The next section of the Toronto Blue Jays Top 40 prospects features one young position player who flew up the rankings, as well as three pitchers who are lower for various reasons but retain significant promise.
20. Rainer Nunez, 1B, age 22 in 2023 (DOB: 12/4/2000), grade: 35+, 2022: Tom’s pref list
Nunez was signed out of the Dominican Republic for $350,000. as part of the 2017 international class. The bonus marked him as someone to keep an eye on, but he proceeded to struggle through two summers of poor performance on the complexes in 2018-19 (DSL and GCL) before the 2020 season was wiped out. Thus more than three years into his career he was yet to reach a full season team, was already at the far end of the defensive spectrum at 1B, and without showing significant aptitude.
Two years later he’s emerged from org guy afterthought to being a legitimate prospect. Back on the Florida complex in 2021, Nunez finally tapped into power with 16 extra base hits in 146 PA and strong plate discipline (albeit repeating the level at age 20). But the real jump was to come in 2022, with low-A Dunedin representing more real test.
In 387 PA, Nunez smashed 15 home runs among 35 extra base hits en route to a .299/.328/.482 line (126 wRC+) to win the batting title by 21 points while also leading in slugging by 23 points among qualifiers. That continued with a late season move to Vancouver, adding 10 more extra base hits (4 HR) as part of a .321/.379/.491 line (140 wRC+) in 116 PA. He capped off the year with a standout performance in the Dominican Winter League.
The power comes from the ability to generate elite exit velocities, reaching as high as 114 MPH, which is on par with the top quartile level of MLB hitters. He was able to unlock tat potential and get the ball off the ball by ironing out issues in his swing identified by the organization. Defensively, his best position is at the plate, and limited to first base and perhaps a future DH.
There remain statistical quibbles. The plate discipline took a step back, with 109 strikeouts (22%) while drawing just 22 non-intentional walks (4.4%). While the batted balls profile is more optimized for more power, Nunez is still putting over 40% on the ground—though that’s also an avenue to unlocking more production. Consequently, unlike Palmegiani a couple spots behind, the ZiPS projection system is quite down on him. This is perhaps overly aggressive for such a one-dimensional prospect, but hit and power tools are the ones to have.
19. Hagen Danner, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 9/30/1998), grade: 35+/40, 2022: 6th
Now five years into his career, Danner has already had quite the journey after being selected 61st overall in 2017 and signed well-above second round slot at $1.5-million. Evaluators were split on him as a pitcher or catcher, with the consensus probably leaning towards the former but the Jays taking him as latter. Though he showed a little pop, he struggled against low-level pitching and in a system then bursting with catching prospects and converted to the mound.
It’s often said of players converting to the mound that it either takes quickly or not at all, and Danner was very much the former. Assigned directly to high-A Vancouver in 2021, Danner was dominant from the get-to, showing not just really good pure stuff but a remarkable ability to harness it. The only thing that slowed him down was an arm injury that cost him the middle of the season.
He was an easy addition to the 40-man after the season, seemingly poised on a fast-track to the big league bullpen with a couple promising outings in spring training. But Danner struggled to find the plate in four rocky outings in April for New Hampshire, missing the rest of the season with a sprained UCL though avoiding Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, after a couple outings this spring, he’s sidelined with forearm inflammation. This is now a recurring issue injecting significant risk of fulfilling the obvious potential.
On the mound, Danner is a pure power pitcher, with mid-90s gas into the upper 90s. He pairs that with a sharp, swing-and-miss hammer slider. He’s actually got two different breaking balls, the slider in the mid-80s and a curve in the low-70s. Shape-wise, they’re very similar, just a different velocity bands. It’s two easy plus pitches, yielding legitimate high end upside of a late-inning impact reliever (role 45, ~70 ERA-).
To achieve that, beyond needing to demonstrate the ability to stay healthy, Danner has some work ironing out command. There’s plenty of middling relievers with premium stuff who get hit around due to a lack of location, and that outcome is a real risk. He’s also prone to sometimes losing the zone, with may be more a function of the inexperience. But the raw stuff is a great building block—if he can stay healthy.
