RC mound- Credit: DaveMe Images

My Non-Ranking Ranking of 56 Blue Jays Prospects: The Pitchers

 

Professor Q lays out his non ranking of 56 pitching prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization fir the more stats minded reader

 

 

 

 

The baseball world is currently in the thick of prospect season. So far, we’ve seen Top 100 lists from most of the big public evaluators, including Baseballs America and Prospectus, MLB Pipeline, John Sickels and Prospects Live, with FanGraphs’ list still to come. Closer to home, there are Blue Jays Top 10 lists from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, as well as a Top 30 list from Prospects Live. FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline will also soon release their lists of top Blue Jays prospects.

 

Last year, I debuted my own top prospect list. I opted to structure it using more qualitative descriptions (rather than numerical rankings) and with more of an emphasis on stats, though my views on each prospect have absolutely been influenced by the work of the aforementioned evaluators.

 

For this year’s edition, I decided to post the position players and pitchers separately. Two weeks ago, I wrote about each of the position players I feel has a meaningful chance of being a major leaguer. In this post, I highlight each of the pitchers in the Blue Jays’ system who I feel have the best shot at joining them. Below are the Blue Jays’ Top 56 prospects, in my humble opinion.

 

 

Pitchers with the potential to become a frontline starter

There are no guarantees when it comes to prospects, but these two look like they can be top pitchers in the major leagues one day soon.

 

Nate Pearson

A year ago, thanks to his limited pro experience, I had to be careful not to get too excited about Nate Pearson’s potential as a Blue Jays ace. Fortunately, Pearson’s performance in 2019 met our lofty expectations, suggesting he is very much on track to become a very good MLB pitcher.

Pearson started the season at High-A, the level at which he pitched the only 1.2 innings of his 2018 MiLB season. He was absolutely no match for High-A hitters — among pitchers who made at least five starts at the level in 2019, Pearson’s 42.7% K-BB% was comfortably the best, as was his xFIP (1.07). He was only second-best in terms of ERA (0.86) and FIP (1.64) — and was promoted to Double-A by early May.

His performances at Double-A (62.2 IP) and Triple-A (18 IP) were similarly impressive. Among pitchers who made at least 15 starts between the two levels, Pearson’s FIP (3.16, 97th percentile), xFIP (3.42, 93rd percentile) and ERA (2.68, 97th percentile) each rank among the top seven percent. Key to Pearson’s strong overall production were his ability to rack up strikeouts (26.8%, 92nd percentile) and limit home runs (0.67 HR/9, 86th percentile), though he did also keep a tidy walk rate (7.7%, 58th percentile).

With the Blue Jays loading up on starting pitchers this off-season, it seems fair to assume that Pearson will start the season in AAA Buffalo. If things go as expected, he’ll be banging loudly on the big-league door at some point later in the season.

 

Simeon Woods Richardson

Putting any Blue Jays pitching prospect in the same category as Nate Pearson might be a mistake, but SWR is one guy worth sticking your neck out for, as his performance in 2019 during his age-18 season was truly special. The only caveat I’d add is that, given SWR’s distance from the majors relative to Pearson, there is a bit more risk attached to his projection.

SWR pitched at the Class A level (78.1 IP) prior to joining the Blue Jays system, before a promotion to High-A (28.1 IP) to finish the season. He was the only 18-year-old pitcher to make 15 or more starts between the two Single-A levels, an accomplishment on its own. In spite of his youth, SWR was dominant, posting a FIP (2.51, 97th percentile) and xFIP (2.42, 99th percentile) that were both among the top three percent of starters at those levels. He was roughly as effective at striking batters out (29.2%, 87th percentile) as he was at limiting walks (5.6%, 83rd percentile), which helped him run one of the best K-BB% (23.6%, 95th percentile) across Single-A. He was also quite effective at limiting home runs (0.51 HR/9, 69th percentile).

