Moving up the list we have an enigmatic electric arm, a couple of stockier starters with reliever risk and traits, and one of the better hit tools in the system.
32. Yosver Zulueta, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 1/23/1998), grade: 35, 2020: newcomers
Zulueta signed for about $1-million as a 21-year old out of Cuba towards the end of the 2018-19 international window with a big chunk of the IFA slot acquired that spring from Oakland and Baltimore in the Kendrys Morales and Dwight Smith Jr. trades. The righty was known to be a hard thrower in the Cuban National Series, reportedly able to touch the upper 90s.
He got the start in Dunedin’s 2021 opener last May, and threw all of three 97-to-98-MPH fastballs before departing with a torn ACL that ended his season without officially facing one batter. This came on the heels of requiring Tommy John surgery when he signed in the first place, so between those injuries and the 2020 season cancelation, he’s barely pitched in almost three years.
Nonetheless, the promise remains tantalizing on the basis of the sheer stuff. In addition t the big fastball, he was a promising curveball as his best secondary. If it comes together, he has impact potential in a starting rotation. But even looking past the multitude of injuries, the reality is there’s a lot of pitchers with this kind of big raw stuff who have fringe value, and we really have to see what he can do with it against professional hitters (much less upper level minor leaguers or major leaguers). If it works, he moves much higher, but until then we’re satisfied to hedge due to the risk.
Further, there’s an issue of the development timeline. Zulueta will be Rule 5 eligible after this season, so if the stuff does translate, the Jays may be in the position of accelerating him to the big leagues rather than building his innings and keeping him stretched out. This would limit the upside in the right tail of the distribution of outcomes, which is where most of the current expected value derives.
31. Maximo Castillo, RHP, age 23 in 2022 (DOB: 5/4/1999), grade: 35/35+, 2020: 38th
Castillo moves up on the list, but effectively this amounts to real slippage given the thinning out of the system. A minor signing in 2015 in the signing period the Jays spent their entire allocation (and then some) on Vladimir Guerrero Jr, he’s the only other who’s reached the upper minors from the class.
Castillo put himself on the map with 10 solid starts for Bluefield in 2017 (notably, a 52/7 K/BB in 47.1 innings) before drawing attention for his age-19 season in Lansing. His 4.52 ERA in 131.2 innings wasn’t remarkable, but just holding his own at the full season level was quite impressive. 2019 was even more of a breakthrough up a level at Dunedin, with a 2.69 ERA in 130.1 innings.
Age adjusted performed is a good predictor for prospects, and that the biggest thing Castillo has going for him since the raw stuff was not standout. How that translated to the upper minors was going to be a big test of his prospect status, and while the returns weren’t terrible, a 4.85 ERA in 102 innings wasn’t great either. He continued to strikeout less than a batter an innings with decent control, two traits that have been very consistent.
Stuff-wise, Castillo would usually sit in the low-90s on his fastball, with a sweeping slider and a change-up that had a couple different looks. When it came in firmer, it looked more like a two seam fastball in the upper 80s, when it was softer it had more vertical finish. In shorter outings this spring, Castillo’s velocity ticked up more into the mid-90s, and this placement reflects potential for a middle reliever as opposed to starter given a velo bump and the secondaries he has.
30. Trent Palmer, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 4/2/1999), grade: 35/35+, 2020: college
Palmer was drafted in the third round of the abbreviated 2020 draft out of Jacksonville University, signed for $847,500. Though drafted out of Florida, he’s actually a cold weather arm hailing from Minnesota. He worked his way from the bullpen to a swingman role, and then into the rotation his junior season where he was off huge start with 41 strikeouts and a 1.30 ERA in his first four starts before the curtains came down abruptly.
His professional debut came in 2021 with low-A Dunedin, though a month into the season rather than being on their opening day roster (perhaps for workload management). His first couple months were shorter starts as he built up and really struggled with consistency and even basic control, amounting to a 4.07 ERA over 24.1 innings and issuing as many free passes as strikeouts (29 apiece).
Once the proverbial training wheels came off, his last seven starts were a different story, as Palmer posted a 2.33 ERA with 54 strikeouts against just 20 free passes over 38.1 innings. Notably, this included two seven inning no-hitters over the last month of the season. Overall, he exhibited a strong ground ball profile and was successful at suppressing contact thanks to his sinker.
On the less optimistic side, the velocity bump that Palmer had exhibited in his draft year didn’t carryover to 2021, as he sat around 92 MPH (though carried it into his deeper starts). There’s definite reliever traits, both statistically in terms of the control wobbles as well as the physical profile, but with a starter’s arsenal he figures to work his up the system until he fails. His best rated secondary is his splitter, which will get plus grades, but he also has a slider which some observers really liked.
29. Tanner Morris, IF, age 24 (DOB: 9/13/1997), grade: 35/35+, 2020: 33rd
Morris was drafted in the 5th round of the 2019 draft, as a draft-eligible sophomore from the University of Virginia, signing for $397,500. The major selling point was a track record of hitting with strong discipline, both in his two seasons in the ACC as well as in the Cape Cod League in between.
Assigned to Vancouver after signing,. he didn’t exactly shoot the lights out with a .246/.384/.346 line. That was actually one of the better lines on the team, and it was encouraging to see the plate discipline translate so strongly. Back with Vancouver for 2021, now at the high-A level, that improved to .285/.381/.401 as the hitting came around, while the plate discipline remained strong but without a lot of power.
The scouting reports have reasonable conviction that Morris will hit, and even some conviction there’s more power to come. The pessimism comes on the defensive side, as he’s seen as a utility type at best and “no shot to stick on the infield” per Fangraphs. While he’s moved around and may not have a true home on the infield, my impression has been more that he’s in the solid if unspectacular bucket than exposed.
That said, at the end of the day this comes down to the bat, and this placement really comes down to one’s conviction in him hitting. It’s hard to project him as an impact big leaguer, but there’s a decent amount of probability given the skills demonstrated at the plate. Prospects like that have a way of surprising and hitting their way past expectations (perhaps a poor man’s Michael Young?), and 2022 will be an important test moving to the upper minors against better pitching.