Having gone through the Top Five older “prospects” who retain rookie eligibility, the just missed list, and Tom’s pref list of players he’s higher on, the Beyond The Top 40 look at the Toronto Blue Jays farm system wraps up today with my own version of that list. At the high end, some of these prospects were on the backend of my own Top 40, with the others more in the mix.
Kyle Johnston, RHP, age 25/26 (DOB: 7/17/1996), grade: 35, 2020: other notables
Johnston was acquired from Washington at the 20189 trade deadline for Daniel Hudson, who had selected him in the 6th round of the 2017 draft from the University of Texas. Retaining eligibility by just a couple weeks, I’d of had Johnston towards the backend of the list, similar to Fitz Stadler. Both profile as relievers with big fastballs, but Johnson has better (though still tenuous) control.
Johnson had made his way to high-A at the time of the trade, remaining a starter. He had a rough go with Dunedin afterward, and when I caught the one appearance with a televised broadcast after the trade I came away underwhelmed by what looked like a pretty generic arsenal (low-90s fastball, no plus offspeed). He carried on starting in 2021 with New Hampshire, and actually posted good results though weak underlying peripherals.
In mid-June, he transitioned to the bullpen, working multiple innings and then ramping down to a traditional short relief role. That allowed him to pare back his arsenal to fastball and slider (the most promising offspeed), but more important to achieve a big velocity bump as in short outings he sits in the upper-90s, touching 98-99. That gives him a viable major league carrying tool.
The results continued to be terrific upon a late season promotion to Buffalo, and at the start of this season serving as their closer (1.35 ERA in 26.2 innings). He’s done that without a huge strikeout rate, the most reliable indicator of dominance. That in turn is because he still needs to sharpen his slider and achieve more consistency. This could be seen in his two spring outings, one where it looked pretty good, and the other where it wasn’t and he got touched up. This will ultimately dictate his future path. There’s some shades of Jordan Romano here in that respect, who also had an inconsistent slider.
Nick Fraze, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 10/27/1998), grade: 35, 2020: notable newcomers
Fraze was selected in the now-defunct 22nd round of the 2019 MLB Draft out of Texas State, where he was a three year starter but his results backed up his junior year. He was really good for Vancouver, posting a 2.12 ERA in 34 innings after signing, mostly 3 inning outings in which he rarely got far into the order the second time because he was so efficient.
Fraze picked right back up with Vancouver in 2021 where he left off, this time at the high-A level posted a 2.14 ERA in 4-5 innings starts, though notably his strikeout rate jumped a bit above one per inning (46K in 42 IP). There was an IL stint in the middle, but he finished the season in New Hampshire, where the results backed up some, rebounding to start this year.
He isn’t doing this with the huge raw stuff prevalent in today’s game. His fastball usually sits around 90 MPH, with a good slider. It’s not a wipeout pitch with huge break, but finishes sharp especially to the glove side. In my notes his change-up is just okay, useable to keep opposite handed hitters off balance. What really sets Fraze apart is he can really pitch (as the numbers might suggest). He works at a really brisk pace (which was very refreshing prior to the rules change in 2022), attacking hitters and getting ground ball contact.
So far Fraze has had almost nothing but success in pro ball, but we’ll see how it translates to better hitters in the upper minors where the rubber often meets the road for such a profile. The Jays have had some luck squeezing out a couple critical ticks of velocity to maintain viability (for example, Zach Logue). Maybe that happens with Fraze too, or the most realistic ultimate path might be seeing if things ticks up in short relief. Either way, it’s a profile I’d like to see work.
Michael Dominguez, RHP, age 21 (DOB: 8/17/2000), grade: 35, 2020: pref list
Selected in the 15th round of the 2019 draft out of Jefferson High School in Florida, the Jays were able to land Dominguez for essentially $200,000 by dipping a little into their bonus pool. At 5’10 and 175 pounds with a low-90s fastball and curveball, he made for an interesting lottery tick prospect/development project.
He had a nice pro debut in the GCL, with 29 strikeouts and a 1.13 ERA in 24 innings. In the grand scheme those numbers don’t mean that much, but for high school pitchers it does answer the basic question of whether pitchability translates to facing pro hitters at the threshold level. That first test was passed.
His 2021 full season debut was delayed by an elbow injury, which hopefully is behind him, and he joined Dunedin in the late-summer to make seven pretty good outings for Dunedin. Dominguez posted a 3.34 ERA, with 31 strikeouts against 12 walks in 29.2 innings. His fastball sat in the low-90s, touching 94 MPH with a mid-70s curve, firmer slider and change-up as secondaries. There’s a long way to go, but he’s Dominguez is a candidate to make a big jump on the main list if things click with a good season in 2022.
Rafael Lantigua, utility, age 24 (DOB: 4/28/1998), grade: 35, 2020: pref list
Lantigua was an under-the-rasdar signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2016. The numbers don’t really stick out, but he caught my eye in his first full season assignment to Lansing in 2019. The first couple months, he looked totally overmatched to the extent I thought he’d get sent to extended spring, but he kept improving month-over-month and by the end of the season he was one of the better performers.
The same thing happened to a lesser extent in 2021 at high-A in Vancouver, as Lantigua started slowly and played sporadically in May, turned in on in June and and earned a full-time role the rest of the season posting .800+ OPS each month. He also showed a little pop for the first time in his career.
In some sense, Lantigua is a poorer man’s Otto Lopez, in that he doesn’t have a primary position and profiles as a utility type. He doesn’t have Lopez’s ability to spray line drives all over the place, but might have a little power. Ultimately, he’s probably no more than an up-and-down guy who gets a cup of coffee at that, but perhaps surprises to the upside. One thing I keep an eye for is players who show signs of quickly adjusting, and Lantigua fits that bill.
Will Robertson, RF, age 24 (DOB: 12/26/1997), grade: 35, 2020: 27th
Robertson was already a (Creighton) Blue Jay when selected in the 4th round of the 2019 draft, signing under slot at $422.500. The carrying tool was his power, and he performed with wood bats in summer leagues. This pedigree initially placed on prospect lists in a much deeper system. but he’s since fallen off the radar.
Admittedly, the production hasn’t translated in Robertson’s first couple pro seasons. He hit a solid if unspectacular .268/.365/.404 with Vancouver in his draft year, but the context there is he got off to a very slow start before finding his stride, hitting about .300/.400/.475 the last two months and finishing the season on a real tear.
Likewise, .235/.311/.385 with a 30% strikeout rate in 2021 at the high-A level was disappointing. The key piece of context there is an injury the first week of the season (shoulder if I recall correctly) from crashing into the wall tracking down a fly ball. That cost him two months, and who knows how close to was to 100%, not to mention after the 2020 layoff he’s have been really behind the other players.
Ultimately, at core I’m a Bayesian and this is just a bet on what’s still pretty recent significant draft pedigree, especially given some context to mitigate underwhelming performance. Double-A will be a big proving ground in 2022 if he’s to reclaim his spot and re-establish his trajectory.
The player with the most major league value will be:
This poll is closed