With the Top 40 itself now completed, we dive into the weeds this week to conclude with the annual look beyond the top 40. Today is my “just missed” list, Tom’s will follow on Wednesday, and Friday will conclude with a Top 5 of the “older“ prospects who missed the age cutoff.
2017: Top 40 Index
Looking at the less heralded, under-the-radar players in the system is one of my favourite parts of this process. The players on this list are generally either those that I had higher than Tom, were on the fringe and just got shuffled off the backend of the list, or are plausible candidates to make a big jump up the rankings next year. For this portion, I don’t include players without professional data at or above the GCL level (complex ball), though some obviously have the upside to be interesting and make future lists.
Last year I reviewed my lists from 2015-16, the former pretty good in identifying some diamonds in the rough and the latter not so much. Last year’s falls somewhat in between. Osman Gutierrez started to put things together in Lansing last summer before being traded, and would have made the list. Rodrigo Orozco moved into the backend. Tom Robson started to harness his stuff before getting injured. Chris Hall and Kyle Weatherly performed well in Vancouver but struggled in shorter stints in Lansing.
With that said, this year’s list. I was actually surprised by how many players I wanted to touch on, where there’s something interesting, so to some degree that’s probably a good sign of increased depth in the system.
Connor Panas, OF, age 25 (DOB: 2/11/1993)
Through the middle of 2017, Panas had shown some power and on-base ability but with a high strikeout rate and as a player who was always older for the league in which he was playing. Thus the overall production was unremarkable for a corner outfielder in context. But then he busted out in a big way, carrying the Dunedin offence down the stretch and in the playoffs (three HR in three games).
From US Independence Day onwards, Panas mashed .322/.392/.607, hitting 17 home runs in 252 PA, and cutting his strikeout rate to 20% from 26%. This level of breakout simply can’t be ignored, and is why he’s on my list despite my retaining a strong degree of skepticism. One reason is that looking historically, a number of Blue Jays prospects have had big jumps in Dunedin that turned out to be aberrations. The FSL is a pitcher’s league, but Dunedin is a hitter’s park, especially for power.
So 2018 in AA will be the real test of whether this is a legitimate breakout or a flash in the pan of fool’s gold. If he continues to slug against better pitching, he’ll make this way onto next year’s top 40.
Maximo Castillo, RHP, age 18 (DOB: 5/4/1999)
Castillo was signed in September 2015 for $10,000 and quickly made his way stateside in the middle of 2016 at age 17. His performance in the GCL was unremarkable, but showed enough to make the jump to Bluefield where he had a very nice 2017 in 51.1 innings over 11 starts. The headline number is 58 strikeouts against 7 walks, and that’s the basis for putting him here. His fastball works in the low 90s, and he got a lot of swings and misses on his breaking ball. I’d expect to see him at someone in 2018 in Lansing.
Tom Robson, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 6/27/1993)
Robson’s had quite the trek through the system and up and down our lists over the years, with injuries slowing his progress. He’s still got a big arm, but he’s struggled to harness his stuff in the bullpen over the last few years. After a slow start and messy outings in April last year, he seemed to do just that, with a 1.63 ERA in 27.2 innings from May onwards. He was consistently at 95-97 with his fastball, and piling up ground balls. Shortly after moving up to AA he went on the DL and missed the last 5 weeks. He’s still got the potential to be an interesting reliever if he an pick up in 2018 where he left off in 2017.
Dom Abbadessa, OF, age 20 (DOB: 12/18/1997)
Abbadessa signed for $150,000 as a late round pick in 2016, and posted solid production in the GCL in 2017 with a .340/.402/.408 line. The batting average is fuelled by a .373 BABIP that doesn’t have much inferential value given the level of play and sample, and it’s an empty batting line beyond that. But what sticks out is the strikeout rate below 10% for his career. That’s indicative of a very strong contact ability, so maybe he’s a Ben Revere type profile.
DJ Neal, OF, age 19 (DOB: 1/11/1997)
The 2017 juco draftee in the 26th round posted an intriguing .297/.341/.426 line in his 167 PA debut in the GCL with a modest 15.6% strikeout rate. He’s a converted football player, an excellent runner and very good athlete, so there’s tools to back up the perofrmance.
Mc Gregory Contreras, OF, age 19 (DOB: 8/30/1998)
When he signed in 2015 the most notable thing about him was the unique space in his first name after the “Mc“. But coming stateside in 2017 and skipping over the GCL, “M. C. Gregory” put together a decent .279/.335/.421 campaign in 207 PA, showing a little pop although with a high K rate.
Maverik Buffo, RHP, age 22 (DOB: 9/15/1995)
A rough junior year sent him tumbling in the draft to the 34th round, but it was night and day once he signed as he tossed 34 innings with a 0.53 ERA and a 36/2 K/BB. It’s just the GCL, but that’s still eye popping. There’s shades of Danny Barnes (35th round in 2010, 0.67 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 27 GCL innings), so don’t be entirely shocked if Buffo cracks the 2024 bullpen.
Keep an eye on: a lot of the college arms drafted in 2017. I’ve already touched on Buffo, but a lot of the others are interesting for various reasons. There’s only so many spots in Lansing, so the competition for April 2018 assignments should be intense.
- Colton Laws (7th round) posted 1.20 ERA in 15 innings, 15 K, 6’7” righty.
- Zach Logue (9th round) had a 1.47 ERA with 33/6 K/BB in 30.2 innings after rough junior year, good arm.
- Donnie Sellers (11th round) touched up to 95, converted OF with a fresher arm and newer to pitching
- Matt Shannon (12th round) only made three outings, but sat 95-96 with his fastball in the seond