There's nothing better than inhaling that fresh spring(ish) air on a 14°C February 3rd evening as I write this post dreaming of the massive amount of baseball soon to come. Nothing gets a fan (or writer) out of hibernation better than the annual Bluebird Banter Top 40 prospect list, although this year when I saw the list I wanted to head right back into my winter slumber like some of the groundhogs did on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, as you know, most of the Blue Jays minor league system was stripped dry last year due to graduations and to a greater extent, trades. A farm that would have ranked in the top 10 in baseball instead ranks somewhere in the latter half of the league. But flags fly forever and we've got a nice AL East pennant hanging from the Rogers Centre rafters that will have to do for now.
Without further ado it's time to crack into the 31-35 range of the list after Tom so eloquently covered 36-40 earlier in the week. These five guys are basically as un-sexy as the previous five prospects, but they have some upside hidden in their inconsistent minor league stat lines.
35. Danny Jansen, C, age 20 (DOB: April 15, 1995), Last year: #26
What does it take to fall nearly 10 spots in a minor league system where half the top prospects were traded out of the organization? Hit .206 in A-ball is your answer. Jansen was our sleeper pick at #26 last year, with many expecting him to break out in Lansing and show that he deserved much more hype, especially as a guy who has a chance to remain behind the plate going forward. But 53 games in 2015, mainly played in Lansing, saw Jansen struggle to hit very much which was enough for him to drop on our list.
He apparently was solid behind the plate and worked well with the pitching staff so the hitting isn't as big of a concern as it could be, but he's still in the "wait and see" territory. He is fully aware of how important the defensive side of his game will be going forward:
Being able to block the baseballs in the dirt is my best attribute as a catcher. It’s great; because I can call any pitch I want and know I can block it. I’m still learning how to call a game as I’m still a little young in that area. But my skipper Ken Huckaby is helping me there. The best parts of my defensive game are the physical sides of catching. Blocking, catching, and throwing are where I excel the most behind the plate.
Jansen was hurt for a big chunk of the year, so 2016 will be the season that he is really expected to make major strides as a 21-year-old. Not many catchers are blocking him in the system so the world is his oyster...let's see what Danny Jansen can do with the opportunity.
34. Reggie Pruitt, CF, age 18 (DOB: May 7, 1997), Last year: In High School
Reggie Pruitt AKA Lottery Ticket was drafted this past season out of high school in Georgia and the Jays were able to get him away from his commitment to Vanderbilt with a $500K signing bonus. The 6'0" outfielder was highly regarded prior to the draft but slid due to his 'hard' commitment to Vandy, which apparently wasn't that hard. Pruitt will probably always be linked to D.J. Davis as they're pretty similar players from southern USA with a lot of tools and upside, but very, very raw at the plate presenting a pretty high bust probability. When Reggie was drafted we all thought he was going to school thanks to tweets like this:
Gods plan is so wonderful and I am so blessed I'll be taking on the next chapter of my baseball career at Vanderbilt University #GoDores— Reggie Pruitt (@rjpruitt08) June 10, 2015
But it turned out he wanted to get started with his professional baseball career, and get started he did. He played 36 games with the GCL Jays and hit .223/.309/.289 with 15 stolen bases. Not great, but a toolsy high schooler with a raw bat is always going to put up a line like that in his draft year.
Some extended spring training and Bluefield will likely be the destinations for the right-handed hitter in 2016, with a chance to show that his defence and speed will be more than enough to make up for his lack of a huge bat. Watch for Pruitt to be a potential riser in next year's list if he so much as sniffs a .300 OBP.
33. Tim Mayza, LHP, age 24 (DOB: January 15, 1992), Last year: Unranked
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Tim Mayza. The 24-year-old was drafted in 2013 out of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and was terrible for his first two seasons in pro ball. In 2015 as a 23-year-old he was sent to Lansing as a make or break guy in terms of prospect status. Remarkably, Mayza buckled down and chose the former. In 26 games, all in relief, Mayza pumped up his K/9 to 10.0 and brought down his walks slightly to a (still bad) 4.4 BB/9.
His 3.07 ERA in 2015 is miles better than anything he had put up since being drafted, making 2016 the year he has to go out and repeat it. He's got some momentum heading into the upcoming campaign as he finished last year very strong and looked to get a handle on his control problems as the season wound to a close. As a 24-year-old reliever, Dunedin is his likely destination and you just hope that he continues to show his fine form in the FSL to earn himself a quick promotion.
As a lefty who strikes guys out, he's certainly going to get every chance there is to succeed:
32. Brady Dragmire, RHP, age 22 (DOB: February 5, 1993), Last year: Unranked
Brady Dragmire was drafted in the 17th round of the 2011 draft and has been consistently strong since then out of the bullpen. The righty has a good sinker and profiles as a potential major league reliever if he is able to climb through the minors in the next few years. As you'll recall, this offseason he was added to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 draft so he obviously must be thought of highly in the organization. He spent last season in Dunedin where he had an up and down year, ending with a 6.11 ERA in 63.1 innings overall. That doesn't tell the whole story though, as Dragmire was great down the stretch in Florida and really went into the offseason on a high. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League where he was even better (1.64 ERA), so you hope he continues to make strides in 2016.
Dragmire will likely head to New Hampshire this season to try and prove he's worthy of a 40-man spot, so he's definitely a name to keep an eye on. Of the players in this area of the list, the righty is probably the one with the biggest chance to carve out a solid major league career as a reliever.
You can check out his low 90's fastball and nice slider in the video below:
31. Jorge Flores, IF, age 24 (DOB: November 25, 1991), Last year: My just missed list
The 5'5" Mexican infielder was drafted in the 19th round of the 2012 draft and has slowly come on as a prospect. As I said in my Just Missed post last year, he only really turned it on in 2014 when splitting time between Dunedin and New Hampshire. Then 2015 saw him play 123 games all with Double-A New Hampshire and he didn't disappoint, slashing .276/.360/.347 while bringing his walk rate up to a more respectable 10.2%. The wee lad will never hit for power and seems to profile as a prototypical small infielder who will get on base and be a solid contributor at the bottom of the lineup (dare I say scrappy?).
The right-handed hitting infielder plays in the Mexican Winter League nearly every offseason as well, giving him some extra competition against older guys. He spent most of his time at shortstop in New Hampshire, so there's a chance he sticks at the position going forward but it's more likely he shifts over to second base. Flores should make his way up to Buffalo this season and potentially crack the big league team as a September call-up if he continues playing as well as he has the last two seasons.