Continuing with the Bluebird Banter list of the Top 40 Blue Jays prospects we have 20-16. Below are links for the rest of the countdown.
20. Glenn Sparkman, age 24 (DOB: May 11, 1992), RHP, Last year: Not in system
Taken in this year’s Rule 5 draft, Glenn Sparkman is looking to become the next Joe Biagini in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Originally drafted in the 20th round by the Kansas City Royals in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, Sparkman reportedly stood out to Blue Jays scouts and the front office as a potential reliever that could make an immediate impact in Toronto this season.
Sparkman underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 but returned to action in 2016, hurling 16 starts across four minor league levels. In that time frame he managed to maintain a meagre 5.22 ERA but struck out 65 batters in 60.1 innings while walking just 10. Herein lies the upside to Mr. Sparkman’s game—his swing-and-miss potential fused with his polished command.
Working with a fastball that hovers in the mid 90s—with the ability to touch 95 mph—Sparkman is able to keep hitters off his slider and changeup which are both said to be plus pitches for the young right-hander. His strikeout to walk ratio across all four levels last season sat at a laudable 6.5, so if he’s able to hone in on that command at the major league level, the Jays could really have something here.
For those skeptical of his high ERA last season, there is the fact that only at one level in Single-A+ (his shortest stint of the season) did he post a BABIP below .300, meaning that hitters likely were receiving a bit of the benefit of the doubt over the long run.
Unlike other prospects within the Jays system though, Sparkman has to make his impact felt immediately. As a Rule 5 pick, if he’s not added to the Jays 25-man roster for the duration of the season, the club will have the option of either sending him back to Kansas City or working out a trade with his former club to keep him in the Jays farm system.
As 2016 demonstrated with the addition of Biagini, there is fruit to bear from the tree of the Rule 5 draft system. Spring 2017 will demonstrate if the front office is able to pick from that tree once more.
19. Francisco Rios, age 21 (DOB May 6, 1995), RHP, Last year: 27
At just 21-years-old, Francisco Rios is starting to make a name for himself in the Toronto Blue Jays system as a stable right-handed pitching prospect.
Signed in 2012 as an international free agent, Rios spent time pitching in the Dominican Summer League before making his debut in the Vancouver Canadians rotation in 2015, going from an unranked prospect in our rankings to 27th in one year.
Rios started the 2016 season in Single-A Lansing, getting six starts producing a 1.20 ERA before earning the promotion to Dunedin where he remained for the duration of the season. He ended up making 15 starts in High-A Dunedin to the tune of a 3.47 ERA, totalling 120.2 innings pitched over the course of the season.
Rios gets by as a pitcher who has a stable and projectable high floor but low ceiling, throwing a fastball that sits in the mid-90s that has good run and downward plane to go with a slurvy breaking ball as a secondary offering. His K/9 of 6.45 in Dunedin last year manifests a pitcher who’s more likely to miss barrels than miss bats—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—that has led many scouts and pundits across the Blue Jays and baseball community to assert that his future may well depend on his ability to become a reliever rather than the starting pitcher he’s performed as thus far.
Look for Rios to get another chance at Dunedin to start the season with the possibility of a promotion later on to Double-A New Hampshire. At 21 and with little experience in professional baseball, it’s unlikely the Jays front office is willing to put the reliever tag on him this early, but without further development the organization may have no other choice as the clock on his peak years becomes closer.
18. J.B Woodman, age 22 (DOB December 13, 1994), OF, Last year: not in system
With 2016 representing the first year the Ross Atkins/Mark Shapiro administration had at imprinting their stamp on the Jays draft history, the team went an alternative route to former GM Alex Anthopoulos. Where Anthopoulos was often labelled as the man who flooded the Jays early-round draft boards with pitchers, the new front office took it upon themselves to take college level positional players with the team’s early picks.
J.B Woodman is just one of them, selected with the team’s 57th pick in the compensation round for not signing Brady Singer in 2015. Ranked 83rd by MLB.com and in the 100s by Perfect Game and Baseball America, many (including myself) were puzzled at the Jays’ interest in Woodman to select him as high as they did.
A centre-fielder and right-fielder at heart, blessed with above average speed, a strong arm and power bat, Woodman can be a bit of an enigma depending on what scouting report you read, and which year you decide to base your analysis off for him.