While his Class A ERA of 4.25 is not what you’d expect from a highly-rated pitching prospect, it’s worth noting that he generated a high number of grounders at the level (49.3% GB rate). This, coupled with the fact that Columbia Fireflies infielders posted poor defensive stats, suggests that his strong FIP and xFIP are much better reflections of his performance. In that vein, in front of a solid group of defenders with the Dunedin Blue Jays, SWR posted fairly similar ERA, FIP and xFIP marks.

It seems likely that SWR will start the 2020 season at High-A, given his age and six starts at the level. A good first-half could lead to a promotion to Double-A, where he’d once again be pushing into relatively uncharted waters for a young man his age.

 

Pitchers with legitimate potential to start in the majors, who have displayed it at a full-season level

This group includes both older pitching prospects with a good shot of being at least back-end starters and younger pitching prospects with a wider range of outcomes. What unites them is that they’ve each performed well at full season levels.

 

T.J. Zeuch

Zeuch seems like one of the more polarizing Blue Jays pitching prospects, employing an old-school approach of throwing sinkers half the time with the aim of generating ground balls. In truth, I find that my own views towards Zeuch exhibit polarization. On the one hand, he has consistently shown an ability to generate those grounders and avoid the long ball — this past season, he posted the International League’s second-highest ground ball rate (57.1%) and its fifth-lowest home run rate (0.69 HR/9) among pitchers who made at least ten starts. On the other hand, he’s always struggled to strike batters out and regressed in that regard in 2019, running the IL’s lowest strikeout rate (11.6%). No single performance captured this conflict better than his August 19th no-hitter. That night he generated 15 ground outs, but only struck out three batters, surely one of the lowest-ever number of Ks in a no-no (over the last five seasons, the lowest number of strikeouts in a major-league no-hitter was six).

His time at the majors was too short to really tell us anything meaningful, but it too had something to like and not like. He did a great job limiting homers (0.79 HR/9), which helped him run a better-than-average FIP- (88). He also had one of the worst K-BB% (9.1%) and xwOBACON (.437) among pitchers in September, suggesting he struggled to generate strikeouts and weak contact, as well as to limit walks.

Ultimately, I feel content sticking with my prior that Zeuch has legitimate potential to be a major-league starter. He will almost certainly start 2020 in Buffalo’s rotation and I’m curious to see how the lessons he learned last season help him develop as a pitcher.

 

Anthony Kay

Kay has been a fast riser since undergoing and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in his draft year (2016). He split the 2018 MiLB season between Class A and High-A and the 2019 MiLB season between Double-A and Triple-A, before making three appearances in the majors last September.

He was extremely effective over his 12 Double-A starts, running the level’s best ERA (1.49), a mark supported by his FIP (2.72, 94th percentile among Double-A pitchers with at least 10 starts) and (to a lesser extent) xFIP (3.47, 73rd percentile). Striking batters out (26.7% K rate, 85th percentile) and limiting homers (0.27 HR/9, 97th percentile) were particular strengths of his.

His top-line numbers at the Triple-A don’t pop quite as much as those Double-A stats, but some quick digging uncovers strong, promising performances by Kay. All told, he made 14 starts in the AAA International League, seven with the Mets affiliate and seven with the Bisons. Over four June starts, Kay struggled mightily, posting a 9.64 ERA and a 7.05 FIP. He gave up too many homers (2.57 HR/9) and walks (10.5%), and struck out too few batters (20.9%). He saw some improvements in four July starts (4.50 ERA, 5.85 FIP), but still gave up more homers than you’d like (1.64 HR/9). Moreover, while his walk rate fell (7.1%), his strikeout rate fell by more (15.2%). However, over six August/September starts, his performance took a big step forward (2.01 ERA, 4.17 FIP), driven by much-improved homer limitation (0.57 HR/9) and strikeout generation (27.1%). He finished his season with a September call-up to Toronto, making three appearances (14.1 IP).

Kay seems like the kind of advanced pitching prospect who should meet the back-end starter projections evaluators have generally given him. While he will be part of the battle for the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training, I think he’ll end up back at Triple-A where he can continue the last stage of his minor league development before a more permanent call-up later this season or in 2021.

