|Original Published Date: December 12, 2017|
After losing 86 games last season, the once high flying Toronto Blue Jays have quickly fallen on hard times. Let’s face it, the team got old…and it didn’t take long. Just two years ago, they won 93 games to win the AL East.
While the major league team may be aging, the best news is that help is on the way….and soon. The Blue Jays might have the best 1-2 punch in the minor leagues in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Vlad Jr. is already a Top five prospect in the game and Bichette isn’t far behind. Both are also clearly on the fast path and assuming they stay healthy, should arrive in 2019. They should bring the punch back to the middle of the lineup as the Jays aging players fade away.
Almost lost in the shuffle is Anthony Alford. While he might not have the name recognition as the Big-2, his tools are equally loud. He did get a chance to show his stuff in four games in the big leagues (only got one hit), unfortunately, he broke his hamate bone and burned valuable service time.
The Blue Jays are in transition and their poor 2017 season should net some quality players in next year’s MLB Draft. That in combination with a strong farm system, or better said, top of the farm system, should put them back into contention by 2020.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Fantasy Player
When we ranked Vladimir Guerrero Jr. number 44 on our Top 100 list last season as an 18-year-old (technically 17), we thought he had a chance to be special, but after his 2017, I didn’t think he was going to go all Vlad Sr. on us.
First, he turned 18 on March 16 and therefore played the entire season as a young 18-year-old. What did he do? Across Low and High-A, he slashed .323/.425/.485 in 119 games. He slugged 15 home runs and walked more than he struck out – as an 18-year-old. You just don’t see that. Period.
While he only played 48 games in Dunedin, I would not be surprised to see him begin the season in the Eastern League, or at worse, see New Hampshire by May. That could put him on a path to see the majors by 2019, or maybe…
Scouting Report: The scouting report continues to shine. He has an advanced hitting approach and plus bat speed. He has slimmed down since he was signed, losing some of his baby fat, but at his age, he has yet to really put on any man-strength. Once that happens and once he adds more loft to his swing, he could hit 40 or more home runs at the highest level. The one thing he lacks is foot speed and while he might steal a handful of bases early in his career, stolen bases will not be part of his game long-term.
Defensively, I think he stays at third as he has a good arm and is not a hack by any stretch. If he has to move to right-field, he clearly has the bat for the position.
Fantasy Impact: Guerrero is one of the best young prospects in the game with comparisons of Edwin Encarnacion clearly evident (hopefully without the E5 moniker). It’s rare that I put a 40 home run ceiling on a player, and it could come with a .300 batting average and plenty of runs scored and RBI’s. Throw in a handful of stolen bases early in his career and he’s got Top 15 fantasy upside, and it could come sooner than you think.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
It’s kind of hard to fathom how Bo Bichette fell to the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Perhaps the wheels will fall off once he get to Double-A next season, but from what he’s done to-date in his career, he’s one of the best prospects in the game
In 132 games in the minor leagues, he posted a 1.018 OPS with 18 home runs and 25 stolen bases. Last year, playing the entire season as a teenager, he had no trouble with either Low or High-A. He showed very good contact (82%) with an excellent understanding of the strike zone, walking nearly 8% of the time. While Vlad Jr. might be getting all the press, Bo Bichette’s star is also very bright. Together, both provide Toronto with one of the best 1-2 prospects in the game.
Scouting Report: Bichette is quickly rounding into one of the prospects in the 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 and so far the Jays have elected not to quiet it down. So far, it’s all working.
Bichette primarily played shortstop last season, but I just don’t see him staying there long-term. 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.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 OF with risk
Anthony Alford got off to a great start in New Hampshire and with Kevin Pillar serving a suspension, the Jays decided to promote Alford to the big leagues. He managed a double in four games and then while swinging, broke his hamate bone and spent seven weeks on the disabled list.
Not only did Alford lose valuable development time, he also acquired valuable service time that could delay his return to the big leagues. He now has eight weeks and if the Jays want to maintain seven years of team control, his major league return will likely be delayed those eight weeks. In other words, assuming he spends the entire 2018 in Triple-A, the Jays will likely not bring him to the big leagues until mid to late June 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 12% walk ratio last season. He also substantially cut down on his strikeouts. His 15.6% strikeout rate in 245 at-bats in Double-A was indeed impressive and if he can sustain it going forward, he will hit his Top 10 outfield ceiling.
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.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP or Closer with risk
Anybody that can throw 100 MPH should get your attention. Nate Pearson can throw 100 MPH.
