Moving towards the top of the list, it remains the case that this range is much thinner for the Toronto Blue Jays than in previous years and comparatively weaker than most over systems. It’s not that there isn’t talent and upside, it’s just that it’s further asway and much riskier than would usually or ideally be at the cusp of the top 10.
12. Rikelbin de Castro, SS, age 19 (DOB: 1/23/2003), grade: 35+/40, 2020: newcomers
De Castro was the headliner of the Blue Jays’ 2019 IFA class, signed for $1.2-million out of the Dominican Republic. He made his pro debut last summer in the Florida Complex League and put in a solid showing as a young 18 year old with a .238/.372/.397 line that was 11% better than league average. He struck out more than would be ideal (26%), but also worked a lot of walks (15%) and demonstrated a little pop with two home runs and 13 total extra base hits in 126 at bats.
Listed at 6’0” and only 150 pounds, de Castro looks a little bigger than that now, but he has a slight frame and will always be wiry. He has a loose, simple swing with mechanics that tend to drift a bit. He has solid feel for contact, though, and hits a lot of line drives. Adding strength will be key, not just for power output, but to allow him to better control his swing and turn his athleticism into bat speed and control. He’ll never be a home run hitter, but with plus speed and a sound approach he could post solid OBPs that make him a contributor in a major league lineup.
The real draw with De Castro is his fielding. He’s extremely quick and agile, with the speed and hands to make highlight reel plays at shortstop. His arm accuracy and strength need to improve, but that’s also probably coming as he matures and gets stronger. Overall, De Castro projects at a true plus defender at short.
Among the Jays’ quartet of low minors shortstops, De Castro ranks second ahead of Beltre and Machado (with the top spot coming later this week). He’s got a lower offensive ceiling than those two, but having seen significant game action in the US there’s a little more certainty that he can at least hold his own at the plate. He opened the season with low-A Dunedin and has already hit a home run, so the early signs in 2022 have been positive.
Conversely, he has the highest defensive upside of the group and shortstops as good as De Castro seems likely to be have a very low bar to clear to hold down starting jobs. The likes of Dansby Swanson and Amed Rosario are better than average players in spite of batting lines 10% or more below average. If things break right, De Castro could have a very good big league career as a player in that mold.
11. Irv Carter, RHP, age 19 (DOB: 10/9/2002), grade: 40(-), 2020: high school junior
Carter was selected in the 5th round of last year’s draft from Calvary Christian High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (not to be confused with the one in Clearwater where Roy Halladay coached and out of which the Jays drafted son Braden). However, in signing for more than twice slot at $847,500, he was valued more like an early fifth rounder. He’s only the third high school pitcher drafted in the top 10 rounds by the current front office.
Playing on the same team as 13th overall pick Andrew Painter and unsigned 4th round pick Alex Ulloa (plus the usual showcase circuit), Carter was heavily scouted. He ended up slipped to the Jays who where able to buy him out of his commitment to the University of Miami. The attraction was obvious, as the 6’4”, 200+ pound Carter has the prototypical starter build and physicality and big arm strength.
As a high school senior, his fastball was sitting in the low-90s, and would touch up to 94 MPH, such as in a short outing at the 2021 Perfect Game National. The belief is there’s a little further juice as he fills out, and there were reports he was up to 96 this spring. The hope would be in time he can hold mid-90s velocity as a starter.
Carter pairs that with a mid-80s slider that has sharp, tight bite at its best, giving him a potential swing-and-miss secondary pitch. A main focus of development will be his change-up as third pitch, which he didn’t need to use much of against high school competition. In the video I’ve seen, he’s thrown some that do a good job mimicking his fastball, though lacking the significant fade of plus ability. That’s consistent with reports of some feel/ability for it, and suggests a realistic shot at making it as a starter.
Carter is likely ticketed for the complex league this summer, and conceivably make it up to low-A by the end of the season. This is an aggressive placement for a player who has yet to debut, and where we can see if and how the raw stuff translates to in-game ability against professional hitters. In the short term, there’s probably more downside than upside risk, though he could always blow up it the stuff works really well. Longer term, he’s a development project as a starter and it’ll likely be a couple years before the results can be really be judged.
