This edition is a bit of a grab bag. One pitching prospect potentially poised to take off, another who’s come back down to earth, a late round college performer hinting at newly discovered big league tools, and a fast moving reliever who might race his way to the majors.
20. Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, age 21 (DOB: 8/25/2000), grade: 35+, 2020: 10th
Magnolia, Texas produced two of the Blue Jays’ top three picks in the 2018 draft: first rounder Jordan Groshans and third round selection Kloffenstein. The picks were actually closer in value than the two round gap between them suggests, as the Jays saved money on Groshans and second rounder Griffin Conine and used it to go over slot to buy Kloffenstein out of a commitment to pitch at Texas Christian with a $2.45m bonus.
Kloffenstein pitched only two innings in his draft year after the long Texas high school season, and really got his pro career underway with an assignment to low A Vancouver in 2019. He turned in a solid performance, striking out 64 in 64.1 innings while walking 23 and inducing a heavy 60.1% ground ball rate that helped him run a 2.24 ERA overall. He spent the pandemic season pitching for Team Texas and the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Constellation Energy League. His numbers there weren’t great (4.64 ERA and 20:12 K:BB ratio in 21.1 innings), but pitching in high level independent ball gave him experience against much older and more experienced hitters than he was used to facing in the low minors. Back in the affiliated minor leagues for 2021, he was assigned back to Vancouver (now High A). This time around, he looked heavier, and his velocity and command were both a little behind where they’d been in 2019. He still struck out 23% of the batters he faced, around league average, but his walk rate spiked to 13% while his ground ball rate fell to a still good but not elite 53%. Over 101.1 innings, he ended up with an ugly 6.22 ERA.
Part of Kloffenstein’s appeal is his prototypical power pitcher’s frame. He’s listed at 6’5”, 243lbs, and even in high school looked solidly built. He stays fairly tall in his delivery and releases the ball from a high three quarters arm slot that, along with his size, creates a downward plane on his pitches and helps him generate lots of ground balls. He has some effort in his delivery and tends to fall off towards first base on his follow through, both of which detract from his command at times. His fasball was mostly 91-93 in 2021, although he touched 96 and has sat closer to the mid 90s in the past. He throws a curveball, slider, and changeup, all of which have the potential to be average or a bit better but none of which are real bat missing weapons.
Assigned back to Vancouver for a second go-around at High A, Kloffenstein will need to show improvement to get his prospect trajectory back on track. I don’t want to make too much of a one year setback, as while he wasn’t good last year he wasn’t totally ineffective either and High A was an aggressive assignment for a 20 year old with 66 pro innings under his belt. The organization clearly thinks highly of his potential to give him what amounts to a late first round bonus and to move him as far as they did as quickly as they did. He still has the potential for four average pitches and command, which could allow him to churn out a lot of solid innings as a #3 starter if he puts it all together consistently. That’s a kind of player that’s always harder to find and more valuable than you expect. He’ll need to get things moving back in the right direction in 2022 to realize that potential, though.
19. Dahian Santos, RHP, age 19 (DOB: 2/26/2003), grade: 35+/40, 2020: unranked
Santos signed with the Blue Jays for a $150,000 bonus during the 2019 International Free Agent signing period out of his native Venezuela.
At 5’11” and 160lbs, Santos is on the small side for a potential starter. His frame looks like it has a little more room for good weight, but he’ll never be an imposing presence on the mound. He packs a solid punch into that small package, though, with a fastball that sits 90-93 and touches 96. He complements it with a curveball that he spins between 2,500 and 2,600 RPM, solidly better than MLB average, and a changeup that’s a work in progress but for which he has some feel. His delivery is loose and athletic, with a long arm swing that might limit his command but hasn’t been a problem yet.
He spent most of 2021 at the complex, racking up an impressive 53 strikeouts against 12 walks in 35.1 innings. A late season cup of coffee in A ball didn’t go quite as well, as he walked 4 and gave up 8 hits in 5 innings.
Santos has two pitches that project to be above average or plus at maturity, and a third that could get to average, combined with the athleticism to command them. His size and delivery pose potential risks to his ability to start long term, but not insurmountable ones, and he has the stuff to fall back on a late relief role if necessary. He’ll go back to Dunedin to take a real run at A ball this summer. If he can replicate his complex level results and show some refinement, he could jump up this list next year.
