Belatedly wrapping up the 2023 Toronto Blue Jays Top 40 prospect series by finishing the look slightly beyond the main list with my pref list. This is a combination of players I had in the mix for the backend of my Top 40, as well as some from the next tier of 30+ grade prospects that I’ve are notable or potential breakout 2023 candidates.
Yondrei Rojas, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 11/22/2000)
Rojas was signed in 2021 out of Venezuela as an 18-year-old, reaching low-A at the end of last year after working his way through the two complex levels. he’s only thrown 67.1 innings, but with some promising markers in striking out more than a batter an inning while limiting walks (70/21).
It’s backed up by quality stuff. Working from a low arm angle, with Dunedin Rojas was sitting around 94 with his fastball while tickling higher, while also mixing in both a change-up and sweeping breaking ball. The low slot gives him lots of run on all pitches.
As a function of his arm slot and size, the odds are he profiles more in relief, but if he can establish a viable three pitch mix it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion. There’s not a lot to go on, but the raw building blocks give him some of the best breakout potential in 2023 of players not on the main list and I’ll be keeping close tabs.
Rafael Sanchez, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 8/22/1999)
Sanchez was signed just a year ago from Cuba at the (relatively) advanced age of 22-year old. Though starting the year in the Dominican, he moved quickly to finish 2022 with a couple starts for Dunedin. Overall, he was very good against much younger hitters with a 3.20 ERA in 59 innings and 60/16 K/BB.
Similar to Rojas above, there hasn’t been much opportunity to see him (yet), but the pitch data is interesting enough with the performance to highlight the name. That includes a fastball averaging around 93, a slower breaking ball in the lower-80s, cutter/slider and change-up. There’s not as much room here to project given the age and filled out frame (listed at 6’1” and 215 pounds). But we’ll see if he can keep moving quickly.
Peyton Williams, 1B, age 25 in 2023 (DOB: 4/28/1998)
Williams was drafted in the 7th round of the last MLB Draft, signing for $197,500 as an older junior out of Iowa. His last two years he really mashed the Big Ten as he hit over .300 with good pop while walking as often as he struck out at about 16% each to drive a robust OBP. He fits the definition of country strong at 6’5” and a listed 255 pounds.
With 6th rounder T.J. Brock literally the last cut, Williams is the next highest 2022 draftee not on the list and fits in the next tier of grade 30+. He had a mixed low-A debut with Dunedin as he didn’t much on balls in play (.242/.333 BA/SLG), but with more successful plate discipline as he walked 17% of the time though with an elevated strikeout rate (27%).
Curiously, he’s back in Dunedin to start 2023 when it would seemingly make sense to challenge the approach against better pitching and see if there’s viable batted ball production. Nonetheless, the offensive potential is noteworthy in the event things click.
Lazaro Estrada, CF, age 24 in 2023 (DOB: 4/24/1999)
Signed out of Cuba in 2018, Estrada has struggled to stay on the field, only throwing 157 innings entering 2023. In fact, the 70 DSL innings he threw while making 14 starts in 2018 are his career high, and each season since he’s thrown successively fewer. That debut was very successful (2.06 ERA and 87 strikeouts), which led to him jumping right over the Florida complex to affiliated rookie ball in 2019 with Bluefield. But he’s spun his heels since and hasn’t meaningfully moved past low-A.
In a multi-inning outing last August, Estrada sat 92-94 with his fastball, though was badly missing spots. But it’s the very high-spin breaking ball(s) that is/are most interesting. There’s essentially two variants, a mid/high 70s curve with two plane movement, one in the low-80s with predominant horizontal movement more akin to a slider. The curve pretty loose and not very effective, but the tighter slider looked quite promising.
Between the two pitch arsenal, spotty injury record, and undersized build (he’s listed at 5’10” and 180 pounds, but he looked significantly more filled out than that), Estrada is a reliever all the way. The odds are against him, but there’s at least a couple building blocks worth highlighting.
Rafael Lantigua, utility, age 25 in 2023 (DOB: 4/28/1998)
Lantigua was signed out of the Dominican in 2016, making him one of the longest tenured players in the organization. He’s moved up essentially rung-by-rung each year, reaching Buffalo late last year an returning there. I first took of him in 2019 with Lansing, when he looked completed overmatched the first couple months, but was one of the more productive hitters at the end of the season.
At his best, Lantigua sprays line drive contact around the diamond with some gap power that he’s grown into the past few years. For one of the smallest players on the diamond (listed at 5’7 and 153 pounds, but he looks much stronger than that now), it’s actually surprisingly good thump. He’ll work the count, drawing walks at a double digit clip the last couple years, though striking out more than ideal for a contact profile.
Starting out as an infielder who played all three positions with the heaviest dose coming at second base, the last couple years he’s rotated around the outfield as well. In many ways, he’s a poor man’s Otto Lopez (excepting exceeding his power), and while he doesn’t project as an impact player, I think there’s a good chance he at least sees the majors at some point in the next few years.