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Blue Jays’ MiLB “Scouting the Stats” All Stars: The Position Players

Jays From the Couch runs the numbers and presents the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays MiLB Position Player All Stars

 

 

 

 

With the Blue Jays’ minor league affiliates finished for 2019, I thought it would be fun to highlight great statistical performances from across the system this past season. Without any further ado, your Blue Jays “Scouting the Stats” Minor League All Stars, starting with the position players.

 

Catcher: Alejandro Kirk

Last winter, in my Blue Jays top prospect list, I put Kirk in the “Legitimate offensive and defensive potential, with limited pro experience” category. He had owned the Advanced Rookie-level Appalachian League, so the main question was whether he could perform similarly at a full season level, like Class A.

 

He more than met the increased expectations, following up his 160 wRC+ at rookie-ball with a 173 wRC+ over 96 plate appearances at Class A. Once again, he walked (18.8%) more often than he struck out (8.3%), while posting impressive power numbers (.221 ISO).

 

This prompted the Jays to promote Kirk to High-A Dunedin in early May, where he just kept on hitting (153 wRC+). More walks than strikeouts? Check—he ran a 13.8% walk rate against a 11.2% strikeout rate. Lots of power? Check—his .159 ISO ranked 14th in the pitcher friendly Florida State League (min. 200 PA).

 

Of equal importance was Kirk’s performance as a catcher. The best minor league defensive data comes from Clay Davenport and it reflects quite well on Kirk. This season, he produced 16 fielding runs above average (FRAA) over 82 games, between Lansing and Dunedin. His 12 FRAA with Dunedin ranked first among all catchers in the Florida State League.

 

Honorable Mentions: Riley Adams and Gabriel Moreno

The Blue Jays’ system has a lot of catchers, many of them quite promising—out of 72 catchers rated 35+ FV or better by FanGraphs, six of them are Blue Jays (and that doesn’t include Danny Jansen). Ultimately, the honourable mentions go to the guys one level ahead (Riley Adams) and behind (Gabriel Moreno) Kirk.

 

Kirk replaced Adams after the latter was promoted from Dunedin to AA New Hampshire. Adams dominated the Florida State League (173 wRC+) in his short spell there (83 PA), before spending the rest of 2019 in the Eastern League, where he produced the seventh-best wRC+ (133) among batters with at least 300 PA.

 

Moreno pulled off a similar feat in the Midwest League, posting the league’s ninth-best wRC+ (134). His potential is summed up by his exceptional combination of low strikeout rate (11.1%) and big power (.205 ISO), accomplished at an age that’s about a year young for the level.

 

First Base: Ryan Noda

Noda’s stats have always had a habit of jumping out at you—over each of his first two pro seasons, he posted a 20%-plus walk rate, ranking in the top three across affiliated baseball each season, and a .200-plus ISO. Spending his 2019 season in the pitcher friendly FSL, it was always likely his numbers would normalize a bit this year. While they did (relative to 2017 and 2018), he was once again a strong offensive performer.

 

Overall, Noda was the third-most productive qualified batter in the FSL, posting a 138 wRC+ over 469 plate appearances. He did a lot effectively, hitting for power (.180 ISO, fifth), while generating a high rate of base hits (.330 BABIP, 13th) and walks (15.8%, first).

 

As was the case last season, strikeouts were a problem for Noda this season, with his 29.4% strikeout rate the tenth-highest mark in the FSL. That said, he was able to get that rate down to 22.1% over the last 25 games of his season, offering some optimism that he can keep the strikeouts under control.

 

 

Honourable Mention: Yorman Rodriguez

Yorman Rodriguez was another Blue Jays’ first baseman who excelled in 2019, finishing the season with the eighth-best wRC+ (159) across the Short Season-A level (min. 150 PA). Rodriguez is a balls-in-play kind of hitter, running low walk (5.3%) and strikeout rates (7.1%), producing modest power (.140 ISO), but loading up on base hits (.378 BABIP). Unsurprisingly, given his low strikeout rate and high BABIP, he posted the best batting average (.369) across the level.

