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2022 Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospects: 5-8

Three highly drafted pitchers from southerly climes, and a utility infielder close to the majors

Top 40 Prospects

Moving into the penultimate segment, this is the last part where the thinning out of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system is felt. Again, there’s talent and plausible MLB contributors, just in a couple cases would ideally be more in the 10-12 range. it’s headed up however by a prospect with significant helium and may already be undervalued.

2022: Full List and Index | 5-8 | 9-12 | 13-16 | 17-20 | 21-24 | 25-28 | 29-32 | 33-36 | 37-40

2020: Full List and Index | 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-12 | 13-16 | 17-20 | 21-24 | 25-28 | 29-32 | 33-36 | 37-40
Beyond the Top 40: Just Missed | Pref list | Top 5 Older | Newcomers | Other Notables

8. CJ Van Eyk, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 9/15/1998), grade: 40/40+, 2020: college

Van Eyk was selected 42nd overall in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft out of Florida State, signing slightly overslot at just shy of $1.8-million. Highly regarded out of high school, he moved into FSU’s rotation his sophomore year and emerged as their ace with a 3.81 ERA in 99.1 innings with 129 strikeouts and 41 walks as they made a run to College World Series but fell short in Mike Martin’s swan song. His junior year was off to a strong start (1.31 ERA in 20.2 innings, 25 K) albeit against lesser non-conference competition.

While Austin Martin fifth overall got most of the attention, some thought landing the Van Eyk was a nice coup itself (for example, Keith Law rated him as a late first rounder). It started with a good fastball that sat in the low-90s and would touch higher, but the difference maker was his curveball. It’s a true 12/6 hammer with big, picturesque break when I saw it in a couple of his televised Vancouver starters. He has some feel to land it early in the count for strikes, and to bury for swing-and-misses later.

Van Eyk third pitch is a change up, and from what I saw it’s very much a work in progress. It has more vertical movement than fade, and was very much a fringe/”show-me” offering. There’s also apparently a slider, which I think was more just a shorter/tighter version of his curve (either that or he wasn’t using it and just manipulating the depth on his curve). He earns plaudits for clean mechanics and a repeatable delivery, which also point to a future starting.

That said, his debut season at high-A Vancouver was at the very least uneven. He did strike out 100 batters in 80.1 innings and had numerous dominant outings, so the stuff plays. But he was prone to control meltdowns where he simply couldn’t find the plate and didn’t make it out of the first. Or worse, it would spiral into getting shelled. Which happened too frequently and resulted in a 5.83 ERA. The main culprit I saw here was his fastball was very hittable up in the zone.

In late-August Van Eyk left a start early with an arm injury, which turned out to the UCL ligament and required Tommy John surgery. That means he’ll miss most or all of 2022, and knocks the grade back a little bit. There are significant pluses and drawbacks if he’s to remain a starter, so when he’s back it’ll be interesting to see how he looks and if he makes some strides. Failing that, the plus curve gives him some impact short relief potential especially if his fastball velo ticked up.

7. Otto Lopez, utility, age 23 (DOB: 10/1/1998), grade: 40/45, 2020: 22nd

Lopez was signed for $70,000 in 2016 as an international free agent after the Dominican at 16 to train with a view to signing professionally despite spending his earlier teenage years in Montreal and holding Canadian citizenship. In his professional career, all he’s done is hit: over .300 in short season in 2018, winning the Midwest League batting crown in 2019 with a .324/.371/.425 and then slashing .331/.398/.457 in New Hampshire to earn a promotion to Buffalo where it fell to .289.

The question is ultimately how that will translate to the highest level. Lopez has a very short swing and contact oriented approach that lends itself to line drives and ground balls that he can use his good speed to beat out. Consequently, he’s not going to hit for much power and it meaningfully caps his offensive upside. At each level, his production has been underpinned by high BABIPs, and MLB pitchers can hold that in check there’s not much else to fall back on.

That’s the pessimistic take, and it would probably leave him more on the grade 35, up-and-down/replacement type profile. But having watched him spray line drives all over the place for the last few years, he has a really good knack for squaring up the ball. I wouldn’t go as far to express an absolute conviction that he’ll hit, but I think the odds that he can get at least near MLB average with a high average/moderate OBP/low power profile are being underestimated. The unfortunate reality is it’s a profile that was much more conducive 40+ years ago.

He excels at putting the ball in play, with just a 13% strikeout rate (in line with 11% the last two seasons). But he’s got an idea of the strike zone and will take a walk (7%), it’s not just swinging early. Though his batted balls skew towards ground balls and beating them out with his speed accounts for some of the high average, he shows a feel for feel for squaring up the ball and spraying to all fields.