 

Patrick Murphy

Murphy had a very strange 2019 season. Through June 2nd, he made 11 starts with AA New Hampshire, posting solid top-line numbers (3.69 ERA, 3.09 FIP) and better-than-average marks for each of the key underlying stats (24.9% K rate, 6.1% BB rate, 0.71 HR/9). Then he was told that his delivery was illegal, thanks to a to tap that umpires viewed as a second step. He tried to make his next starts on regular rest, but he clearly needed to take some time to restructure his delivery. Ultimately, the rest of the summer passed without the situation being resolved completely.

As such, Murphy’s prospect risk is a little different from most, centering on whether or not he can return to his early 2019 form using a different delivery. Given his talent and the full off-season he’s had to work on his delivery, I’m betting that after a brief start back at New Hampshire, Murphy spends most of 2020 pitching in Buffalo, on the cusp of his MLB debut.

 

Joey Murray

Murray is an interesting pitching prospect, a quintessential scouting-the-stats guy who has not showed up on many top prospect lists but who has delivered at every level so far. He jumped on my radar by striking out 37.1% of the batters he faced while pitching with Short Season-A Vancouver after being drafted in 2018.

In 2019, he split the season between Class A, High-A and Double-A, making 25 starts overall (137.1 IP). Among the 334 pitchers who made at least 20 starts and pitched at least 100 innings across the minor leagues in 2019, Murray ranked very well in terms of ERA (2.75, 93rd percentile), FIP (2.98, 92nd percentile) and xFIP (2.92, 95th percentile). His primary strength is striking batters out — his 30.1% K rate ranked in the 95th percentile across the minors — often with his invisiball, a high-spin rate fastball that is far more deceptive than its limited velocity would suggest.

As Buffalo’s rotation looks well-stocked, I would imagine that Murray starts the upcoming season in New Hampshire, where he can build on the eight starts he made at Double-A in 2018.

 

Thomas Hatch

Hatch joined the Blue Jays system at the trade deadline, coming from the Cubs in exchange for David Phelps. He was drafted out of college in 2016 and was fast-tracked to High-A for his pro debut in 2017, where he pitched an impressive 124.2 innings. 2018 saw him pitch 143.2 innings at Double-A and he was sent back to that level by the Cubs for 2019, remaining there for the whole season (135.1 IP).

He’s an interesting pitching prospect, as he seemed to only get some prospect heat after joining the Jays. His post-trade performance is an obvious reason for that newfound heat— from August 1st on, Hatch led Double-A pitchers in walk rate (1.6%) and posted a very strong strikeout rate (26.6%, 77th percentile), K-BB% (25%, 96th percentile) and wOBA (.246, 88th percentile).

The limited sample size (six starts, 35.1 IP) is important to note and reminds us to temper our enthusiasm somewhat. However, the idea that Hatch had been working on a cutter-slider with the Cubs and utilized it, alongside increased usage of his changeup, after joining AA New Hampshire is also important to note, as good results after making a meaningful change are intuitively more relevant than good results that seemed to randomly occur.

Hatch should be a strong contender for a rotation spot with AAA Buffalo, as he has pitched two full seasons at Double-A. Seeing how he performs at Triple-A for a few months will help us figure out if his strong August in New Hampshire was a sign of improvements or just an unusually good month.

 

Yennsy Diaz

For many Blue Jays fans, Diaz’s 2019 season will be remembered mostly for his rough appearance with the Jays in late July. Only called up because of injuries and the fact that he was already on the 40-man roster, Diaz gave up a single and four walks, with two of those walks coming with the bases loaded.

Instead, Diaz’s 2019 season should be remembered as his solid debut season in the upper levels of the minors. Interestingly enough, he seemed to take a step forward at Double-A after his short trip to Toronto.

He had a decent enough start to the season, producing a 4.32 FIP and 4.15 ERA through the end of July. His .306 wOBA (60th percentile) to that point is an even more positive reflection of his performance. While he posted below-average strikeout (18.2%) and walk (9.7%) rates, Diaz was rather effective at limiting dangerous batted balls (.322 wOBACON, 79th percentile).

