As the Top 40 countdown moves closer to the top, we start getting into players with significant carrying tools and thus more upside — though also some red flags keeping them out of the top 10. This segment is a bit of a grab bag, featuring Buffalo’s presumptive 2020 catcher, and outfielder with huge power, and three right-handed pitchers. Yes, that’s right, we’ve got five profiles today.
16. Griffin Conine, OF, age 22 (DOB: 7/11/1997), grade: 40+, last year: 19th
Conine had quite the first 15 months professionally — drafted in the second round, a decent debut in Vancouver though hindered by an injury, 50-game PED suspension, and then hammering the Midwest League. Once he eventually got to Lansing in late May, he immediately made an impact in the middle of the order, hitting 22 home runs in three months with .283/.371/.576 for a 169 wRC+ by FanGraphs.
The massive power (43 extra base hits in 304 at-bats) stands out, but so too does the swing-and-miss that resulted in 125 strikeouts. A 36% strikeout rate in low-A is a huge red flag for a college draftee from a major conference. Moreover, the entire line was underpinned by a .400 BABIP, and while he made good contact, that’s not sustainable going forward. That many strikeouts is going to lend itself to more of a .220 average than .280.
In terms of the statistical profile, there’s a comparison with Joey Gallo. In 2013 at low-A, he struck out 37% of the time while hitting 38 home runs for a .365 ISO and 11% walk rate for a .245/.334/.610 line and 163 wRC+. Granted, Gallo was younger being a year out of high school and put up even more power, but he also never improved the swing-and-miss problems. The broader point is high strikeout rate is not as fatal as what it may seem, and Conine as a poor man’s Gallo would actually be a decent outcome.
Defensively, Conine’s range is nothing remarkable in the outfield, but he has an absolute howitzer for an arm in right. It was actually comical as Conine went around the league the first time, it seemed like every series facing a team the first time a runner would try to take an extra base and get hosed.
If Conine can keep the strikeout rate in check a bit (to something like 30%), he could profile as a low-average/lowish-OBP/high-power corner outfielder, something like .240/.300/.450+ line. On the low end, that would make him another fringy corner guy, with more like a .500 slug and reasonable defensive value it could reach role 50 everyday regular. There’s shades of Teoscar Hernandez or even Randal Grichuk actually.
15. Riley Adams, catcher, age 23 (DOB: 6/26/1996), grade: 40+, last year: 40th
Adams rebounds back near his 14th spot from 2018 after falling down the list last year (I’m very glad we kept him on the very end after a perhaps unduly harsh move down). There was a wider range of opinion here, ranking from eighth to 22nd on individual lists so the ultimate placement is more art than science.
A strong start repeating Dunedin earned him a quick promotion to New Hampshire, where he hit .258/.349/.439. His strikeout walk blew out to 32% from 22% career previously, but his swinging strike rate wasn’t outrageous at 13%, so I’d expect at some some regression. The real development was Adams finally hitting for some power, as he did in college and as his frame would suggest. His 14 home runs were double his career total entering the year.
Defensively, there’s been question marks about him sticking given his 6’4” frame, but the arm is legit and having watched most games he looked fine to me behind the plate. Here’s what Kraemer had to say:
I love his defence, his presentation to umpires is exceptional. He’s pretty tooled up for a catcher as well. I’m probably out on an island a little bit with him, but he checks my boxes. The strikeouts are a problem but I said the same thing about Story/Springer/Joc.
Ultimately, if Adams sticks behind the plate, the strikeouts shouldn’t be an issue because the bat should be plenty to profile as a regular. The risk as always been that if he moved out from the plate, there was going to be a lot of pressure on his bat in an outfield corner. A lot of that has been removed at this point.
14. Eric Pardinho, RHP, age 19 (DOB: 1/5/2001), grade: 45 (pre-TJ), last year: 5th
Prior to his Tommy John surgery announced last week, Pardinho was ranked ninth so at least the timing was fortuitous (for us) in allowing for a little shuffling in response. Hopefully that will allow enough recovery time to be back for a full season in 2021, at which point the Jays will have an interesting Rule 5 decision at the end of the year. Various injuries make it hard to disentangle things cleanly, but as some commentary at the time suggested, we probably had him a little overranked to begin with.