In 2015, playing in the highly regarded Cape Cod League, Woodman struggled hitting .242/.292/.344 but dazzled in his final year at the University of Mississippi hitting .323/.412/.578 with 14 home runs.
His first season in the Jays organization proved that Woodman may be a shade closer to his collegiate numbers than the struggling performance he produced in the Cape Cod League. Spending most of 2016 in Vancouver, Woodman hit .272/.375/.421 before earning a taste in Lansing where he excelled in nine games hitting .441/.487/.588.
Manifesting a quiet stance at the plate with above-average power, Woodman has the tools to take the next step with a full season in Lansing in 2017 with the off-chance of a promotion to Dunedin in order if he can replicate 2016 and cut down on his K rate of 30+ per cent. Although draft experts such as Keith Law weren’t high on the young left-handed hitter before, numbers like these won’t be able to be ignored for long as he continues to mature in the Jays’ farm system.
17. Joshua Palacios, age 21 (DOB July 30, 1995), OF, Last year: not in system
Continuing the flood of early round collegiate positional prospects, the Jays selected Joshua Palacios in the 4th round of last year’s Amateur Draft. Ranked in the high 100s or early 200s by most draft boards and public scouts, the Jays once again selected an outfielder earlier than was expected.
Unlike Woodman though, Palacios’s low pre-draft ranking may have more to do with unfortunate circumstances than poor performance. Palacios started out the 2016 season in Auburn, hitting .385/.463/.608 against the weaker competition to start the collegiate season but lost the rest of the season due to an injured wrist, preventing him from competing against some of the top pitchers in the league and thus robbing scouts the chance to see Palacios perform against some of the league’s premier arms.
That didn’t stop the Jays from drafting him though, quickly sending him to the Gulf Coast League for 53 plate appearances hitting .265/.321/.327 before advancing to Vancouver where he spent the bulk of his season hitting .355/.437/.473. His impressive play earned him a cup off coffee with the Lugnuts where he produced a similar line to Vancouver over just 40 plate appearances, totalling a 2016 line across three levels of .330/.397/.426.
Interestingly, Palacios spent the entire season without hitting a home run and was often relied upon in Vancouver as the team’s lead off hitter. Pre-draft reports projected him to become a fourth outfielder and with the lack of true power, it’s possible that’s all he becomes once his .419 BABIP from Lansing levels out over a full season.
That said, there is reason to be hopeful for Palacios in the future. With a full season ahead of him in Lansing this year, he will once again have the chance to show evaluators just how wrong they really are.
16. Ryan Borucki, age 22 (DOB March 31, 1994), LHP, Last year: 15
After being drafted in the 15th round in 2012, it’s hard to believe that 2016 was the first full season for Borucki in the Blue Jays’ farm system.
Borucki started his career in the Jays’ organization on the disabled list after undergoing Tommy John Surgery which cost him his 2013 season and part of his 2014 season before falling victim to the injury bug once more in 2015 with elbow and shoulder problems throughout the year.
That said, you only need two working eyes and a basic understanding in baseball to realize why Borucki has hung around in the teens of the Jays’ top prospects every year. First, he’s left-handed. Second, he’s 6’ 4”. While that bio detail doesn’t guarantee success as a professional baseball pitcher, it’s certainly a good foundation.
In 2016 though, Borucki provided reason for why he should remain in the Jays’ top 20 prospects. Despite starting horribly in Dunedin—an assignment he arguably wasn’t ready for given that he had yet to pitch in Single-A baseball yet—Borucki found himself once demoted to the Lansing Lugnuts. Hurling 20 starts over the season, (115.2 IP), Borucki produced some note-worthy results with a 2.80 ERA nearly masked by an even more impressive 4.12 K/W ratio over that time.
Borucki uses his left-handedness to his advantage, pounding his fastball (92-96 mph) throughout the strikezone to go with a changeup and curveball that could develop into out pitches as he continues to develop and learn more about pitch sequencing.
After spending a good portion working on the mental side of his game, which includes more adaptable pitch sequencing, Borucki has likely earned himself another chance at cracking it in Dunedin with the outside possibility of getting a cup of coffee in a Fischer Cats uniform this season. If he can prove that the injury bug is a thing of the past for him, Borucki may see himself slotted within the top 10 a year from now and on the cusp of making his way into a major league uniform.