Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Some More Under the Radar Prospects

  Since the response to my first post about less-hyped Blue Jays prospects was well received (and I was given a few more names that might fit the profile), I thought I would look into some more under-the-radar prospects who Blue Jays fans may become a lot more familiar with a year from now.

   The criteria for inclusion on this list are pretty straightforward:
1. The player has only played short-season ball to this point, usually not past the Appalachian League
2.  In their relatively small sample size, they have provided reason from a scouting and/or statistical point of view to be termed "one to watch."
3.  They were not necessarily a high draft pick, or a huge bonus-signing international player.

   The caveat that comes with these players, of course, is that with that small sample size, coupled with the fact that they have only toiled in the lowest rungs of the minor league ladder to this point,  the odds of them advancing to the majors is considerably less than mortal lock status.  Just the same, they have shown enough during their short pro careers to warrant closer and further observation.

Juan Tejada
   One day, we may look back on the Blue Jays 2011 international free agent class as the best in club history. This group includes Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro, who appear at this writing to have secured Opening Day spots in the Blue Jays bullpen, as well as promising prospect pitchers Alberto Tirado and Jairo Labourt, and shortstop Dawel Lugo.  Outfielder Tejada was one of the lesser-known members of this group.
   An investigation prevented him from making his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League until  2012, and the Blue Jays have taken it very slow with him, having him repeat the level in 2013.  Baseball America compared him to a young Carlos Gomez, without the 80-grade speed.  At 6'4" 205, BA said he has plus speed, plus power from the right side, and the Blue Jays were projecting him early on to be a centrefielder.
His bat was labelled raw, and he showed that through his first two pro summers in the DSL.
   2014 was a bit of a coming out party for Tejada.  Chris King, who covers Florida for Baseball Prospectus, was impressed:


And one more, for good measure:

   If Tejada has thunder in his bat, though, he's shown a lot of wind, too, striking out in 32% of his plate appearances last year en route to posting a .241/.293./420 line.  The speed is there, as he's stolen 45 bases in 63 attempts over the past three summers.  Tejada split time between centre field and right last summer.
   Tejada will be playing under the lights this summer at either Bluefield or Vancouver.

Grayson Huffman
   Sometimes, players get overlooked in a draft, or their stock drops, because of college commitment. The left-handed Texan apparently re-thought his pledge to attend Texas A & M, and went to Grayson Community College in his home state, presumably because of a top flight ju-co baseball program which has produced the likes of John Lackey, Andy LaRoche, and former Blue Jay Danny Darwin, and not because he shared a name with it.
   Unlike prospects who attend university and aren't draft-eligible until after their junior year, junior college players can be drafted after their first year.  Such was the case with Huffman, who the Jays took in the 6th round last year, and signed him for slightly less than the allotted $256 800 for that slot.
   Huffman started his pro career in the GCL last summer, and the complex league hitters were overmatched against him, managing a paltry .086 average over 27 innings.  Sent to Bluefield late in the season, he continued his mastery of Appy League hitters in 3 starts covering 11 innings.
    Huffman comes with the small sample size warning, but there's a lot to like after his first pro season.

Jake Brentz
   And sometimes good players get overlooked because of other issues.  In the case of Brentz, a hard-throwing lefty, it was because he converted to pitching in his last year of high school, and that coupled with sign ability concerns dropped him to the 11th round of the 2013 draft, where the Blue Jays scooped the Missouri product up with a $700K bonus.
   Brentz's progress has been slow, having spent both of his pro seasons in the GCL.  The club has been overhauling his mechanics, and Brentz has been learning to pitch. With a fastball that touches 97 and a still developing pitching resume, Brentz is due for a breakout season.

Gunnar Heidt
   A broken hand in April, and one year of college eligibility remaining after 2014 likely caused most teams to pass on the middle infielder from the College of Charleston.  Scouts covering college ball in South Carolina were divided among who was the better infield prospect - Heidt, or Joey Pankake, who was drafted by the Tigers.
 The club moved him quickly from the GCL to the Northwest League after he signed.  A shortstop in college, Heidt will alternate between second and third this year.
   Heidt doesn't have one outstanding tool, but does a lot of things well.  His bat speed is superior to most middle infielders, and he can steal a base.  With the glove, Heidt showed good range and a strong arm.  He could easily play the corner outfield positions and develop into one of those valued super utility players.

Yeltsin Gudino

   The Blue Jays signed the slender (6'. 150 lbs) Venezuelan short stop, the 11th ranked IFA in 2013, to a $1.29 million bonus.
   Based on his 2014 season, the club didn't get much return on that investment.
   A closer look reveals that the Blue Jays were quite aggressive with the youngster, skipping him over the DSL (which is the usual procedure with Caribbean players), and at 17 he was one of the youngest players in the GCL, and it showed.  Gudino managed a miniscule line of .145/.219/.167.  Obviously, Gudino was overmatched, and has to get stronger.
   Scouts laud his footwork, range, and arm at shortstop, and he hit well as a celebrated national youth player in Venezuela.  Patience is the key word here.

Deiferson Barreto
   No relation to top prospect Franklin, who was dealt to Oakland in the Josh Donaldson deal this off-season, the other Barreto has hit wherever he has played.
  Primarily a second baseman, Barreto hit .288/.309/.412 in the GCL last summer, his first season stateside.
He should be playing under the lights in Bluefield or Vancouver this summer.

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