December 6, 2016
Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: Almost everyone on the 2015 list either graduated or got dealt. That’s what happens when a team is gunning for its first flag in decades.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: What the heck are we supposed to do with Lourdes Gurriel?
You write and compile enough of these lists and you get a feel for the various prospect “types;” the plus fastball fourth starter with not much else, the 91-95 with a slider relief arm, the plus power and big swing-and-miss first baseman, the toolsy shortstop a ways away, the potential tweener outfielder. You mentally catalog them. You like some in the categories better than others. You like some categories better than others. None of these are the elite guys. Those are the easy ranks.
Even in a system not as flat in talent at the top as the Blue Jays—most systems, really— the difference between your fifth-best prospect (your plus fastball fourth starter) and your tenth-best prospect (the toolsy shortstop a ways away) isn’t going to be significant. It’s within the fudge factor. Lourdes Gurriel is better than the fifth prospect in this system. I think.
I’m supposed to have a more specific answer to this, right? It’s literally my job. I made a joke about it in the intro to our lists. All I have to do is give you ordinal rankings. I can’t even use the Yu Darvish or Jose Abreu cards. It’s likely Gurriel will need at least some minor league time. More than a perfunctory few weeks like his older brother. He’s a prospect by our standards. I think.
The Blue Jays have indicated they plan to start him at shortstop for now. He’s played there, along with some second, first, a bit of outfield. He was one of the best players in the Serie Nacional in 2015, his last season there. The league is usually compared to Advanced-A. A 21-year-old—probably not a shortstop—mashing in the Carolina League gets your attention. That could be Yoan Moncada, but it could be Max Schrock. And Gurriel specifically is tougher to pin down because he doesn’t have huge tools. He’s not popping a 45-inch vertical and then roasting a pig on YouTube. He plays well in games, doesn’t shine in showcases. And we don’t know how quickly or how well he’ll be able to play in major league games. He hasn’t played in any games in a full year.
What do I think?
I don’t think he’s a shortstop, although I see no harm in trying him there. I expected him to get more than 22 million. That probably means something. I guess the play here is something like OFP 55/Likely 45, maybe at second base, probably other positions as well at the low end, certainly high risk either way. But it still feels like a dart throw. I’m sure I’ve ranked prospects like Gurriel already in this process. I’m just not sure which ones.
1. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP
The Good: Reid-Foley’s fastball grades out as plus, sitting 92-94, and up to 97 in shorter spurts, and he controls the pitch well. He features a pair of breaking balls, a potential above-average slider with good tilt and bite, and a potential average curveball with 11/5 shape and fair action. His frame is built to log innings and still has some physical projection remaining. His delivery has been simplified in order to throw more strikes.
The Bad: His durability hasn’t been the best; missing time in the past three seasons with various injuries. He cups his hand over the ball, which can lead to some inconsistencies with the breaking balls. His arm action is compact but messy, further putting his rotation potential in question. His changeup is almost a non-factor right now as he struggles with his feel for it. He’s more of a control than command guy at present.
OFP 55—Low-end no. 3 starter
The Risks: Reid-Foley has questions about his rotation potential given his arm action, his command, lack of changeup, and durability. This was the first year for him consistently throwing strikes, and it remains to be seen if those gains will come forward.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Ah yes, the vaunted Blue Jays-Guam pipeline. I’ve liked Reid-Foley for a while, but in the end his durability issues, lack of premium upside, and potential hitter-friendly home of Toronto put a serious cap on his fantasy value. He’s just starting to enter the national consciousness as a good prospect so you can pop him if your league rosters 150 prospects, but don’t get carried away just because he tops the Blue Jays list here.
2. Anthony Alford, CF
The Good: Alford has an impressive, athletic body, one that looks like it can still play on a football field. A double-plus runner, his speed is a weapon both on the bases and in the field. A potential above-average defender in center, Alford makes good reads and covers ground extremely well. At the plate his plus bat speed, paired with a smooth, line-drive stroke allows him to cover the zone and square up pitches.
The Bad: Alford did catch the injury bug this year, missing most of the season with a dislocated right kneecap, as well as a concussion. While smooth, that line-drive swing is flat and doesn’t produce much power, and might not play higher than below average at full utility. His outfield routes aren’t the most consistent as he uses his speed to help make up for his mistakes. His base-running ability is still rather raw as he needs to take better advantage of jumps and reads.