Pearson took a circuitous route to the professional ball. He started his college career at Florida International, left the school and went to JC of Central Florida. He started to get noticed while at the Central Florida, leading to the Blue Jays signing him to a $2.4 million dollar signing bonus.
Pearson saw limited action last season once he was drafted but excelled. In 20 innings, mostly pitching in the Northwest League, he gave up six hits, two earned runs while striking out 24 and walking five.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Pearson has little physical projection remaining. It doesn’t matter as he can already hit 100 MPH an hour but his fastball sits more comfortably in the 97 to 98 range. Despite his size and how hard he throws, he does throw strikes.
His best secondary pitch is his change-up with his curveball used as his third pitch. While I’m usually not high on fastball/change-up guys, unless the change-up is double-plus, sources have told me that the curveball is improving and they believe it will eventually grade out to at least average, if not more. If it doesn’t, Pearson will likely move to the bullpen, much like another tall hard-throwing pitcher did a few years ago. That pitcher was Dellin Betances.
Fantasy Impact: The upside of Pearson is high. In fact, you can argue that his stuff, size and athleticism gives him a number two starter ceiling. However, that starter upside is dependent on him improving his curve. If he doesn’t, he moves to the bullpen but with closer upside. For fantasy owners, it’s a win-win situation.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
The Blue Jays had two first-round draft picks last season. With their first pick, pick number 22, they selected shortstop, Logan Warmoth out of the University of North Carolina. As the season wore on, Warmoth gradually moved up Draft lists as he flashed a plus hit tool (.336 batting average) with surprising pop (.419 SLG with 10 home runs). He was also successful in stealing 18 of 21 bases.
Once signed, the Blue Jays sent him to the GCL for a handful of games before moving him to the Northwest League. In 39 games, he slashed .306/.356/.419 with one home run and five stolen bases. He struck out 19% of the time but the patient approach he showed in college was not there as he walked only 4% of the time.
Scouting Report: There’s a lot to like with Warmoth. First, he has always hit and I expect that to continue as he moves up the ranks in the minor leagues. He has good bat speed but his swing lacks loft so I don’t see any more than a 10 to 15 home runs ceiling at the highest level. He’s also a very good runner. While his times to first grade out at above-average, he’s very effective at reading pitchers and should be able to steal 20 plus stolen bases.
Defensively, sources who I spoke with were split on whether he could stay at short long-term. Most believed he would stay in the dirt with a move to second likely if short does not work out.
Fantasy Impact: Warmoth doesn’t have the loud tools that fantasy owners crave and might be undervalued similar to another Logan, Mr. Forsythe. The upside is 10 to 15 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and a .270 batting average.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
The Jays were very bullish on their Double-A squad entering the season as two of their more promising pitchers would be playing significant roles. Conner Greene could not find the strike zone and wound up with a 5.29 ERA, winning five games in the process. The more famous Sean Reid-Foley did win 10 games but also posted a 5.09 ERA in the process. Not that it matters all that much, the Fisher Cats ended the season with the worst record in the Eastern League.
Reid-Foley’s problem was the home run. In 132.2 innings he gave up 22 or 1.5 per nine. In 234 innings prior to last season, he only gave up eight home runs in total.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Reid-Foley has a great pitchers body that should allow him to log big innings at the highest level. While many evaluators thought he would see an uptick in his velocity by now, he’s still sitting 92 to 94 MPH. Since he pitches up in the zone, it’s not enough velocity to allow him to throw it by batters. The recipe contributed to his high home run total.
The good news is his control continued to move forward. The mechanics are smoother with better balance. He also is doing a better job in keeping his arm slot consistent.
Fantasy Impact: Reid-Foley poor showing in Double-A has hurt his prospect standing. I think this presents a buying opportunity for Dynasty League owners. I don’t think he’ll give up 1.5 home runs per nine from here on out and will either introduce a two-seamer or start to use his frame better. Overall the stuff is too good to give up on. I’m still buying with a mid-rotation starter upside.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
It’s been a tough road for Max Pentecost, the Blue Jay’s 2014 first round pick (11th overall). After a promising debut, he hurt his wrist and shoulder and did not play at all in 2015 and was limited to first and designated hitter in 2016. He did manage to catch 20 games before his season ended on August 7th last season. He did appear in the Arizona Fall League and looked healthy.
Through his injuries, Pentecost has never lost his ability to hit. In 171 minor league games, he’s slashed .276/.332/.434 with 19 home runs. He makes good contact, striking out 20% of the time while showing improved plate discipline.
