If you haven’t already, check out the introductory post/index for some background and details on eligibility for Blue Jays prospects to be considered on the Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospects list. As we proceed, the index page 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...
2020: Full List and Index
40. Alejandro Melean, RHP, age 19 (DOB: 10/11/2000), grade: 35/35+, last year: unranked
On July 2nd 2017, the Blue Jays spread their $4.75-million international singing pool around. The headliner was $1.4-million for Eric Pardinho, with $825,000 and $750,000 for a couple of infielders in Leonardo Jimenez and Miguel Hiraldo. Spoiler alert, but you’ll be hearing more about all three of those in the days to come. Slotted in between those latter two was $775,000 for Alejandro Melean, who occupies the last spot on this year’s list.
The Jays brought the 6’0”, 175 pound Melean right to the GCL for 2018 as a somewhat aggressive placement. The 4.68 ERA in 32.2 innings with almost a strikeout an inning was unremarkable, though complex ball stats are not particularly meaningful. The 22 walks were however indicative of a pitcher who’s more of a thrower than a pitcher.
That carried over to Bluefield this past year, with a 5.57 ERA and 15 walks against 25 strikes in 21 innings. After a couple of short, four walk outings early, he seemed to have settled in with a couple of five inning starts with five and seven strikeouts in mid-July. I was really looking forward to his July 26th start in Danville, one of the few Appy League parks where the broadcasts have access to velo data.
But after striking out the first two batters on seven pitches, an 0-1 fastball got away from him. Even worse, he appeared to suffer an elbow injury and exited the game. He did make it back for one appearance in late August, but was roughed up and didn’t make it out of the first. Hopefully, it was just a minor injury and not something more serious (ie, requiring Tommy John surgery), in which case he’ll probably be back in short season in 2020 or perhaps Lansing if the Jays were sufficiently bullish.
There isn’t much on Melean; as far as I can tell there’s not even video of him anywhere. Reports indicate a low-90s fastball — which fits with two readings of 92 and 94 in the first inning of that unfortunately abbreviated Danville game — and a curveball as his main secondary. In essence, he’s a pure lottery ticket: there’s a good chance he never makes it to AA much less the majors, but the building blocks are there for a potential starter.
39. Edisson Gonzalez, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 10/2/1999), grade: 35, last year: Tampa system
Gonzalez was one of the two PTBNLs who came over from the Rays system in September to complete the Eric Sogard trade, by which time the minor league season was over so he’s yet to take the mound for the Jays. At 5’10”, the Panamian is undersized, but both his performance and stuff make for an intriguing package.
Originally signed in July 2016 when first eligible (though not a significant bonus), Gonzalez had a solid 2017 in the DSL and moved stateside for 2018. A good run in the GCL earned up a late season promotion out of the complex to Bluefield’s Mercer Cup rival Princeton, though he scuffled. the biggest issue was too many free passes, 32 in 52 innings, a common issue for young arms who tend to be more throwers than pitchers.
Gonzalez took a big step forward in 2019, moving up to the more advanced short season league with more experienced hitters. That was no issue for him, as posted a 2.45 ERA with 77 strikeouts against just 20 free passes in 62.1 innings.
I watched a couple of the games he pitched last summer, and there’s solid stuff underlying the impressive stats. His fastball was low/mid 90s, touching plenty of 94s and 95s though dipping to the low end. His out pitch and best secondary is a curveball in the 79-82 range with good glove finish. He threw a few breaking balls more in the 82-83 range, but I couldn’t tell if they were sliders or just tighter curves. Interestingly, he was confident enough in his change-up to even use it to same handed hitters, but the camera angle prevented seeing if it was more than a show-me pitch.
He should move up to Lansing to start 2020. Longer term, he may be more of reliever profile given the size and fastball/curve combination. But we’ll get a better read in 2020.
