Before finishing up with the top of the list Monday, first a little detour. As outlined at the beginning of the series, eligibility for the BBB Top 40 Toronto Blue Jays prospect list is based not just on the traditional criteria of rookie eligibility, but also on an age cutoff. 2023 must be no more than a player’s age-26 season, that is, a player must be 25 or under on June 30, 2023.
That’s not to say that players eliminated by the age cutoff don’t have value. Rather, it reflects the fact that with younger prospects, the overriding element is projecting future abilities, whereas by the time a player is 25 or 26 that’s not so much the case. Solid future major leaguers including Tim Mayza, Ryan Tepera and Taylor Cole have appeared on past lists, as well as numerous others who have had made useful contributions.
To account for these players who will show up on other lists and give a sense of how they stack up, we provide separate list of prospects who missed the age cutoff but who could factor in as major league contributors.
5. LJ Talley, IF, age 26 (DOB: 5/7/1997), grade: 30+
Talley was selected in in the 7th round of the 2019 MLB Draft as a senior from the University of Georgia where he mostly played second base. He went right to low-A after signing, then AA/AAA the last couple years.
The stat lines don’t jump off the page by any means, but Talley has a smooth swing from the left side, consistently making good contact. He’s moved around the infield, playing a bunch of first base and somewhat lacking a defensive home. It makes for a tough profile, but hitting is the most important tool and he might be able to play himself into a role. It always strikes me that on the field be just looks like a big leaguer.
4. Jackson Rees, RHP, age 28 (DOB: 7/30/1994), grade: 35, last year: #5 older
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Hawaii in 2018, Rees was transitioned from starting to the bullpen. He responded with a dominant 2019: 0.73 ERA (2.19 RA/9) in 61.2 innings with 88 strikeouts against just 15 walks across Lansing and Dunedin. Unfortunately after the 2020 layoff he required Tommy John surgery in June 2021 so has effectively lost two-and-half-years.
He returned late last year to spend the last month in Buffalo, striking out 22 in 16.1 innings (including rehab). Most importantly, Rees’s stuff was back: low-90s fastball with movement and deception, a plunging mid-80s breaking ball at its best. I wouldn’t expect it to translate to dominating like he has the minors, but more as a serviceable/solid option as soon as 2023.
3. Bowden Francis, RHP, age 26 (DOB: 4/22/1996), grade: 35, last year: #1 older
A 7th round pick by Milwaukee in 2017, Francis came over with Trevor Richards for Rowdy Tellez in mid-2021. A solid minor league performer as he moved up, the Jays added him to the 40-man after 2021, made one appearance in 2022 during two brief early season call-ups before being sent outright mid-year.
Francis profiled as a starter with a four pitch mix of a low-90s fastball, slider, big curve, and change-up. In watching a lot of outings since he came over, nothing stood out as plus and overall it was pretty underwhelming. He’s always had problems with the long ball, and in 2023 he gave up 23 in 98.1 innings as his ERA ballooned to 6.59, though he still struck out more than a batter than inning.
If one likes Francis, he’s a backend starter who’s on the door of the big leagues. For example, a couple weeks ago Fangraphs rated him 16th in the system as a “high-probability fifth starter”. We don’t don’t see that, rating him more as deep depth.
But this spring he’s been consistently up to 94-95 MPH in short outings, and started out there last weekend against the Yankees before it tailed off to 93 over three innings. He’s been pairing that with just the curveball, with two variants in the low/mid and high-70s. It’s looked quite sharp, and we’re intrigued with Francis is a short reliever with a bump and velo and arsenal pared back to his best stuff.
2. Joey Murray, RHP, age 26 (DOB: 9/26/1996), grade: 35, 2022: 16th
Murray was selected in the 8th round of the 2018 draft out of Kent State after two years of dominating the mid-major MAC conference. He piled up 251 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA in 170.2 innings with his “invisiball”, a high spin fastball that blew away hitters despite only sitting in the high-80s.
After signing at slot for $169,900, Murray rocketed through the system to reach Double-A within a year. In 163 innings through 2019, he struck out 208 against 59 walks en route to a 2.60 ERA, with the performance at Double-A (3.50 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 43.2 inning) being most meaningful. In addition to the strikeouts, he got a lot of weak contact in the air.
Seemingly on a fast track to the big leagues, Murray was part of the alternative site pool in 2020 where his fastball velocity had reportedly ticked up to 92-93 with very positive reports. But he didn’t get summoned, and then two lost years have followed he missed 2021 was a strained elbow before having Tommy John surgery after five uneven starts in 2022 with noticeably diminished stuff.
Prior to all that, in addition to the fastball Murray had three distinct secondaries (change, curve, slider) projected as serviceable at the major league level, though none profiling as a true putaway weapon. With solid command and control, he was a reasonable bet to be a backend starter, maybe even sneak into mid-rotation status if it came together. There’s a pretty long line of college performers drafted on the second day who turn into quality MLB starters
I was too optimistic last year on his health in pushing for him to be ranked where he was. Unfortunately, he won’t be back until later in 2023, but if the stuff comes back it’s premature to write him off. For now, it’s a speculative 35 grade.
1. Vinny Capra, IF/utility, age 26/27 in 2023 (DOB: 7/7/1996), grade: 35, 2022: 40th
Capra was drafted in the 20th round of the 2018 draft out of Richmond University, a mid-major after transferring from junior college in his native Florida. A $1,000 senior sign, his performance didn’t stand out in his first couple seasons. Most notable was the aggressive placements, reaching low-A Lansing his draft year and then assigned right to New Hampshire to start 2019.
He got a good deal of playing time around the infield but didn’t hit at all, .229/.295/.309 in 435 PA. And then he comes back in 2021 and exploded for a .316/.390/.531 line, albeit propped up by .428 BABIP. Even with a 27% strikeout rate, the newfound pop from elevating the ball was harder to wave away. We stuck him at the back of the Top 40, curious to see what his follow-up would be in 2023 in Triple-A.
It ended up a mixed bag. Capra remained productive with a .283/.378/.403 line in 222 PA at Buffalo, missing a month to injury and getting called-up for a month as the last guy on the bench. But it was a very different profile, more like the previous guy as the power largely dissipated with more balls on the ground. That was offset by a drastic cutback in strikeouts to 13%, as often as he walked.
Though the real Vinny Capra is probably closer to less dynamic 2023 offensive profile, as a steady defender with who can play around the infield, we like his chances to be a utility type off the bench. He drew interest as a free agent this winter before re-signing with the Jays.
Quick hits on others considered:
- OF Nathan Lukes: Nice 2022 as minor league FA, Jays liked him enough to add to the 40-man ands carry over this past winter, but profiles as bench depth
- RHP Fitz Stadler: Included on the backend last year, but had Tommy John and missed the season. Upper-90s fastball and flashes sharp slider but consistency has to come together
- RHP Troy Watson: Another returnee from Tommy John, relief potential with mid-90s fastball and slider, good performance in lower minors
Others of note: John Aiello (nice 2023), RHP Ben Baggett (NDFA with velo), OF Wynton Bernard (still rookie eligible at 32!), Julian Fernandez (mega velo, no command/control), RHP Nunez (velo, wild), RHP Matt Peacock (2022 waiver claim, MLB time), RHP Thomas Ruwe (good fastball, control behind)
Players who will hit the age cutoff next year:
- Top 40: RHP Yosver Zulueta, 1B Spencer Horwitz, IF Tanner Morris, RHP Nick Fraze, LHP Brandon Eisert, LHP Jimmy Robbins
- Other: RHP Luis Quinones, C Andres Sosa
The best MLBer will be:
This poll is closed