Having gone through the top 40 and highlighted some older guys who could contribute and some mostly younger guys on the fringe, Matt and I wanted to finish by noting a few guys we each find interesting. These aren’t major prospects, they’re just guys with a tool or a role that makes them neat to follow and could allow them to carve out some kind of role.
In my case, that means a pitcher who misses a lot more bats than his raw stuff seems to suggest he would, two sluggers in a pretty power starved system, and a couple all around solid outfielders who might have the mental skills to be more than the sum of their physical parts.
Rafael Ohashi, RHP, age 19 (DOB: 10/8/2002)
Ohashi signed out of Mogi Giacu, Brazil as part of the 2019 International Free Agent class. The Blue Jays moved him aggressively in 2021, assigning him directly to low-A Dunedin (where he was the second youngest to appear in that league), with a midseason demotion to the Florida Complex League before returning to finish the season back in A ball. Working as a hybrid starter (he typically went 2-4 innings and totaled 36.2 IP in 15 appearances across both levels), Ohashi made an impact, racking up 50 strikeouts, but also allowing 31 walks.
In his delivery, Ohashi strides a long ways down the mound and releases his fastball with nearly 7.5 feet of extension from the rubber, which allows his 90-92mph fastball to get on top of hitters faster than its raw velocity would suggest. He pairs the fastball with a slider (which some scouts call a curve) that comes in just under 80mph, and a splitter. All three pitches have generated a lot of swings and misses for him so far in his career.
He doesn’t offer a ton of projection (he’s listed at 6’1” and 185lbs and doesn’t look like he has a ton more room to add strength), and his command has been a problem, but the way Ohashi’s stuff has played against much older competition marks him as someone to keep an eye on as he climbs the minor league ladder. So far this season he’s picked up where he left off, racking up 20 strikeouts against 7 walks in 13.1 innings back with A level Dunedin, where he’s still one of just a dozen teenagers pitching in the league.
Damiano Palmegiani, IF, age 22 (DOB: 01/24/2000)
Born in Venezuela, Palmegiani and his family moved to Surrey, B.C. when he was five. He played his high school ball with the baseball factory Vauxhall Academy Jets in the small town of Vauxhall, AB (about an hour north and east of Lethbridge). In spite of playing in a remote town of 1,200, the Jets have managed to get 15 players drafted in the past 15 drafts, more than half of the players drafted out of Alberta in that time. Palmegiani, in turn, was picked by the Blue Jays in the 35th round of the 2018 draft, but opted instead to attend Cal State Northridge.
He struggled during his freshman season, slashing just .157/.254/.217, and following the pandemic he opted to transfer to junior college at the College of Southern Nevada. It was there that Palmegiani put it all together, slashing .389/.521/.867. On the strength of that performance the Blue drafted him again, this time in the 14th round. Assigned to the Florida Complex League after the draft, Palmegiani feasted on younger competition, knocking two home runs in 48 PA and slashing .333/.458/.538.
The Jays list Palmegiani at 6’1”, 195 and he looks solid, with a muscular lower half and broad shoulders. His calling card is his power, with five home runs already in 116 pro PA across parts of two seasons. He also has a strong sense of the plate, walking about 15% of the time so far in his career. There are some concerns, though, about the swing and miss in his game and whether he’ll be able to catch up to premium velocity of the kind he didn’t see in junior college. Assigned to A ball to start the 2022 season, he’s posted a 26% strikeout rate that’s fine for a slugger on its face but becomes a little concerning in the context of a 22 year old who should be more advanced than his competition.
Defensively, Palmegiani has mostly played third in college and as a pro, but he has a reputation as a butcher there. In junior college, he had just a .799 fielding percentage, miles below the .930 range that’s seems to be the absolute floor for every day MLB third basemen. The Jays are continuing to try to develop him at third, but he’ll likely eventually move to an outfield corner, where his solid average arm and fringe average speed should work fine.
If Palmegiani hits enough to get to his power reliably in games, he has a chance to carve out a role for himself as a corner power bat. He’s performed so far in pro ball, but it’s come against younger competition. Although he was assigned to Low A Dunedin to start 2022, the true test will come as he gets into the upper minors and has to face pitchers with more stuff and experience.