The Irrelevant: Anthony Alford played in the US Army All American bowl as a high school quarterback.
OFP 55—Above-average regular in CF
The Risks: Injuries hit Alford hard, missing almost two months of the season when he needed a lot of development time. The hit tool lags behind and becomes more of a defensive replacement/fourth outfielder than everyday player. He hasn’t been tested at the higher-levels.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Steve Givarz
3. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 3B
Height/Weight:.6’1” 210 lbs
The Good: He doesn’t look like his father, and putting a Hall of Fame comp on him, bloodlines or no, would be irresponsible. However you’d be forgiven, if you caught Vladito on the right day, for seeing a bit of the same controlled violence that marked his father’s swing. He already has plus raw as a teenager, and it isn’t hard to see him finding another grade of raw as he enters his twenties. He has enough feel for the barrel, even when swinging out of his shoes like his pops, to make the power play in games too.
The Bad: I do wonder if he rates as highly on this list with a different last name, although baseball bloodlines can be important. I guess you can dream big and imagine Vlad, Jr. one day hitting like his father, but that is where the comp will have to end. He’s already a large human being, with a very thick midsection and lower half. At 17. He’s likely a first baseman in the end and that will put an awful lot of pressure on the offensive profile to have a strong patrilineal influence. The stolen bases are more an artifact of every Tom, Dick, and Vladdy being able to steal in the low minors. He’s already a below-average runner.
The Irrelevant: Vlad’s baseball family is almost as prolific as Gory’s pro wrestling clan at this point. In addition to Vlad Jr., nephews Gregory Guerrero and Gabby Guerrero are both kicking around the minors, Gregory with the Mets, and Gabby with the Diamondbacks.
OFP 60—Above-average major league first baseman
The Risks: Vladito’s precocious performance as a 17-year-old in the Appalachian League is nice and all, but he’s still a future first baseman in short-season ball. This could go any which way in the coming years.
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: It’s disappointing to learn that Guerrero is so unlikely to stick at third base. You know how I feel about fantasy first basemen, after all. Guerrero’s offensive upside remains decent enough that he might sneak onto a top-150 list, but he’s likely to be overvalued due to his name, as mentioned above. That makes him a good sell-high candidate if you own him, because waiting four-plus seasons for a non-elite first baseman just isn’t worth it.
4. Conner Greene, RHP
The Good: Greene has big arm speed and a big fastball. He sits in the mid-90s as a starter and can ratchet it up higher. It’s a heavy pitch, and he has had success spotting it down in the zone. The changeup is advanced and flashes plus with good velocity separation, fade, and sink. There could still be a bit more projection in the frame.
The Bad: There is just enough effort in the delivery, and just enough commensurate control issues to make you think that Greene is better suited in a late-inning role. The second pitch being the changeup makes the relief profile a little more unusual—and unusual profiles can mean unusual risks—but the fastball is good enough that it doesn’t worry me all that much, and the curveball isn’t a non-factor and could play up in short bursts. His slot can wander on the secondaries as well.
The Irrelevant: Can confirm that your Senior Prospect Writer demanded we keep the same Greene headshot this year. Why? Just look at it.
OFP 55—Low-end mid rotation arm/high-end late inning reliever
The Risks: It’s a plus-plus fastball and potential plus change. That gets you to the majors if nothing else, even in this era of high velocity. The command/control issues put a bit of a damper on the party, and may force Greene into relief, but he’s still a major-league arm in that role, and the profile might even play up past the OFP with a bump from the pen move. Or he could get hurt, because he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Early 2018, could be up late this year as a pen arm
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: A low-end mid-rotation arm in Toronto whose future may very well come in relief? Nah. Nah, I say.
The Good: There’s nothing that will jump out at you in Harris’s arsenal, but he offers a full four-pitch mix with a potential plus fastball with some armside hop. Harris can run the heater up into the mid-90s and works comfortably 92-94. All three of his secondaries have a chance to be average or better. The slider can get flat and cutter-like at times, but Harris can also get it up over 90. The curve is a 12-6 breaker from his high three-quarters slot, could be an out pitch for him, but the feel is inconsistent and it can roll and show early. He has a starter’s frame and mechanics.
