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BBB Top 40 Mid-Season Check In

With the MLB draft kicking off Sunday, and with the full season affiliates having played about 60% of their schedules, I thought it would be a good time to take a quick run through the farm system and see how the Blue Jays’ prospects are faring. These aren’t full reports or any kind of re-ranking, just a comparison of how each player’s stock is trending based on their performance so far this year. I’ve given each player a rating for how their stock is trending, from ‘arrow way up’ for guys who have broken out onto a higher tier this season, to ‘arrow way down’ for those whose prospect status is significantly diminished from where it was during the winter. At the end I’ve got some overall thoughts on where the system stands heading into the draft.

The Top 40:

1. Gabriel Moreno: arrow flat

Moreno has performed in Buffalo, continuing to show the impressive contact ability and athleticism that shot him up draft boards last winter. He also more than held his own defensively in his first shot at the majors. Given all that, I can’t rive him a down arrow, but it is at least a bit worrisome that the power outage that began following his thumb injury last season has continued, with a 0.082 isolated slugging percentage through 150 AAA PAs. His top exit velocity in the majors was 109, which is just below average and proves that he’s still capable of hitting the ball hard. It may just be a mater of an approach tweak to get to some of that power in games the way he was in the first half of last season.

2. Orelvis Martinez: arrow down

The power’s real. Martinez has hit 19 home runs in 281 PA with New Hampshire, demonstrating that he’s more than capable of slugging high level pitching. The problem has been his approach, with a strikeout rate just under 30% and a walk rate of about 6%. His swing is also geared for maximum lift to the pull side, which can work great (it’s the approach Jose Bautista built his career on) but will tend to lead to low BABIPs and magnify an already pretty all-or-nothing profile. He’s 20 and holding his own in AA, so it’s by no means a crisis, but he’s going to have to overhaul his approach to regain his top 100 prospect status.

3. Jordan Groshans: arrow down

Groshans has the opposite problem. He continues to make a lot of contact (15% K rate in Buffalo) and exercise strike zone judgement (13% BBs), but with an anemic 0.057 ISO. He just doesn’t seem to be able to hit the ball hard in the air right now. He’s 22 and already in AAA in spite of a lot of lost development due to the pandemic and injuries, so there’s plenty of room remaining for growth, and the raw strength he had as a teenager is presumably still there, but he’s going to need to get to some of it to get back on track.

4. Leo Jimenez: arrow down

The good news is that Jimenez has started to tap into a little power, with 15 extra base hits in 206 PA in Vancouver after just 9 in 242 with Dunedin last season. The bad news is that it has come with a few more strikeouts (18% compared to 14%) and a sharp drop in walks (9% from a ridiculous 21%). It’s not a huge down arrow, as he’s still holding his own in high A at 21, and his glove remains a big asset, but the reports of a potentially special hit tool from last season haven’t been borne out yet.

5. Ricky Tiedemann: arrow WAY up

In one year, Tiedemann has gone from undrafted player performing inconsistently at a low level junior college, to third round pick, to fall instructs darling, to one of the elite pitching prospects in the sport. He’s struck out a ridiculous 40% of the batters he’s faced across low and high A, commanding a fastball and sweeping slider that grade as plus and a change that’s even better. As soon as Moreno graduates, he’ll be the crown jewel of the Jays’ system.

6. Hagen Danner: arrow down

Danner struggled through 3.2 innings in April then went down with an injury, although recent reports are that he’s begun a light throwing program.

7. Otto Lopez: arrow slightly down

In his second go-around in Buffalo, Lopez has hit worse than he did the first time. It looks likely that the difference is mostly BABIP luck, but you’d hope a 23 year old might show a bit more growth.

8. C.J. Van Eyk: arrow flat

Due to Tommy John surgery last August, Van Eyk hasn’t thrown yet this season and likely won’t. That was known and baked into his evaluation pre-season, so no change.

9. Samad Taylor: arrow up

Taylor’s surface production in AAA (.260/.339/.430) is way down from his huge production last year in New Hampshire (.294/.385/.503), but the difference is almost entirely driven by a fall-off in an unsustainable BABIP. Under the hood, he’s cut his strikeout rate form 29% to 22% without sacrificing much power. That raises the odds that he’ll be able to make enough contact against MLB pitching to carve out a utility role.

10. Sem Robberse: arrow up

Assigned to High A for his age 21 season, Robberse has continued to perform, posting a 3.09 ERA heading into his start Wednesday night on the strength of command and ground balls. He still lacks a true plus pitch he can rely on to generate strikeouts, but the projection to potentially develop one remains.

