved performer in each group, and a short list of sleepers.
Before I begin that, though, let’s take a quick look back at the Consensus Top 20 that I wrote about back in March.
- Eight (and soon nine) of the 20 names are currently on the September roster.
- They were largely healthy, with just one missing more than a couple of months to injury, and only four spending any notable time disabled.
- Two “graduated” from prospect status; one left the organization on waivers.
- Only two had what would be considered disappointing overall seasons.
Typically any spring list of prospects will, by the fall, produce a very mixed bag of results. By that standard, then, the organization has to be really proud of how the better players in the system developed this season.
Pitcher of the Year: Sean Reid-Foley
There were a number of impressive pitching performances, but in terms of aggregate minor-league results, it’s easy to make a case for SRF. Of all the full-season starters in the top 10, one slightly surpassed him in batting average against (.215) and WHIP (1.18) — but was 10 months younger and two levels lower. Reid-Foley’s 10.4 strikeouts per nine was the best rate in the group and his improvement over last year in both strikeout rate and hits allowed was dramatic. Fans might forget that he pitched the whole season, split between Double A and Triple A, at the age of only 22. Doing that, and doing it as well as he did, is no mean feat.
Hitter of the Year: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr
Sigh. So dull. So predictable. So little to say you haven’t already read, seen or heard. Vlad lapped the field in this system and very nearly in the entirety of minor league baseball. What do you want from me here? Okay, there’s this — he was 19, playing in Double A and Triple A, and he struck out a rate of roughly once in every nine at bats.
Most Improved Pitcher: Patrick Murphy
A review of the lists I read last spring is telling: Not a one of the Big Five ranked Murphy at all. Two others mentioned him at no. 28, and on my personal list I had him at no. 22. Not too surprising — the 2013 third-rounder pitched only four innings in 2014, and didn’t appear again until Vancouver started play in 2016. He pitched pretty well for the next two seasons, but put more runners on than you’d like with his strikeout rate. But just before his 23rd birthday, pitching in Dunedin this year, he stepped up to the next level. From June 1st onward, his ERA was 1.83, with a 0.93 WHIP and 8.8 K/9. His velocity climbed as the season wore on, flirting with 100 mph late in the year. Even in this stacked system, he’s probably a top 15 guy at this point.
Rest of the Top 10:
Ryan Borucki (BUF/TOR) – The Jays’ most fully-formed and major league-ready pitching prospect.
TJ Zeuch (NH) – A heavy tilt towards grounders keeps his strikeout total lower than the others.
Jordan Romano (LAN) – Older than the rest here; had a horrid, homer-plagued June and August.
Yennsy Diaz (DUN) – The one guy who edged Reid-Foley in BAA and WHIP. Saw great improvement in keeping runners off the bases.
Zach Logue (DUN) – Out of the shadow of Big Nate, lefty Logue got better the more he pitched, apart from one outlier August start.
Josh Winckowski (VAN) – Unheralded 2016 15th round choice; took a huge step forward this year.
Eric Pardinho (BLU) – Best raw results in the system as a 17-year-old.
Travis Bergen (NH) – By far the most successful reliever in the system — and a lefty.
Sleepers to watch out for: Maximo Castillo and Graham Spraker (LAN), Randy Pondler and Joey Murray (VAN), Adams Cuevas (BLU)
Others likely to be highly ranked: Nate Pearson, David Paulino, Hector Perez, Adam Kloffenstein, Justin Maese
Most Improved Hitter: Cavan Biggio
You could make a case here for Kevin Smith, but there were more scouts who thought Smith might be something last winter than there were who thought Biggio was anything but organizational filler. He had 14 more at bats in 2017 than in 2018, and yet compare:
17 doubles to 23
11 homers to 26
60 RBI to 99
74 BB to 100
11 SB to 20
.363 SLG to .499
.705 OPS to .889
He did strike out 148 times in 132 games — a rate down slightly from the year before but still high. If he keeps hitting a homer once every five games, though, they’ll let him by with that.
The rest of the Top 10:
Dan Jansen (BUF) – No dramatic step forward here, but maintaining and consolidating the 2017 progress was good enough in itself.
Bo Bichette (NH) – Faced his first adversity: a May slump dropped his OPS to .669. But from May 24 through the end of the year, he hit .309/.361/.500 over 89 games.
Jordan Groshans (BLU) – This year’s first round pick dominated the GCL and was a beast in the Appy League playoffs for Bluefield.
Kevin Smith (DUN) – Over two levels and 129 games, he accumulated 31 doubles, 25 HR, and 29 SB with an .886 OPS. This is more a natural progression of his 2017 results than a quantum leap.
Ryan Noda (LAN) – Maintained his production from his amazing 2017 in Bluefield except for a noticeably lower BA. It sank to .179 by May 17, but since then he did a full 100 points better in that department, slashing .279/.406/.549 in 90 games.
Chavez Young (LAN) – Outside of a cold June, he was remarkably consistent and consistently good. He more than doubled his walk rate over last year’s mark, and went from 4 SB to 44.
Alejandro Kirk (BLU) – He was listed as a DH, but due to circumstances ended up catching more than half his games, while hitting .354 with a 1.001 OPS
Brock Lundquist (DUN) – Actually hit better after moving up to the pitcher-friendly FSL. He put together a combined .845 OPS, despite a 6-for-37 nine-game August slump.
Sleepers to watch out for: Josh Palacios, Otto Lopez, Hagen Danner, Cal Stevenson, Samad Taylor, Tanner Kirwer, Dom Abadassa, Mc Gregory Contrares, Gabriel Moreno, Leo Jiminez,
Others likely to be highly ranked: Anthony Alford, Logan Warmoth, Griffin Conine, Riley Adams, Miguel Hiraldo