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Beyond the 2023 Top 40: Tom’s Pref List

Three Outfielders and Two Pitchers Who Could Play Roles

Top 40 Prospects

Now that Matt has done all the actual work and we all have real baseball and don’t need to fantasize over prospect lists, I’m here to weigh in with my picks among the guys who didn’t make the main list.

This year, I have a set of older prospects who might be able to carve out roles for themselves. A three are fresh draftees (or undraftee, in one case) who might wind up looking like bargains, while the other two are a bit better established in the middle levels of the system and could chip in at the major league level by next year. None seem likely to be stars, but all offer things good teams need from their bit players.

2023: Full List and Index | 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-12 | 13-16 | 17-20 | 21-24 | 25-28 | 29-32 | 33-36 | 37-40
Beyond the Top 40: Just Missed | Top 5 Older | Pref Lists: Matt | Tom

2022: Full List and Index | 1-4 | 5-8 | 9-12 | 13-16 | 17-20 | 21-24 | 25-28 | 29-32 | 33-36 | 37-40
Beyond the Top 40: Just Missed | Top 5 Older | Pref Lists: Matt | Tom

Steward Berroa, OF, Age 23 (DOB: 6/5/1999)

Toronto signed Berroa out of the Dominican Republic as part of the 2016 July International Free Agent class. He spent 2017 through 2019 in the lower levels of the system before reaching A ball in 2021. He spent most of last year, his age 23 season, in high A Vancouver, before a late promotion to the AA Fisher Cats.

Berroa’s carrying tool is his speed. Baseball America considers him the fastest player in the Jays system, and he received down-ballot votes in their poll for the fastest player in the minor leagues heading into the 2022 season. He uses that speed well on the basepaths, stealing 47 bags in 54 attempts last year, and going 58 for 67 the year before that. The speed translates in the outfield too, where he’s an easy plus centre field defender.

At the plate, Berroa lacks a standout tool, but can do a few things well enough. A switch hitter, he’s knows the zone (12.9% walk rate in Vancouver last year, although it hasn’t translated against more advanced AA pitching yet), and although his feel for contact isn’t great, his swing is simple and direct enough to keep his strikeout rate in the mid-high 20s percent range, not ideal but playable. He also has at least a little power, with 7 home runs in just over 300 PA in each of the past two seasons and 2 already early in 2023.

The ceiling isn’t high here, as there’s no tool in Berroa’s offensive bag that suggests he can be close to an average major league hitter, but there are enough plate skills that he might be playable offensively, which could allow him to carve out a role as a fourth outfielder and ace pinch runner. It’s not a glamorous profile, but it’s a useful one.

Devonte Brown, OF, Age 23 (DOB: 10/15/1999)

After not being selected in the 2022 draft, Brown signed with the Jays as an undrafted free agent. Prior to that, he played five seasons with the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Brown started out his pro career hot, walking more than he struck out in 107 PA with Dunedin and leading the team with a 171 wRC+. That result should be taken with a grain of salt, since a hitter with five years of experience in a top college baseball conference should be better than low A pitching, but it was still notable production.

Brown is a bit of a do-everything player. In college he played a little bit of third base, occasionally filled in at second, and even handled short during a summer league, but he fits best as a centre fielder as a pro and that’s mostly where the Jays have played him. He’s not a standout defender there, but he looks capable of sticking. He’s not a burner, but he can run a little, and has been an efficient but low volume base stealer in college and as a pro.

Not a big guy (they list him at 5’9” and 207lbs), Brown none the less has a history of hitting for some power. He posted 28 homers in 543 PA over his last two seasons at NC State. He can do it with a wood bat too, hitting 8 in 140PA with Brookhaven of the 2019 Sunbelt League and 3 in his first 122 PA as a pro. He’s walked well over 10% of the time at every stop in his career, and while he does strike out some it hasn’t been excessive.

Brown slid through the draft because of his size and lack of a clear carrying tool, but sometimes guys who can do a little bit of everything and know how to play ball can be more than the sum of their tools. The early returns suggest that he might be one such player, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares as he takes on High A this season and faces players a little closer to his experience level.

Dylan Rock, OF, Age 24 (8/21/1998)

Rock played four seasons with University of Texas- San Antonio Roadrunners, before transferring to Texas A&M for the 2022 season and thriving against the tougher SEC competition, mashing 19 homers while walking more than he struck out and posting a 1.109 OPS. The Jays took Rock in the 8th round of the 2022 draft.

Rock possesses very good bat speed, which allows him to catch up to good fastballs. He also has solid strike zone judgement. The power was new in 2022, as he more than doubled his career home run total, but he does hit the ball hard and has the ability to get it in the air, so he should continue to hit with some impact as a pro.

Defensively, he’s mostly played left field the last couple of seasons, and although he isn’t slow probably fits best in an outfield corner long term. He ran a little in college, succeeding in 45 of 58 stolen base attempts, but speed won’t be a driver of his game as a pro.

Ultimately this is a bet that Rock’s 2022 breakout is real. He outperformed several guys who went in the first round, in college baseball’s best conference. Now, obviously nobody buys into that fully or he wouldn’t have lasted deep into the 8th round. It’s intriguing, though, and there appear to be some raw offensive tools to support at least some of it being real.

Connor Cooke, RHP, Age 23 (11/2/1999)

The Jays took Cooke out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (go Ragin’ Cajuns) in the 10th round of the 2021 draft. He’d mostly worked as a reliever in college, although he made a few starts in his junior season.

The Jays tried him as a starter in Dunedin last year, but by mid-season the decision was made to shift him to a one inning relief role and move him up to high A Vancouver. It seems like kind of an odd decision, as he was apparently healthy and his stuff took a jump early in the year while he was still starting, and although his 4.86 ERA wasn’t ideal the underlying metrics were strong (3.00 FIP, 32% strikeout rate). He’s begun 2023 still in a relief role, though (and struck out 6 of 10 batters faced so far, for that matter), so it seems like the bullpen will be his home.

In college, Cooke got by with a fastball that sat around 90, an averageish slider and changeup, all of which he could throw strikes with. In 2022, though, he came out sitting 92 as a starter early and by the end of the season was regularly getting as high as 97 in short stints. His delivery and low release point create a good angle up in the zone, allowing the fastball to miss bats, but the pitch doesn’t have huge movement and so has some tendency to get hit. The slider is harder now too, and can be a genuinely nasty plus pitch when its on. Cooke still throws strikes, and if the jump in stuff is sustained now projects as a quality middle reliever who can get his share of strikeouts and avoid the walks that fuel big innings.

Ryan Jennings, RHP, Age 23 (6/23/1999)

Jennings was the Jays’ fourth round selection last year, after two years at Louisiana Tech. He started in college, but moved to the bullpen with Dunedin and projects as a pure reliever at the pro level.

He’s a little undersized, listed at 6’0” and 190lbs, but he has a strong lower half that he uses to drive towards home plate, and his fastball sits 94-96mph and touches 99 in short starts. It also has terrific arm side run, making it hard to square up and allowing him to run it off the plate to lefties or backdoor it against right handers. He pairs it with a slider in the mid 80s that flashes plus.

The command can be an issue (he’d hit 30 batters in 183 innings between college and the pros coming into 2023), but at least at the college level he was aggressive enough attacking the zone that walks weren’t a major problem.

While a role as a pure reliever caps his upside, Jennings has the stuff and the approach to be a weapon late in games if he can iron out the control a bit and allow his pitches to play to their potential consistently. He’s also a stirrup socks guy, which bumps him up half a grade in my evaluation.