For all previous (and future) entries in the Top 40 prospect series, see the 2017 Top 40 Prospect Index.
We had a tie vote for the top spot.
3. Sean Reid-Foley, age 21 (DOB August 30th, 1995), RHP, last year: #4
It’s been a while since Sean Reid-Foley began unknowingly auditioning for the role of Nuke LaLoosh in the inevitable remake of the great “Bull Durham,” but here he is today; a top three prospect with the chance to be a top arm on the Blue Jays in the not too distant future.
Drafted in the second round of the 2014 MLB first-year player draft, Reid-Foley has always been known for his swing-and-miss potential but with that came a lack of command that also saw him providing free passes at a far too frequent rate. Even if you thought his BB/9 ratio of 4.0 in 2014 was a fluke, his 2015 season provided only more worries to the Blue Jays and its fans as it increased to 6.3 BB/9 when given the chance to pitch in Lansing (A) and Dunedin (A+) over the course of the season.
2016 represented a turning of the corner for the tattooed man (he has 26 tattoos actually) as he saw basically every quantifiable measure move in the positive direction during his time in Lansing and Dunedin. Starting in Lansing, Reid-Foley was asked to work on finding a more repeatable delivery that would allow him to throw more first pitch strikes with fewer pitches per inning, which would inherently allow him to pitch deeper into ball games. He did just that as he nearly cut his walk rate in half from the season before (6.3 in 2015 to 3.4 in Lansing) before earning the promotion to Dunedin once again.
There he took his progress a step further, recording a 2.67 ERA with a K/9 of 11.1 and a BB/9 of 2.5—easily his best showing of any level across his brief minor league career.
Most of his 2016 success can be attributed to several mechanical adjustments that have allowed his delivery to become more repeatable, as the minor league coaching staff has instructed, but has come at some cost in terms of his velocity on his four-seam fastball. He still throws his fastball comfortably in the 92-94 mph range, with the ability to touch 97 mph, so the drop in velocity should be considered as more of a move in the maturation phase than a decline in arm health or overall progression.
With secondary offerings like his slider and curveball (both considered plus pitches) and a changeup that he’s still fine tuning, Reid-Foley has all the weapons needed to become a front of the rotation type starter (Keith Law has him projected to be a number 2).
That said, these are merely projections. Sean will likely have to demonstrate in Dunedin that he can continue to repeat his delivery before earning the chance to do the same in New Hampshire with the outside possibility of a promotion to Toronto in the fall. Who knows, with a good year, and several Blue Jays arms leaving the rotation in 2018, Reid-Foley just may be here sooner than you think.
1-tie. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., age 17 (DOB March 16, 1999), 3B (?), Last year: 5
We had a tie for the top spot this year.
Vladdy Jr., is the type of prospect you dream about when thinking of a way to get a top prospect without tanking to do so. His raw power, massive physique, baseball background and hand-eye coordination are all attributes you write up on the white board while brainstorming around the question, “what we need in tomorrow’s future?”
At 17 years old, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., heir of the great Vladimir Guererro Sr. who tore up the major leagues in the 1990s and 2000s, is the future. With the raw upside of an MVP caliber player, Guerrero has been a name on the minds of many Blue Jays fans since the Alex Anthopoulos administration inked him to an international contract two years ago.
In fact many prospect lists have him slated as the number one in the system including that of Baseball America and Keith Law who ranks him 48th in his top 100 prospects for 2017.
In 2016, Guerrero Jr., earned his first chance to perform in professional baseball at the ripe age of 17 and did everything he could to live up to his name. In 62 games with the Bluefield Blue Jays, Guerrero hit an impressive .271/.359/.449 with eight home runs, 46 RBI, and a surprising 15 stolen bases. What impresses many who come across this stat-line, dovetailed with a picture of the 6’1” 200 pounder is that he’s labelled as an average to slightly above average baserunner with average speed. That’s not to say he’s going to be relied upon to steal 15 bags in a major league uniform someday, but it is nice to say that he at least won’t be a liability on the base paths if that day ever comes to pass.
One of the knocks on Mr. Guerrero’s game prior to being signed, and even when he first became a Blue Jay, was that there was uncertainty as to where he would fit in on the field. Some thought he didn’t have the speed and foot work required to stay at the hot corner, which could have relegated him to left-field duty or as a first base, DH type of role. In 2016 though, Guerrero seemed to prove the doubters wrong, manifesting an above-average arm from third base with a good feel for the position that could only improve while being given more time in the Blue Jays’ system.
The big thing with Guerrero though is that he is just 17 years old. While many Jays’ fans are salivating over what could be with the youngster, there is still a lot of room and time to grow before he buttons up a Blue Jays uniform and fits into the role that the club and the fans see for him. Baseball America projects him to arrive at the age of 20 in 2019, but even Law gives Guerrero the off-chance of touching down sooner than that.
“The sky is the limit for the young Vladimir, and if he doesn’t outgrow the hot corner, the Jays might have a 30-homer bat who gets on base to take over when Josh Donaldson leaves.”
1-tie. Anthony Alford, age 22 (DOB: July 20, 1994), CF, Last year: 1
Anthony Alford probably wants to a redo on the year 2016. After dealing with a nagging knee injury and concussion for parts of the season, Alford ended the year by dealing with the loss of his family’s home in Mississippi. But with a flip of the calendar and the help of teammates and friends to repair his family’s home, Alford is back to baseball and stepping into what will be an important year for his career.
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft largely because of his focus on becoming a football player, Alford hadn’t played a full season of professional baseball until 2015 where he started with the Lansing Lugnuts before ending the season with the Dunedin Blue Jays. Over that time, he stroked an impressive .298/.398/.421 slash line with four home runs.
Hoping to take another step forward in 2016, Alford started the year on the disabled list for more than a month after injuring himself sliding into home plate in Dunedin’s first game of the season before being sidelined in June with a concussion sustained from a collision with other top prospect and teammate Richard Urena.
Although Alford eventually returned to the Jays’ lineup, he wasn’t able to surmount a 2015-like year as he finished 2016 with a line of .236/.344/.378. Despite the struggles, Alford caught the attention of many in the famous Arizona Fall League while playing with the Mesa Solar Sox, hitting .253/.349/.440 with three long balls, proving that 2017 may be the year he takes his next step forward.
If healthy, look for Alford to start the season in Double-A New Hampshire with the possibility of earning a promotion to Triple-A or the big leagues depending on his development and the state of the Jays’ outfield depth. At 22 years old, Alford fits in perfectly with the age timeline of a Double-A prospect but is somewhat ahead of his timeline given that this will be only his third full season of playing professional baseball. If things don’t come together for Alford in 2017, there’s still time before this flower comes to bloom.