Defensively, he could fill in at shortstop in a pinch, but even back in 2019 at Lansing it was pretty clear that was about it. That limits his value as a utility player, but he can handle second base and the outfield with plus speed. The likeliest outcome is he’s a complimentary player in a bench role, but there’s some possibility that he hits his way to more of a fringe average role.

6. Hagen Danner, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 9/30/1998), grade: 40+, 2020: just missed (as catcher)

Born one day earlier than Lopez and now one spot higher on this list, Danner is another second round draft pick, selected 61st overall in 2017 out of California and signed well-above slot for $1.5-million. At the time evaluators were split on whether his future was as a pitcher or catcher, with the consensus probably leaning towards the former but the Jays taking him as latter.

That made sense at least insofar as it’s easier for a position player to switch to pitcher than vice versa, and after three years giving it a go behind the plate that’s what happened. Danner showed some flashes in 2018 with Bluefield, but despite showing some pop with Lansing was pretty badly exposed by even low level pitching (.170/.254/.369). That lead to the mound conversion in 2019.

I was a little surprised when Danner was assigned directly to high-A Vancouver in 2021 given the lack of experience, but it quickly became apparent why. From the get-go he was dominant, showing not just really good stuff but a remarkable ability given the context to harness it. By the end of May he was he building to longer outings up to three innings, and I wondered if it was going so well the Jays were thinking of stretching him out as a starter. Then he got hurt and missed the middle third of the season, returning as more of a classic short reliever in 1-2 inning stints.

The other factor there was his Rule 5/options timeline. Adding him last winter was a slam dunk, but it starts his options running so there’s a focus on get to MLB value. Though he could move quickly, he’s only starting 2022 in Double-A and it could be 2024 before he’s a bona fide major league contributor. It would be interesting to see the alternate universe where he’s developed as a pitcher and if he could be a starter.

Danner is a pure power pitcher, with mid-90s gas and even touching the upper 90s this spring. He pairs that with a sharp, swing--and-miss hammer slider. He’s actually got two different breaking balls, the slider in the low/mid-80s and a curve in the low-70s. Shape-wise, they’re very similar, just a different velocity bands. It’s two easy plus pitches, and the upside is very much a Jordan Romano-like high leverage impact reliever.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t risk. MLB hitters have become very adept at handling even top shelf velocity and breaking balls when they’re poorly located, and Danner has some work ironing out the command. That on display ion his two spring training outings. The first was excellent and he thoroughly dominated, but in the second he got hit around. He’s also prone to sometimes losing the zone. But the raw stuff is a great building block.

5. Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, age 19/20 (DOB: 8/18/2002), grade: 40+/45, 2020: high school

Tiedemann was selected in the 3rd round of last year’s draft of out junior college in California, signing essentially right at slot for $647,300. It was quite the circuitous route, as his senior high school season was shutdown in 2020 and the draft shortened, he decommitted from San Diego State only to have his junior college cancel their baseball program and finally transfer to Golden West College.

Tiedemann was a classic projection play, and even less than a year later there’s probably not another player in the organization with as big an up arrow. Going into his summer of his senior year, he grew a couple inches and his velocity increased to touching the low-90s to establish himself as a high profile prospect with the prospect for much more especially given plus athleticism.

He took further steps forward over his junior college season, filling out his 6’4” frame from a listed 200 to 220 pounds, and his fastball sat more in the low-90s. He would flash three average or better pitches in his fastball, breaking ball and change-up during games, but the results weren’t there with inconsistent command. That kept him from further jumping up draft boards and allowed the Jays to swoop in later in the third round with what might be a huge steal.

Like most of the top draft arms, he didn’t pitch last summer after signing, but reports out of instructs were that his velocity had climbed and was peaking in the mid/high-90s, well above a plus fastball from the left side. That alone would boost his stock, especially in a system that’s been thinned out, but you still don’t know how that translates in game.

Until last weekend, when Tiedemann’s pitched the opener for Dunedin and dominated over 5 shutout innings, striking out 8 with his fastball in ranging 91-96. We’ll need to see more, but having this data point alone would probably have boosted his grade to a straight 45 and possibly into the next tier. He’s one of the most exciting pitching prospects to follow, and could be a real coup for the scouting/development teams.

Poll

The best major leaguer will be:

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    CJ Van Eyk
    (33 votes)
  • 14%
    Hagen Danner
    (55 votes)
  • 7%
    Otto Lopez
    (29 votes)
  • 69%
    Ricky Tiedemann
    (271 votes)
388 votes total Vote Now