The Bad: The change is the fourth pitch here, and although it flashes average with some tumble and run, it’s too often firm. The control outpaces the command at present. Needs to throw more good strikes with the fastball. The secondaries all have a chance to be average or better, but there isn’t much more in the future profile than that—we weren’t kidding about all the 55s—and they still have a ways to go to get there. Despite his lean frame, there isn’t much more projection in the body if you were betting on that off the listed height and weight.
The Irrelevant: Harris didn’t get out of the first inning of his first start in Lansing this season. He was pretty good after that though.
OFP 55—Low-end mid-rotation arm
The Risks: It’s a very average risk profile. He hasn’t pitched in Double-A yet, but there’s enough stuff and pitchability here to have some immediate success at the level. The command needs to tighten up, but we think it probably will. Oh, and he’s a pitcher, but that part will never change.
Major league ETA: 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: A low-end mid-rotation arm in Toronto who’s not even knocking on the doorstep of the majors yet? Nah. Nah, I say.
6. Richard Urena, SS
The Good: A switch-hitter, Urena has above-average bat speed from both sides, with an aggressive approach and quick hands. He has good bat-to-ball ability and can spray towards the whole field. His plus arm plays well at shortstop with good carry and strength. While an average runner down the line, he has a good second gear and flies around the base-paths. Has present strength to put a charge into baseballs with considerable loft. He reads balls well at short with good lateral range to both sides and instincts.
The Bad: Urena lacks body control while at short, as he can rush and not be in the best position to play hops. He also has struggled with his backhand at times. While he has strength, there isn’t much physical projection left, which could limit his power to below-average. While he has a plus arm, his accuracy suffers when he rushes his throws. His swing from the right side is longer and can cut himself off. He can get overly aggressive at the plate and sells out for power. He is just an average runner down the line.
The Irrelevant: On August 10, Urena set a New Hampshire record with three triples in one game.
OFP 55—Above-average regular at SS
Likely 50—Regular at multiple positions
The Risks: Urena is still very young, and didn’t do that well in his first foray in Double-A. He has raw defensive skills that might not play at the six down the road. His aggressive approach could leave him vulnerable to better stuff at the higher levels, which means he might not hit enough for an everyday role at short.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you’re going to gamble on a raw player, you might as well gamble on a shortstop. Urena lacks any standout fantasy tool, but if he can stick at short the bar is fairly low, albeit higher than it was a few seasons ago. He might not be as closer to seeing regular MLB playing time as his position in Double-A would have you believe, but Urena could be a solid across-the-board contributor in the middle infield by late 2019 or 2020. Pick him up and hope you landed Asdrubal Cabrera.
7. T.J. Zeuch, RHP
The Good: Zeuch is a bit of an odd duck, a very tall righty with a pretty easy delivery and generally repeatable mechanics. The fastball is in the low 90s at present, but he gets some plane from his height and slot, and there could be more velocity in there as he touched 97 in college. Zeuch has an advanced curveball with good 11-5 shape. He can throw strikes with his full four-pitch mix.
The Bad: The stuff isn’t that sexy, and it is unlikely to get much sexier. The slider and change are below-average at present. He can struggle with “tall pitcher syndrome” at times, not always finishing his delivery, which can lead to command issues.
OFP 55—Good no.4 starter
The Risks: Zeuch is a polished college arm that should move up the organizational ladder quickly. There isn’t a ton of ceiling, and the usual pitcher risks apply, but I also don’t see the profile really being challenged until the highest level of the minors, if even then.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: A low-end mid-rotation arm in Toronto who’s not even knocking on the doorstep of the majors yet? This is the worst remake of Groundhog Day ever.
8. Rowdy Tellez, 1B
The Good: “Ball go far, Rowdy go far.” Tellez fell right off the assembly line conveyor belt at ACME Brawny First Baseman, Inc. There’s obvious—though not easy—plus raw power from his long-and-strong swing. His timing and balance are good enough to get the power into games, even with a big leg kick for some extra oomph. He goes up to the plate with a good idea of what he can drive and what he can’t, and overall the approach is solid. He’s reasonably athletic for his size and good enough at first he won’t have to DH for a while. That sounds more backhanded than it actually is. I’ve been writing about a lot of first base prospects, man.
The Bad: It’s a power hitter’s swing for both good and ill. The swing is long with some bat wrap and can be stiff and overly mechanical, and he can already be exploited with offspeed if you can start it in the zone. The power is real, but maybe not this real. The pop is all pull-side and New Hampshire has a very inviting right field porch. Tellez slugged over 100 points better at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
The Irrelevant: Rowdy, born Ryan John, actually got his nickname in the womb.