However, he was in a groove after returning to New Hampshire from Toronto. Over five starts in August and September, he produced a 2.48 FIP and 2.27 ERA, while his .245 wOBA ranked in the 91st percentile. His strikeout (22.4%, 54th percentile) and walk (4.8%, 77th percentile) rates each improved, now both better-than-average. Batters struggled to generate dangerous contact even more than they had prior to August, with his .286 wOBACON over August and September ranking in the 87th percentile.

That sounds like the season of a young man facing Double-A hitting for the first time and growing from his experience. Looking ahead, it’s unclear where he will start the 2020 season. In a vacuum, it should be Triple-A. However, there are a lot of pitchers pencilled into the Bisons rotation, far more than there are spots to fill, which might result in the youngest of the bunch (Diaz) staying in Double-A to start the year.

 

Maximo Castillo

Castillo had a strong 2019 with High-A Dunedin, which motivated me to move him up from the lottery ticket category I had placed him in last year.

Back then, he was coming off a full season debut that was most notable for his age (19, a year ahead of schedule) and his workload (131.1 innings, 11th-most across Class A). In 2019, Castillo was not just a young-for-his-level workhorse, though he was certainly that as well — his 130.1 innings pitched ranked 14th across High-A and he was the only age-20 pitcher to crack 100 innings at the level.

In 2019, Castillo was flat-out one of the best pitchers of any age at the High-A level. He struck out plenty (21.8%, 65th percentile), while effectively limiting walks (5.4%, 81st percentile), homers (0.55 HR/9, 75th percentile) and dangerous contact (.321 wOBACON, 89th percentile). Overall, he ranked among the level leaders in terms of FIP (3.09, 87th percentile), ERA (2.69, 91st percentile), xFIP (3.37, 77th percentile) and wOBA (.274, 95th percentile).

He should start the upcoming season with AA New Hampshire, given the way he’s progressed through A-ball, though he may need to remain at High-A to start the year. He hasn’t seen much prospect buzz yet, but a strong showing at Double-A in his age-21 season would surely change that.

 

Josh Winckowski

Winckowski had been deliberately progressed by the Jays after being drafted out of high school in 2016. He went to the GCL that summer, then pitched with Advanced Rookie Bluefield in 2017 and Short Season-A Vancouver in 2018. They seemed to let him loose in his first year at a full season level, starting 2019 with Class A Lansing (73.2 IP) and ending the season with High-A Dunedin (53.2 IP). It was a tale of two halves for Winckowski, as he followed a very strong first half with a weaker second half.

At Class A, Winckowski pitched very, very well. He combined effective home run suppression (0.37 HR/9, 87th percentile) with roughly average strikeout (23.7%, 60th percentile) and walk rates (8.7%, 45th percentile), which drove him to a strong overall performance — he posted a 2.32 ERA (93rd percentile), 3.23 FIP (76th percentile) and 3.31 xFIP (78th percentile). As he had done at lower levels, Winckowski racked up the ground balls (55.8%, 97th percentile) and limited the outfield flies (24.4%, 87th percentile), key to his strong home run suppression.

At High-A, it was a different story. The first bad sign is the step back he took in terms of generating grounders vs. outfield flies — 48.8% of the batted balls he generated were grounders (78th percentile), while 31.3% were outfield flies (42nd percentile) — which helped drive an increase in his home run rate (0.84, 30th percentile). He also struck out batters at a much lower rate (16.3%, 11th percentile), though he maintained a roughly-average walk rate (7.5%, 49th percentile). That super-low strikeout rate was a key reason he posted a worse-than-average FIP (4.20, 25th percentile) and xFIP (3.85, 38th percentile). In contrast, a low BABIP (.259) helped him maintain a solid ERA (3.19, 68th percentile).

Ultimately, in spite of his rough time at High-A, I opted to put Winckowski in this advanced category because I didn’t want to penalize him for shoving at Class A to start the season. If he spent the whole summer dominating at Class A, I’d have put him in this category, after all. Hopefully his head start at High-A gave him valuable experience that will serve him well in 2020 and beyond. I anticipate him heading back to Dunedin to start the coming season.