11. Irv Carter: arrow slightly up

Last year’s fifth round pick has appeared in five games in the Gulf Coast League. Reports are that he’s still raw, but has been sitting 94-96 with his fastball and flashed promise with both his breaking ball and change.

12. Rikelbin De Castro: arrow significantly down

The calling card with De Castro was always his glove, but he still needs to hit at least a little bit. So far this season, that hasn’t happened. His 37 wRC+ is the third worst in the Florida State League, undermined by a 35% strikeout rate and almost complete lack of game power (4 extra base hits in 135 PA). It’s too early to panic about a 19 year old in his first taste of full season ball, but offensively at least it couldn’t be going that much worse.

13. Chad Dallas: arrow down

Dallas has struggled with high A Vancouver, walking 13% of the batters he’s faced while striking out only 20%. For a 22 year old with experience in the best college baseball conference, that’s a disappointing performance.

14. Manuel Beltre: arrow down

In his first American professional showing, Beltre has demonstrated the advanced approach that was expected (15% walk rate), but isn’t making contact at an above average rate and hasn’t hit for any power (0.095 ISP). He’s holding his own as one of the younger prospects in the GCL, but a bit more was expected from the centerpiece of the Jays’ 2020 International Free Agent class.

15. Estiven Machado: arrow down

Making his full season debut, Machado has shown a bit more swing and miss than expected (26% strikeout rate) without any power (0.080 ISO).

16. Joey Murray: arrow down

Coming back from Tommy John, Murray battled his command early in the year before going back on the IL two months ago with an undisclosed injury.

17. Hayden Juenger: arrow up

After working almost exclusively as a reliever with Missouri State, Juenger was moved to the rotaiton after the Jays took him in the fourth round last year and assigned aggressively to AA. Working in short hybrid starts (he usually faces 12-15 batters), Juenger has struck out 31% of batters he’s faced and posted a 3.63 ERA (before his outing on Wednesday night). He appears to be on the fast track to some kind of role in Toronto, possibly as a high end long reliever who can go once through the order in a tight game.

18. Spencer Horwitz: arrow way up

It’s difficult to play in the majors as a first baseman without obviously plus power. Horwitz has always displayed impressive contact and plate discipline, going back to his college days at Radford. Last season, a swing tweak allowed him to get to above average game power, but there were still questions about whether he could maintain that performance against high level pitching. So far in 2022, he’s answered those questions pretty loudly. He recorded 30 extra base hits in 280 PA with New Hampshire, while walking 15% of the time and striking out only 19%. Following a promotion to Buffalo last week, he’s already recorded 5 more XBH in his first 29 PA, while walking three times and striking out four.

19. Dahian Santos: arrow way up

If it weren’t for Tiedemann and Yosver Zulueta (see below), Santos would be the major story of Dunedin’s pitching staff. The 19 year old has racked up 92 strikeouts in just 55 innings, cruising in to a 2.75 ERA. His command could use some refinement (12% walk rate), but when you strike out better than four batters in ten you can get away with a bit of wildness.

20. Adam Kloffenstein: arrow flat

Kloffenstein started out the season strong, striking out 26% of the batters he faced while waking 9% in his second attempt at High A. Things have gone south since his promotion to AA New Hampshire (23% K rate, 12% walk rate, 6.52 ERA). Still, by performing in Vancouver, Klof has at least stopped the slide in his prospect stock that started with his struggles last season.

21. Chavez Young: arrow slightly down

The line (.234/.326/.355) isn’t impressive, but most of the difference from his performance in AA last year is explained by a 50 point drop in BABIP.

22. Adrian Pinto: arrow slightly up

He hasn’t replicated his video game numbers from the Dominican Summer League, but Pinto has more than held his own with a 121 wRC+ as a 19 year old in A ball. The plate discipline and contact are as advertised, and although he’s listed at 5’6” and 156 lbs, Pinto has a little bit of wiry strength (.121 ISO), at least enough to keep the bat from getting knocked out of his hands.

23. Eric Pardinho: arrow down

Unfortunately, barring a big bounce back, Pardinho can barely be considered a prospect at this point. He’s been able to appear only irregularly this season, totaling 9.0 innings across 5 games, and has reportedly been sitting at only about 90 with his fastball in two inning stints. His surface results have been good (12Ks without a walk), but at 21 in A ball and rule 5 draft eligible this winter, without big stuff and with health that may still be uncertain, his future in the organization looks murky at best.

