Two recent prominent additions and two longer standing players sit just outside the very top of the list. All four were top 50 draft picks (or signed for the equivalent of a top 50 draft slot).
8. T.J. Zeuch, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 8/1/1995), last year: 8th
Zeuch maintains his spot from last year after a healthy and successful 2018 season that started in Dunedin but was mostly spent at New Hampshire. In all, he made 29 starts and threw 168.1 innings with a 2.99 ERA and a 45/114 BB/K ratio. Basically, it was steady progression towards the big leagues, and having passed the Double-A test, he should move up to Buffalo to start 2019. If his success carries over, he could be up in the second half of the season (he’ll have to be added to the 40-man this winter anyway).
Everything starts with Zeuch’s bowling ball sinker thrown with big downhill plane from his 6’7” frame. That’s allowed him to post ground ball rates above 60% at high-A and below, down slightly to 55% against better hitters at AA. He doesn’t strike out many batters, consistently in the 15-17% range, but when he’s going really well he’s generating weak contact on the ground as opposed to working deep counts. That also works to limit free passes.
Zeuch’s best secondary is a good curveball, that’s perhaps short of a true plus pitch but gives him a viable weapon. His slider is more of of a fringy, “show-me” offering, and his change-up is usable as well. All told, it’s a four pitch mix that profiles Zeuch a backend starter who should pile up innings (to the extent starters are allowed to do so). Trevor Cahill, Martin Perez and Kyle Gibson strike me as reasonable MLB comparables. Henderson Alvarez could fit too, though Zeuch’s secondaries should be a little better. On the high end, maybe a healthier Brett Anderson.
The one nagging worry is that Zeuch has had a tendency to have very good outings just go careening off the rails in the mid-innings. Over the past two years, there’s been about eight of these starts (of 40 total, so 20%) where he’ll be rolling along — even dominant — only to give up a huge inning. Often times it starts with ground balls that either get through or are misplayed, or sometimes a loss of control and walks. And then it proceeds to getting shelled, a couple of examples here and here. Despite this, he’s been very good overall, so if can figure out how to mitigate this, the results would look even better.
7. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 8/30/1995), last year: 9th
Reid-Foley has bounced around in the rankings the last couple years, going from 3rd on 2017’s list, down to 9th last year, and back up to 7th this year in a system whose top end has strengthened each year. That reflected how completely dominant he was in 2016 for Lansing and Dunedin before being shutdown with an injury at the beginning of August, and then his struggles with New Hampshire in 2017. It wasn’t a just matter of the stats, he was absolutely electric in 2016 but his stuff wasn’t the same in 2017 (in particular, his fastball velocity down).
Fortuitously, the high end velocity was back in 2018, and the results were much better. He aced a return to AA, and moved up to Buffalo for the middle part of the season. He made 16 starts with a 3.90 ERA (better peripherals), before getting the call to Toronto in mid-August. All told, he pitched 33.1 innings over seven starts with a 5.13 ERA. A tantalizing if imperfect debut — alot of strikeouts, a lot of walks, and six long balls.
Barring another relapse, Reid-Foley’s stuff is plenty good enough to succeed as a MLB starter. He can hold mid-90s velocity, and touching the upper 90s. His slider is a true weapon, and his curveball is a second good breaking ball that will get swings and misses. His change-up is more of show-me fringe pitch, but will help keep lefties off balance.
The question to answer is whether he has enough control to make it work. Even upper level minor league hitters were just overmatched by his raw stuff, chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone. Major league hitters aren’t as accommodating, so Reid-Foley will have to throw more strikes because a 14% walk rate isn’t going to work. At this point, there’s really nothing left to show in the minors — either he’ll make adjustments and be able to turn MLB lineups over, or he’ll end up in the bullpen where he could be a backend stopper.
6. Jordan Groshans, SS, age 19 (DOB: 11/10/1999), last year: high school senior
Groshans was selected 12th overall in last year’s draft, which was considered an overdraft given that he was generally ranked more toward the back end of the first round. However, his signing bonus came in about 20% below slot, more in line with a mid-first round pick. It was a case where the Blue Jays really liked a player who wasn’t going to last to their next pick, and they were able to parlay that into savings that were key to landing Groshan’s Magnolia High School teammate Adam Kloffenstein.
It’s very early, but so far the Jays have been vindicated in being well above the consensus on Groshans, as he tore up the GCL with a .331/.390/.500 line before being moved up to Bluefield. There was an adjustment as he struggled initially, but turned it on the last week of the season, including three playoff games. The headline .182/.229/.273 line you’ll see reported looks bad, but it’s a solid .267/.387/.411 with the entire Bluefield sample.
He was drafted as a shortstop, and will have every opportunity to stay there, but the consensus is that he profiles better as a third baseman, especially with the 6’3” frame. He’d profile there as a prototypical 3B, with good power and a good arm. Given how well he performed in his pro debut, I’d expect that like Bo Bichette he should start 2019 in Lansing. If it ends up a little too aggressive, it’s possible to hit the reset button with some time in extended and than an assignment to Vancouver.
5. Eric Pardinho, RHP, age 18 (DOB: 1/5/2001), last year: 11th
Pardinho was the top international signing in 2017, receiving a $1.4-million bonus out of Brazil. He was already throwing in the low-90s at 16, touching 95 with three offspeed pitches and was considered quite advanced for his age having shown very well in high-level international competition. Hence ranking 11th last year without every having thrown a professional pitch, though it was something of a guess.
It certainly translated in his first pro season, as he posted a 2.88 ERA (3.88 with his postseason blowup) and struck out over 30% of batters while walking just 8% despite not being an adult and facing batters two-to-five years older than him and in some cases much more experienced. Beyond just injury risk, the biggest worry with big dollar arms is that the raw stuff just never works against actual hitters. Pardinho has certainly dispelled that.
The knock? He’s undersized by MLB pitcher standards, listed at just 5’10” and 155 pounds. He’s really far away, having not even made it to full season ball. And he’s a pitcher, and they of course tend to break. So there’s plenty of risk, especially if one is inclined to see his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter. Age-relative-to-league is less important in measuring pitchers than hitters, and he’s probably not going to be an ace, but the early results suggest very strong pitchability. That and high quality underlying stuff are very promising.
The highest ranked player on the 2020 list will be:
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