18. Irv Carter, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 10/9/2002), grade: 35+/40, 2022: 11th
Carter was selected in the 5th round of last year’s draft from Calvary Christian High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On the same high school team as 13th overall pick Andrew Painter, Carter was heavily scouted but slipped to the Jays who were able to buy him out of his commitment to the University of Miami for $847,500, valued more like an early 3rd round pick.
The attraction was obvious, as the 6’4”, 200+ pound Carter has the prototypical starter build with physicality and big arm strength. As a high school senior, his fastball was sitting in the low-90s touching up to 94 MPH, and that’s where he sat in 2022 in those Dunedin starts. At just 20, there could be a little more more to come still.
Carter pairs that with a mid-80s slider that has sharp, tight bite at its best for a potential swing-and-miss secondary pitch. He didn’t need his change-up much against high school competition, making it a focal point for development. Unfortunately, there was no broadcasts of 2022 starts, but in the pitch data he was really mixing it in. In previous video, he’s thrown some that do a good job mimicking his fastball, consistent with reports of some feel/ability.
Carter made his pro debut last summer on the complex before moving up to Dunedin for four starts at the end of the season, pitching 47.2 innings. The statistical story was similar across both levels, the peripherals were solid with 53 strikeouts while holding the free passes in check (18). But he was pummeled for 10 home runs which resulted in a 5.48 ERA.
Last year’s write-up noted more short term (rankings) downside risk than upside, and that’s what came to pass as he didn’t break out in 2022. But conversely, neither was it a lost season. The stuff was there as opposed to completely backing up as frequently happens with high school pitching prospects. It may seem like faint praise, but simply not falling flat on one’s face in pro ball is actually clearing a significant risk factor.
17. CJ Van Eyk, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 9/15/1998), grade: 40, 2022: 8th
Van Eyk was selected 42nd overall in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft out of Florida State, signing slightly overslot at just shy of $1.8-million. Emerging as their ace with a 3.81 ERA in 99.1 innings with 129 strikeouts and 41 walks as they made a run to 2019 College World Series in his sophomore season, his junior year was off to a strong start (1.31 ERA in 20.2 innings, 25 K) albeit against lesser non-conference competition.
His high-A debut in Vancouver was at the very least uneven. He did strike out 100 batters in 80.1 innings and had numerous dominant outings, so the stuff plays. But he was prone to control meltdowns where he simply couldn’t find the plate and didn’t make it out of the first. Or worse, it would spiral into getting shelled, resulted in a 5.83 ERA. The main culprit I saw here was his fastball was very hittable up in the zone.
That fastball that sits in the low-90s and touched higher, but the difference maker was his curveball. It’s a true 12/6 hammer with big, picturesque break when I saw it in the couple of his broadcast 2021 Vancouver starters. He has some feel to land it early in the count for strikes, and to bury for swing-and-misses later.
Van Eyk third pitch is a change up, and from what I saw it’s very much a work in progress. It has more vertical movement than fade, and was very much a fringe/”show-me” offering. There’s also apparently a slider, which I think was more just a shorter/tighter version of his curve (either that or he wasn’t using it and just manipulating the depth on his curve). He earns plaudits for clean mechanics and a repeatable delivery, which also point to a future starting.
Van Eyk required Tommy John surgery after leaving a late-August 2021 start early with an arm injury, and missed 2022. On the positive side, at 18+ months out when the season begins he should be pretty well back. But even if the stuff is back, there’s big questions to answer about whether he can refine the command and even basic control to start. This ranking and evaluation leaves some (reduced) probability of that, but more likelihood of a bullpen future attacking with his best stuff.
The highest ranked in 2024 will be
This poll is closed
Rainer Nunez, building on his breakout
Hagen Danner (if he doesn’t graduate off by leaping up to the majors)
Irv Carter, putting it together
CJ Van Eyk, succeeding as a starter