24. Luis Meza: arrow flat

The major signing of the most recent IFA class, Meza is still 17 and has taken just 48 PA in the Dominican Summer League, so it’s too early to draw any real conclusions.

25. Miguel Hiraldo: arrow down

Pardinho’s co-headliner in the 2017 IFA class has also seen his prospect status wane this season. Hiraldo hits with a little power (.156 ISO in the pitcher friendly Northwest League), but not enough to make up for a 30% strikeout rate and only 5% walk rate combined with defense that’s not better than acceptable at any infield position.

26. Nick Frasso: Arrow way up

I didn’t expect 2020’s fourth rounder to pitch much this year, given that he underwent Tommy John surgery last June. I really didn’t expect him to get back into games barely 10 months later, or to be touching 100 and flashing improved secondaries when he did, but here we are. He’s faced 123 batters between Dunedin and Vancouver and struck out 53 of them while walking only 10. He’s worked short-ish stints so far, facing 12-15 batters at a time, and his ultimate role is still to be determined, but the stuff and athleticism is there to make an impact somehow.

27. Adrian Hernandez: arrow flat

Hernandez has been very good in his first taste of AAA, striking out 34 while waking 10 in 24 innings. His devastating dead fish changeup appears to work as well in the upper minors as it did in the lower. The only reason he isn’t pointing up is that he’s missed the past few weeks with shoulder soreness. That’s an ominous injury, but he’s apparently in a throwing progression right now so hopefully it’s nothing serious.

28. Kendry Rojas: arrow down

Rojas was battling his command early in the season, walking 17 in 28 innings while striking out 31, and has been shut down with an injury since late May.

29. Tanner Morris: arrow flat

Morris played great in AA, slashing .312/.430/.468, but hasn’t managed a single extra base hit in 86 PA since his promotion to Buffalo. He’s walked exactly as often as he’s struck out at both levels this season, but lacking much defensive value he’s going to have to find at least the bit of power he showed in AA to have a major league role.

30. Trent Palmer: arrow flat

Palmer started out the season with middling surface results in Vancouver (4.18 ERA) but strong peripherals (32% strikeout rate, 7% walk rate 3.02 xFIP). Promoted to New Hampshire in mid-May, he’s fallen back in terms of the peripherals (24% K rate, 11% walk rate, 4.61 xFIP) but his surface results have improved (3.69 ERA). Overall he’s been fine, moving into the upper minors and maintaining the ability to miss bats but with lingering command questions.

31. Max Castillo: arrow way up

After three years of strikeout rates around 20%, Castillo jumped that up to 29% in New Hampshire to begin the season and has carried the improvement through Buffalo to Toronto, where he’s pitched to a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings including five long relief appearances and a start. Leading into the year his lack of ability to miss bats limited the ability to project him in a significant major league role, but this season he’s looked perfectly capable of handling the fifth starter role.

32. Yosver Zulueta: arrow way up

Nobody has had a more frustrating pro debut than Zulueta. He immediately underwent Tommy John upon signing back in 2019. The combination of rehab and the pandemic kept him from pitching until last summer, when he faced one batter before blowing an ACL covering first base. Finally healthy this year, he’s showing that he was worth the wait. Across A, A+ and AA, he’s struck out 35% of the batters he’s faced working in three inning hybrid starts. His command could use some work, and as he’s moved up levels his walk rate has crept up, suggesting that his ultimate home is in the bullpen. With a fastball that gets well into the high 90s, he has the stuff to be a major weapon there soon.

33. Sebastian Espino: arrow way down

A minor league rule 5 pick, Espino popped up as a prospect by overcoming some stiffness in his swing to make just enough contact to get to his well above average power. What worked in high A hasn’t at all in AA, though. His strikeout rate has exploded to 47%, while the power has fallen back in spite of moving to a more offense friendly league. Last year’s performance looks more like a blip than a real breakout, unfortunately.

34. Brandon Eisert: arrow flat

The surface level stats have taken a step back with his promotion to AAA to start the season (4.28 ERA), but Eisert is still striking out about 32% of the batters he faces. He still looks to be on track to be a useful bullpen arm.

35. Dasan Brown: arrow slightly up

Repeating A ball as a 20 year old, Brown has posted a wRC+ over 50 points higher than last year. A lot of that is an unsustainable .410 BABIP, but he’s made incremental improvements to his game power, strikeouts and walks. With true 80 speed and the potential for very strong defense in centre field, he won’t have to hit much to carve out a role, and the slight adjustments this year somewhat increase the chances that he’ll clear that bar.

