|Original Published Date: December 13, 2016|
The Blue Jays season ended when Cleveland rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt shut the door in game five of the ALCS. He only lasted 4.1 innings, but also only gave up two hits. This wasn’t Noah Syndergaard throwing 100, this was a command and control lefty throwing 87 MPH. What happened? I don’t exactly know, but the team started looking very old in that series…candidly, because they are. The window is starting to close and the Blue Jays will have to make some difficult decisions on two mainstays in the lineup, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Troy Tulowtizki is also not the player he once was. Making matters worse, they’ve traded away a lot of good young players to get to the point of contenders and while there is still talent, there isn’t anybody that is close enough to the majors to make an impact next year or even in 2018.
Anthony Alford is their top prospect but is only in High-A. While he had a down season in 2016, I still really like him and believe he’s poised for a bounce back season in 2017. Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are also two very interesting and high upside players, but both are still teenagers and have yet to play for a full season affiliate. Sean Reid-Foley is the top pitching prospect in the system but is still two years away after having a nice season across Low and High-A.
As you can see, there is talent but that talent is a few years away and the window is open now for the Blue Jays. It should be an interesting off-season as the Jays front office navigates how they can get younger but still support a core of players that still have a chance to compete for a divisional title if not more.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 OF with risk
It was a mixed season for the uber-athletic Anthony Alford. He missed most of April with a knee sprain and then struggled for a while to get his timing back. Perhaps he wasn’t fully healed but he didn’t pass the Mendoza line for good until July 21st. After that, he played well the rest of season, finishing the season with a .722 OPS.
Through his struggle, he still flashed the tools that got us excited about him last year. He hit nine home runs, and in the Florida State League, that’s a very reasonable total for 92 games. He also stole 18 of 24 bases.
At 22-years-old, I think the Jays will start Alford in Double-A to begin the season. Assuming he handles the level well, that should put him on track to see Toronto either in the second half of 2018 or in 2019.
Scouting Report: Alford has loud tools with plus speed and plus raw power that if it comes together, could produce a 20/40 performer at the highest level. He has a solid approach that produced a 13% walk ratio last season. He also struck out too much as he will expand the strike zone. While he’s already 22-years-old, his hit-tool is still pretty raw given his focus on football just three years ago. With more repetition, I think the hit tool will play at least average and that will allow his secondary tools to play.
Fantasy Impact: Alford has a chance to be an impact fantasy player with the ceiling of a 20 HR/40 SB player. If his hit tool continues to develop, owners could also be looking at a .270/.340 player. If it all comes together, he’s a first round draft pick. It’s for that reason that I would be making an offer for Alford in a Dynasty League. Play up the .234 batting average and the measly nine home runs. I think he’s a budding star and that will be reflected in my rankings.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
The Jays demotion of Sean Reid-Foley back to Low-A to begin the 2016 season was a bit unusual, but after giving up over six walks per nine in 2015, it made sense. It seemed to work as the 6-foot-3 right-hander responded well. First, in 11 starts in Low-A, he posted a 2.95 ERA, striking out over a batter an inning and walking 3.4 per nine. He was even better once he got back to High-A, lowering his ERA and BB/9 while striking out 11 per nine.
He did miss the last two weeks of the season with a barking elbow, but assuming he’s heathy, he’s a candidate to start the season in Double-A. However, given what happened last season, I guess it’s not impossible the Jays bring him back to Dunedin for some additional grooming. He just turned 21 at the end of August, so he’s still very young and should see the majors before he turns 23.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Reid-Foley has a great pitchers body that should allow him log big innings at the highest level. There’s not a lot of projection remaining but with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH and can burst higher, it’s already a plus pitch. His best secondary pitch is his slider with nice two-plane movement that can miss plenty of bats. His change-up is a still a work-in-progress.
His control took a significant step forward last season. The mechanics are smoother with better balance. He also is doing a better job in keeping his arm slot consistent. Assuming this continues, his ceiling has moved to a number two starter.
