One of the things I enjoy the most about writing this blog is keeping you, gentle readers, up to date with information about Blue Jays prospects that you could find someplace else, but would have to look fairly hard to find.
It's fun to get in on the ground floor on a young prospect, and casually toss his name out to your more ardent Blue Jays fans friends - not the ones that ask what place the team is in, or what league the team they're playing is in while they sit in seats at the Rogers Centre that their boss wasn't using that day - but the hard core ones.
With that in mind, I always like to keep my ear to the ground for the next wave of Blue Jays prospects. I've followed Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, and even Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro for several seasons, and they more or less have graduated to the ranks of the high-profile, upper-level prospect - the kind the Toronto Star and Sun like to do features on.
I still follow those guys, but now it's time to turn my attention to players toiling in relative anonymity at the other end of the system. Like the kids playing in the Gulf Coast League in front of a small gathering of family, girlfriends, and scouts, or the ones on the next rung of the ladder in the Appalachian League - travelling and playing under the lights, but in front of maybe a few hundred fans. Unless you follow those leagues very closely, and/or have contacts who don't mind answering a moderate volume of questions, it's hard to find anything up to date on players at this level. This is closer to the grassroots of baseball for me, and it's always a little bit of a thrill when a diamond in the rough you've "discovered" gets promoted to the next level.
Here are several players who have been flying (somewhat) under the radar, and could move quickly this summer:
The toolsy 3rd Baseman signed out of the Dominican Republic for $200 000 in 2013, and was ranked the 21st best prospect in that year's International Free Agent class.
Even at 15 years of age, scouts marveled at his physical and emotional maturity. Unlike a lot of players who start at the hot corner, Lizardo is projected to stay at the position. He has outstanding hands, and a strong, accurate arm.
Lizardo was called one of the best pure bats on the market during his signing year. Scouts liked his power and approach at the plate. One scout likened him to a younger, leaner Hanley Ramirez.
Lizardo is a switch hitter, but reports suggest that his swing is better and more powerful from the left side. He posted a line of .263/.379/.375 in the Dominican Summer League in 2014. Not 18 until late July, he will make his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League this summer. Chris King of Baseball Prospectus liked what he saw of Lizardo last week:
I'm Digging #BlueJays Bryan Lizardo. Like his swing from the left side & he's showing nice athleticism at 3B. Played in the DSL last yearHe has a great name, too.
— Chris King (@StatsKing) March 20, 2015
The organization has been taking things slowly with Perdomo, a 6'6" lefthander signed out of the DR in 2011.
He spent a pair of summers in the DSL, and made his stateside debut in the GCL in 2014.
Missing bats with his mid-90s fastball is Perdomo's trademark. He struck out 57 in 46 innings last year.
As a tall southpaw, Perdomo's development may take longer than most pitchers', which is why he didn't come to the U.S. until last year. Reports are that he has been throwing well so far in spring training.
It wouldn't come as a surprise to see him skip a level and play with Vancouver this year.
Tinoco may not be under the radar as much as the above pair, but he's still a relative unknown. But possibly not for much longer.
Tinoco is also proof that lower-level minor league stats really are deceiving, as a pair of rough outings les to a bloated 4.95 ERA, as well as a 1-9 record in 2014. Count Baseball America's Clint Longenecker as one who is impressed with the 6'4" Venezuelan righty, another 2011 signee:
I asked Catcher Danny Jansen, who caught Tinoco at Bluefield last year, about him, and he agreed with Longenecker. "(Tinoco has) dominant stuff. He throws hard, and when he got his sinker working, he was really tough to hit."....the Blue Jays lower minor league teams always have talent, a tribute to their international and domestic scouting departments. Jesus Tinoco has a real chance to emerge with continued development, both physically and mentally. He has youth (19), a great body, the fastball (velo and life) as a foundation for his prospect status. He can really sink the baseball. His combination of fastball velocity and heavy sink reminded some of former Blue Jay farmhand Henderson Alvarez, who has the 7th highest GB rate among MLB starters. His changeup is presently his best secondary offering and his curveball shows 12-6 tilt at its best, though it is inconsistent. Tinoco will need to improve his lower half in his delivery because he often collapses his front leg and falls off to the first base side, causing him to not get on top of his pitches. But he has the raw materials to emerge. Keep your eye on Tinoco.
The Blue Jays may keep Tinoco in Extended Spring Training, and then start him with Vancouver when short-season play begins in June, and he may see time in Lansing before the season is finished.
The Markham, Ontario native was the Blue Jays 10th round pick out of Oral Roberts last June.
Perfect Game had this evaluation of him in 2010, when he was still in High School:
Tall, athletic, projectable build. Quick arm, up to 88 mph. Loose arm action, medium effort, throws on downhill plane. Good break on tight 11/5 curveball, needs to keep arm speed on changeup. High upside, bright future with minor tweaks and improved command
Romano overmatched hitters in the GCL and Appy League last summer, striking out 11.88/9. Reports had him hitting 95 with his fastball this spring, and he appeared on my helium watch, until he mad this announcement:
For those of you that don't know I tore my UCL and will be having Tommy John Surgery. Appreciate everyone's support.
— Jordan Romano (@Gordondemand) March 25, 2015
Romano told me that a date hasn't been announced for the surgery just yet, but considering that many pitchers go through a rest and rehab routine prior to undergoing Tommy John, the UCL tear must be significant, given that surgery has already been prescribed.
If the surgery and rehab go well, Romano should return to competition by April or May of next year. As we have seen with Osuna, the return to full effectiveness can take between 12 and 18 months.
Like Tinoco, Fields has shown up on some radar screens after a sizzling pro debut in the Northwest League.
Fields' story is a great one. Undrafted and unsigned after graduating from a tiny Kansas College, Fields was working for the US Postal Service in Seattle when his former junior college coach called him and asked him to help fill out his roster for a Showcase tournament in British Columbia. Blue Jays amateur scouting co-coordinator Matt Bishoff liked what he saw from the speedy outfielder, and signed him to a contract in the fall of 2013.
Sent to Vancouver, Fields smashed the C's single-season stolen base record with 48 in 57 attempts, led the league in steals, and was second to teammate Frankie Barreto with 64 runs scored en route to a .269/.338/.350 line. At 24, there were some whispers that he was a bit old for that level.
Fields has picked up where he left off this spring, and has appeared in a couple of games with the big club. Senior scout Mel Didier has suggested that he's the best defensive outfielder in the organization, and with Dalton Pompey, DJ Davis and Anthony Alford ahead of him in the system, that's saying something.
Fields spent a lot of time in the batting cage last season, and worked with minor league instructor Tim Raines on his bunting. If the Blue Jays find themselves in a pennant race after MLB rosters expand on September 1st, we could see Fields brought up as a pinch runner, much like Raines was over 30 years ago with the Expos.
Fields is still a long way off, and he may have already hit his ceiling, but he's an example of how even the best area scouts, who are the true unsung heroes of the business, miss the odd player. He should see time in Lansing's outfield this year.