The Blue Jays outfield depth in the minors is suddenly strong – but who leads the pack of future Jays?
Since Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins took over the Blue Jays baseball management, they’ve certainly come through on one of their promises: to increase the amount of talent at the minor-league level. While the pitching added has been mediocre at best – evidenced by Tom Koehler being the 13th Blue Jays starting pitcher this season – improvements have been made across the board. The system is now much deeper up the middle, has the best depth at the catcher position, and has a surprising amount of power bullpen-type arms. Quietly, through trades, the international signing period and the amateur draft – the outfield is becoming a position of strength.
The Blue Jays outfield has been a sync of offensive production in 2017, as infield cornerstones Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak have provide most of the team’s offense. Between Jose Bautista (wRC+ 86, -7.4 DEF rating), Kevin Pillar (wRC+ 83, 10.2 DEF), Ezequiel Carrera (wRC+ 119, -8.3 DEF) and Steve Pearce (118 wRC+, -9.4 DEF), not only has the offense been underwhelming, but the defense (aside from Pillar) has been rough.
Jose Bautista likely won’t have his option picked up. Carrera is probably here to stay with his two years of arbitration coming, and Kevin Pillar is a plus defender in CF under team control. Steve Pearce shouldn’t be anywhere near the OF, but he’ll likely see an uncomfortable amount of time in LF in 2018 to not force the issue too much. Norichika Aoki is a strong non-tender candidate. And who knows what will ever come of the injury-plagued Dalton Pompey. Still, there will be a hole in RF that Blue Jays will need to fill in the offseason.
Upper Level Minors
The upper levels of the Blue Jays minor league system will be the first looked upon to fill the voids presumably left by Bautista (team option) and Aoki (non-tender candidate.) Assuming Carrera will adequately be used as a fourth outfielder, the Jays will need a left fielder and right fielder. Luckily, they have Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernandez nearly ready to go. Alford already had his cup of coffee with the Jays this summer before a hamate injury slowed his season. With Double-A New Hampshire he’s been excellent and is hitting .314 over his last 10 with the Fisher Cats, and he’s popped a couple home runs since his return from the hamate injury – a good sign in the recovery process.
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While he can hit well enough, the greatest asset of Alford’s game are his running and fielding ability, which are both plus. Not only should he contend for a roster spot in 2018, but he should also be pushing Kevin Pillar for the CF job by 2019 if he remains healthy.
Teoscar Hernandez was acquired in the trade of Francisco Liriano and to offset the money coming in on Aoki’s contract. Teoscar had a slow start with Buffalo after the trade, but since then he’s been mashing. As of this writing, he’s homered in three straight games. If anyone threatens for playing time in September 2017, it’s Hernandez.
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Roemon Fields also presents an exciting option. Watching his development from Low-A Vancouver upwards to Triple-A Buffalo in 2017, Fields has shown the ability to play a solid outfield and to be a tremendous threat on the base paths, featuring electric speed. Basically, he’s a younger, faster, better-fielding Ezequiel Carrera. After going undrafted and signing with Toronto as a free agent in 2014, he had a delay to his development, but since reaching Triple-A Buffalo, he’s caught up and might be ready for a fourth OF role with the Blue Jays.
Between two levels in 2017, Fields has stolen 45 bases in 58 chances. If the Blue Jays stick to their pledge to get younger and faster, Fields is their fast track in doing so.
This all goes without mentioning Dwight Smith Jr., who’s shown the highest ability at the major-league level in his limited call-up earlier this summer (remind me again why he’s not still there?!)
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Smith Jrs.’ limited call-up resulted in a surprising 0.2 fWAR through 12 games, or 0.2 more than Troy Tulowitzki’s total for the season and equal to Marcus Stroman’s (batting only.) Long-term he can probably stick as an extra outfielder, but he shouldn’t be too far behind Hernandez and Alford in terms of ETA.
Below Double- and Triple-A, there are even more options waiting in blue (and red.) The Blue Jays have used the middle rounds of the draft in recent years to stack up on versatile outfielders, and it shows in the solid seasons of Connor Panas, Edward Olivares, Chavez Young, Brock Lundquist and Reggie Pruitt.
With a recent hot streak in Dunedin, Toronto-born Connor Panas has been one of the most valuable D-Jays in 2017, and that’s saying something with the plethora of talent that has stopped in sunny and stormy Florida this summer. Panas has emerged as legitimate power/on-base threat and should begin 2018 with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. In 107 2017 games, he’s hit 16 home runs and driven in 52, while managing a savory .284/.373/.850 slash line. As a lefty-handed bat with power, it shouldn’t take long for 24-year old Panas to threaten a role at the MLB-level.
If you’ve been paying attention to the twitter account of the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts Jesse Goldberg-Strassler – and as a Blue Jays fan there’s no excuse for you not to – you would have seen Olivares coming. Before his call-up to Dunedin in August, Olivares devastated the Midwest League, playing almost as much of a role as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette in those early-summer MWL barn burners. Through 114 games this season, he’s hit 17 home runs and has amassed 72 RBI. He’s off to a slow start at High-A Dunedin, but finishing up 2017 and starting off there in 2018 should be an important development step from the 21-year old Venezuelan.
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We’ve discussed the potential talent in 2016 draft pick and Bahamian-born Chavez Young recently here at JFtC, so check that out. Cliffnotes version: he might be slow to develop within the crowded Jays system, but the talent is there and he’s showing improvement in Low-A.
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The mustachioed Brock Lundquist was taken in the sixth round of the 2017 draft out of California State-Long Beach. Lundquist signed early and went right to Vancouver, and provides an on-base/speed/athleticism combination, but there’s plenty of room for his all-around game to improve. He’s hitting just .237, but has a tremendous eye for the strike zone, walking 23 times to 38 strikeouts in 47 games for a .350 OBP. While he won’t be climbing the prospect lists right away, he’s a fun name to keep an eye on.
Congratulations to Brock Lundquist on his first HR of the season during last night's game in Spokane! pic.twitter.com/94fJS0Rzxi
— Vancouver Canadians (@vancanadians) August 19, 2017
Another all-out speed guy like Roemon Fields, Reggie Pruitt has stolen 26 bases in 34 attempts in 2017. The strikeouts are still too high and the walks too low, but unlike Fields, there’s more pop in the young Georgian’s bat. He’s still only 20-years old and as a late rounder in the 24th of the 2015 draft, and has a tonne of potential value and is a truly fun player to watch. At 6′ and 169 Lbs., there’s plenty of frame to grow into as well.
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Who’s your favorite Blue Jays outfield prospect? Who are you looking to see play some more in 2018? Let us know in the comments below!
*Featured Image Credit: R Widrig- JFtC
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.