Fantasy Impact: Reid-Foley is solidly a Top 100 player with a chance to be a Top 40 starting pitcher in fantasy. The ceiling is eight strikeouts per nine with above-average ratios.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
Vlad Guerrero Jr., son of future hall of famer (at least I think so), Vlad Guerrero Sr. had his first taste of professional ball last season and didn’t disappoint. In 61 games in the Appy League, he posted a .798 OPS with seven home runs and an impressive 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In fact his 85% contact rate was close to his father’s impressive lifetime 88% contact rate. I don’t expect that contact rate to continue, but it was indeed a good way to begin his professional game.
Scouting Report: Guerrero’s carrying tool is double-plus raw power that he combines with great hand-eye coordination. The upside is 30 home run power with a solid batting average, although I think his swing and miss will be more pronounced than the 12.7% strikeout rate he posted last season. At 6-foot-1 and a listed 200 pounds, he’s a big kid and getting bigger. He did steal 15 bases last season but I don’t see that as a skill going forward. He’s profiles as a classic right fielder with huge power upside and a cannon for an arm.
Although I believe he’s profiles as an outfielder, the Jays played him primarily at third last season. The reports I received were not stellar on his defense and I believe it will be just a matter of time before the move is made back to the outfield.
Fantasy Impact: Despite being only 17-years-old, Guerrero is a Top 100 prospect in the game. He’s three to four years away from making his major league debut but with 30 home run power, playing half his games in Toronto, he’s a guy to invest in most Dynasty League formats.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
After moving through three levels in 2015, the Jays, as they did with Sean Reid-Foley, moved right-hander Conner Greene back a level to start the 2016 season. While Foley responded well, Greene did not. In 15 starts in Dunedin, he posted an excellent 2.90 ERA but it was supported by a low BABIP and not solid skills. He struck out less than six per nine and walked 4.4 per nine. So what did the Jays do? They promoted him in July to Double-A where he posted almost identical strikeout and walk ratios but the luck ran out and a 4.19 ERA resulted.
Scouting Report: While the results backed up last season, the scouting report continues to be bullish on the 6-foot-3 right-hander. I had a chance to see him in an August start at Trenton and he looked great. His fastball sat 93 to 95 MPH with plenty of 6’s and 7’s thrown in. His curveball was also working that night and he got four strikeouts on that pitch alone. He only threw a handful of change-ups and that pitch is clearly still his third pitch.
I spoke to someone at the game who commented that when he’s able to locate his fastball, like he was that night, things come together well. When he’s not, he gets hit hard. I interpreted that as he’s a young pitcher that just needs to learn to command his pitches better. The stuff is there and the athleticism is also there, so I’m left with a very bullish conclusion. I think the ceiling is a solid mid-rotation starter if not more.
Fantasy Impact: Based on what I saw, I would be adding Greene in all leagues that roster 150 or more minor leaguers. The ceiling is a Top 45 pitcher with a seven plus strikeouts and above-average ratios. Therefore, I’m going against the stat line and suggesting that he’s a buy-low candidate. I love stepping out and while I’m not always right, I feel good about this one.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B
First base prospects moving through a system are always dicey to rank. Most evaluators want them to be perfect – Pujolsian. They need to hit .300 with 30 home runs power and defend well. Let’s face it though, are there 30 of those players out there? No…so sometimes you can’t have it all and have to compromise. Rowdy Tellez is one of those players. He’s a big dude that can hit with emerging power but is a poor defender. You know what, I think it’ll work and I expect him to get full-time at-bats at the highest level by 2018.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to lay eyes on Tellez in the Arizona Fall League in 2015 and several times last season. I continue to be very impressed. First, he’s a big boy…not fat, not chiseled, but just big and imposing. The swing is what impressed me. It is short to the ball and he has excellent barrel control. He didn’t try and pull everything but instead, he went where the ball was pitched. The approach should eventually give him power to all fields with a reasonable strike out rate. The best news is that his power started to emerge last year and 23 home runs in the Eastern League is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it ranked fourth in the entire league
He doesn’t have premium bat speed but I’ve not seen him have trouble with low to mid 90’s fastball. Could he struggle with a double-plus fastball? Sure, but many players have that problem.
