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The 2019 Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospects: 33-36

Two Jacksonian relievers and a pair of very different infield profiles

Top 40 Prospects

Matt got us started yesterday, so it is my turn today.

The nice part about this year’s list is that the guys at the bottom of the list actually seem like real prospects. In past years I remember, while writing about the back of the list guys, sending an email to Matt saying ‘what was it we liked about this guy’ more than once. This year I had a hard time figuring out which guys to leave off the list. It bodes well for our ‘just missed’ posts.

2019: Full List and Index | 37-40 |

2018: Full List and Index | 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-12 | 13-16 | 17-20 | 21-25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40 | Just missed: Matt, Tom | Older

36. Jackson McClelland, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 11/19,/1994), last year: 30th

This Jackson was our 15th round pick in the 2015 draft (after being picked in the 35th round in the 2012 draft by the Pirates). He’s a big guy, 6’5”, 220 lb.

After an impressive 2017 season, at 1.34 ERA in a season split between Lansing and Dunedin, 2018 seems like a bit of a let down. Jackson put up a 5.77 ERA in 39 games, (33 at Dunedin, 6 at New Hampshire). In 43.2 innings he allowed 34 hits, 21 walks and 57 strikeouts. He missed some time with a back injury.

He pitched in the Arizona Fall League, he had a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings, 6 hits, 9 walks and 15 strikeouts.

Of course, a good part of why he’s on our list is that he’s one of two guys who hit 101 on the radar. In college he didn’t throw that hard but the Jays helped him find a little extra or so Shi Davidi told us in Baseball America:

That includes Toronto selecting him in the 15th round in 2015 out of Pepperdine, helping him rehab a torn labrum in his shoulder and reworking his delivery, first with former pitching coordinator Sal Fasano and later at Dunedin with pitching coach Mark Riggins.

”I always had good arm strength, but I never really got to my legs, which is why Mark Riggins was so instrumental—I can’t overstate how big he was in my career,” McClelland said. “He saw (the velocity) in me and always told me, ‘Hey, it’s there. We’ve just got to get to it now.’ ”

And, of course, the velocity is why we were worried that we might lose him in the Rule 5 draft, when the Jays didn’t add him.

Here is Jackson pitching in the AFL.

35. Zach Jackson, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 11/25/1994), last year: 19th

Zach Jackson and Jackson McClelland back-to-back on the list, it isn’t confusing. Which one is the tall hard-throwing right-hander and which is the tall hard-throwing right-hander? This one, Zach, was our 3rd round pick in the 2016 draft. He’s another big guy, listed at 6’4” and 215.

He pitched in New Hampshire last year, putting up a 2.47 ERA in 43 games. In 62 innings he allowed just 29 hits (just 2 home runs), 51 walks and 75 strikeouts. The strikeout number is great, the walk number......well not so much. Batters hit just .142 off him.

Zach also pitched in the Arizona Fall League, 13.1 innings, 6 hits, 9 walks and 17 strikeouts. In 2017 he allowed 4.6 walks per 9 innings, 2018 the rate jumped to 7.4. That’s not a good thing, but then guys can’t hit him.

The walks are why he’s dropped down our list (well that and the number of prospects added to the system this year), but he can get guys out, if they can get him into the strike zone. He throws mid-90s, can hit 97. But his curve is the ‘out pitch’.

Zach is one of our non-roster invites to spring training, so we should get to see him, or at least hear about him over the next couple of months. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes it to Toronto at some point this season.

Here is some video of him from spring training last year:

34. Chad Spanberger, 1B, age 23 (DOB: 11/1/1995), last year: in the Rockies system.

Chad came to us from the Rockies when we sent them Seung-hwan Oh. He’s a left-handed power hitter. He was the Rockies 6th round pick in the 2017 draft taken from the University of Arkansas.

This was his first full season in professional ball, and he did well, hitting .298/.368/.617 with 27 home runs in 123 games, split between 3 A ball teams. He also had 17 steals. Not bad for a guy listed at 6’3”, 235 lb, but then all the scouting reports I’ve read say he’s very slow, so I’m not expecting stealing to be part of his game going forward.

He walked just 7% of the time and struck out 21% of the time, so he was making a lot of contact.

Power is the name of his game and it is what is going to carry him to where ever he goes. Beyond that he should hit for an ok average, strikeout more than you would like but that’s going to happen with the power. His glove at first base is a work in progress, but he’s a big target at first base. He’s doesn’t have the speed, agility or arm to play anything other than first.

The knock is that his offensive production has been more decent than overwhelming when accounting for park/league than one wants to see from a first base prospect. His 2017 debut was excellent, but he was a college player in rookie ball and Grand Junction is a great place to hit. Likewise, Asheville is a great park to hit and he showed massive splits: .359/.413/.683 at home, a more pedestrian .275/.316/.484 on the road which was almost the same as his short stint with Lansing. Finally, it’s a small sample, but in a more neutral environment in Dunedin he posted just .231/.348/.372.

I think he’ll start the season at Dunedin, but hopefully move up as the season goes on. At 23 it would be good to get him to Double-A. Spanberger is one of the few where Matt and I differed, I had him higher than Matt did, I like power guys, but I think where he ended up is the right spot.

33. Santiago Espinal, IF, age 24 (DOB: 11/13/1994), last year: slumming in the Red Sox system

Espinal was a 10th round draft pick by Boston in the 2016 draft from Miami-Dade College. Born in the Dominican Republic, but he moved to Florida when he was 13, so he became draft eligible. At 5’10” and 175lb, he’s, by far, the smallest of this grouping.

He played his first full pro season in 2017 hitting .280/.334/.358, with 20 steals, in 123 games in A ball. He started 2018 in High A Salem, hitting .313/.363/.477 with 9 steals in 65 games and made the Carolina League All-Star team.

Then came the trade, the Jays sent Steve Pearce (and $1.66 million) to Boston for Santiago, on June 28th. We know how it turned out for Pearce.

Santiago went to Dunedin, hit .262/.333/.431 in 17 games. That got him moved up to the Fisher Cats. He hit .286/.354/.395 in 42 games.

He doesn’t walk much (7.3% last year), nor strikeout all that much (12.9%).

Shi Davidi told us:

Helping them land Espinal was that Steve Sanders, the Blue Jays amateur scouting director, worked with the Red Sox when they drafted him in the 10th round of the 2016 draft out of Miami-Dade junior college. Sanders described Espinal as “a solid all-around player” who “did enough with the bat, enough with the glove.”

“Athletic body, moved pretty well in the middle infield, had some gap power, could get down the line pretty well as a runner,” he says. “We were certainly intrigued by the tool-set and felt he had a chance to provide some value in the middle of the infield.”

From the same story, John Schneider said he was a “plus-plus defender at short, second and third” who needs to be “more aggressive on pitches in the zone”.

I had him higher up, Matt had him lower down, this is likely about the right spot for him. We have many many infield prospects in the higher levels of our system, and Espinal looks to be a utility player player in the making.

MLB Pipeline has him 23rd on their Jays top 30. They say:

Espinal’s defense is a separator. His athleticism is on display at shortstop, where he has above-average range, soft hands and the above-average arm needed to stick at the position. He’s also seen time at both second and third base, and it’s led some evaluators to peg him as a future utility infielder at the highest level.


The best professional/MLB career will belong to:

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Jackson McClelland
    (76 votes)
  • 31%
    Zach Jackson
    (139 votes)
  • 6%
    Chad Spanberger
    (30 votes)
  • 44%
    Santiago Espinal
    (197 votes)
442 votes total Vote Now