Thus far, the Top 40 has been dominated by position players, as they occupy 18 of the 24 spots thus far (and more immediately, eight of the last nine spots and 14 of 18). It’s quite the reversal for an organization and farm system that as recently as three or four years ago had more pitching talent.
16. Thomas Pannone, LHP, age 25 in 2019 (DOB: 4/28/1994), last year: 10th
Pannone falls six spots from last year as a result of new additions and some risers, not as an indictment of his 2018 season. It started very auspiciously with the suspension for half the season (and the Blue Jays curiously not opting to use the three rehab starts to effectively reduce it by a couple weeks). He made nine so-so starts in the minors (5.36 ERA in 50 innings), but his season was salvaged with a decent run with the Jays from mid-August onward.
In those six starts and six relief appearances, Pannone posted a 4.19 ERA. There was a warning sign with a 5.11 FIP — though it’s worth noting he posted an Estradian 50% fly ball rate and 20% popup rate, which would suggest an ability to outperform FIP. Stuff wise, his change-up looked good, the curveball was at least serviceable if not a legit weapon, and then the issue is the lack of fastball velo. If he could average even the low-90s, one could comfortably project a mid-rotation starter. But then the Jays would not have got him for Joe Smith.
The big question is going to be his ability to keep the ball in the park (and managing contact more broadly). There was no issue before the trade, but since he’s allowed 26 home runs in 115 innings, including seven in 43 MLB innings. He did have a strong strikeout rate in 2018 in the Minors, but it moderated in the Majors. Can he be an innings eating crafty lefty?
We had a pretty big split, with Tom ranking Pannone about 10 spots ahead of myself, with the mechanics resulting in him landing closer to the higher spot. There was sort of a break at this point in the list, and for context the reality is he’s closer to 25th than 10th. Pannone is another player who just barely retained rookie eligibility with 43 innings, so like Billy McKinney, this will almost certainly be his last appearance on the list.
15. Chavez Young, OF, age 21 (DOB: 8/8/1997), last year: 28th
Young was taken in the 39th round of the 2016 draft, a part of the draft where high school players, especially ones with interesting tools, are usually not signable and more courtesy picks. So it was quite surprising when the Jays signed him at the deadline for $200,000, and even with a 75% tax on half of that since they went over their pool allocation, Young is looking like one heck of a bargain.
Young hails from the Bahamas, before moving to Florida for high school, and his FanGaphs write-up also notes a year in Georgia and the cumulative result being he may have slipped through the cracks. Nonetheless, Perfect Game was very bullish on him, ranking him as the 120th draft prospect, and Baseball America had him towards the end of their Top 200 on the basis of his raw tools.
In his first couple seasons he turned in solid performance, first in the GCL and then last year in Bluefield before finishing in Vancouver. His strikeout rate was a little high, but the production and game power was quite impressive for a player expected to be more of the raw toolsy type. That flagged him as an interesting sleeper and placement on last year’s list, with an imminent debut in full season low-A as a major test.
Suffice to say that Young passed that with flying colours, turning in a breakout .285/.363/.445 line in 537 plate appearances. His strikeout rate fell below 20%, he took walks, has 50 extra base hits, and his .344 BABIP was not inflated given his speed. Add in 44 stolen bases, the ability to cover ground in the outfield, and he added value all over the diamond, If there’s a nit to pick, his OPS was 75 points higher at home than on the road, if one buys into the Lansing Launching Pad™ theory.
Young is checking all the boxes for me, not only performance but showing improvement and with underlying tools to back it all. The one knock might be a lack of a true standout/carrying tool, but the flip side is a no glaring weaknesses either. This is ultimately a compromise ranking, as I was quite aggressive in putting him 8th, whereas Tom as more conservative (this dynamic exists for almost every outfielder).
14. Hector Perez, RHP, age 22 (DOB: 6/6/1996), last year: in Houston’s system
Perez was acquired from Houston in the Osuna deal, having originally signed in July 2014 for $45,000 as an 18 year-old international free agent. There are often diamonds in the rough to be found in these “post-hype” signings who don’t stand out at 14 or 15, but then physically mature. Signing kids (literally) at 16 is pretty crazy, especially considering how North American draft prospects will pop up in their senior years in a similar manner. But I digress.
Perez stands out for his big raw stuff. He works in the low/mid-90s with his fastball as a starter, with a power slider his best secondary. That’s resulted in big strikeout tallies, with 391 in 337 career innings. The issue is a lack of control that’s resulted in 199 walks. He’s got a starter’s repertoire, with two more decent secondaries in a curve and change-up, but he’s your prototypical thrower and often struggles to find the zone. The result is a lot of deep counts, high pitch count innings, and shorter outings even when he’s successful.
Perez was added to the 40-man in November, and to some extent that starts a clock ticking. I’d expect he returns to New Hampshire’s rotation to start 2019, and that the Jays will give him every chance to make it as a starter. He already has a reasonably successful half season in Double-A, so there’s no sense of urgency in having to move him quickly before his options run out. But at some point, the Jays might have their hands forced if his control doesn’t take a step forward.
13. Patrick Murphy, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 6/10/1995), last year: 20th
Murphy signed for $500,000 after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft, and is the highest player taken that year left in the system with Phil Bickford unsigned and Clinton Hollon released. He’ll look to become the second player from Hamilton HS in Arizona’s 2013 senior class to make the majors, as Cody Bellinger was drafted one round later.
Murphy didn’t pitch his senior year after having Tommy John surgery, which caused his draft stock to fall so the the Jays were gambling on him recovering to form (Hollon also had an elbow injury and eventually required TJ). It wasn’t looking good for the longest time, as he pitched all of four innings through 2015 while working through multiple surgeries.
He finally was healthy in 2016, and after getting his feet wet early in the year in Lansing, spent the summer in Vancouver’s rotation. The most important thing was just being able to pitch, but he was a ground ball machine and won the NWL’s ERA title at 2.84. He moved up for Lansing in 2017, and though he missed some time again turned in quality 2.94 ERA. Again, though the peripherals were just okay, he dominated contact. The major issue was frequent control lapses, where he just lost the strike zone at times. That was the biggest step forward in 2018, where he once again dominated in Dunedin, with a 2.64 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 146.2 innings.
Murphy’s bread and butter is his fastball, as he can hold mid-90s velocity throughout a start, and touch the upper 90s. It has a lot of movement, hence all the ground balls; when Murphy’s at his best, he’s not piling up strikeouts — he’s getting batters to roll over weakly early in the count. His primary offspeed pitch is a low-80s curveball. The couple times I’ve seen video of his starts I haven’t loved the shape, it’s not a true 12-6 hammer curve.
The third pitch is a work-in-progress change-up, which tends to come in pretty firm in the high-80s to 90. Its development into even a fringey pitch that can be used to keep batters off-balance would greatly help the outlook as a starter, but otherwise he could be a high level reliever with a dominant fastball/breaking ball combination. The overall mix reminds me of Aaron Sanchez, albeit a poor man’s version who would be more of a backend of maybe mid rotation starter rather than frontline potential.
The highest ranked player on the 2020 list will be:
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