36. Yhoangel Aponte: arrow flat

Aponte is striking out more than would be ideal (28% of the time), but has flashed a little power (.173 ISO) and is overall hitting 22% better than league average in his US debut.

37. Fitz Stadler: arrow down

Hasn’t played at all due to injury.

38. Cam Eden: Arrow down

Eden possesses some pop (5 home runs in 118 PA in AA), but his strikeout rate has ballooned to 36% while his walk rate has dropped to 7%. At 24 and getting his first taste of the upper minors, he doesn’t have much time to make any adjustments he can.

39. Addison Barger: arrow up

Barger has tightened up his contact (26% strikeout rate, down from 33%) while maintaining big power production (.258 ISO, best in the Northwest League this year). He’s been promoted to AA, and if he can maintain that performance against high level pitching he’ll rocket up next year’s list.

40. Vinny Capra: arrow up

Promoted to AAA for this season, Capra has changed his approach at the plate, cutting his strikeout rate from 26% to just 10% at the price of power (.136 ISO, down from .220). Capra also made his major league debut, with a hit and two walks in 7 PA. He’s probably not more than an up and down utility type, but his performance suggests he can handle that role. He hasn’t played since June 2 with a nagging hamstring issue.

Others of Note:

  • Nate Pearson: no longer a prospect due to his age, but Pearson’s stock has dropped due to yet another injury (this time a lat strain) following a bout of mono that delayed his season. I really hope he stays healthy enough to get a chance at some point, but it’s just looking less and less likely over time.
  • Gabriel Martinez: the major breakout prospect in the system this year, Martinez has combined contact ability (17% K rate) with big game power (10 home runs in 189 PA) to be one of the best hitters in the Florida State Leauge with a line 59% better than league average while still a teenager.
  • Damiano Palmegiani: last year’s 14th round pick, Palmegiani has produced 13 home runs in 300 PA across A and A+, while walking 13% of the time and striking out 19%. He doesn’t offer value with the glove and is still a bit old for his level at 22, but he’s hitting himself into real prospect status.

Overall Thoughts on the System:

The farm system is, unsurprisingly, down right now. Once Moreno graduates, Tiedemann will be the only consensus top 100 guy. That makes sense, given that they’ve traded two first round picks in a row (Austin Martin for Jose Berrios, and Gunnar Hoglund for Matt Chapman) plus a lot of other quality pieces (Simeon Woods-Richardson, Kevin Smith, etc.), and graduated four star calibre players over the past couple years in Vlad, Bo, Kirk, and Manoah. The upper minors especially are thin, with a few potential bit players but nobody poised to make an impact any time in the remainder of 2022 and likely not in 2023 either (excluding Moreno, who’s already halfway to exhausting his rookie status). It’s not all grim, there’s a lot of talent that’s a bit farther away and a few guys who could fill small but meaningful niches in the near term, but the homegrown core of this generation basically is what it is at this point.

Below the top level, there seem to be two very different stories playing out on different sides of the ball. The hitters have largely struggled, with Orelvis Martinez and Groshans taking steps backwards and the whole crop of Latin American shortstops who were supposed to be the next wave (Jimenez, De Castro, Machado, Beltre, etc.) struggling. There are a few notable exceptions (Barger, Horwitz, Palmegiani and Gabriel Martinez are all raking), but those guys are mostly bat first players who lack the plus-plus raw offensive tools or the all around game to project as impact players in the majors. The draft intel that’s been publicly reported links the Jays heavily to bats with their early picks (more on this tomorrow), which both makes sense given who’s expected to be on the board where they pick and given the need for an infusion of position player talent into the system.

The pitching, on the other hand, is taking off. Tiedemann leads the way, and the sky appears to be the limit for him. He’s backed up by breakouts from Zulueta, Frasso and Santos, steady progress from Robberse, intriguing early returns from new additions in Juenger and Carter, and even from steps forward by long term farmhands like Max Castillo. It’s unfortunate that the one exception to this has been in the upper minors, where guys like Murray and aged-out former prospects Bowden Francis and Thomas Hatch have struggled at a time when the big club could really have used someone to step up. None of this year’s breakouts look likely to play a role in 2022, but for 2023 and beyond the cavalry looks like it’s visible over the hill.

Between the coming additions, with five top 100 picks due to the compensation received for Robbie Ray’s and Marcus Semien’s departures, and the loss of the guys who will be traded away for near term reinforcements, the shape of the system will be meaningfully different three weeks from now. At this moment, though, it’s young and pitching heavy in a way it hasn’t been for a while.