Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Next 10 - Toronto Blue Jays Prospects 11-20

  A year ago, it was difficult to come up with this past of the Blue Jays Top Prospects list.
Alex Anthopoulos' prospect wheeling and dealing had emptied the system of much of its depth.
  This year, it's a different story.
   Aided by the rapid ascendancy of prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and the addition of draft picks like T.J. Zeuch, the system now boasts a wider base of talent than it did a year ago.  A stellar 2016 draft also helped to re-stock the system quickly.  Players who may have cracked the top 10 list of other organizations found themselves on the outside of the Toronto list.
    If the front office decides to re-tool the major league roster next season, they have far greater prospect currency to deal with than they did a year ago.
11.  Justin Maese, RHP
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook:  Mid to back of the rotation
Calling Card:  bat-breaking, ground ball contact

   Maese definitely merited consideration for the Top 10.  In only his second year of pro ball, he advanced as far as Lansing, progressing from the GCL to Low A in about one season's worth of starts.
   The 2015 3rd rounder had an impressive debut with the GCL Jays, and quickly picked up and perfected a slider at Instructs that fall with former Blue Jays minor league pitching co-ordinator Sal Fasano. Held back in extended to build his innings and arm strength up this year, he skipped Bluefield, and began the season as Vancouver's Opening Day starter.  Maese made only 5 starts for the C's, but the front office had seen enough (as had Baseball America, which named him the league's 8th best prospect on that small sample size), and promoted him to Lansing in July.  Despite being one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, Maese fared well in full-season ball.
  Sitting 91-93 and touching 95, Maese's fastball has a ton of natural sink to it, and when he's pounding the bottom of the strike zone with it, he's extremely tough to barrel up.  Add to that his 89 mph slider, and Maese keeps hitters off balance.  He does tend to give up ground ball contact, but he's the type of pitcher who can only be a pitch away from getting out of trouble with a double play ball.  You really get a sense of his ground ball-inducing abilities with this chart:

  Maese is the latest in a long line of lean,  tall and downward-plane pitching, athletic pitchers.  The former HS QB fields his position well, and credit goes to Blue Jays Texas scout Gerald Murray for going off the beaten baseball path to find this gem.  He should begin the season with Lansing next year, but will likely finish in Dunedin.

12.  Angel Perdomo LHP
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook: Back of the rotation, or back of the bullpen power arm
Calling Card:  Premium velocity
   Perdomo was in the back end of my Top 10 last year, and even though he slipped a bit due to the new depth of prospects in the organization, I have always been a huge fan of the 6'7" southpaw.
   Brought along slowly, Perdomo remained at Lansing for the full season, even though rotation mates like Sean Reid-Foley, Jon Harris, and Francisco Rios were promoted to Dunedin with numbers that were not that much better than his.
   Fastball command has long been an issue for the lefty, and that's what kept him in Lansing for the year. But few pitchers in minor league baseball missed as many bats as Perdomo did in 2016 - his 156 Ks lead the organization and the Midwest League, and was the second highest total in all of minor league ball.  When you faced Perdomo this year, chances were good that you would go down swinging:
  Perdomo's numbers in the second half were not as sizzling as they were in the first.  That may because he was tiring in his first year of full season ball, or it may owe to the fact that he was working more on his secondaries.
  When he is on his game, Perdomo sits 93-94 with his fastball from a delivery that can be very tough on left-handed hitters, and uses a slider that flashes plus, and a change up that grades at least as average to complement his fastball.  The thinking is that as he moves up the ladder, more advanced hitters may lay off his four seamer up in the zone, and that he may profile as a bullpen arm one day. Repeating his delivery consistently to improve that fastball command has been Perdomo's biggest challenge.  He sometimes falls off to the 3rd base side, or rushes his arm.  Tall southpaws tend to take longer to develop, and even though Perdomo will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft next month if he's not put on the 40-man roster, the organization will likely keep him in a starter's role in Dunedin next year.

