If you haven’t already seen it, check out the introductory stream (linked below) posted yesterday with background, eligibility, and a teaser. As we proceed, it will updated with the full list and links to all posts in this series. And now, without, further ado, the first installment of the BBB Top 40, counting down to the top...
2019: Full List and Index
40. Riley Adams, catcher, age 22 (DOB: 6/26/1996), last year: 14th
Adams tumbled down the list, just holding onto the last spot after posting a .246/.352/.361 line in 406 plate appearances over his first full professional season with Dunedin. It was far from a disastrous year and tempered by the both that it was a somewhat aggressive placement in skipping over low-A and the heightened defensive responsibilities of catchers. The fall is really a confluence of things — ample additions to the system, an aggressive ranking last year, and an underwhelming 2018.
Adams was a consensus top 100 ranked player in the 2017 draft, so it was seen as a coup when the Jays were able to land him in the 3rd round, 99th overall at slot. He turned in a solid .305/.374/.438 line with Vancouver, though tailing off after starting very strong. By contrast, in 2018 he started more slowly, alternating poor and decent months before turning it on late in the season (.330/.442/.426 after July 24th albeit with .431 BABIP; .216/.318/.337 before).
Profile wise, his strikeout rate is a little high at 22-23%, but reasonable. He walks at a decent clip, 12% last year and closer to 10% as a pro. The most disappointing thing so far has been the lack of power. At 6’4”/225 he should be plenty capable, hit for good power in college, and has good raw power — it just hasn’t translated into games (yet?). Unlocking some of that will be something to watch over the next couple years. His batting stance was notable for its wide stance/deep crouch; it doesn’t look as pronounced in the video so that might be something the Jays have adjusted.
The other big question is whether he sticks behind the plate. As mentioned, he’s a big guy for the position, and there were questions about his receiving ability behind the plate. Runners have thought they could take advantage of him, having attempted 141 steals on him in just 127 games behind the plate. But he’s nailed 62 of them, a strong 43% caught stealing rate. If he doesn’t stick behind the plate, he should be fine in a corner outfield spot, but he’d need to hit a lot more than he has so far.
39. Alejandro Kirk, catcher/DH, age 20 (DOB: 11/6/1998), last year: unranked
Kirk jumped onto the scene and our list in what was essentially his professional debut with Bluefield, posting a .354/.443/.558 season in 244 PA. Even better, there was literally nothing to nitpick in that line either — he walked (14%), didn’t strike out (9%), hit for power (10 home runs, 21 extra base hits, .204 ISO), with a good BABIP. He finished third in the Appy League in hitting, about 10th in isolated power, and 6th in overall OPS.
The big unknown here is how legit a catcher he is and whether he sticks behind the plate. When he signed in 2016 he was listed a RHP, listed as a DH when assigned to the GCL last year (though only got into one August game), and then split time behind the plate and at DH this summer. That kind of offensive production could profile at any position, but even with defensive warts a catcher who can hit is incredibly valuable (see Danny Jansen). Whereas being on the other side of the spectrum puts incredible pressure on the bat.
Normally I’d be skeptical when a player is only splitting time at the position at a low level (Juan Kelly comes to mind as a part-time catcher early in his career at the lower levels), but Bluefield had another blue chip catching prospect in Hagen Danner to rotate through. He threw out 12/28 runners, a 43% clip that seems promising, and if he was a pitching prospect at some point that would suggest a good arm. I don’t recall him being a butcher in terms of having trouble catching pitchers, but there’s little to go on when it comes to the nuances of lower level catching prospects.
Kirk should move up to Lansing in 2019, and is a potential breakout prospect if he continues to knock the ball around and/or reports are decent on his ability behind the plate.
38. Otto Lopez, IF/OF, age 20 (DOB: 10/1/1998), last year: unranked
Lopez was an under-the-radar international free agent, signing for just $70,000 as a soon-to-be-18-year-old. Once in a while, teams find gems in these “older” signees who are either overlooked as young teenagers or are late bloomers, and the Blue Jays may have found one in Lopez. He debuted in the GCL in 2017, with a solid if unspectacular .275/.361/.360 line.
He started 2018 in Bluefield, though that ended up a brief stint as he mashed (1.019 OPS) for seven games and was quickly promoted up to Vancouver. He of course didn’t maintain that same clip, but put up a quality .297/.390/.434 line in 206 PA in a less offensive league filled with college draftees. He finished 9th among qualified NWL hitters.
Here too, there’s little to nitpick in the line — he didn’t strike out much (11%), walked (11%), and it wasn’t driven by an inflated BABIP. He was a doubles machine in that short Bluefield run, which moderated in Vancouver. He found some gaps, but overall there wasn’t much power. Listed at 5’10”/160, that’s probably not going to be his game. He sprays the ball to all fields, and that figures to be his profile with high contact.
Defensively, he’s played all over the place in the infield and outfield, with the bulk of the time coming on the middle infield at SS and 2B, but also 3B, CF and LF. Whether that reflects genuine versatility or defensive shortcomings on the infield will be important to watch going forward. His triples total and 13 stolen bases in 2018 indicate above average speed. He should move up to Lansing in 2019 and translating that production would send up the list.
37. Joshua Palacios, OF, age 23 (DOB: 7/30/1995), last year: 31st
Palacios is down a handful of spots from last year despite a solid year in Dunedin, reflecting the influx of players into the system above him as opposing to any floundering or disappointment in 2018. He hit .292/.357/.418 in 562 plate appearances, a good if not overwhelming rate of offensive production that FanGraphs puts at a park-unadjusted 124 wRC+ (Dunedin is pretty good for hitting) while playing mostly in centrefield.
He started very strongly, hitting .363/.416/.505 through May 2nd (driven by a .449 BABIP) and finished similarly (.349/.399/.541 after July 25th, .417 BABIP). In between, Palacios was quite mediocre with just a .237/.315/.322 slash line and .317 BABIP. This boom-or-bust pattern has manifested itself throughout his professional career. He came hard out of the gate in his draft year, hitting .330/.397/.426 (.380 BABIP) in 219 PA across Vancouver and Lansing and landing 17th on the 2017 list. Back in Lansing in 2018, he got off to a terrible start, hitting .198/.286/.269 (.242 BABIP) as he dealt with injuries and inconsistent playing time. Then he really turned it on the second half, .348/.422/.438 (.434 BABIP).
The above illustrates quite clearly the extent to which Palacios’s offensive production has been tied to his BABIP. He’s a well above average speedy runner with a strong ground ball profile (~60%), so he should be able to sustain an above average BABIP. The issue is that severally limits any potential for power, and consequently it’s an approach that has fallen out of vogue in baseball in recent years and decades. He doesn’t strike out too much (roughly 20% in 2017-18), but the profile works a lot better if it was closer to the low-teens number he had in his debut — squint, and you could see Ben Revere.
One big question for Palacios is how his production will hold up at higher levels, with better defenders who convert more batted balls, especially on the ground, into outs. The second is his broader profile. He’s played mostly in centre, but he’s not considered a true CF (and the metrics, such as they are, aren’t great). But even if his production holds up at higher levels, he won’t have the power normally associated with a corner. That leaves him profiling as a “tweener” even if things go well. AA in 2019 will be a big test.
The highest ranked player on the 2020 list will be...
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