After four position players in the previous batch from the lower levels, none of whom had reached Double-A, today is almost the polar opposite with three having done so and the fourth in line to start the season in New Hampshire.
32. Ryan Noda, OF/1B, age 24 in 2020 (DOB: 3/30/1996), grade: 35+, last year: 24th
Coincidently, Noda ends up back at 32nd where he debuted in 2018 after putting up video game numbers in Bluefield (.364/.507/.575). After a strong follow-up .256/.421/.484 line with Lansing in 2018, his numbers tailed off some moving up to Dunedin, with a .238/.372/.418 slash line in 469 plate appearances which Fangraphs says works out to a 138 wRC+. I’m a little skeptical that line could really be almost 40% above average.
While his OBP remained robust despite a low batting average, his plate discipline metrics did backslide significantly. His walk rate remained excellent at 16%, but that was down from 21% his first two seasons. At the same time, his strikeout rate increased to just under 30% from 25%. Last year the burning question was if his robust OBP and walk rate a reflection of superior pitch/strike zone recognition, or instead a patient approach taking advantage of wild pitchers that won’t translate to high levels. 2019 was not definitive, but hints at the latter.
Likewise, his power fell to a .180 ISO from .228, though he still had 41 extra base hits. The issue is as corner outfield or first baseman, the bat is really going to have to carry him, and it wasn’t overwhelming in high-A. The worry is he’s an older player beating up on younger players, and the trend isn’t in right direction.
That’s the pessimistic view, and I did have him rated the lowest (the grade range being 30+ to 40). One might wonder why he’s still on the backend, whereas for example Brock Lundquist who had better production in high-A before a rough run in New Hampshire ran him off the list.
I wasn’t the only one to note this, there are some shades to Cavan Biggio after 2017, when he had a mediocre season in Dunedin, little other than on-base ability but accompanied with an elevated strikeout rate. Biggio of course reinvented himself, and that can’t be expected as base case. But Noda has shown more power to begin with, so there’s some hope the profile holds up at higher levels. If so, it’s possible he could hit his way to some high-OBP driven production.
31. Forrest Wall, OF, age 24 (DOB: 11/20/1995), grade: 35/35+, last year: 29th
Wall treads water in our rankings after a solid 2019 season mostly at AA, with a late season promotion to Buffalo. He hit .270/.353/.419, in line with what he did with New Hampshire in 2018 with a touch more power. That in turn was much better than he was doing before he came over for Seung-hwan Oh, so it’s an improvement over 2018 as a whole, albeit with a caveat of repeating the league (he was much better the second time through in high-A as well.
Wall has been discussed in depth quite a bit the last couple years, including detailed background in last year’s list, as well as when he was first Rule 5 eligible. He’s now been passed over two years in a row, suggesting other teams don’t see him profiling as a regular given relative proximity to the majors. Offensively, he’s got some swing and miss but will draw walks; he actually hits the ball in the air quite a bit but without much power to show for it.
At this point it would be very surprising if Wall did not make the majors in some capacity given the tools and reasonable upper level performance. Wall has the speed for CF, and from what I’ve seen he’s at least solid out there. If he sticks there as a decent defender, there’s some chance he could be a regular. In a corner, he’d have to take a big step forward beyond levels shown to date.
More likely, he profiles as a 4th outfielder (role 40) who can cover all three positions. If the bat doesn’t translate (for example, in line with Steamer’s 75 wRC+ projection), he’d be more of an up/down role 35 guy. His problem remains a glut in the outfield, and the Blue Jays have constantly acquired outfielders who jump him in the pecking order. 2020 has to be a year where some of that starts shaking out, maybe a strong 2020 propels him into the mix, because otherwise he’s in line for minor league free agency this fall.
30. Jackson McClelland, RHP, age 25 (DOB: 11/19/1994), grade: 35+, last year: 36th
The second on this list who occupies the same spot as in 2018, which represents progress in a deeper system. Hopefully this is the year he breaks through to the Jays having made it to the last rung below, though one way or another this will be the last year on the list. He’s been Rule 5 eligible the last couple seasons, I’m surprised no one took a flyer.
Like Wall above, McClelland has been discussed in-depth before in that context; he’ll touch triple digit digits while sitting high-90s with his fastball, can spin a wipeout slider when it’s on and will even flash a good change-up. If it all comes together, it’s a high end reliever profile, even closer level stuff. There are some issues with throwing strikes and high walk rates, but that’s not a fatal issue for relievers who can blow batters away. Even with no further development on this measure, he should be a major leaguer.
He struggled some upon the promotion to Buffalo in August, the ERA is skewed by a coupke blow-ups but in general he was wild. That’s not uncommon, and he had similar line moving up to New Hampshire at the end of 2018 and then adjusted last year. I’d expect or hope for something similar, and then if/when a bullpen spot opens up in the second half he could be in line to come up.
29. Joey Murray, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 9/23/1996), grade 35+/40, last year: not ranked
A major theme from last year’s list was the amount of depth in the system; even beyond the Top 40 and about 15 on the just missed/pref lists there were a lot of interesting prospects especially on the pitching side. For that reason, I intended one final post of 10-12 “other notables”, but I just didn’t get around to finishing it. Joey Murray was near the top of that list, and while not finding a higher place for him now looks like an oversight, I think the write-up from that unpublished piece hold up in explaining why not:
Mr. Invisiball posted a 1.75 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 25.2 innings with Vancouver after a 2.16 ERA and 251 strikeouts over 170.2 innings his last two years at Kent State. The 8th rounder’s performance is undeniable, the question is how the stuff will play at higher levels as his fastball tops out in the low-80s. It plays way up because out his deceptive delivery as well as his ability to mix three offspeed pitches. Like Thomas Pannone, he’s a guy who will have to prove it at each level including the big leagues. It wouldn’t surprise me if he skipped right over Lansing to Dunedin, and another dominant year in 2019 will almost certainly vault him onto next year’s list.
He didn’t actually skip Lansing, but may as well have as he was promoted a month into the season after striking out 40 in 30.2 innings. He not only didn’t skip a beat in Dunedin, maintaining a 30%+ strikeout rate, but was arguably even better in posting a 1.71 ERA over 63 innings. He finished the year with with a good run in AA, posting 3.50 ERA over 43.2 innings with 52 strikeouts (28%).
Obviously, having not only moved up three levels but having dominated significantly derisks the profile, particularly showing he can get experienced Double-A hitters out and more than hold his own. I watched most of his outings in New Hampshire, and Murray can really pitch. He has three solid offspeed pitches (curveball, slider, change-up) that all looked like usable (at least fringe-average) MLB pitches that he uses effectively and help keep hitters off his fastball.
But this move in the rankings is very much a case of raising the floor. None of those secondaries are a true, plus rating out pitch, and his fastball still sits 89-91, maxing out at 92. If he can continue to make it work, the reasonable ceiling would be an inning eating backend starter, though if everything clicked I could see him getting to mid-rotation with a fly ball profile and weak contact in the air. Almost like Marco Estrada without the plus-plus change-up. Also on the positive side, there’s no injury history.
The risk is he’s the type of pitcher who demolishes in experienced hitters in the lower minors without just purely overmatching them, but flatlines once the best hitters in the world catch up to him. There’s also not an obvious fallback in the bullpen due to the unconventional profile. Nonetheless, it’s looking like a great gamble on an 8th round pick.
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