Fantasy Impact: While many sites will downgrade Tellez because he is a first base only prospect with questionable defensive skills, we continue to be bullish. The ceiling is a middle of the lineup bat, hitting .270 with 20 to 30 home runs annually.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Jays dipped into the college ranks in 2015 when they drafted Missouri State right-hander Jon Harris in the first round (pick 29th overall). The Blue Jays continued to play it conservatively with Harris starting him off in Low-A with a promotion in late July to High-A where he finished the season. Overall, he pitched well, posting a 2.71 with a 6.9 strikeout per nine and walking less than three per nine.
If you are reading the Jays report in order and word-for-word, which I know you are, there has been a theme and that is the conservative nature in which the Jays are treating their pitchers. It’s a divergence from the past and reflects the desires of the new management regime of Shapiro/Atkins. While some moves I agree with, I don’t understand keeping a college pitcher of Harris pedigree in Low-A for nearly four months. I would have preferred to see him spend most of his time in Dunedin or even New Hampshire. However, if he starts 2017 in Double-A, I’ll move on, otherwise, I’ll continue to moan.
Scouting Report: At a listed 6-foot-3 and a listed 175 pounds, Harris is still growing into his body. His fastball sits 91 to 94 MPH and while he gets plane on the pitch, he does pitch up in zone with it. His curve ball is his best secondary pitch and it’s a quality pitch that gets plenty of swings and misses. He also throws a change-up and slider to compliment the arsenal. With solid stuff, Harris has a ceiling of a number three starter, perhaps more.
Fantasy Impact: Harris should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues. He’s an advanced arm that should see Toronto by 2018 but I would not be surprised to see him start some games there next year. His upside is a number three starter on a fantasy team.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
In the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft, the Jays drafted a familiar name in Bo Bichette. Son of former big league Dante and brother to New York Yankees farmhand of the same name, Bo hit the ground running in 22 games in the GCL. He hit .427 with four home runs and three stolen bases with a league leading 1.183 OPS.
In the Anthopoulos regime, Bichette would likely have started the 2017 season in Lansing of the Midwest League, however the Jays seem to be slowing the development of their players and I would not be surprised to see him held back in extended spring training. Given his feel to hit, I do believe he’s ready for a full-season assignment, but I think the Jays might feel otherwise.
Scouting Report: Bichette looks like he’s going to have a fine all-around game. He has a great approach for a young player with excellent bat speed that points to above-average if not more future power. The swing is a little on the violent-side with a lot of moving parts, but the end result is hard contact. His father had a similar swing, so it will be interesting to see if the Jays try to quiet the swing down or let him continue with it un-checked. I’m guessing as long as it works, they will not change it.
The Jays drafted him as a shortstop but I just don’t see him staying there. He has a thick lower half and doesn’t have a conventional over-the-top throwing motion. If he stays in the dirt, I think he moves to second with left-field as the backup plan.
Fantasy Impact: Bichette has 20 to 25 home run future power with a chance to hit .270. As he continues to fill-out, stolen bases will not be part of the equation. If he stays at second, a Neil Walker type of impact is a good baseline. I think that’s a very good player, a top 10 fantasy second baseman. That said, I’ve put his ETA at 2020-21, so you’re going to have to wait for that production.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
Richard Urena follow-up his breakout 2015 season with an excellent campaign last year. He played the first four months in High-A, slashing .305/.351/.447 in 97 games. He also added eight home runs and nine stolen bases. Things got a little tougher upon his promotion as the 6-foot shortstop only posted a .677 OPS with no home runs and a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124 at-bats.