 

In a short taste at the Class A level—he was promoted in early August—Rodriguez kept on keeping on, walking or striking out in only 8.1% of his plate appearances, but turning balls in play into base hits at a strong rate (.356 BABIP). He only ended up with 99 plate appearances at the level, but it’s still worth noting that he posted the level’s fourth-best batting average (.344, min. 90 PA).

 

Second Base: Miguel Hiraldo

While Hiraldo is generally viewed as a SS/3B prospect, he spent most of his season manning second base for the Advanced Rookie Bluefield Blue Jays. He finished the season with the Appalachian League’s 12th-best wRC+ (126) and the best mark among qualified batters in their age-18 season.

 

At the lowest levels of the minors, avoiding strikeouts and generating power at a relatively young age are the key things to look out for. Hiraldo checks each of these boxes—he struck out at the level’s sixth-lowest rate (14.1%) and produced power at the 14th-highest rate (.181 ISO), with both marks the level’s best among age-18 batters.

 

Hiraldo capped off his season with a triple while playing one game for Class A Lansing at the end of the season.

 

Honourable Mentions: Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal and Tanner Morris

Biggio spent little time in the minors this season, before his promotion to Toronto. Nevertheless, his performance over 43 games just has to be given its due. At Triple-A, Biggio managed to generate more walks than strikeouts—his 1.21 BB/K ended up as the best mark in the International League among batters with 150+ PA—as well as power (.203 ISO) and contact (.352 BABIP). The result was a 152 wRC+, the league’s fourth-best mark.

 

Like Hiraldo, Espinal had been used primarily as a shortstop heading into 2019, but saw most of his playing time at second base this season. While his offensive numbers don’t jump off the board—115 wRC+ at Double-A (409 PA), 105 wRC+ at Triple-A (112 PA)—that he was an above-average hitter at the highest levels of the minors is notable. Plus, he was a very solid defensive second baseman, producing 9 FRAA over 71 games.

 

Morris got his first taste as a professional baseball player with Short Season-A Vancouver this summer, after being drafted in the fifth round of the June draft. He acquitted himself well, producing a 119 wRC+. While he didn’t hit for much power (.100 ISO), his combination of a decent strikeout rate (19%), solid BABIP (.313) and great walk rate (16.7%) did help him produce the fifth-best OBP (.384) in the Northwest League.

 

Shortstop: Otto Lopez

After his strong showing with Short Season-A Vancouver in 2018, I was very excited to see what the Montrealer would do over the course of a full season. My excitement was rewarded, as Lopez was once again an effective offensive producer—he posted a 132 wRC+, the 15th-best mark among qualified batters at the Class A level—this time over 492 plate appearances.

 

Lopez’s strength is putting the ball in play—he produced the level’s seventh-best strikeout rate (12.8%)—and turning those balls in base hits—his .365 BABIP ranked ninth—so it’s not much of a surprise that he posted the level’s best batting average (.324).

 

Honourable Mention: Orelvis Martinez

Martinez was the jewel of the Blue Jays’ 2018 international free agent signings and saw his first pro action with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays this summer. He definitely displayed that promise, producing the league’s ninth-best wRC+ (151) among qualified batters (and the best mark among age-17 batters).

 

Even more impressive was his .275 ISO, the second-best mark in the league. In fact, it was the tenth-best ISO among qualified batters since 2006! That kind of power combined with a very modest strikeout rate (17.8%) at 17 years old is a strong predictor of future success.

 

Third Base: Davis Schneider

Schneider had an unusual season. After spending 2018 with Bluefield, he was promoted to Vancouver to start the 2019 season, where he struggled mightily over 17 games. The Jays decided to send him back to Bluefield and he turned things around completely. After posting a 49 wRC+ with Vancouver, he posted a 149 wRC+ with Bluefield, particularly excelling at racking up extra-base hits—his .237 ISO ranked tenth in the Appalachian League (min. 100 PA).