Scouting Report: The Jays believe that Pentecost will hit at the highest level and are becoming more comfortable that he will be able to catch at least part-time. The upside is a .270 hitter with 18 to 22 home run pop. There could be more power in the tank but with his injury history, it’s been hard to get him enough at-bats to consistently see it.
Fantasy Impact: Pentecost is a buy-low candidate for me in a Dynasty League. Even if he doesn’t stay behind the plate, I think the bat is good enough to warrant regular at-bats at the highest level. He’s also athletic enough to play right-field and a combination of first, outfield, and catcher could be in the cards. The ceiling is a .270 hitter with 18 to 22 home runs.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
T.J. Zeuch has always intrigued me.
Drafted in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft as a 20-year-old college player, he stands 6-foot-7 but is not a power pitcher. I wouldn’t call him a command and control pitcher but he has excellent control of his entire arsenal. What intrigues me is that he’s very thin and that could foretell some physical maturity and with it, an extra tick or two on his fastball.
Zeuch was limited to only 65.2 innings last season due to a hamstring injury. Most of his innings were in High-A. In 58.2 innings he pitched to a 3.38 ERA striking out 46 and walking only 17. He did give up slightly more than a hit an inning.
He did add innings in the Arizona Fall League and that should be enough to allow Zeuch to start 2018 in Double-A.
Scouting Report: Zeuch has a nice four-pitch mix that begins with a fastball with plenty of downward plane. His GO/AO ratio was an impressive 4:1. His best secondary pitch is his slider that gets plenty of swings and misses. He does show a feel for a change-up. I don’t particularly care for his curveball.
Overall, it’s a nice package. He has size, throws hard enough (93 to 94 MPH), has good if not great secondary pitches, throws strikes and will induce a ton of ground balls. If you put it all together, it’s a recipe for a mid-rotation starter
Fantasy Impact: I would be adding Zeuch in Dynasty Leagues that roster 250 or less minor league players. The ceiling is a number three starter with seven to eight strikeouts per nine and good ratios.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with risk or Bullpen Arm
It was a disappointing season for Conner Greene as he continues to struggle to find the plate. The Blue Jays started him back in Double-A where he pitched to a 5.29 ERA, striking out only 6.3 batters per nine and walking a concerning 5.63 per nine. In fact, his control backed up from 2016 where he walked 4.3 per nine at the same level. Neither year was good, but clearly, he’s struggling to maintain his release point. Until he does, his ceiling is quickly becoming a bullpen arm.
Scouting Report: The reason Greene remains on this list and why I still like him as a prospect is he has a good arm. He can touch the upper nineties with his fastball and the pitch has a lot of movement as well. The problem is the aforementioned control problems as well as the lack of quality secondary pitches. His best secondary pitch is his slider and the night I saw him in 2016, it had really nice, hard break. When I saw him back in Trenton this year, it was inconsistent at best and was rarely thrown for strikes.
In seeing him now twice, it feels like he is overthrowing. I know it’s an overused phrase, but his arm action is so quick that I think this is leading him to not repeat his delivery. I’m assuming the Jays have tried to slow him down, but until he does, I don’t think he’ll be successful.
Fantasy Impact: It’s looking more and more like Greene will move to the bullpen. The stuff though is still very good and if he can learn to harness it, the upside is a number three starter. However, at the moment he’s likely a reliever.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Drafted in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Justin Maese was expected to take a step forward after pitching very well in Low-A in 2016. However, he got off to a tough start and was finally starting to put things together when he missed two months with a shoulder injury. He pitched poorly in his return and the Blue Jays shut him down in August.
Scouting Report: When healthy, Maese does have good stuff with a fastball that he can run up to the mid-90’s. It has nasty sink that induces a ton of ground balls. His best secondary pitch is his slider and when used effectively with his fastball can miss bats. That said, he’s more of a pitch to contact pitcher, relying on his sinker to get outs.
He’s got good size and despite being 24 next season, still, might have some physical projection remaining.
Fantasy Impact: I’ve always liked Maese but given his ineffective year and age, he’s a hold for me in Dynasty Leagues.
2018 Emerging Prospect
While a number of more famous Blue Jays pitching prospects struggled last season, lefty Ryan Borucki blew through three levels including a six-inning shutout in Triple-A to end the season. He’s more control and command over stuff but does have a fastball that will peak in the Low-90’s with a pretty good slider. He’s likely a number four starter in the long-run but is a guy that Dynasty League owners should begin to monitor.