As outlined at the beginning of the series, eligibility for the BBB list is based not just on the traditional retention of rookie eligibility, but also on an age cutoff/screen. 2019 must be no more than a player’s age-25 season, that is, a player must be 25 or under on June 30, 2019 (meaning born after June 30, 1993).
That’s not to say that players who were eliminated by the age cutoff don’t have value. Tim Mayza was second on this list last year, and looks like a quality lefty in the bullpen for years to come. Rather, it reflects the fact that with younger prospects, the overriding element is projecting future abilities, whereas by the time a player is 25 or 26 that’s not so much the case. Mayza’s fastball/slider prowess has been established for years, it was (and to some extent still is) a matter of refinement.
Hence, a separate list of prospects who missed the age cutoff but who could factor in as major league contributors. The pool of players this year isn’t as deep as in some past years but there’s still some interesting talent worth highlighting.
* Jordan Romano, RHP, age 26 for 2019 season (DOB: 4/21/1993), last year: 21
Romano of course was left unprotected and taken in the Rule 5 draft, so he’s not actually in the organization right now. If he were, he would lead this list, and while I’m bullish on his ability to stick with the Rangers the return rate of Rule 5 picks is over 50% so it’s not a fait accompli that he’s lost.
His change-up remains at best a work in progress, but he’ll at least touch the mid-90s with his fastball and pairs it with a swing-and-miss slider. He’s control isn’t the great, so beyond a fringey third pitch, I have my doubts about him as a starter. I think he could be quite good, and the career progression and statistical profile reminds me a little of Joe Biagini when he was taken in the Rule 5 three years.
1. Julian Merryweather, RHP, age 27 (DOB: 10/14/1990)
The first two spots were sort of a toss-up, we opt for the hard-throwing righty who was the return for a subsidized month of Josh Donaldson despite missing all of 2018 with Tommy John surgery. This is something of an article of faith in that presumably the Jays had options to choose from, and he was the guy they chose despite the surgery and already being on the 40-man. There were some positive reports on him back in 2017, he’s got four pitches, there’s some potential for a starter.
2. Max Pentecost, catcher, age 26 for 2019 season (DOB: 3/10/1993), last year: 27
I’ve discussed Pentecost at length this winter (here and here), so I’m not going to repeat that. On the plus side, he stayed healthy, was able to catch, and had a very strong finish to the season in AA. On the negative side, he was only behind the plate every other day, and hit .198/.241/.304 for the first third of the season. Still, he’s hit reasonably at other levels, and given the state of the catcher hitting, it’s not like it’s a very high bar to clear. Pentecost could still be a back-up or maybe platoon catcher if he can stay healthy, and who knows, maybe more.
3. Justin Shafer, RHP, age 26 (DOB: 9/18/1992), last year: 39
Shafer snuck onto the back of the list last year, but even had be been eligible wouldn’t have been in the top 50 this year. That’s not because he was bad, he dominated in NH/Buffalo with a 1.13 ERA despite more mediocre peripherals. He even posted good results with a 3.24 ERA in his 8.1 MLB innings, but the seven walks and two strikeouts left much to be desired.
Shafer’s bread and butter is a sinker/slider combination that generate a lot of ground balls. I was a little underwhelmed by them in his maiden MLB stint, but it’s clear from the K/BB anf low GB% he wasn’t exactly locked in. I look forward forward to seeing if he can make the adjustments, with the upside being a Shawn Camp type.
4. Jonathan Davis, OF, age 26/27 in 2019 (DOB: 5/12/1992)
Davis made his major league debut in September after a strong first half with New Hampshire and more mediocre two months in Buffalo. He didn’t do much offensively (.200/.259/.240 in 25 PA), but did steal three bases without getting caught. He edged out Tesocar Hernandez for the best sprint speed on the team at 28.7 feet/second.
I wrote last year that despite some helium after his 2017 season and AFL stint (MLB Pipeline labelled him a breakout player) that I saw him as a fringe player at the back of the roster who adds value from the bench. That’s even stronger after 2018, though he has a history of improved performance in the second year at a level, so we’ll see what he does in Buffalo. The other question is whether he holds a 40-man spot with eight outfielders and towards the bottom of the pecking order at least in terms of potential to be a regular.
5. Conor Fisk, RHP, age 27 for 2019 season (DOB: 4/4/1992)
Fisk was drafted in the 24th round of the 2014 draft, and had a nice debut in Bluefield as a multi-inning reliever. For the next three years, he was a starter or swingman to largely unremarkable results. In 2018, he worked almost exclusively out of the pen, and both the results and stuff ticked up. He posted a 2.23 ERA, his fastball up to 92-94 touching 95 in shorter outings later in the summer. He got a late invitation to MLB spring training, so we should see him and he could figure in at some point if they need a fresh arm in the bullpen.
Others of note: RHP Shawn Morimando (who came up through Cleveland’s system and posting some quality AA/AAA numbers), RHP Dusty Isaacs, OF Roemon Fields, OF Andrew Guillotte, RHP Andrew Case
Players who will hit the age cutoff next year:
- Top 40: RHP Trent Thornton, LHP Thomas Pannone
- Other: RHP Jon Harris, RHP Jacob Waguespack, RHP Justin Dillon, LHP Luke GIllingham, RHP Dany Jimenez, LHP Danny Young, RHP Josh Almonte, RHP Justin Watts, C Ryan Hissey, RHP Connor Law