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2017 Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospects: 31-35

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Two Canadian pitchers, two Dominican position players, and a Puerto Rican fill up slots 31 to 35 as we continue counting down BBB's Top 40 prospects.

35. Jordan Romano, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 4/21/1993), last year: unranked

Romano, a native of Markham, was selected in the 10th round of the 2014 draft as a junior out of Oral Roberts. Time was, being a 10th round pick was quite significant, but under the current draft rules in recent years many picks are primarily about saving slot dollars to use elsewhere. So when Romano signed for a reported $25,000 (18% of slot), there was reason to think this was a main reason, especially considering he was worked out of the bullpen in his only season in D1 after transferring from junior college.

He had a decent pro debut for Bluefield, but then required Tommy John surgery in early 2015 and missed the season. Assigned to Lansing on June 13th for a doubleheader against Great Lakes, he made his presence known in the big way with complete game two hitter over 7 innings, striking out 7. It proved to be no fluke, as he finished with a 2.11 ERA in 72.1 innings, 72 strikeouts against 27 walks. Romano excelled at missing bats, with a 75% contract rate, and he had a moderate fly ball profile (39% ground ball rate).

Velocity-wise, his fastball seemed to fluctuate a fair bit, which is not unexpected coming back from Tommy John. Typically in the low-90s, some starts Romano was more in the high-80s on stadium guns, but sometimes touched 94-95 and as high as 97 (usually earlier in games). His primary offspeed is a slider, the change-up seeming to be more of a show me pitch. All told, this likely portends a future in the bullpen, though it makes sense to develop him as a starter for as long as he handles it.

34. Shane Dawson, LHP, age 23 (DOB: 9/9/1993), last year: 29th

Let's start with the good: Dawson was promoted aggressively in 2016, spending the entire season in AA and essentially bypassing high-A after five just five starts at the tail end of 2015. At age 22 for the entire season, he was relatively young for the level, and stayed healthy for the entire season.

The bad: Though he managed a 10-4 record, his 4.22 ERA ranked an underwhelming 19th of 32 qualified starters. More significant was the collapse in peripherals. After striking out 120 against 32 walks in 127.2 innings in 2015 and posting stellar K/BB rates in previous years, Dawson walked 72 against just 95 strikeouts in 134.1 innings.

The cause for this was an inability to get ahead of batters (44%, average about 50%) and consistently throw strikes as he had done at lower levels. He couldn't make up for for that by missing bats (83% contact rate, about 4% worse than average). He profiles as a fly ball pitcher (34% ground ball rate), though did a reasonable job managing contact (13% popout rate).

With a fastball that tops out around 90 MPH on a good day, but is usually in the mid/high 80s, Dawson doesn't have a whole lot of margin or error. He changes speeds well, but lacks a true secondary weapon, so relies on being a crafty lefty. The question is whether he can make adjustments in 2017 to get back to his lower level success, or if better hitters eat him up when he has to come into the zone.

33. Juan Kelly, 1B/3B, age 22 (DOB: 7/16/1994), last year: unranked

Juan Kelly was signed five years ago as a 17-year old out of the Dominican, ascending slowly level to level until finally hitting full season ball at the end of 2015 and being assigned to Lansing for 2016. Kelly posted a .275/.356/.448 batting line in 548 PA, which in the pitcher friendly Midwest League was good for a 136 wRC+. His power output was particularly impressive, with 53 extra base hits. Beyond that, he had solid plate discipline metrics, walking roughly 10% while striking out about 20%.

Positionally, it will be interesting to see what his future holds. Most of his games have been played at first base, however in 2016 Kelly played some third base and at the very least was not a complete disaster (though his .955 fielding percentage leaves something to be desired. He's also played some catcher in the past. If indeed his defensive future relegates him to the far end of the spectrum, there's going to be a lot of pressure on his bat. Do the Jays see if he can stick elsewhere, but at the risk of impeding the development of his bat?

32. Jose Espada, age 20 for 2017 (DOB: 2/22/1997), last year: 22nd

Espada was drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, something of an off the board pick out of high school in Puerto Rico. His pro debut in the GCL was promising, with a solid 3.42 ERA and 8 walks against 31 strikeouts in 34.1 innings (with the caveat that these numbers don't mean a whole lot).

That earned Espada an assignment to Bluefield for 2016, and the results were rougher as he posted a 4.92 ERA with just 32 strikeouts in 53 innings. He did throw strikes, but struggled to miss bats especially in the second half of the season. His fastball seemed to have backed up some, as he worked mostly in the high-80s though sometimes in the low-90s.

One thing to keep in mind with Espada is that he was drafted under the previous regime and was more typical of their drafting/development strategy than that of the new regime. While they're not going to throw away talent, the fact is they don't have the same "investment" as the folks who made the decision to select him. Whether he goes to Lansing or is held back for short season could be a good indicator of where he stands in the organization now.

31. Emilio Guerrero, IF/OF, age 24 (DOB: 8/21/1992), last year: unranked

Guerrero has had an interesting trajectory through the Blue Jays system since signing in May 2011 just shy of turning 19. In 2013 he received a surprising assignment to full season ball, turning in a nice season for Lansing, moving up to Dunedin in 2014 and then splitting the last two years between Dunedin and New Hampshire. After his bat had stagnated in 2014-15, he posted an impressive .283/.335/.502 line with 39 extra base hits in just under 350 PA to vault back into the rankings.

Defensively, Guerrero has played mostly at shortstop and third base, with some time in the outfield, projecting as a utility infielder. A significant issue has been staying healthy, as repeated trips to the disabled list have restricted his development so he's never had more than 424 PA in a season. 2017 will be a critical season for Guerrero, as to whether he can replicate the breakout with the bat as he turns 25 later this year.