This edition of the list features two college starting pitchers who have posted strong results but face some questions, and two young shortstops out of the international market who are just starting their ascent of the US minor leagues.
16. Joey Murray, RHP, age 25 (DOB: 9/23/1996), grade: 35+/40, 2020: 29th
Murray was selected in the 8th round of the 2018 draft out of Kent State, where he dominated the mid-major MAC conference his last two years. Over 30 starts and 170.2 innings, he piled up 251 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA. The big weapon was his “invisiball”, a high spin fastball that blew away hitters despite only sitting in the high-80s. The big question was to what extent those numbers would translate against better hitters.
After signing at slot for $169,900, Murray went to Vancouver and had a strong pro debut in short outings to manage his workload. Though it was only 25.2 innings, a 1.75 ERA and 39 strikeouts showed the college numbers were were legit. But that was merely a prelude to 2019, when he earned two midseason promotions to reach New Hampshire. Overall, he posted a 2.88 ERA and 169/49 K/BB in 137.2 innings, but performing at Double-A (3.50 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 43.2 inning) that were most meaningful. In addition to the strikeouts, he got a lot of weak contact in the air.
Murray appeared on the fast track to the big leagues, potentially late in 2020 if his ascent continued through the upper levels. Though he was part of the alternative site pool, he circumstances really worked against him as with the Jays in the hunt for the bloated playoffs they were unlikely to push a pitcher from a cameo from Double-A to postseason run, and he didn’t have the opportunity to be tested at the upper levels. Then he missed 2021 was a strained elbow, and was not added to the 40-man.
Murray’s velocity had reportedly has ticked up to 92-93 at the alternate site. In addition to the fastball, Murray mixes in three secondary pitches that should be at least useable at the major league level, though none of them is a true putaway weapon. It makes for something of a dichotomous profile: if it works he could be a solid backend starter and maybe even sneak into mid-rotation status (role 45/50), but there’s not the usual fallback of a short reliever by paring back to a couple plus pitches. The value is derived essentially from the probability of starting.
This is another case of a prospect the list despite a worse or at least cloudier outlook having not thrown in an official game since 2019 when compiled (subsequently, he pitched four innings in an outing for New Hampshire this weekend). Without the added injury question marks, he’d have probably been a straight 40 grade and a few spots even higher. There’s a long line of quality MLB starters drafted on the second day, college performers who are overlooked for lack of huge raw stuff. They have to prove it at each level, but so far Murray is following that track.
15. Estiven Machado, SS, age 19 (DOB: 10/4/2004), grade: 35+/40, 2020: newcomers
Machado signed out of Venezuela for $775,000 in July 2019, receiving the second largest bonus of the Blue Jays’ international class. Since then, he’s been almost impossible to see. He made his triumphant pro debut in 2021, legging out a single in his first at bat and suffering a hamstring injury that immediately put him on the shelf for the rest of the year. In just the first weekend of 2022, he’s increased that career total PA total 1,000% with low-A Dunedin (in games that were not broadcast).
As a result, this ranking is based mostly on some video clips and scouting reports, with not much in the way of game performance to assess. The information we do have, though has been promising. Machado is an athletic looking 5’10”, 170lbs. Defensively, while he doesn’t have plus speed he’s a very good athlete with great short area quickness, smooth hands, and enough arm to stick at shortstop.
A switch hitter, he has a short, direct swing from either side of the plate, with fast hands that allow him to make a lot of high quality contact. It’s a swing geared for contact over power, but because of his wiry strength scouts seem to think he’ll at least produce tons of doubles and possibly get to average home run totals when he’s matured. He’s also been praised for his approach (and has walked three times in his first 10 PA at Dunedin).
Being assigned directly to A ball at 19, with no game experience to speak of, demonstrates a degree of confidence in Machado on the organization’s part. There’s a group of four potential future shortstops in the low minors of the Jays’ system. Machado is at the bottom of that group right now, just because of a lack of exposure so far, but all the information available suggests he has the potential to eventually be a quality starter in the major leagues. Whether he can make good on that potential will begin to be determined over the coming months.