OFP 55—Everyday bopper at first
The Risks: First-base-only profile with hit tool/swing questions. You know the drill here. If he doesn’t hit, it doesn’t work. The Double-A performance may give you a bit more confidence in the profile, but Double-A ain’t the majors.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I bet you think you know what I’m going to say, what with my endless quest to compare every first base prospect to C.J. Cron. But fear not; I actually like Tellez a lot as a sleeper dynasty prospect. The point above about taking his Double-A line with a grain of salt is well taken, but Tellez is close to the majors, has the type of power fantasy owners crave, and would find himself in a very favorable ballpark. The additions of Kendry Morales and Steve Pearce make his paths to playing time in 2017 a bit murkier, but he’s an injury or a great Triple-A performance away from pushing his way to the Majors. I wouldn’t rule out a future as a Top-20 first baseman, though that’s certainly his max upside.
9. Max Pentecost, C?
The Good: Pentecost’s first taste of full-season ball—oh, there will be more on why down below—went about as well as you could expect. He was considered a premium college hitter coming out of the draft in 2014. There were questions about his ultimate power ceiling— and the swing isn’t really geared for it— but double-digit bombs in a half-season in tough offensive environments is nice to see. He’s athletic for a catcher—more on that down below—and if healthy, could still have a an above-average defensive profile as a backstop.
The Bad: Pentecost is a catcher who didn’t catch. He spent all of 2016 as a DH as he works his way back from multiple surgeries on his throwing shoulder. In addition to the lost development time—Pentecost will likely start 2017 in the Florida State League as a 23-year-old—we have no idea if he can actually catch yet. If he can’t, this just isn’t an exciting offensive profile anywhere else, and you could argue (rightfully, I’d say) that he shouldn’t even be on this list. If he can catch, well you’ve got a potential plus hitting catcher with a maybe a bit more pop than expected and a potential average defensive projection. That dude should be higher on this list. He’s likely one or the other, but we don’t know which, so he gets the prospect list equivalent of ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
The Irrelevant: Given Pentecost’s shoulder issues it is ironic he went to school in Kennesaw, GA, which mandates gun possession.
The Role: Putting two grades here that imply a range is misleading, but we’ve established a format
OFP 55—Everyday major league catcher
The Risks: About as extreme as you will get for a polished college bat that’s had some pro success already. If he can’t catch, that means he can’t throw, so he’s probably limited to first base where the profile isn’t all that exciting.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you’re going to invest in a Pentecost, don’t settle for Partial Pentecost or Minimum Pentecost. Go for the most Pentecost you can get. Max’s fantasy future is entirely tied to his ability to catch. If he gets good reviews behind the plate, pick him up immediately. If it looks like he’ll need to move from the position, well, let’s just say he’d be no C.J. Cron.
10. Bo Bichette, SS
The Good: Bichette has a lot of things to like: athletic ability, major-league bloodlines, big raw power, and a plus arm. His power was some of the best in his draft class with potentially 70 raw, as he is extremely physical and has plus bat speed with loft. His upper half has room to grow as well, although it could get too stiff. His plus arm plays well and is fairly accurate. Those stats included him missing over a month with a ruptured appendix.
The Bad: To say he’s boom or bust is putting it lightly. He hits from an open stance with a really high leg kick and a significant hitch with his hands loading deep in his backside. While this helps him with his power, it can put him off balance against better offerings. His side-to-side range is lacking for a shortstop and while he’s an average runner now, he will slow down as he gets older, potentially needing to move to third base.
The Irrelevant: Oh my God!!!!!
OFP 55—Above-average regular at third
Likely 40—Power bat off the bench
The Risks: Bichette is still young, and adjustments need to be made at the plate for better timing and to help cut down the length in his swing. He might lose too much range and become a first baseman sooner rather than later. His in-game power might lag behind given the extreme risk involved in his hit tool. He lacks a ton of remaining physical projection as he is already quite physical.
