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Beyond the Top 40: Notable Newcomers

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Top 40 Prospects

The top half of the Top 40 will continue and conclude next week, but in the interim I wanted to do a little detour. A significant part of this exercise is not just making a list, but to provide background and insight on the state of the Blue Jays system. With almost 300 rookie eligible prospects, there’s plenty of interesting players outside the top 15% that end up on the list. That was the genesis of the just missed lists, on whom there was not consensus and some had much higher, as well as those in the next wave beyond.

I mentioned in writing about Joey Murray earlier in the week that with a much deeper system, there were interesting players who didn’t get discussed within either the formal Top 40, or the roughly 20 more players mentioned on the various “Beyond the Top 40” lists. I intended to highlight about a dozen of them in a final entry, but regretfully didn’t get around to publishing it. To expand the value of this series and highlight some under-the-radar prospects, this year we’ll be building out the “Beyond the Top 40” series, with today the first entry.

There have already been four 2019 draftees on the Top 40; being the third, fourth, fifth and ninth round selection (though representing the third through sixth highest bonuses). I don’t think it requires a spoiler alert to say that it follows that the two picks will occupy spots in the top 20 spots, and that no other draftees will be. In a similar vein, there have been no 2019 international free agents (IFAs), and there will not be any.

As a general rule, I don’t really consider just-signed IFAs for the list unless they’re really one of the very top signees like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2015 or Orelvis Martinez in 2018, for the simple reason that there’s so little known about them. There’s just not much I can add as someone following and watching games, and ranking is really just throwing a dart and frankly would be disingenuous. To some extent, this is true of recent North American high school draftees, but there at least there are more reliable reports and video.

This creates a bit of a blind spot for the Top 40 list, we won’t have some very young prospects with tools, but I think it’s more intellectually honest than essentially making it up. The Blue Jays landed some of the more highly ranked IFAs, but mostly spread their money around. So with that in mind, we’ll briefly note some of these signees who are candidates to make the jump in a year or two, followed by some 2019 college draftees who should merit 2019 full season assignments in April, and then a handful of others.

IFAs

The late spring trades of Kendrys Morales and Dwight Smith Jr. for a combined $1,500,000 in singing room put the Jays in the unusual position of deploying significant resources late in the signing period (which runs July 2nd to June 15th of the next year), whereas the big dollar players are largely locked up by September. They signed seven players from March 22nd onwards, of which four pitcher merit mention:

  • RHP Jonatan Bernal signed for $100,000 out of Mexico, and had a pretty good run in the DSL with a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings, 21/5 K/BB. I’d think he’ll be stateside in 2020, Bluefield wouldn’t be out of the question if he really impresses.
  • RHP Yosver Zulueta got most of the money, about $1-million as a 22-year out of Cuba whose fastball is apparently mid-90s, touching higher. That was despite requiring Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for most or all of 2020 (granted, the money had a low opportunity cost). A name to keep in mind for 2021 and the 2022 list.
  • RHP Sem Robberse signed for $125,000 out of the Netherlands, 18 year old had strong brief GCL debut with a 0.87 ERA in 10.1 innings (nine strikeouts, one free pass)
  • RHP Jiorgeny Casimiri, also 18 from the Netherlands, had a 2.57 ERA in 14 GCL innings, 13/2 K/BB and hopefully he goes to affiliated ball in 2020

In the current signing period, the Jays have thus far signed 42 or 43 players who won’t debut until next year. A brief rundown of the most prominent 17-year olds:

  • SS Rikelvin de Castro — $1,200,000 (BA: 28th, Fangraphs 34, MLB Pipeline 30)
  • SS Estiven Machado — $775,000 (BA: 22nd)
  • OF Roberto Robertis — $750,000 (BA: 98th)
  • OF Peniel Brito — $600,000 (BA: 78th)
  • RHP Cesar Ayala — $450,000
  • OF Christian Feliz — $325,000 (BA: 88th)
  • C Victor Mesia — $300,000 (BA: 43rd)

College draftees

Below are some 2019 pitchers that strike me as interesting either from what I saw, the numbers and/or draft positioning.

  • RHP Luis Quinones posted a 2.97 ERA in 30.1 innings as a piggyback starter with Vancouver. The 38% strikeout rate jumps off the page, though paired with a 14% strikeout rate. The stuff didn’t jump to me, primarily a straight fastball and slurvy breaking ball. And then he got a PED suspension so we won’t see him until late June
  • RHP Nick Fraze didn’t have as eye popping numbers in a similar role, a 2.12 ERA in 34 innings though a 21% K-rate. The 22nd rounder showed a solid fastball and slider with some tight bite that could profile as a big league relieve. He was a starter in college with some decent results, it’ll be interesting to see if the Jays keep him there for now or convert him soon.
  • RHP Parker Caracci was inconsistent, but has some pretty electric raw stuff in his fastball and breaking ball. A pure reliever and high risk, but a very real shot at profiling as a solid big leaguer reliever.
  • RHP Sam Ryan (12th round) had ugly results, but solid peripherals (35/8 K/BB in 41.1 innings). A number of good outings fall apart, it’s worth noting he was stretched out after working out of the bullpen in 2019 for VCU; I’d be interested in how things look in short outings.

On the position side, most of the college players drafted earlier from round 6 to 14 didn’t do much. CF Cameron Eden and IF Trevor Schwecke were below average at the plate. 2B LJ Talley got an aggressive placement as a SEC senior in Lansing, mainly because they were short infielders. He was really overmatched to start, but rebounded in August and showed some surprising power.

In Bluefield, OF Eric Rivera was solid overall with good plate discipline, but was overshadowed by CF Justin Ammons. He was an undrafted free agent, who tend to be org guys to fill spots, but Ammons was actually a junior out of a quality program at Tennessee. His line was inflated by a .433 BABIP, but posted strong plate discipline and the plus speed is interesting. Ryan Sloniger and Spencer Horwitz were late picks who absolutely mashed, regressed significantly in Vancouver, but we’ll see if they’re more flash in the pan or can pick it up in full season ball.

Other draftees

Two 2019 draftees were almost akin to IFAs (and in fact would have been 30 years ago before Puerto Rico and Canada were swept into the draft). SS Glenn Santiago was selected in the 10th round, but debuted in the DSL, where he showed good plate discipline and speed (13/15 stealing). OF Jean-Christophe Masson stood out for being 16 on draft day, making him the better part of two years younger than most other high school draftees. HIs $297,500 signing bonus was the 7th highest the Jays gave out, so he’ll be interesting to follow.

LHP Brandon Eisert was selected in the 17th round out of Oregon State, though didn’t debut in the summer. He missed a good chunk of May with elbow swelling after stepping into the starting rotation for the first time, where he was as equally effective as in the first two years for the Beavers (all sub-3.00 ERAs).