38. Maximo Castillo, RHP, age 21 in 2020 (DOB: 5/4/1999), grade: 35/35+, last year: my pref list
Castillo was signed out Venezuela in September 2015 for what turned out to be a bargain $10,000 bonus (anything up to that doesn’t count towards the pool; the Jays had spent their entire pool on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.). That’s interesting because 16-year olds tend to attract better bonuses when they’re first eligible.
Castillo moved quickly stateside in 2016 after a brief DSL stint, but it was in 2017 with Bluefield that he started putting himself on the radar with 3.80 ERA in 47.1 innings having just turned 18, with an impressive 52 strikeouts against just eight free passes. That earned him a move up to Lansing to start 2018, still having not turned 19.
Not surprisingly given his youth, it was an even year, with a 4.52 ERA in 131.1 innings, with a solid if unspectacular 115 strikeouts against 42 walks. But he finished really strong, with a 2.73 ERA in 33 August innings. That carried over into 2019, as he posted a 2.69 ERA in 130.1 innings, with a similar 115 strikeouts but cutting the free walks back to 28.
Stuff- wise, Castilo’s fastball sits in the low-90s, generally 91-93 and touching higher. My notes from 2018 had him slightly lower, so he might have squeezed a little more out. His main secondary weapon is high-70s curveball, but he also has a slider in the mid-80s and mixes in a change-up. There’s nothing overwhelming, but it’s a solid four mix which matches up with the statistical profile.
Double-A tends to be a significant proving ground, and it’ll be interesting to see how Castillo’s stuff and performance translate in 2020. He’ll be one of the youngest players in the league, though his 6’2”, 256 pound body suggests he’s nonetheless pretty physically mature (as does the fact he was allowed to pitch 130 innings at age 19). He was Rule 5 eligible in 2019, and without AA experience it’s not surprising he was passed over, but he could profile as a durable, inning eating backend starter.
37. Joshua Palacios, OF, age 24 (DOB: 7/30/1995), grade 35/35+, last year: 37th
After four seasons in the organization, Palacios makes his fourth appearance on the list, and coincidentally it’s in the exact same spot as last year. After debuting at 17th three years ago in a much thinner system, this is the straight year he’s landed in the 30s. That follows from a pretty consistent yearly progression up the system.
Palacios got off to a slow start in 2019, before hitting the IL for six weeks. He was very good over the remaining three months, hitting .270/.375/.423 in 296 plate appearances. He trimmed his strikeout rate to 21% despite facing more advanced pitching, while drawing a career high 13% walks.
Even more interestingly is this was despite an increase in power. New Hampshire’s park has a very short porch in right field, and he hit five home runs at home versus just two on the road, which accounts for most of the difference. So there’s reason to discount it, and even a .150 ISO isn’t much to write home about. But it is something of a trend: in each of his first two seasons, his ISO was under .100, before moving up to .126 in 2018. And again, that’s despite moving up.
More fundamentally, there’s change in his batted ball output that may suggest a fundamental change in approach. In each of his first three years, he carried ground ball rates around 60% and fly ball rates in the low-20s. As noted last year, that makes for a tough offensive profile. But last year his ground ball rate came down to 43%, with fly balls up to 40%. If so, the potential hasn’t been close to fully realized, with a high popup rate and not a huge surge in power. But there’s some shades of the transition Cavan Biggio made from high-A to AA when he broke out.
Obviously that didn’t happen and I’m not saying it will. But a better/more sustainable batted ball output with on base abilities would make a significant impact on Palacios’s outlook. He’s got good speed and can cover ground in the outfield, but is considered short of a true CF. In a corner where the offensive bar is higher, it was hard to see his previous ground ball heavy profile sufficing.
Palacios should move up to Buffalo for 2020 and it will be interesting to watch for further refinement. At this point, it seems very likely he ends up a big leaguer in some capacity, at this point more likely as an extra outfielder or maybe fringe-starter. But his production has held up and in some ways improved at every level, and if he keeps making adjustments it’s not out of the question he profiles as an everyday regular.
The highest ranked player in 2021 will be
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