Scouting Report: Urena has always had good bat speed with a short and compact swing. As he has matured, he’s gotten stronger and bigger and the line drives he hit when he was 17, are turning into home runs. I don’t think he’ll ever be a slugger, but if he stays with his current swing mechanics, he could hit 8 to 12 home runs annually which will work just fine as a shortstop.
The area of development is with his approach. He posted a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a poor 5% walk rate. While he’ll likely always be an aggressive hitter, it’s going to be difficult to be an effective big leaguer when you walk once a week. Pitchers will simply not give him anything to hit
Fantasy Impact: Urena should now be on all Dynasty League owner’s radar. I do not believe he has a 20 home run ceiling, but would down shift to 10 to 12. I do worry about his overly aggressive approach at the plate and if that doesn’t change, he’ll be a liability in on-base percentage leagues.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
Harold Ramirez continues to be one of the prospects that gets very little love in prospect circles. Not here, as we are fans. In fact, we were so bullish on the then Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand, that he made our Top 100 list. While we are still waiting on his power to develop, there’s no denying his ability to hit.
Before his trade to Toronto, Ramirez hit .306 in the Eastern League with only two home runs and seven stolen bases. He’s only an average runner, so the reduction in stolen bases from 22 to seven was not a complete surprise but nonetheless disappointing. As stated above, we are still waiting on his over-the-fence power to develop, but he’s strong and stings the ball with authority, so we think it’s just a matter of time.
Unfortunately after the trade, Ramirez hurt his knee during his debut and did not return. At first his injury was not deemed serious, but ultimately he lost two months of development time.
Scouting Report: Ramirez carrying tool is his hit-tool. He has a mature approach and can barrel the ball with authority to all fields. The swing is currently doubles-oriented but he has enough size, strength and bat speed to project 12 to 15 home runs at the highest level. We thought his speed on the base paths would slow, but were nonetheless disappointing that at the age 21, he had less than a 50% success rate and only seven stolen bases in total.
Fantasy Impact: Ramirez is still not owned in many Dynasty Leagues but he can hit and that should give him playing time. However, with his stolen bases already decreasing and his over-the-fence power yet to materialize, he’s a tough guy to invest in. Therefore, I would only be investing in him in leagues where you roster 200 minor leaguers.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Second catcher. A guy who won’t hurt you
I debated including Reese McGuire on this list. While I believe he’s a Top 10 player in the Jays system from a baseball standpoint, I’m not sure he’s a Top 10 fantasy player in the system. First, McGuire is an outstanding defensive catcher. I had a chance to see him a couple of times last summer and he calls a very good game. He’s also very athletic behind the plate with an above-average arm. He’s a big leaguer for sure. What I’m not sure of is whether his offensive game will allow him to be anything more than a backup, rendering him irrelevant in a Dynasty League.
To illustrate the point, let me share with you two data points. In 288 games in the minor leaguers, he’s thrown out nearly 40% of would-be base runners. In 338 games in which he has had a plate appearance, he has a .653 OPS. He has no power, hitting only four home runs but he does control the strike zone very well with a 1.3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Scouting Report: Simply put, McGuire is a terrific defensive catcher with questionable offensive upside. He controls the strike zone very well but has no current power and his swing suggest that little is on the way. He is a good runner for a catcher and if he could ever develop just a little power, as in 8 to 10 home runs, with the ability to hit .280 with 5 to 10 stolen bases a year, he could not only be a more complete baseball players, but a very interesting fantasy player.
Fantasy Impact: At this point, I can not suggest that McGuire will develop power. I’ve talked to several people who have seen him more than I have and while I’ve gotten some “possible” responses, nobody talked with conviction. Without it, he’s just tough to own in a Dynasty League.
2017 Emerging Prospect
While the stat line didn’t look great for Yennsy Diaz this past season, he has a live arm with a double-plus fastball and the ability to spin a curve. The delivery screams reliever but given the games reliance on bullpen arms, that could play very well. If all comes together, he could even see some save opportunities down the road.