 13.  Reese McGuire, C
ETA: 2017
Future Outlook:  defence-first, steady MLB back up
Calling Card:  superior receiving skills
   Catching depth has been something of a weakness in the organization.  With the acquisition of McGuire at the trade deadline, the return to health of Max Pentecost, and the development of several lower level Catching prospects, it has now become a strength.
   In McGuire's draft year (2013), I followed scouting reports on him closely, because several had suggested he might land where the Blue Jays were drafting at the 10 spot (the Jays chose fellow California high schooler Phil Bickford, who chose not to sign, and re-entered the draft a year later).   BA's draft report on McGuire looks much the same as a scouting report about him might look now:
He is a natural behind the plate. He remains loose, even after adding strength to his 6-foot-1, 190-pound build. His receiving, blocking and arm strength are all above-average, and he has been calling his own games since he was 10 years old. He has a high baseball IQ and game awareness. The question will be how much McGuire will hit. He has a smooth lefthanded swing with strength and bat speed and shows the tools to be an above-average pure hitter with average power. The San Diego recruit runs better than most catchers. Even if he doesn't reach his offensive ceiling, McGuire's defense will allow him to be a big league backup, but if he hits he has all-star potential.
  McGuire has risen as far as AA in four pro seasons, so there's always hope that his bat will come around, but a career line of .267/.324/.329 suggests it may not.   He was once a BA Top 100 prospect, but has fallen out of their rankings.  McGuire had a decent showing the Arizona Fall League last year, has decent bat speed, and he tends to make contact and put balls in play, so there's always a possibility that his swing plane can be altered to hit more line drives than his customary ground ball contact.
  With the future of R.A. Dickey and his personal catcher Josh Thole uncertain, there could be a battle for Russell Martin's back up job next spring, depending on what the club does with Dioner Navarro. Unless a Catcher from outside the organization is brought in, McGuire could be battling A.J. Jimenez for that spot.

14. Francisco Rios, RHP
ETA:  2018
Future Outlook:  Bullpen Power Arm
Calling Card:  Barrel-dodging slider
  Rios is perhaps the most under-the-radar prospect on this list, and no one broke out more than this 2012 late IFA signing from Mexico.
   Rios posted reasonably good numbers with Vancouver last year, but there was little to prophesize the start he had with Lansing, posting a 1.20 ERA over his first 6 starts,  fanning 43 in 30 innings. That performance landed him a promotion to Dunedin (and a spot on the World roster at the Futures Game), where he gave up more contact, but still gave an indication that he's headed higher in the organization.
   Rios has added some jump to his fastball, hitting 95 early in the season, and sitting 91-93.  His delivery does present with some deception on his fastball, and even more on his slider, which flashes plus potential. He commands both sides of the plate, and is not afraid to bury that slider when he's ahead in the count.  He also tries to elevate that fastball to generate swings and misses, but he was not successful with it in the FSL as he was the MWL.
  What may limit Rios' ascension up the ladder is his other secondary pitches - his change is inconsistent, his curve would need to improve greatly to even reach that level.  While he should return for at least a half season at Dunedin next year, he may eventually move to his pen, where his fastball may tick up, and be complemented even more by his slider.

15.  Harold Ramirez, OF
ETA: late 2017
Future Outlook:  Corner MLB OF
Calling Card:  Above-Average Hit Tool

   One may think that since McGuire and Ramirez ranked higher on most Pirates' prospects lists than I have, that I'm not that high on either.  To be truthful, I'm not sure there are two prospects in the Blue Jays top 20 that are closer to MLB-ready than this pair.
   Ramirez has something of an unorthodox approach at the plate, but all he's done as a prospect is hit. A knee injury after joining the organization limited him to one Eastern League game, but this is a player who has posted a .306/.364/.407 line since turning pro.
   Reports suggest that Ramirez profiles as a corner OF because of his arm, but the Jays thought enough of him to push incumbent Roemon Fields to LF in New Hampshire when Ramirez arrived at the trade deadline.
    MLB Pipeline's evaluation of RHH Ramirez:
He hits the ball hard to all fields and while he has a line-drive, crush-the-ball-to-right-center approach, he certainly has the strength and bat speed to grow into more power. He has a solid approach and will take a walk.
  Ramirez has had a history of injuries, but if he's healthy, he should start the 2017 season in Buffalo, where he should also continue to hit.  The outfield was a bit crowded in the Pirates' system, hence their willingness to part with him, and with only perhaps Dalton Pompey realistically ahead of him, if change comes to the Blue Jays outfield this off season, Ramirez could find himself in the big leagues at some point next year.