 

Schneider’s bat is certainly a big part of his potential, as his .393 BABIP can attest to (it ranked eighth). On the other hand, he will need to keep the strikeouts under better control going forward, with a 26%-plus strikeout the norm at each stop he’s made over the last two seasons.

 

Honourable Mention: Patrick Kivlehan, Yhon Perez and Jose Zepada

While Kivlehan is no longer a true prospect, his exploits for Buffalo were impressive enough to earn a shout out. He took full advantage of the MLB ball used at the Triple-A level this year, posting a .287 ISO with the Bisons. His .269 ISO between his two Triple-A stops this season ranked sixth among qualified International League batters.

 

Perez and Zepada, as well as Martinez, held down third base for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays this summer. Strong plate discipline was the calling card for both players, with Perez (1.00 BB/K) and Zepada (1.50) both ranking in the Top 10 among GCL batters in terms of their walk-to-strikeout ratios (min. 90 PA).

 

Outfield: Forrest Wall, Josh Palacios and Griffin Conine

Wall and Palacios spent most of the season playing together in the AA Fisher Cats outfield, until Wall’s late promotion to Triple-A. In my pre-season prospect rankings, I put them both in the Lottery Ticket Hitter category, as they seemed like solid defensive outfielders who were light hitters. Needless to say, they will both be in more promising categories in my 2020 rankings.

 

Overall, both were very effective offensive producers, each ranking among the Eastern League’s ten best hitters in terms of wRC+ (min. 300 PA). Palacios (134 wRC+) showed improved plate discipline, with his 0.64 BB/K ranking ninth in his league, and produced the best ISO mark of his career (.150).

 

Similarly, Wall (129 wRC+) showed enough power (.149 ISO) to stave off concerns for now. Importantly, he kept up his habit of maintaining a BABIP well above .300, with his .347 mark tenth-best in the league. Palacios wasn’t far behind, posting a .324 BABIP (20th).

 

The two split centre field for New Hampshire and each showed off their defensive aptitudes—Wall produced 9 FRAA in 82 games, while Palacios produced 6 FRAA in 36 games. After solid 2019 seasons, Wall and Palacios seem like the next most likely Blue Jays outfield prospects to make their MLB debuts.

 

Further down the ladder, Conine produced some very impressive batted ball quality, the kind that makes one look past a 35.9% strikeout rate. His .293 ISO was easily first in the Midwest League (min. 300 PA). Ditto for his .405 BABIP and his 169 wRC+. He will face tougher challenges next season, which will give us a much better understanding of his big league potential. Nevertheless, one must stand back and marvel at the numbers he put up this summer.

 

Honourable Mentions: Jonathan Davis, Will Robertson and Spencer Horwitz

2019 was Davis’ second go at Triple-A, after his mid-season promotion to the level in 2018. This season, Davis (117 wRC+) meaningfully increased his walk rate (from 5.9% to 11.4%), as well as his ISO (from .141 to .187), though the new MLB ball might have had a lot to do with the latter.

 

Robertson is a promising addition for the Jays, drafted in the fourth round of this summer’s draft. He stood out in countless ways for Vancouver. His strong walk (11.8%) and strikeout (18.6%) rates speak well of his plate discipline. And, while his .136 ISO won’t blow anyone away, it was still an above-average mark in the light-hitting Northwest League, ranking 14th among qualified batters. Plus, he produced 9 FRAA over 53 games between left and right field.

 

With Bluefield, Horwitz had a classic “college hitter dominating rookie-ball” kind of season. Overall, Horwitz produced the Appalachian League’s fourth-best wRC+ (139, min. 200 PA). Plate discipline seemed to be his primary strength, as his 0.96 BB/K was the league’s second-best mark, while his 10.3% strikeout rate was second-to-none. He also racked up the base hits, posting a .357 BABIP (eighth-best). That combination of plate discipline and base hits propelled him to the league’s best batting average (.330) and third-best OBP (.395).

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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Jeff Quattrociocchi

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.