Frankly, in a way it’s a bit of a relief that needing Tommy John surgery might explain why his stuff was down this summer. He was shut down with elbow tightness in the spring, but when he debuted in Lansing in early July he looked, well, pretty ordinary. It struck me at one point watching him compared to the other starter that if I didn’t know he was supposed to be a top prospect, I’d wouldn’t have known.
Granted, subsequent appearances were better and in particular he showed really advanced feel and location for his secondaries, especially his curveball. Pardinho’s fastball command too appeared quite advanced, but he was mostly low-90s, touching only 93. That was at least a grade worse than reports indicated. Overall, he was still effective, with a 2.41 ERA in 33.1 innings, but the peripherals (22% strikeouts, 10% walks) were more decent than dominant.
Overall, I’m a little unsure what to make of that. The line from the Blue Jays is that his IL stint at the end of season was a back problem, and his elbow was structurally fine. Colour me skeptical, since at the time the line was it was just extra rest (and referring to a strained ligament as “not irreparably damaged” sounds like a partial tear situation) but that would almost be worse. If the Pardinho this summer was fully healthy, it’s much less upside than I expected, more a backend guy who’s a long ways off if he fully recovers, and should be even lower.
* Elvis Luciano, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 2/15/2000), grade: 40+, last year: 26th
In spending the year on the major league roster pursuant to Rule 6 restrictions as a Rule 5 draftee, Luciano exhausted rookie eligibility. For all intents and purposes though, he’s remains a prospect, at least as much as someone like Reese McGuire who—spoiler alert— was originally on this segment. Rather than open a can of worms and add him back (where do you stop? Bo Bichette barely exceeded the criteria and is only 22, he could be considered a prospect too), I figured we’d show where he slots in.
That Luciano was even able to hold his own in the majors at 19, having never even pitched in full season ball is mighty impressive to begin with. The results obviously weren’t very pretty, with a 5.35 ERA in 33.2 innings, with 24 walks against 27 strikeouts. He struggled to stay in the zone and throw strikes, but one the other side had some really good outings.
What has him ranked in this range though is first the upside form the raw stuff he showed, but also the progress he showed from spring training to the end of the season. His fastball averaged 94-95, maybe that ticks down a little as a starter rather than shorter outings out of the bullpen, but it’s a solid foundation. He flashed a plus slider later in the year, here what caught my eye had how much sharper better it was than six months earlier when he pitches in Spring Training and the few I saw I initially wasn’t even sure were sliders. Likewise, he flashed a decent change-up too.
There’s still consistency of his secondaries and strike throwing to develop, but the fundamental ability to be a mid-rotation starter are there, and he should be developed as such. It’ll be interesting to see where he starts, my guess would be Dunedin but even New Hampshire wouldn’t be a crazy stretch. If starting doesn’t work out, he should play as a reliever. All in all, a really nice gamble by the front office to get a lottery ticket prospect cheaply.
13. Kendall Williams, RHP, age 19 (DOB: 8/24/2000), grade: 40+, last year: HS senior
Williams was selected in the 52nd overall in the second round of the 2019 draft, signing about 10% over slot for $1.5-million to buy him out of his Vanderbilt commitment. There’s more detail in the draft write-up linked above, but Williams paid a low-90s fastball with the ability to spin a hellacious curveball, as well as having a slider and change-up. As Kraemer put it succinctly, “his stuff is electric man, wowza”.
The upside there is there for a potential front of the rotation starter, of course he’s a long way off and there’s plenty of risk. His brief pro debut in the GCL was promising, with a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings, 19 strikeouts (30%) against eight free passes with just six hits allowed. Success is always nice to see, but the big positive here in my view is showing a feel for pitching rather than just big stuff. Too often high school pitchers get drafted in the top 100 picks with big raw stuff, but it doesn’t doesn’t translate to pro games. To some extent at least, the debut mitigates the risk. I’d assume a short season placement, perhaps Vancouver following the Adam Kloffenstein path (and hopefully see him on TV).
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