Drumroll please! We have finally arrived at our top prospects after a month of counting down. It's the crème de la crème of the system AKA all the good players who weren't traded away. While last year we had Major League-ready players all over this section of the list, this season we have likely no players in the Top 5 who will see significant time in Toronto in 2016. The prospect cellar is pretty bare but hasn't that horse been well-beaten to death by now? Did you know the Jays have a significantly weaker system this season compared to last? I would have never known, it hardly ever gets talked about.
5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., age 16 (DOB: March 16, 1999). Position up for debate, Last Year: Unsigned (maybe still in diapers)
Vlad the Younger cracks the Top 5 just half a year after being signed by the Blue Jays for $3.9 million as a 16-year-old. The 6'1" 210 lb. righty hitter was born in 1999(!) and is far, far, far away from reaching the Major Leagues. Toronto was apparently enamoured with the young Dominican leading up to the day they signed him, surprising very few people when they finally made it official. The penalties they incurred to nab Guerrero give you a sense of how all-in they went when they decided to sign him.
Vlad Sr. he is not though, as the teenager lacks the true five tools that his father possessed. The skill that did directly transfer on to the next generation was an extraordinary ability at the plate.
Guerrero has terrific bat speed, unleashing a quick, compact swing with hitting mannerisms reminiscent of his father. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and bat control, which allows him to make frequent contact. Guerrero has good plate coverage, with the ability to square up premium velocity and breaking balls. Some scouts thought Guerrero could get out of control at times, but most thought his hitting approach was advanced for a 16-year-old. Guerrero’s strength, bat speed and weight transfer produce flashes of plus raw power, striking the ball with as much consistent hard contact as any player in the class.
Now to the downside. Guerrero is not a great athlete in the true sense of the word. He's a big guy who doesn't have much speed or a very impressive arm. It's ironic that Guerrero is just in front of Rowdy Tellez on this list as they face a similar problem. Their bats need to carry them to the majors as their defence certainly won't. It's thought that Vlad Jr. will play a corner outfield spot at a passable skill level, which is good enough for the Jays considering his offensive ability.
He's been quoted as saying he wants to reach the Majors in two years...but na, probably not. Most likely he begins a slow climb through the minor league system in 2016 that culminates in a best-case ETA of 2019-2020.
4. Sean Reid-Foley, age 20 (DOB: August 30, 1995). RHP, Last Year: 14
A big riser on the list thanks to the clearing out of the system combined with some good performances against competition much older than himself. Reid-Foley, drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft, was promoted aggressively to Lansing to start his first season of pro ball and looked pretty sharp. In 17 starts with the Lugnuts, the righty had a K-rate of 30.7% and an ERA of 3.69. The only downside is that his control continued to be missing in action as Reid-Foley walked 14.7% of batters. For a 19-year-old pitching in A-ball though, some free pass issues aren't the rarest thing in the world.
In the middle of the summer they promoted Reid-Foley even further to High-A Dunedin which is as aggressive as it gets for the Blue Jays organization when handling teenage pitchers. Unfortunately he got a bit torn up in the FSL, although it was just eight starts that he made. His swing-and-miss stuff remained strong as he struck out 23.7% of hitters, but he also walked 16.2%. The command was all over the place, as it was in Lansing.
His fastball was reported to be quite strong, although scouts had issues with his secondary pitches as well as his mechanics. The risk is pretty high with Reid-Foley, as it is with every prep arm taken high in the draft, although the upside is also way up there. This season will see the righty spend most of his time in Dunedin, with a chance he gets to New Hampshire before the year is through.
You can see in the video below both the good and the bad with Sean:
3. Richard Urena, age 19 (DOB: February 26, 1996). SS, Last Year: 12
Another young guy who saw his stock rise this year is shortstop Richard Urena. In 2015 he was sent straight to Lansing as a 19-year-old, just like Reid-Foley, and held his own pretty well. In 91 games he slashed .266/.289/.438 along with 15 home runs. 15 home runs! The switch-hitter was always expected to have some power, but the 6'1" 170 lbs. Dominican burst out in a big way. His defence is still considered strong so the hope is that he'll be able to remain at short going forward. He certainly won't be blocked by anyone as he moves up the ladder.
Just as Reid-Foley was promoted to Dunedin mid-summer, as was Urena. In 30 games to close out the year he hit .250./268/.315 with a single homer. The numbers don't blow you away, but when you consider that he was a 19-year-old shortstop facing pitchers consistently older than him, it bodes well for the future. The Dominican will get to spend some time in big league camp next month and then likely begin the year in the FSL where he will see the majority of his at-bats in 2016.
2. Conner Greene, age 20 (DOB: April 4, 1995). RHP, Last Year: MjwW's Just Missed List
Another young projectable guy is Conner Greene. The righty pitcher was taken in the 7th round of the 2013 draft and had two unspectacular years to open his pro ball career. In 2015 though, Greene was able to fine-tune his control which propelled him way up our prospect list. Greene, just like Reid-Foley and Urena, started the year in Lansing and pitched pretty strongly. In 14 starts he had an ERA of 3.88, which got him the promotion to Dunedin where he made seven additional starts to the tune of a 2.48 ERA. The Jays decided to push their luck and send him one more level up to New Hampshire where it started to come off the rails a bit.
At #2 on a prospect list you expect to see a possible ace, but with Greene you're getting the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter if the best case scenario occurred. The lanky righty has a good fastball that produced a lot of swings and misses at the lower levels of the minors, but it could be tougher sledding as he advances. Look for Greene to spend most of the year at Double-A in 2016, although he did get an invite to big league camp.
1. Anthony Alford, age 21 (DOB: July 20, 1994). CF, Last Year: 24
When you have a massive question mark of a prospect at the top spot, the outlook of your system could be a little bleak. Thankfully for Jays fans though, this question mark has a massive amount of upside. The story of Alford has been oft-told, but a quick recap is that the Mississippi native was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft despite being one of the top talents in the entire class. Reason being that he was committed to play college football as a quarterback and was more interested in trying to make it in that sport. Blah blah blah, skip some arrests and poor performances on the football field and you end up with an Anthony Alford who is ready to make it in the baseball world.
The outfielder also started in Lansing last year and really tore the cover off the ball. In 50 games he slashed .293/.418/.394 despite hitting just a single home run. In the summer he was sent to Dunedin (along with the previous three guys on this list) where he continued to prove that switching to baseball was the right choice. He hit .302/.380/.444 with three home runs and 15 stolen bases displaying solid gap power.
Alford's speed and defence are spoken of highly, meaning the main thing that could hold him back from a major league career is himself. He seems to have put his troubled past behind him, getting married sometimes does that, so we can only hope that the future is nothing but bright for the righty hitter. He'll get to show his stuff with the big league team in spring training this year and has a shot at making it up to Toronto by September this season.