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2017 Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospects: 10-12

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The top two signed 2015 draftees and a new addition to the system land on the next part of the 2017 Top 40.

For all previous (and future) entries in the Top 40 prospect series, see the 2017 Top 40 Prospect Index.

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12. Harold Ramirez, OF, age 22 (DOB: 9/6/1994), last year: in Pittsburgh's system

Ramirez slots in one spot ahead of the other prospect acquired from Pittsburgh in last summer's Liriano deal. He had one heck of a debut with New Hampshire, going 3/4 with a double and walk before immediately hitting the DL for the rest of the season. Signed out of Colombia for $1-million in 2011, his progress through the minors has been solid if unspectacular: GCL in 2012, short season in 2013, low-A in 2014, high-A in 2015, AA in 2016.

His calling card is his ability to hit for average, as he's hit above .300 at every full season level. This has been accomplished by limiting strikeouts (14-16%) and putting the ball in play, with a ground ball skew. He doesn't draw many walks, so his on-base ability will be driven by his batting average. Conversely, he hasn't hit for much power, and does not project to do so. Steamer projects he would hit .272/.314/.375 (87 wRC+) in the majors in 2017, which looks about right to me.

Defensively, he's come up playing CF including in 2016; however, his future is likely in a corner. While he has some speed, he's not a real burner and his arm isn't great. The overall profile reminds me of Shannon Stewart, though a poor man's version as he lacks the impact speed and stronger plate discipline metrics. Another concern is his ability to stay healthy and on the field, as he hasn't reached 400 PA in any of the last three years.

The big risk, beyond the general risks of prospects failing, is that Ramirez ends up as a "tweener": that he won't hit well enough to be an everyday regular in an outfield corner, without the defensive ability to handle CF where his bat would better profile. But considering how he was acquired, the Jays are basically playing with house money to begin with when comes to Ramirez.

11. Justin Maese, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 10/24/1996), last year: 9

Force your way to low-A the year after being drafted out of high school, more than hold your own yet drop two spots? Go figure. Full disclosure: I'm very bullish on Maese, he's 5th on my list, so what follows may be biased to the upside.

Maese was signed for $300,000 as a third round pick in 2015 out of Ysleta High in El Paso, Texas. I mention this principally because I heard Keith Law talk about a year ago that this is a difficult area of the country for scouts to travel to, so players can fall through the cracks. Which could explain how the Jays not only got Maese in the 3rd round, but at less than half of slot.

After being drafted, Maese dominated the GCL wth a 1.01 ERA, capping it off with 10 strikeouts over 6 innings in playoff start. That skipped him all the way over Bluefield to Vancouver in 2016, where he simply rolled over much more experienced hitters for basically four starts, forcing the Jays to promote him to Lansing so he'd be challenged. There too he succeeded, with a 3.36 ERA over 10 starts and 56.1 innings. But perhaps most intriguing was the emergence of a new Maese.

Starting 2016, Maese's bread and butter was a power sinker in the low 90s, which he used almost exclusively and drew quick, weak contact on the ground though not a ton of missed bats. He consequently wasn't striking out a lot of batters. The same was true for his first couple starts in Lansing, but by early August he was a different pitcher. His fastball was consistently in the 94-95 range, touching up to 97 and he mixing in a hard, mid/high 80s slider that gave him a secondary weapon. Over his last five starts, he struck out 30 in 29 innings while maintaining a strong ground ball profile.

Putting that all together, we've got a 20 year old who already succeeded in low-A against much more experienced hitters, with a strong primary pitch and already showing tangible signs of improvement with his secondary pitch. Granted, he doesn't really have a third pitch, but we've seen with Aaron Sanchez that a dominant sinker with one good secondary can more than work. What's not to like?

10. Jon Harris, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 10/16/1993), last year: 7

Perhaps appropriately, one spot higher than Maese is the only signed 2015 draftee taken ahead of him, first rounder Jon Harris who too has dropped a couple spots despite righting the ship in 2016 after a disappointing 2015 pro debut.

Let's start with the good. Harris has a classic pitcher build, though still has room to fill out his body some, and would perhaps benefit from that. He has a fastball, change-up, slider and curveball; all of which he can use, though none of them really stand out as plus. After not completing the first inning of the Lugnuts' 2016 debut, he spent the next three months carving up the Midwest League, allowing just one (unearned) run over his next six starts. All told, he posted a 2.23 ERA in 84.2 innings, frequently working deep into games and turning over the lineup three times.

That earned him a call-up to Dunedin, where he added 51.1 innings solid if mostly unspectacular innings to a 3.51 ERA, 31 strikeouts against 15 walks. Digging a little bit deeper into the stats, across both levels he did a good job managing contact, with a moderate ground ball orientation. What he did not do is consistently miss a lot of bats, which is what one wants premium pitching prospects to do. Harris had a contact rate around 80% at both levels.

Indeed, this would be my biggest concern. For as efficient as he was and as good as his results were particularly in Lansing, outside of a couple starts he was not overpowering and dominant to the extent an experienced college first round pick should be expected to. And in Dunedin, his peripherals were pretty pedestrian. Will there be further decline when he gets to AA (if not to start the year)? This will be the big thing to watch for Harris.

If one likes Harris, they see a polished pitcher who profiles as a solid back of the rotation guy, with the potential for a mid rotation starter if he fills out some and his stuff ticks up a little. The bear case would be that he's essentially a right handed Deck McGuire.