Major league ETA: 2020 —Steve Givarz
Others of note:
It’s possible both McGuire and Ramirez are now past their prospect sell-by dates as it were. Still, both were Top Ten prospects in a pretty good Pirates system, Top 101 prospects overall, and ended up as thrown-ins to entice the Jays to take on all of Francisco Liriano’s contract at the deadline. Both could have made the Jays Top Ten this year. McGuire is still a very good defensive catcher. He still hasn’t hit. This was the risk in the profile even as an amateur. He is only 21 and wasn’t a complete offensive zero in Double-A, so it’s too early to give up on him, But you can reuse my familiar refrain about ranking a catcher you aren’t sure will actually hit at all in the Top Ten. We are more sure he is a catcher than Max Pentecost though.
Ramirez has hit. He’s hit at every stop in every league. He’s been one of the youngest players at every stop in every league. He hasn’t hit for much power, however, and that’s a bit of a problem since he is going to end up in left field. He’s also always had issues staying on the field, and 2016 was no exception. A knee injury knocked him out for the season after he played just one game in New Hampshire post-trade. Ramirez will also show more pop at five o’clock, so you can project some more bombs if you like, but if it hasn’t shown up by Double-A, you do start to wonder.
There’s post-hype sleeper possibilities for both, but for now they are just noteworthy.
Born down in El Paso, where the tumbleweeds grow
Justin Maese, RHP
The guy waiting for a 26th roster spot
D.J. Davis, OF
The finally healthy arm
Ryan Borucki, LHP
Can you guess the oldest team in the league last year on average? Well, this is a Blue Jays post, so you probably can. The average Toronto player was just under 30 years old, which is a full year older than the “second place” Giants, Orioles, and Tigers. (http://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/rosters) Normally with a squad like that, you’d expect this list to be mostly populated with prospects. But sitting there, right at the top, you find three major contributors to the club’s success. In fact, they would have actually occupied the top four spots, but Devon Travis missed the cutoff by under two months.
It should come as no real surprise that Sanchez is leading off this list. The 24-year-old righty broke out in a big way this year, leading the AL in ERA, throwing 192 innings (100 more than his previous MLB high) and putting up 3.5 WARP. He finished seventh in Cy Young voting, and he really just scratched the surface of his incredible talents. If his command takes another step forward, there’s no telling how good he can be. As far as number ones go, this was pretty easy. His good buddy Marcus Stroman wasn’t far behind him though.
You may not have known it if you just looked at ERA, but Marcus Stroman was still pretty darn good last year. In his first year back from knee surgery, the diminutive righty put up a 3.43 DRA and 4.5 WARP across 204 innings. Stroman kept the ball on the ground (62 percent groundball rate!) and in the yard, but was occasionally burned by being left in the game too long, or simply having softly hit balls find holes. On most lists, Stroman would be an easy number one. The only reason he’s not on top here is because Sanchez’ ceiling is just too high.
With the big young starters out of the way, Roberto Osuna AKA “Little Cannon” as the third big leaguer was easy to place. You can argue all you want about the value of relievers, but 21 year old closers with a 2.0 WARP across 143.7 innings are pretty hard to find. I think the Jays would be thrilled if Reid-Foley could give them that right now. Osuna’s getting better too; his K/BB increased from 4.7 in 2015 to 5.9 in 2016. The team seems unwilling to move the “Little Cannon” into the rotation where his three pitch mix would probably work just fine, which means it would take one of the other guys leaving for Osuna to move up this list in the future.
Now that the easy ones are out of the way. The tough call here was where to place Dalton Pompey. Just last year, Pompey actually ranked ahead of Sanchez on the Jays top 10 list. Now, I have him sitting behind a 20 year old who has yet to throw a pitch in Double-A and even considered placing behind Anthony Alford and his injury-marred .722 OPS in High-A Dunedin. Reid-Foley’s ceiling and polish still kept him above Pompey, who battled multiple injuries and poor performance of his own, but in the end it’s hard to get too down on a guy who hit .351/.405/.545 in Double-A in 2015 after hitting .317/.392/.469 across three levels the year before. Because he cracked the big leagues in September 2014, we tend forget that Pompey is still only 23 years old. If he stays healthy next year, the switch-hitting Canadian could rocket up to the top of this list.
The rest of the list is full of hopes and dreams, with a couple of wishes mixed in. Guerrero raked in Bluefield, but he’s only 17. And the only players who have even reached double-A are Conner Greene and Richard Urena, both of whom struggled in their first tastes of the advanced level. There’s lots of talent there, but the relative youth means we could see a lot of changes to this top 25 next year as certain guys rise up, and others fall flat. —Joshua Howsam