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The 2018 Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospects: 5-8

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A pair of first round picks, a pair of picks from the teens.

Top 40 Prospects

The penultimate post in the countdown to the top of the 2018 BBB Top 40. The suspense is palpable; just who exactly will be #1?

2018: 9-12 | 13-16 | 17-20 | 21-25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40

2017: Top 40 Index

8. T.J. Zeuch, RHP, age 22 (DOB: 8/1/1995), last year: 8

Zeuch treads water, holding at the #8 ranking after a year with significant positives and negatives. Skipping low-A (other than a quick two start cameo to finish 2016), he got off to a good start in Dunedin over the first two months. He was a little more hittable than one would want and his strikeout rate was just okay, but he showed flashes of dominance during which hitters would pound ball after ball into the ground.

He seemed to be hitting his stride in May, working into the 6th and 7th inning consistently, but then missed the better part of three months to injury. This has been a continuing theme going back to his college years, though he fortunately had no major arm injuries. He did come back to make a couple of starts at the end of the year, and a decent stint in the AFL.

At his best, Zeuch’s fastball plays up from the low-90s velocity where he usually sits due to movement and the natural plane he gets. He’s got three secondaries in a slider, curve and change-up; none are consistent true weapons, but the breaking balls in particular will flash plus and get swings-and-misses. If he fulfills his potential, Zeuch should be a quality mid-to-backend starter with a ground ball profile, likely reaching The Show in 2019 (again, if things go well). At times he’ll dominate, at times his stuff will flatten out and he’s get hit.

7. Logan Warmoth, SS, age 22 (DOB: 9/6/1995), last year: junior at University of North Carolina

Few players did more to help their draft stock last spring, as Warmoth vaulted from top 2-4 rounds consideration into the back of the first round in a weak year for collegiate middle infielders. The scouting reports suggested a good all-around player who should stick somewhere on the middle infield, but one who did not really have any standout tools. That started to change over the course of his junior year, with conviction that he would hit.

And that will likely determine whether he’s the next Russ Adams (2002 1st rounder out of the same school) or the next Aaron Hill (2003 1st rounder out of LSU). And particularly the early career version of Hill who sprayed the ball around opposed to later iteration who tapped into some power but also turned into a pop-up machine. From 2005-07, Hill hit .287/.341/.415 (98 wRC+), I think that’s the offensive profile to expect if Warmoth works out. If he could be a fringey defender at SS or a solid to good defender at 2B, that would make him an average regular.

So far, mostly so good, with decent but not overwhelming performance in Vancouver as he posted a .306/.356/.419 line in 174 PA. A strong average, but pretty empty as he didn’t walk much or hit for much power, but put the ball in play. It will be interesting to see where he starts 2018, as Dunedin makes sense to give him a real test, but that could depend on what happens above. Regardless, ideally he would make it to AA by the end of the year.

One thing that bugs me: the track record of premium hitting prospects from UNC in pro ball is pretty dismal. Prior to 2017, four have been drafted in the first round this century. Russ Adams didn’t hit. Dustin Ackley was a bust. Levi Michael hasn’t hit, and Colin Moran has been disappointed (prior to perhaps reinventing himself recently). Then again, I was skeptical Trea Turner who would and he’s shot the lights out.

6. Ryan Borucki, LHP, age 24 on Opening Day (DOB: 3/31/1994), last year: 16

In a year of disappointing seasons for top pitching prospects, Borucki was the notable exception as he aced two levels to finish 2017 three rungs up from where he finished 2016, and on the cusp of the big leagues. Statistically, he did everything one could want, posted a 2.93 ERA in 150.1 inning across the three levels, striking out over a batter an inning while limiting free passes, and managing contact.

Despite all that, Borucki is flying somewhat under the radar, at least from a “national” perspective, as his name has not shown up on any major top 100 lists. But consider, a lefty who: finished the season in AAA, sits comfortably in the low/mid 90s with his fastball and will tickle 96-97 from time to time, has a plus secondary in his change-up and at least a usable breaking ball (that gets a fair amount of swings and misses), and who throws strikes. At the end of the day top 100 lists don’t really matter, but that’s the profile of a potential mid-rotation starter, who could be MLB ready as soon as the second half of 2018. Personally, I’m quite high on him.

Of course, there’s good reason for the maxim that if you want to develop a starting pitcher, draft 10 of them. The biggest risk factor for Borucki is probably health, as his progress over his first four professional seasons was slowed by a variety of injuries, including Tommy John surgery from an injury in his senior year of high school that dropped him down boards and allowed the Jays to take a flyer and sign him in the 15th round with slots savings. But he’s pitched two full, mostly injury free years in a row, and with the exception of April 2016 has always performed well when on the mound.

There’s a lot to like here.

5. Danny Jansen, C, age 22 (DOB: 4/15/1995), last year: 28

What a difference a pair of glasses apparently makes to hitting a baseball. Since being drafted in 2013, Jansen has built a solid defensive reputation, moved aggressively despite considerable time lost to various injuries, demonstrated strong plate discipline, but hadn’t actually hit since 2014 in Bluefield.

That was the critical missing link, until a solid Fall League in 2016. And until he laid waste to FSL pitching to start 2017, continued to hit in New Hampshire in the summer, and then finished up by clobbering AAA for good measure. Overall, .323/.400/.484, with perhaps the most impressive part being the strikeout rate under 10%. That’ll play.

If the underlying hitting ability is anything close to 2017, Jansen is a potential star. But the beautiful part is, if he’s solid defensively behind the plate, he doesn’t have to hit much at all to be an average regular especially given his ability to control the strike zone. Steamer’s forecast of .254/.317/.390 (7.5% walk rate, 14% strike out rate, 87 wRC+) strikes me as a plausible offensive profile (over time). That would make him an average regular, and there’s upside from there. The biggest risk at this point is really the ability to stay healthy.

In the meantime, Jansen should start back at AAA, and we’ll see how the league adjusts to him having seen him now. It’s axiomatic that catchers take a lot of time to develop, and with Russell Martin around for two years, the Jays have the luxury of not needing to rush him. Jansen has seemingly overcome astigmatism, but now a much more daunting task awaits: can he now overcome the wretched curse of being the Catcher of the Future?

Poll

Who will have the best pro career?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    T.J. Zeuch
    (77 votes)
  • 8%
    Logan Warmoth
    (84 votes)
  • 31%
    Ryan Borucki
    (326 votes)
  • 52%
    Danny Jansen
    (544 votes)
1031 votes total Vote Now