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2020 Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospects: 21-24

Three position players at different levels and a promising RHP

Top 40 Prospects

After a run of 40-man pitchers, today reverts back to the position player side, which a set of three very different profiles and what will probably result in very positioning a year or two from now. I believe this may be the first time there have ever been two Canadians on the same segment of the BBB Top 40.

2020: Full List and Index | 37-40 | 33-36 | 29-32 | 25-28 | 21-24

2019: Full List and Index | 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-12 | 13-16 | 17-20 | 21-24 | 25-28 | 29-32 | 33-36 | 37-40 | Just missed/pref: Matt | Tom | Top 5 Older

24. Santiago Espinal, IF, age 25 (DOB: 11/13/1994), grade: 40, last year: 33rd

Espinal was acquired in the Steve Pearce deal in July 2018, in the midst of a breakout season in high-A after being drafted out of Miami-Dade junior college in 2016. He had a long and unconventional path to that point, explaining why he was under the radar and slipped to signing for less than of slot in the 10th round.

In 2019, Espinal returned to New Hampshire where he finished 2018, posting an almost identical line. In 573 plate appearances in AA, he’s hit .280/.346/.385 as his contact heavy approach has held up against better and more experienced pitching. He shows strong plate discipline, striking out just 13% of the time while maintain a walk rate over 8%. He’s not hammering the ball, with 30-grade below average power that results in the odd double, but posts solid BABIPs without a slap-and-dash ground ball heavy approach.

Espinal moved up to Buffalo for the end of the season, and while the overall .317/.360/.433 looked very nice, underneath with a bit of a warning flag. His strikeout rate blew out to 20% while his walk rate fell to 6%, buoyed by an unsustainable .392 BABIP. It may be a blip adjusting to a new level, but it may the approach mot working as well against major league calibre type pitchers and stuff.

Espinal profiles as very low risk and high floor, with a strong likelihood of being a utility infielder (role 40) who can cover shortstop but below average offensive production (80-85 wRC+). If the demonstrated contact ability translates really well, he could surprise to the upside as a “second division” fringe regular (1-2 WAR/year at ~90 wRC+), with an outside chance at an everyday regular if he’s as good defensively as the Blue Jays have indicated.

23. Dasan Brown, CF, age 18 (DOB: 9/25/2001), grade: 40/40+, last year: HS senior

The Blue Jays selected Brown in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft, receiving an overslot $797,500 bonus to forgo Texas A&M. It’s also worth noting that Brown was very young for the draft class, only turning 18 after the season making almost a full year young than the average high school player.

As detailed in the link above, this pick was all about the prodigious tools, with top end speed that allows him to cover ground in CF and the potential to add value on the bases and be a standout defender. The big question is the hit tool, as he’s considered quite raw though it’s worth noting he’s faced professional pitching with the Junior National team. If he’s a decent hitter, he’s a potential impact regular; there’s a significant chance he doesn’t even make it to AA. There’s parallels in the profile here to 2012 first rounder D.J. Davis; it’s a much more palatable gamble with lower opportunity cost in the 3rd round.

He had a short three week stint in the GCL, hitting .222/.444/.356 in 63 plate appearances. Complex ball doesn’t have a lot of inferential value, especially a small sample at all, but it’s a positive that he wasn’t completely overmatched. The OBP is juiced is by nine HBP (!), giving him 18 free trips to first (28%), and there was some sign and miss (27% strikeout rate).

How he fares in real affiliated ball this year will be a real test and data point, probably Bluefield but maybe Vancouver on “home soil” (nevermind Bluefield being about four times less distance from home) if he’s advanced enough. Consequently, this ranking is something of a hedge, perhaps not next year but certainly two years from he’s likely to either be ranked much higher or much lower.