 

Pitchers with legitimate potential to start in the majors, who haven’t had a chance to display it at a full-season level

The range of outcomes for this group of pitchers is wider than those in the previous group, as they are further from the majors and haven’t yet had the opportunity to produce a strong performance at a full season level. Nevertheless, there is a lot of talent here.

 

Eric Pardinho

Pardinho, like Jordan Groshans on the position player list, finds himself among the promising short season prospects because injuries limited his playing time in Lansing. In his case, elbow tightness pushed the start of his season back to July 2nd and a cautious approach to his health led the team to shut him down after his final start on August 7th.

While his health concerns are worrisome, he pitched rather well during that stretch (seven starts, 33.2 IP), limiting batters to a .282 wOBA (70th percentile among pitchers who faced at least 100 batters during that time). He did especially well to limit dangerous contact (.315 wOBACON, 73rd percentile) and struck batters out more often than most (22.1%, 63rd percentile). On the other hand, he had a bit of an elevated walk rate (9.6%, 26th percentile), which held back his K-BB% (12.5%, 45th percentile).

As we’re talking about seven starts, caution is obviously necessary. Given his short time at Class A, I’d guess he returns to this level to start 2020. If he stays relatively healthy all summer and pitches as well as he can, a promotion to High-A Dunedin is likely.

 

Adam Kloffenstein

Kloffenstein is an interesting prospect, as he was a third-round draft pick in 2018, but actually received the 29th-largest signing bonus of the draft. As a result, unlike most third-rounders, he was immediately considered one of the Jays’ better pitching prospects.

He made his proper pro debut last season, pitching with Short Season-A Vancouver, where he saw a lot of action, pitching 64.1 innings. Overall, he performed reasonably well, though the three key metrics disagreed a bit on how well. He was very good in terms of ERA (2.24, 97th percentile among pitchers with at least 50 IP and ten starts), thanks to his low BABIP (.262). He was only average in terms of FIP (3.73, 53rd percentile), thanks to his average home run rate (0.56 HR/9, 53rd percentile) and somewhat-elevated walk rate (8.9%, 35th percentile).  He was a little above average in terms of xFIP (3.46, 62nd percentile), because it assumes that his elevated HR/FB (10.3%, 15th percentile) was due to bad luck.

There are, however, plenty of highlights to be found in Kloff’s underlying stats. He ran a solid strikeout rate (24.7%, 79th percentile) that jibes well with his swinging strike rate (14.1%, 97th percentile) and also produced a strong batted ball mix, posting the level’s third-highest ground ball rate (60.1%) and second-lowest fly ball rate (23.9%).

He looks set to start the upcoming season at Class A. An even modestly improved walk rate would likely see him rank among the level’s best starting pitchers.

 

Edisson Gonzales

Gonzales is likely one of the lesser-known prospects on this list, as he is one of the newest members of the Blue Jays’ system after joining the organization in the Eric Sogard trade with the Rays. It might be a bit aggressive to have him in this group of prospects (as opposed to the group of lottery ticket pitchers coming next), but the statistical case seems very strong.

Gonzales was an international signing in 2016, debuting with the Rays’ Dominican affiliate in 2017, before splitting 2018 between their GCL and Appy League affiliates. In 2019, he spent the whole summer playing at the Short Season-A level, where he pitched 62.1 innings over 13 appearances (11 starts).

At that level of the minors, the two most reliable predictors of a pitcher’s future performance are their strikeout and walk rates. By these metrics, Gonzales has a very promising future, as he ran the level’s best strikeout rate (29.4%), fourth-best walk rate (5%) and best K-BB% (24.4%). These marks helped him run the level’s best xFIP (2.64) and fourth-best ERA (2.24). His home run rate was a bit high (0.86 HR/9, 18th percentile), but that didn’t stop him from posting a strong FIP (3.14, 80th percentile) as well.

