Earlier this year, I complained about the scarcity of Blue Jays prospects doing well. Some members rightly pointed out that a lot of the promising prospects were still in extended spring training and therefore not playing. As of right now, those players are playing, and have done so for a few weeks. It's time to check up on them, with the focus on Bluefield, for that is where most of the promising players are playing.
Let's start with the hitters. D.J. Davis was last year's first-round pick, and is performing like one: .281/.371/.500. That's some special power for a player who is supposed to be valued for his amazing speed, though it helps that his three homers so far are joined by an astounding six in the triples column. Davis draws a good amount of walks, so his only weakness is making contact; 31 strikeouts in 29 games is a real concern. Hitters with this kind can fall off pretty dramatically as they are promoted through the system, like Marcus Knecht and Michael Crouse when they were promoted form Lansing to Dunedin. If it turns out Davis can make solid contact at higher levels as well, he could quickly propel himself to the top 50/top 25 prospects in all of baseball.
Mitch Nay doesn't have the strikeout concerns that D.J. Davis has; he has almost half the Ks. However, for a possible first baseman, Nay has lacked power with just six extra base hits. Two of those were home runs, so it's not like Nay is the next coming of Ben Revere, but the lack of doubles hurts his value. Overall, Nay's hitting .295/.368/.384, so the control of the strikezone is a huge positive, and it's not unreasonable to hope that the power is either a small sample issue or something that will come with time. Or, Nay could become the next Chris Hawkins: a contact hitter without the punch to hurt even low-A pitching. It's too early to tell, but he's looking better than Jacob Anderson (still on the DL) and Matt Dean (.255/.333/.343) from the previous year.
The third and last of the three prominent hitting prospects in Bluefield is shortstop Dawel Lugo. Like Nay, Lugo has little problems making contact, but unlike Nay, Lugo doesn't draw walks; he has just four so far, compared to fifteen for Davis and thirteen for Nay. Strangely, though, the shortstop has outhomered the rest of the Bluefield team with four home runs, two more than Nay. Of course, with a sample of just over 100 at bats, home run numbers aren't exactly reliable. Of note is that the native of the Dominican Republic is more than a year younger than Mitch Nay, and a few months younger than Davis. That, and the fact Lugo plays an important defensive position, make him the clear number two hitting prospect behind Davis and ahead of Nay.
As he's in the title of this article, you'll be expecting me to lead off with Jairo Labourt here. So I will. Jairo Labourt is a 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher signed out of the Dominican Republic. He's got 23 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings with just 6 walks, which is of course great. But even better is that Labourt complements the strikeouts and lack of walks with a terrific groundball-rate of 64%. The one other Jays prospect I can think of who combines strikeouts with groundballs like that is Aaron Sanchez, but Sanchez had command problems when he was in Bluefield, and Labourt doesn't. That's not to say that Labourt's stuff is as good as Sanchez's, but it's unlikely that his stuff is bad.
Then there's Chase DeJong, a second round pick from last year's draft. DeJong's got 27 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings with just 4 walks, so his command is even better than Labourt. However, DeJong's not a true groundballer (so far), and quite a lot balls hit in play against him have gone for hits. Now, we know that BABIP for pitchers is rarely predictive at the major league level, but at the minor league level it might be more of a worry. Except that, you know, shaky defense happens a lot at these low levels, and the sample size is small. We'll likely find out at the higher levels if DeJong's purely a command guy or if he's got the "stuff" to make it to the big leagues.
Young Alberto Tirado is known for his fastball velocity, but his numbers have taken a bit of a hit now that he's no longer in the Gulf Coast League. With a K% below 20, and a normal batted ball distribution, Tirado's statistics don't impress as much as his fellow Bluefielders. But he might have more potential. Another prospect who doesn't K a lot, but seems to be improving in that regard, is Canadian Tom Robson. Usually, I would be slightly disappointed in a prospect who strikes out only 18 batters in 26 innings, but Robson currently has an out-of-this-world groundball percentage: 72%! It's unlikely he'll keep that up, mostly because that kind of a number is just unheard of.
Among the hitters, only Derrick Loveless seems to be worthy of an honorable mention. His line sits at .256/.370/.444, with a sharp split between the nine games Bluefield played in June and the twenty they've played in July, as he's only hit .203/.333/.288 in the current month. Among the pitchers, Adonys Cardona is not yet a lost cause, despite being in Rookie-ball for the third straight year and having a 6.11 ERA. Cardona's strikeouts are still there, coupled with a good groundball-rate. His problems are command and an unsustainable (even at minor league level) .483 BABIP against. A better performer, but less heralded prospect is Shane Dawson, another Canadian. The 6-foot-1 lefty has 35 Ks in 27 1/3 innings, with a decent number of groundballs (nothing exciting, but also certainly not something to worry about). If word gets out about Labourt's effectiveness, Dawson would probably become my new favourite sleeper.
Overall, this crop of Bluefield prospects is exciting, but as always, players this far removed from the majors have a long way to go and are far from a sure thing to perform at higher levels. But for now, we can dream.