Moving into the top half of the list, a couple of position players whose stock is down, a recently acquired who may have broken out with renewed emphasis on a pitch, and a very young infielder.
20. Anthony Alford, OF, age 25 (DOB: 7/20/1994), grade 40/40+, last year: 11th
It’s hard to believe in a few months it’ll be eight years since the Blue Jays drafted Alford, the longest tenured member of organization (signing a month before Ryan Borucki). It’s been quite the journey, first up the rankings and now sliding to 20th from 3rd two years ago. At this point he’s really a prospect in name only, just barely qualifying for this list by three weeks. His future is quite up in the air, but one way or the other, this will be his last year on the list, whether that’s because in another organization, passes rookie eligibility, clears waivers and becomes a free agent after the season.
Paradoxically, despite multiple years experience at the high levels of the minors, Alford is very much a higher risk or at least higher variance player. The tools that marked him as a top 100 prospect a few years ago are still there, it just hasn’t turned into production the degree expected. But where I was hesitant on the underlying production a few years ago, likewise I retain some hope today. He’s had some productive stretches the last couple years, but it seems just when he’s putting things together he gets hurt.
In his brief (and scattered) major league time he’s been overmatched, and he’s had a high strikeout rate in AAA as well without much power to offset it, which was always expected to come. Even if the hitting doesn’t come around, he could carve out a role as a bench player with defensive and baserunning value. The most important thing at this point though is really staying healthy. That’s really as a prerequisite at this point, and it that happens there’s still some chance he puts it together and fulfills the long-awaited promise. There’s still the bigger question of whether the front office sees him as part of the future.
19. Thomas Hatch, RHP, age 25 (DOB: 9/29/1994), grade: 40/40+, last year: Cubs system
Hatch was acquired from the Cubs for David Phelps at the trade deadline, somewhat perversely representing a greater return than for Daniel Hudson who went on to close out the World Series for the Nationals. Part of that was Phelps having a option (that was declined), and some of that was Hatch being Rule 5 eligible so Chicago risked losing him for next to nothing if they didn’t plan to add him to the 40-man.
Hatch was drafted in the 3rd round of the the 2016 draft out of Oklahoma State, where after missing all of 2014 he turned in a huge redshirt sophomore year with a 2.14 ERA in 130 innings (112/33 K/BB). The Cubs moved him directly to high-A in 2017 where he proved up to the task and then AA in 2018. In both years, he was solid and durable, a combined 3.92 in 268.1 innings with just under a strikeout an inning.
He was back in AA in 2019 with similar results, appearing to have stagnated. Then came the trade, and he moved to New Hampshire where he was exceptional for the last month. In 35 innings, 2.80 ERA with 34 strikeouts and two walks despite giving up five home runs. The report on Hatch was a decent fastball and slider, with a fringy changeup. The Jays reportedly had him using a cutter more often, and watching his starts it was apparently that was a significant part of the mix.
If that’s a difference maker, it could see Hatch profiling as a backend starter, with a fastball up to 94-95. His slider looked solid to me, but it’s not true wipeout putaway pitch. Hatch should move up to Buffalo in 2020, and could debut at some point later in the season though 2021 might be likelier. He’s among the numerous pitchers on the 40-man without MLB experience the organization has to work through, but regardless this will be Hatch’s first and only appearance on Top 40 (proper).
18. Kevin Smith, SS, age 23 (DOB: 7/4/1996), grade: 40+, last year: 9th
The issue here is the strikeouts, the primary reason Smith jumped up last year’s list from 22nd and falls this year. That was the issue at Maryland, where he struck out 20% over his last two years, and then 25% in his pro debut in Bluefield. The potentially game changer development was that moving to full season ball with Lansing, it fell to 16% without sacrificing power as he made some swing changes.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t stuck. Smith’s strikeout rate regressed back to 24% when moved up to Dunedin, though that was still manageable in the context of 18 home runs in three months. But in the critical testing ground of AA in 2019, it blew out to 32%. Even with good power (.193 ISO and 19 home runs), that’s a tough bar to overcome.
On the positive side, such as it is, Smith looked truly over matched in the first half, with a .183/.244/.346 line. After a short IL stint in early July, he came back and totally mashed for a month while looking like a different guy. But even that came with a 30% strikeout rate, and then he faded down the stretch back to more the first half guy. And he was overmatched again in Fall League. He’s going to have make some adjustments in 2020 and channel the guy from 2018.
Again, there’s more risk than is usually the case for a prospect who has reached the upper levels. But there’s real carrying tools here in above average power and positive defensive ability. There’s a reason he was considered in the first round mix heading into his junior draft year, before falling to the 4th round. He looked at SS to me watching a lot of games, at least capable of making the routine plays if not a wowing as a standout.
If things come together, there’s still some chance of profiling as a regular, though of course a high risk of never exceeding replacement level. A comp might be a poor man’s Alex Gonzalez (the 2010 free agent, not the late-90s mainstay). That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, considering his 9 career WAR, but he played 14 seasons in the big leagues as a fringe regular, finding more power later in his career to mitigate poor plate discipline.
17. Leonardo Jimenez, IF, age 19 in 2020 (DOB: 5/17/2001), grade: 40+, last year: 30th
Jimenez put together a very solid year in Bluefield, his first affiliated assignment. At just 18, he was on the young side of the league, but more than held his own hitting .298/.377/.377 for a wRC+ of 115. Most impressive perhaps was the quality plate discipline, he limited the strikeouts to 17% while walking over 8% of the time.
As with his GCL debut the power output was minimal (under .100 ISO) though he did record 15 doubles and triples and it wouldn’t be surprising if he grew into a little more in time. The line was buoyed by a .368 BABIP, but a recorded 27% line drive rate that would suggest that was about squaring up balls as opposed to good fortunate in balls falling in.
MLB Pipeline described him as a “sum of the parts player”, and I think that’s quite apt as there’s nothing in the statistical profile that really jumps out so far. The danger in this is a lack of carrying tools can result in stagnation at upper levels. On the other hand, if he sticks on the middle infield and hits reasonably with good plate discipline, that can profile as a potential regular. At other positions, it would be a difficult profile. Lansing will be an indicative test in 2020 and we’ll have a much better of where he stands a year from now.
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