16.  J.B Woodman, OF
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook:  MLB right fielder
Calling Card:  Five Tools

   The first of the two 2nd round picks the Blue Jays had this past June, Woodman tied for the Southeastern Conference lead in Home Runs this past season. In naming him the Northwest League's 6th prospect, BA observed:
 Evaluators around the league noted that Woodman made a lot of hard contact and showed the ability to hit both fastballs and offspeed pitches equally well. He showed contact problems by ranking fifth in the league with 72 strikeouts. He’s a steady defender who gets good jumps and reads on balls and has speed enough to steal double-digit bases.
  A centre fielder in college and with Vancouver for this past season, scouts think his arm and bat play better in right field.   It is true that he swings and misses a lot, but he also works the count and draws walks.  He finished the last week of the season in Lansing, and will return there next spring.  Several reports I have received about Woodman comment on his bat speed and pitch recognition skills, which will help him make a successful jump to full season ball.  While Woodman hit the ball to all fields, the LHH hit his three Homers to the opposite field:

   With the emphasis the organization has placed on HS pitchers over the last several drafts, a toolsy, athletic player like Woodman is something of a novelty.  Of all the players on this list, he's the one that I'm most interested to follow next year.

 17.  Ryan Borucki, LHP
ETA:  2019
Future Outlook: back of the rotation starter
Calling Card:  MLB-ready change-up

   If there was an award for Grit and Resilience in the organization, the next two pitchers on this list would have shared it for 2016.
   A 15th round pick in 2012 whose stock had fallen due to a torn UCL, Borucki has missed two full seasons since joining the organization (Tommy John in 2013; elbow and shoulder issues last year).
    The Appy League's 12th-ranked prospect in 2014 despite only spending a month there, Borucki seemed ready to head to full season play in 2015, but was limited to only 5 innings.
   Finally healthy this year, the club opted to keep him in Florida when spring training camp broke, assigning him to Dunedin. Whether this was designed to challenge him, keep him in a warm climate until the weather further north warmed up, or have him close to the team's medical facilities in the case of a breakdown is unknown, but he was overmatched, as  Florida State League hitters pounded him at a .421 clip over his first 6 starts.
   Sent down a level to Lansing, Borucki turned his season (and possibly his career) around with a Midwest League 2nd-best 2.41 ERA, and a 10-4 record.  Borucki fanned 107 in 115 innings, walking only 26. Working with Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware and then-Blue Jays minor league pitching instructor Sal Fasano, he added some deception to his delivery, and began missing barrels with greater regularity.
   The tall, athletic lefthander can dial it up to 95 with has fastball, but sits in the 90-92 range.  He complements it with what might be the best change up in the organization, a pitch with great deception and depth that MWL hitters had little or no chance against.  Perhaps the most encouraging sign this season was the career-high 135 innings he threw this year.
   Borucki has lost some development time, but showed the determination and pitchability that led the organization to roll the dice on him 4 years ago.  He should return to Dunedin and pitch with greater success next year, and might move quickly now that he has a healthy full season under his belt.