10. Sem Robberse, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 10/12/2001), grade: 40, 2020: newcomers
Robberse was signed late in the 2018-19 international period for $125,000 out of the Netherlands, again with additional slot dollars received from Baltimore and Oakland. The focus on taking a few more shots on lottery tickets could prove especially shrewd if Robberse continues his upward trajectory.
Robberse had a brief but successful debut in the GCL that year, striking out 9 while allowing just a run on 10.1 innings. It was especially impressive given that even the complex level represented a huge jump in competition level, and even that brief run suggested good pitchability. He was a definite name to watch for short season entering 2020 as an upside sleeper in a then very deep system.
instead he went directly to low-A in 2021, building slowly the first month to more traditional outings by June. He was quite successful, posting a 3.90 ERA in 57.2 innings, with 61/20 K/BB bewfore earning a call-up to Vancouver. The results backed a bit there in seven starts, with a 5.23 ERA in 31 innings and for the first time having some control issues with 18 walks. But even then, he held his own as the equivalent of a college sophomore in high-A.
Robberse throws two fastballs, the four seamer averaging around 92-93 MPH with Dunedin and a sinker closer to 90. Notably, they have a pretty high spin rate, averaging over 2400 RPM. He throws two different breaking balls, with the slider in the mid-80s and curve in the low-80s, and both were very successful at drawing whiffs with Dunedin. He hasn’t used a change-up much in games, but reports indicate some promise there as well with would give him even more of a starter’s arsenal.
At 6’1” and 160 pounds, Robberse is quite slight and has some filling out to do which should help with maintaining stuff deeper in outings as a starter (he’s apparently had trouble keeping weight on). His delivery is considered very athletic and fluid, further reinforcing the starter upside. A point of developmental emphasis will be consistency within outings, both in terms of stuff and not having innings and outings spiraling. Interestingly, his first 2022 start in Vancouver started out shaky before he finished strong, so that was positive to see.
9. Samad Taylor, 2B/util, age 23/24 (DOB: 7/11/1998), grade: 40, 2020: 36th
Taylor was originally acquired now almost four years ago from Cleveland in the Joe Smith trade, after he was drafted in the 10th round out of high school in California the previous year. He’s had an uneven ride up the minor league ladder, but now on the cusp of the major leagues shoots up the rankings after his strongest statistical season in 2021 in New Hampshire. It’s possible he could make his way up at some point in 2022, and at this point he’s almost certain to be a major leaguer at some point, with the question being how significant a role.
On the young side of his draft class (debuting just shy of 18), Taylor offered an interesting package of physical tools, headlined by plus speed and some power. Hew was further intriguing for the ability to translate that to hitting professionally right away, hitting just under .300 at the complex in his debut season and in 2017 across two short season A leagues largely populated by college pitchers.
That made his move to full season leagues in 2018-18 somewhat disappointing. In 2018 with Lansing Taylor slumped to .230/.321/.389 and then .216/.325/.364 with Dunedin in 2019. Contextually, those were still around league average lines while being young-ish for the levels, and while he struggled to hit did draw walks at healthy clips exceeding 10%. There was decent pop, though accompanied by a lot of weak contact as well.
In 2021, things seemingly clicked in New Hampshire with a .294/.385/.503 line with 16 home runs. However, again context is critical. The driver was a BABIP just shy of .400, compared to under .300 in 2018-19, which inflated his line beyond a “true”/sustainable level. He struck out nearly 30% of the time due to significant swing-and-miss, which is a red flag. Even for righties, New Hampshire and Eastern League can be funny parks for power, and there’s real questions about how that translates.
Notably, the Blue Jays did not add Taylor to the 40-man last winter, which took many by surprise given the mix of tools, performance and proximity. Had the Rule 5 draft occurred, he would have been a plausible candidate to be selected especially given expanded rosters and benches thatr would have presented some real opportunity to stick. The Jays may have caught a break, or perhaps to some extent they were betting on that eventuality.