The penultimate post in the Top 40 Blue Jays prospects is dominated by lower level position players signed internationally who had very strong seasons in 2019. Without further ado...
8. Alejandro Kirk, catcher/DH, age 21 (DOB: 11/6/1998), grade: 45, last year: 39th
Kirk jumps up the list after coming out of nowhere to post a crazy .354/.443/.558 line in Bluefield, and then obliterating any reasonable expectations in 2019. He took the jump to full season ball like it was nothing, walking more than twice as much as he struck out with strong power (10 extra base hits in 21 games) in Lansing. With a shortage of playing time behind the plate and clearly not being challenged, he went up to Dunedin after a month.
FSL pitchers didn’t fare much better, as Kirk posted a .288/.395/.446 line, for a 153 wRC+. The plate discipline remained incredible, walking 14% of the time while striking out just 11%. If there’s a nit to pick, the power output fell off some, more gap than over the fence power (25 doubles against four home runs). Quelle horreur. On the flip side, his production was in line with 2018 despite his BABIP coming in to a more reasonable/sustainable number.
Kirk is emblematic of John Kruk’s famous adage that “I’m not an athlete, I’m a professional baseball player”. At 5’9”, 220 he won’t be selling jeans anytime soon, but then that doesn’t really matter as long as he keeps tearing the cover off the ball. That’s led to automatic doubts about his ability to stick behind the plate, though report
Considering how dominant he’s been, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system is really bullish on Kirk, projecting that in 2020 he’d hit .240/.322/.387 against MLB pitching, for an 88 wRC+, essentially a league average player if he was decent behind the plate. That jumps to .252/.343/.428 for 2022, with 2.2 WAR in just 92 games of playing time. In some sense, this follows since he checks all the statistical boxes, but it’s pretty amazing nonetheless.
If he sticks behind the plate, he’s a potential impact regular with potentially a big bat. Even if he doesn’t stick, he may well hit enough to still be a regular even at the far end of the defensive spectrum. A possible comp in terms of career arc could be Carlos Santana, who came up a catcher, split time there early in his career and then became a bat-only player. Santana of course is a great hitter, but Kirk’s production and profile look great, and even ending up a poor man’s Santana would be a great outcome.
7. Anthony Kay, LHP, age 25 in 2020 (DOB: 3/25/1995), grade: 45, last year: Mets system
Acquired in the Marcus Stroman trade last July, Kay was drafted at the end of the first round in the 2016 draft out of UConn after serving as their ace for two years (2.38 ERA in 219 innings). He ended up signing underslot after his physical revealed elbow damage that required Tommy John surgery and put off his debut until 2018. He was solid in that first year back, before really turning some heads with a 1.49 ERA in 66.1 AA innings to start 2019.
Moving up to AAA proved to be a big adjustment, with a 6.61 ERA/6.21 FIP prior to the trade. He was better for Buffalo in August, though inconsistent with some walk issues. Needing to be added to the 40-man anyway after the season, he was called up and made three starts for the Jays, posting a 5.79 ERA though much more promising 2.64 FIP in 14 innings.
Kay uses three pitches, mixing in a curve and change-up in addition to his fastball. The fastball had better velocity than expected, averaging almost 94 MPH in his big league stint. The curve is a two plane breaking ball in the high-70s as opposed to the more classic 12-6 hammer. He showed good feel for it, but it’s not really a swing-and-miss plus secondary weapon.
With the pitching the Jays added, Kay is likely locked out of the rotation to start the year, but should get some innings and probably lose rookie eligibility (and won’t be on next year’s list regardless). He could reasonably profile as a backend starter who can mix three pitches with nothing plus, and if things really come together a midrotation starter is not out of the question.
6. Gabriel Moreno, catcher, age 20 (DOB: 2/14/2000), grade: 45+, last year: Just missed list
Moreno is the second catcher who makes a massive leap into the top 10. Tom and I both had him among our next few names after he trashed the GCL for a month and then was solid in Bluefield. Without having seen him, it was just hard to know what kind of defender he was. That’s a blind spot to this type of list, and had the positive reports on that been available, he certainly would have been somewhere on backend of the list.
Having watched a fair bit of him behind the plate in 2020, he certainly passes the eye test, and I have little doubt about him sticking behind the plate. If anything though, I was more impressed with what he did at the plate, hitting .280/.337/.485 at 19 facing a pretty significant jump in competition — and with just a .282 BABIP.
In particular, he showed some real pop despite not being a big guy (listed at 5’10, 160) with 12 home runs among 34 extra base hits for a .202 ISO. He did that without selling out for power, as I thought he showed a really good feel for quality contact, and limited the swing and miss. It’s not eye popping plate discipline like Kirk, but he limited the strikeouts to 11% with a decent 6.5% walk rate.
A good defender behind the plate who can hit a little profiles as a potential regular, and I’m bullish enough to think he could be an above average regular. If the bat stagnates or doesn’t develop/regresses, there would still be a very good chance he’s be a backup or platoon type player. In short, for me, he’s about as low risk as a player in low-A could be (albeit still medium/high risk because of that distance).
5. Orelvis Martinez, SS, age 18 (DOB: 11/19/2001), grade: 45+/50, last year: 22nd
For all intents and purposes, Martinez is the 2018-19 international free agent class, signing for $3,510,000 which represented almost all the spending capacity. Sometimes referred to as the top prospect in the class, the consensus ended up more top-10. The reports didn’t indicate any carrying tools, but these tend to get hedged with limited information available and given how quickly things change with players of very young age.
He had a very strong professional debut in 2019, hitting .275/.352/.549 in 163 plate appearances in the GCL. It’s complex ball, but the in-game power in particular was very impressive considering he didn’t turn 18 until after the season, as he put up 20 extra base hits including seven home runs. Interestingly, he only attempted two steals, but had five triples.
The rest of the line was quite promising, as he walked at a healthy 9% clip while holding the strikeouts down to 18%. Defensively, he made 12 errors in just 43 games, so there’s a long way to go there, and he may move off SS to third in time. I don’t think we’ll see him in Lansing, though Vancouver could make sense following a Franklin Barreto path.
This is an aggressive ranking, reflecting a fair bit of dispersion both in both the ultimate upside, as well as how much to discount for how far away he is (both risk and time value). Unless he really goes off further this year and really elevates himself into a cornerstone type prospect, there’s much much room to move next year. There are not huge gaps between the four players in this post, whereas there’s more of a significant step from here to the names on the last leg tomorrow.
The best MLB career (most WAR) will ultimately belong to
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