14. Manuel Beltre, SS, age 17/18 (DOB: 6/9/2004), grade: 35+/40, 2020: unsigned
If Machado is one of the hardest prospects in the lower minors for the Blue Jays to see, Beltre is surely the easiest. He’s been broadcasting his workouts and game clips to 87,000 Instagram followers since before he signed. Unusually for a kid from the Dominican Republic, he also made regular trips to the US in the years before signing to participate in prospect showcase events. All that exposure helped convince the Blue Jays to sign him for $2.35-million in January 2021 as the centrepiece of their IFA class.
Beltre spent the 2021 season in the Dominican Summer League. His .225/.391/.346 line doesn’t look great on the surface (although it was about 20% better than league average), but that’s mostly due to a .258 BABIP that looks like an aberration. Under the surface, Beltre walked more than he struck out (18% to 14%) and managed 17 extra base hits in 182 at bats.
Listed at 5’9” and 155 pounds, Beltre isn’t a big guy but looks strong. In the batter’s box, he uses a long stride to get his weight behind his swing and rotates his hips well to allow him to use his entire body to generate force. He’ll probably never have a lot of raw power, just because of his size, but he apparently started hitting balls at over 100mph as last summer went along, which isn’t bad for a 17 year old. Continued strength development will be an area of focus for him. He has good bat control to allow him to make a lot of contact, and scouts seem very impressed by his approach and swing decisions.
Beltre possesses a solid array of physical tools, with everything but power having the potential to be average or a little better. In the field, he doesn’t have the range to be a plus defender at short, but with very good hands, strong footwork and an accurate arm he should be average or better there in the long run. He’s an above average runner.
What could separate him, though, is the mental side. Every scouting report raves about his work ethic, baseball IQ, and leadership. In games, that’s apparent through his approach at the plate, which is extremely advanced for his age, and through his polished work with the glove. It’s hard to know how much to credit those kind of reports, or how to weigh them, but the consensus seems to be that Beltre is as likely as any prospect to wring the most out of his physical abilities.
Beltre has been assigned to extended spring training to start the year, and will probably play in the complex league once it gets going. He won’t turn 18 until June, so it’ll likely be next summer before the Jays assign him to a regular affiliate.
13. Chad Dallas, RHP, age 21/22 (DOB: 6/26/2000), grade: 35+/40, 2020: college
Chad ‘Cheese’ Dallas, a native of Orange, Texas, didn’t receive much attention coming out of high school, and ended up spending the 2019 season pitching for Panola junior college. He dominated, going 5-0 in 10 starts with a 1.15 ERA and 71 strikeouts to 15 walks in 39 innings. That earned him a scholarship to Tennessee, where he immediately took the reins as the Friday night starter.
In 21 starts across the abbreviated 2020 and full 2021 seasons, he managed 143 strikeouts to only 26 walks in 124.1 innings. He had something of a home run problem, though, with 21 long balls inflating his ERA to 3.91. On the strength of that performance, the Blue Jays took Dallas in the 4th round of the 2021 draft and signed him with a $497,500 bonus. Dallas wasn’t assigned to an affiliate last summer, because he’d already logged 103 innings for the year with the Volunteers.
Dallas is a stocky 5’11”, 206lbs. His delivery has a long arm swing that can upset his timing a little, which some reports worry might limit his command. His fastball sits in the low 90s but can touch 97. It’s fairly straight, though, which is the root of his home run problem. His best pitch is a mid-80s slider with hard bite that he locates really well to the glove side. It’s at least a plus pitch, drawing swings and misses inside the zone and chases out of it. He pairs it with a curveball around 80, which is more average but gives hitters a different look, and a rarely used changeup. On the mound, he’s an aggressive competitor, liking to challenge hitters. When that works, he piles up the strikeouts while keeping the walks down. When it doesn’t, they take him deep.
High A Vancouver will be Dallas’ first pro stop. He’ll begin as a starter, and he has the repertoire depth and strike throwing ability to stick in that role. He’ll have to find a way to make his fastball a bit less hitable, whether it’s refining his command or finding a way to add a bit more life, to reach his mid-rotation upside. If that doesn’t work out, there’s a fallback in the bullpen where he could lean on his excellent slider and hopefully push his fastball into the mid or high 90s more often.
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