Rainer Nunez, 1B, age 21 (DOB: 12/4/2000)
Nunez signed out the the Domincan Republic as part of the Jays’ 2017 International Free Agent Class. He struggled through the 2018 season in the Dominican Summer League and then through 2019 in the Gulf Coast League, hitting well below league average with low averages, few walks, and little power. He finally found his footing in 2021, assigned back the complex as a 20 year old, nearly doubling his walk rate to 14% while cutting his strikeouts to 15% and finally getting properly into his power, smashing 5 home runs and 11 doubles in 146 PA. That earned him a cup of coffee in A ball late in the year, where he added another home run.
As prospect, Nunez is defined by his huge power. His exit velocities have reached as high as 114mph, which would have put him in the top quarter of MLB hitters last year. On Tuesday night I watched him hit a line drive home run up the middle at 108mph that most major leaguers couldn’t match, and he followed it up Wednesday with two more balls hit over 105mph. His swing is stiff, though, and outside of last season he hasn’t shown much command of the zone, and that came as a 20 year old in his third full pro season against mostly teenagers and new draftees. So far in 2022, he’s struck out 21 times against just one walk in 69 PA, so early returns suggest the problem isn’t fixed.
In the field, Nunez is limited to first base and may end up best suited to DH. He’s very one dimensional as a prospect, but it’s quite a dimension, and he won’t have to do much else if he can tap into that power often enough. Five homers in his first 16 games this season suggests that it’s at least possible he will, which makes him a name to watch.
Gabriel Martinez, OF, age 19/20 (DOB: 7/24/2002)
A Venezuelan native, Martinez was another part of the 2019 International Free Agent class. He showed feel for contact and the beginnings of an approach in the Dominican Summer League that summer, walking 9% of the time while striking out 11%, but didn’t make a lot of loud contact and ended up slashing .239/.317/.347, 12% below league average.
Following the pandemic, he began to get the ball off the ground a little more, dropping his ground ball rate from 53% to a more average 43%. There still wasn’t a lot of power (no home runs), but he walked more than he struck out (17% to 14%) and the added line drives resulted in a high batting average on balls in play, all adding up to a .330/.448/.410 slash line that was 40% better than league average. That earned him a cup of coffee with low A Dunedin to close the year, and he’s been assigned back there to start his age 19 season in 2022.
Martinez is a very well rounded prospect. He has solid bat speed and a clean swing that allows him to make a fair bit of contact, and he controls the zone surprisingly well for a teenager. Although power hasn’t been a part of his game yet, his 6’0”, 170lb frame has a little room for growth and he could get to average raw power or at least close with time. Nothing stands out as really above average except maybe his approach, but there are no real weaknesses either.
Defensively, his slightly below average speed will limit him to a corner. He’s played mostly left field as a pro and should be solid there, and his arm could also likely survive in right. The lack of a real carrying tool on offence kept Martinez off the main prospect list, but players who pair a solid all around game with a strong baseball IQ can sometimes exceed expectations, and the fact that the Jays have already assigned Martinez to full season ball as a teenager suggests they have some confidence in his abilities.
Jaden Rudd, OF, age 19/20 (DOB: 8/16/2002)
Rudd is a rare England-born prospect, although he grew up in Florida. The Jays took him in the 7th round of the 2021 draft, buying out a commitment to Notre Dame. He was the only hitter chosen by the Jays in the first 10 rounds of that draft. He debuted in the Florida Complex League last summer and showed a strong command of the strike zone (16% walk rate) and some speed (5 steals in 6 tries).
A lean looking 6’0” and 185lbs, Rudd is a hit/OBP over power prospect. He has a simple, quick left handed swing that should allow him to make a solid amount of contact. Combined with good speed and a strong feel for the strike zone, he should be able to get on base and pose a threat once he gets there. Defensively, there seems to be some disagreement about whether he’ll stick in centre field, but that’s mostly where the Jays have played him so far.
Like a lot of prospects on the broader prospect list, Rudd draws praise for his feel for the game, makeup, work ethic, and baseball IQ. He doesn’t have a ton of loud tools, but like Martinez above he possesses solid abilities across the board and the mental profile to get the most out of them. The Blue Jays seem to value and seek out those intangibles. To me, that’s of a piece with the huge investments they’ve made in player development facilities and staff. They have all the tools to allow prospects to get the absolute most out of their abilities, so it makes some sense that they’d prioritize acquiring guys with the ability and inclination to make use of those resources.