18.  Patrick Murphy, RHP
ETA:  2020
Future Outlook: Back of the rotation
Calling Card:  
   If Borucki is medium-grade sandpaper, Murphy is the coarse-grade variety.  His has been the longest road among the prospects on this list.
He missed his senior year of high school due to a torn UCL, but the Blue Jays still took him in the 3rd round that year (2013).  His pro debut, delayed to 2014, lasted all of 4 innings.
  Shut down early in 2015 due to lingering arm numbness and pain, Murphy missed the entire 2015 season after surgery to remove a rib to help lessen pain in the arm. Held back in extended this year, he pitched in 8 games for Lansing before heading to Vancouver when the Northwest League season opened.
  Murphy found himself with the C's, anchoring their rotation, pitching in the league's All Star game, and being named the loop's 12-best prospect.  His work drew notice from the opposition, according to BA:
Managers praised Murphy for the angle on his 92-96 mph fastball and ability to pound the bottom part of the zone with his entire arsenal. He couples his fastball with a 12-to-6 curveball that rates as an above-average pitch and a changeup he spent time developing at Vancouver
 Having not pitched in almost two calendar years, Murphy showed some rust with Lansing, walking 14 in only 21 innings.  His command improved with Vancouver.  His development will likely be slow and steady, with a return to Lansing next season

19.  Jordan Romano, RHP
ETA:  2019
Future Outlook:  Back of the rotation innings-eater
Calling Card:  Pounder of the lower part of the strike zone
   If you can remember only one thing about the Markham, ON, native it should be this:  toward the end of spring training in 2015, Romano threw a pitch in a game that made the count full - and also made his UCL give way.  He felt it, but stayed in the game for one more pitch, uncorking a hellacious slider to strike the hitter out.  A few weeks later, he underwent Tommy John surgery, wiping out his season.
   I have followed Romano's career closely since the Blue Jays made him their 10th pick in 2014 out of Oral Roberts, where he was 3rd on their all-time Saves list -despite only playing one season there.
   As someone who grew up playing on some of the fields Romano played on in Southern Ontario (albeit a couple of decades earlier), it's easy for me to feel an affinity for someone who defied long odds to get drafted, and may beat even longer ones to pitch in the majors one day.  He kept me up-to-date with his progress throughout his rehab, and impressed me with his positive attitude.
  Romano spent part of the off season working out with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and it showed.  He faced live hitters for the first time in April in Extended, and, converted to starting, made his first appearance in 22 months for Lansing, throwing a complete game, 7-inning 2-hit/1-run gem in early June, walking none and striking out 7.
   Romano was consistent for the Lugs all summer, failing to go at least 3 innings in only 1 of his 14 starts.  His 2.11 ERA would have led the Midwest League if he had enough innings to qualify.  He walked 27 and fanned 72 in as many innings.  I watched Romano's final start of the season, a 10-strikeout command performance over 6.  
   Romano sits 92-93 with his fastball, and is adept at getting ahead of hitters, commanding both sides of the plate.  He can elevate his fastball when he has two strikes on a hitter, but it will be interesting to see how hitters at the next level handle it.  At 6'4", he gets good extension and downward plane on his pitches.  He complements that fastball with a slider that has good bite, and a change up that improved with each start.  Staying ahead of hitters makes his subsequent pitches that much better, and is a key for Romano as he moves up to Dunedin next year.
   Harris, Perdomo, and Rios may have been a new version of the Lansing Three earlier in the season, but Borucki, Romano, and Maese formed their own version in the second half.

20.  Josh Palacios, OF
ETA: 2019
Future Outlook: 4th outfielder
Calling Card:  outstanding athleticsim

   He may not have made the NWL top prospects list, but Palacios may already be one of the best athletes in the organization.   The 4th rounder from last June's draft hit .355/.437/.473 for Vancouver, and while scouts forecast a fourth outfielder-type projection for him, it will be interesting to see what a year of full season ball in 2017 will do in terms of developing his bat speed and base running abilities.  Palacios has quick hands, looks like a hurdler, and gets around the bases in a hurry.

  A sage baseball man once told me when in doubt, go with projection.  Palacios may not have drawn rave reviews, but the organization still thought enough of him to take him in the 4th round.  There may not be much room for projection left for him in terms of tools, but the athleticism is there - enough to make him worth following when he begins full season play with Lansing next year.


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