22. Otto Lopez, IF/OF, age 21 (DOB: 10/1/1998), grade: 40/40+, last year: 38th

Lopez was signed for $70,000 in 2016, interestingly he grew up in Montreal and is a Canadian citizen, though returned to the Dominican at 16 to train with a view to signing professionally. He went right to the GCL in 2017, with a solid debut. Moving up in 2018, he mashed in Bluefield for a week so the Jays sent him along to more advanced competition in Vancouver. He more than held his own with contact oriented .297/.390/.434, and found his way to the backed of the Top 40.

I wrote last year “translating that production [in 2019 at Lansing] would send up him the list”, and lo and behold here we are after he won the Midwest League batting title hitting .324/.371/.425 in 491 plate appearances. And it wasn’t a creation of the friendly confines of Cooley Law School stadium; he hit better on the road by 38 points with a more power.

He excels at putting the ball in play, with just a 13% strikeout rate (in line with 11% the last two seasons). But he’s got an idea of the strike zone and will take a walk (7%), it’s not just swinging early. Though his batted balls skew towards ground balls and beating them out with his speed accounts for some of the high average, he shows a feel for feel for squaring up the ball and spraying to all fields. In short, if you want a profile that goes against the predominant trend in MLB of selling out for power with swings and misses, Lopez is your guy. There’s some parallels to Santiago Espinal above.

Defensively, it’s not clear where he ends up. Most if his playing time came at shortstop last year, but having watched the majority of that, it was pretty rough. There was too many booted balls and bad throws, which shows up in the raw defensive stats, with 25 errors and .925 fielding percentage. He’s young, he’ll improve, but I don’t think he’s sticking there. For what it’s worth, BP’s minor league defensive metric had him as okay (though that’s for all positions).

He also played some second base and a little outfield; in his short professional career he’s played almost everywhere. If he doesn’t have the hands for the infield, and he may be a fit in CF with good speed where he could profile as an everyday regular. In a corner, it would a tougher profile since Lopez has only shown a little bit of gap power and while he should grow into a little more, he doesn’t project for power and it’s not his game. It’s also possible the Jays could develop him as a utility player, a Swiss Army knife who moves all over the place.

21. Josh Winckowski, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 6/28/1998), grade: 40/40+ last year: my pref list

Winckowski was selected in the 15th round of the 2016 draft out of high school in Florida, and caught my eye in his brief GCL debut for a high ground ball rate. That carried over to Bluefield in an otherwise very uneven 2017, sometimes dominating with good stuff and sometimes getting shelled. He took a big step forward in 2018 with Vancouver, posted a 2.78 ERA in 68 innings with a 55% ground ball rate and 25% strike out rate while cutting the walk rate down to 5%. That made him very interesting to watch as he move to the full season level.

He put together a very nice 2019 season, posting a 2.32 ERA with 71/26 K/BB in 73 first half innings with Lansing, going at least six innings in right of 13 outings. That earned a promotion back home to the east coast of Florida, where he posted a solid 3.19 ERA in 53.2 innings. Notably, there was some significant slippage in the underlying numbers, his ground ball rate a little under 50% and strikeout rate just 16% (against an elevated but reasonable 7.5% walk rate).

Winckowski uses three pitches, with his fastball sitting in the 92-94 MPH range, though he’ll touch 95-97. He relies on his slider at 85-87 as his put-away pitch, and it looked a lot better and sharper to me last year than I had seen in limited looks previously. There is a change-up to mix in against opposite handed hitters, at its best it has some fade but is very inconsistent in terms of shape, location, and tends towards the firmer side in velocity. Its further development will be key to a future starting, otherwise there’s clear elements for a good reliever, especially with velo maintained at the higher end of what he’s shown in small bursts. But there’s no reason not to give him every chance to start, likely back in Dunedin to start 2020.


The highest ranked in 2021 will be

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Dasan Brown
    (152 votes)
  • 34%
    Otto Lopez
    (162 votes)
  • 33%
    Josh Winckowski
    (158 votes)
472 votes total Vote Now