JFtC Blue Jays 2019 Top Prospects continues with two more Honourable Mentions: Ryan Noda & Jacob Waguespack
Ryan Noda and Jacob Waguespack are two very different prospects. Noda, drafted by the Jays in 2017 (15th round), is a hitter who has only played as high as Class A. Waguespack, signed by the Phillies as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and acquired by the Jays in exchange for Aaron Loup at the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline, is a pitcher with experience at the highest level of the minor league ladder. Nevertheless, each find themselves just outside of the Jays from the Couch 2019 Top Prospect list, a testament to how far each has come in their minor league careers.
Noda, a throwback who doesn’t wear batting gloves, has spent his two professional seasons raking. In 2017, while playing for the Bluefield Blue Jays at the Advanced Rookie level, he posted the highest wRC+ (190) among all minor leaguers with 200+ plate appearances. Last season, while playing for Class A Lansing, he continued to show his hitting prowess, producing a 160 wRC+ that was third-best among Class A hitters (min. 300 PA).
While he struck out a bit more often than most (25.6%, 37th percentile), he accumulated walks (20.7%, 100th percentile) and hit for power (.228 ISO, 96th percentile) at truly exceptional rates. While his primary position of first base has led some to underrate his big league potential, it’s important to note that he has played some effective left field (two fielding runs above average over 27 games).
His performance as a 22 year old at the Class A level was quite similar to that of the Athletics’ Khris Davis, who also produced a double-digit walk rate (13.9%) and a lot of power (.219 ISO), while striking out more than most (21.6%). Even though Davis obviously represents something of a best-cast scenario for Noda, his big league career shows that a big-hitting and strikeout-prone Class A prospect who’s a touch too old for the level and has negative defensive value can still develop into a solid major leaguer.
Waguespack is a bit further along his minor league journey, one which he started as a relief pitcher. In 2017, a scarcity of starters on his Class A Advanced team pushed them to give him a shot in the rotation. He has taken the opportunity and ran with it, going from a High-A reliever at the start of 2017 to an effective Triple-A starter by the end of 2018.
Through 92.2 innings pitched at the Triple-A level for the Phillies and Jays (across 14 starts and seven multi-inning relief appearances), Waguespack has excelled. His success has primarily resulted from the extremely weak contact he generates. He forces batters to hit loads of ground balls (52.1% GB rate, 93rd percentile), which allows him to limit the number of home runs he gives up (0.68 HR/9, 79th percentile). Moreover, he so effectively limits hard contact on fly balls that he has not given up a single home run at the Triple-A level that travelled 400+ feet.
Importantly, unlike some weak contact pitchers, Waguespack has thus far managed to produce roughly average strikeout (20.2%, 55th percentile) and walk rates (7.5%, 47th percentile). This has allowed him to produce effectively, overall—his 3.60 FIP ranked in the 86th percentile among the 138 pitchers who made at least 10 starts and pitched in at least 70 innings at Triple-A in 2018.
While unheralded, Noda and Waguespack each have legitimate paths to the majors, with Waguespack appearing ready to make his big league debut sometime in 2019. The quality of Noda, Waguespack and the other honourable mentions on our top prospect list speak to the depth of this strong Blue Jays system.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.