18. Spencer Horwitz, 1B, age 24 (DOB: 11/14/1997), grade: 35+/40, 2020: unranked
Horwitz was a steady but unspectacular performer against small school competition while attending Radford. He posted an OPS between .829 and .864 in each of his three years there, with impressively low strikeout totals (around 10%) and lots of walks but middling power output for a first baseman. He hit for even less power when working with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League the summer after his sophomore season, but impressed by walking as often as he struck out against top level college pitching. Still, he had little draft hype and the Blue Jays were able to sign him in the 24th round for $100,000.
In pro ball, Horwitz continued to do about what he’d done in college, with 24 walks and 30 strikeouts in 277 PA spent mostly at rookie level Bluefield with a cup of coffee in what was then low A Vancouver. His .808 OPS was solid, but unspectacular for a college player at that level. 2021 started out as more of the same. Through August 1st, he was showing his usual blend of plate discipline and contact, walking and striking out each 15% of the time, but also displaying his usual anemic power with just three home runs in 329 PA and a .099 ISO. It was at that point, though, that he flipped the switch. He slashed .414/.487/.722 through the end of the season, with 7 home runs and 14 doubles giving him more extra base hits than strikeouts (18) in his last 156 PA.
Baseball America attributes the power spike to a simplification of Horwitz’s swing. Previously, he’d had a bat waggle in his setup that disrupted his timing. His new swing starts with his hands still and loaded close behind his back shoulder, giving him a direct path to the ball. They note that his new approach has raised his max exit velocity from around 106mph, which would have put him in the bottom 10% of players in MLB who put at least 100 balls in play in 2021, to over 110mph, which would put him just over the median. That extra power came with no decrease in his knack for contact (his strikeout rate actually dropped to 10% after the change).
2022 will be a big test for Horwitz. Being limited to first base and maybe the occasional day in left field, he’ll need to show that he can hit a ton to have any shot at a major league role. He just might do that, though. Contact and plate discipline without much power or any defensive value isn’t a profile that elicits much faith from evaluators until the production is proven in the high minors. If he keeps up his excellent walk and strikout numbers and keeps hitting with at least decent pop against AA arms, he’ll have a chance to carve out a career as an everyday first baseman in the Yonder Alonso mold. If any of it slips much, though, he likely won’t fit on a major league roster.
17. Hayden Juenger, RHP, age 21 (DOB: 8/9/2000), grade: 35+/40, 2020: college
Juenger was the Jays’ sixth round pick in 2021 after a three year career at Missouri State. He was mostly a reliever in college, although he did make three starts during an up and down freshman season. He found his groove that summer when he moved permanently to the bullpen and took over the closer role for Mankato of the Northwoods League. Over the course of 14.2 innings, he struck out 16 and posted a 2.45 ERA. He stayed in the closer role when he returned to school the next fall, and continued to perform before the COVID shutdown, with a 2.00 ERA and 13 strikeouts versus 4 walks in 9.0 innings. His junior year ERA was a less impressive 3.86 due to three home runs allowed in 21 innings, but his peripherals stayed strong with a 31:6 K:BB ratio.
Standing 6’0” and weighing 190lbs, Juenger has an athletic build. His delivery features a high leg kick and a dramatic drop and drive motion, with a lower arm slot that gives right handed batters an unusual look and allows his pitches to approach the plate on a fairly flat plane that complements his fastball’s carry. That pitch, probably his best, sits 94-96 and can touch 98. He complements it with a sweeping slider in the mid 80s that’s also a bat missing weapon. His command isn’t pristine, but should be good enough given the quality of his pitches and his one-inning role.
After the draft, Juenger was assigned directly to High A Vancouver. He had a couple shaky outings at the start, allowing four earned runs on three hits and a couple walks in his first four innings (though he did manage seven strikeouts). From there on though, he shut the door completely, allowing just two runs in his next 16 innings of work with eight hits and two walks to 27 strikeouts (47% of the batters he faced).
Juenger is ranked about as highly as possible for a pure reliever with 20 pro innings under his belt. Scott Mitchell reports that he’ll be assigned to AA to start the season. If he performs at a level that resembles what he did last summer, he’ll be Buffalo bound soon, with Toronto potentially following later in the summer. He only needs to maintain his 2021 level to be ready to slot into a major league bullpen role, with a ceiling as a setup man that he has a very good shot of reaching.
The player who makes the most major league impact will be:
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