Gonzales’ exploits at the level also stand out among prospects his age who came through it in recent years. Over the last 13 years, there have been 350 Short Season-A pitchers who cracked ten starts and 50 innings pitched in their age-20 season or earlier. [While Gonzales did so in his age-19 season, he has an October birthday, so he was 20 years old for the entire 2019 season, leading me to set the cut-off a year older.] Gonzales ranks highly in this group in terms of his ERA (89th percentile), FIP (85th percentile), xFIP (98th percentile), strikeout rate (98th percentile), walk rate (86th percentile) and K-BB% (99th percentile).

For now, Gonzales might be a scouting-the-stats kind of prospect, though those are some rather impressive stats. I’ll be watching closely to see if any established evaluators confirm that he’s a guy whose skill set is as promising as his stats appear. He is a likely member of the 2020 Lansing Lugnuts starting rotation.

 

Alek Manoah

Manoah, the 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft, is a much more obviously promising prospect. He has that Pearson-esque fastball/slider combo that gives him a floor of a late-inning reliever, with the potential to develop into a strong MLB starter.

He made his pro debut last summer, making six short appearances (17 IP) with Short Season-A Vancouver, and looked very good in the process. There’s no point digging too deep into the results from six Short Season-A appearances, but a few key numbers stand out.

There’s the headline-grabbing 39.7% strikeout rate (97th percentile among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched at the level). However, he also posted a solid walk rate (7.4%, 66th percentile), which helped him produce one of the level’s best K-BB% (32.4%, 97th percentile). He also generated a lot of swinging strikes (16%, 87th percentile), which bodes well for his strikeout rate going forward, and threw a high number of pitches for strikes (69.4%, 94th percentile), a promising sign of good control.

It will be interesting to see if he starts the upcoming season with Class A Lansing, one level up, or if the Jays move him up two levels to High-A Dunedin, like they did with Nate Pearson after his electric time in Vancouver.

 

Kendall Williams

Williams was the Jays second-round pick in the 2019 draft, so he too is new to the system. Williams and Kloffenstein are an interesting pair of pitching prospects to compare — Williams is only a day older and an inch taller than Kloffenstein, but roughly 40 pounds lighter. As such, a decent amount of the optimism surrounding Williams is driven by his potential to grow muscle add some ticks to his fastball.

If it’s unwise to focus too much on Manoah’s production over 17 innings at Short Season-A, it’s a terrible idea to do so with Williams’ 16 innings pitched in the Gulf Coast League. For what it’s worth, one number that certainly stood out was Williams’ 30.2% strikeout rate, which ranked in the 88th percentile among GCL pitchers who cracked pitched at least ten innings.

Sticking with the Kloff comparison, Williams is a decent bet to start the 2020 season in Vancouver.

 

Lottery Ticket Pitchers: Pitchers with both potential and flaws, who may yet become major-leaguers

These prospects have each shown something to suggest they may develop into major leaguers. However, they each have meaningful question marks that will need to be addressed before that happens.

 

Elvis Luciano

Luciano might be one of the most unique pitching prospects in all of baseball. He was the first major leaguer to be born in the 2000s, was the youngest player in the majors in 2019 and has pitched the third-most MLB innings by a teenager since 1995. However, whereas his fellow teenage pitchers were each fast-tracked due to immense talent, Luciano found himself in the majors due to a now-closed Rule 5 Draft loophole — his initial pro contract with the Diamondbacks was cancelled, so he was viewed as a minor-league free agent who then signed immediately signed with the Diamondbacks, making him eligible for subsequent Rule 5 Drafts until he made his team’s 40-man roster.

The Blue Jays exploited that loophole to draft him, then exploited the fact that he could be stowed away on the 60-day IL for most of the season (each of us is entitled to our positive/neutral/negative opinion of these technical shenanigans). In 2020, Luciano will essentially be another young pitching prospect in the minors, though he remains on the Jays’ 40-man roster and will use one of his three MiLB options.

Luciano’s journey from the Appy League to the majors and back to the minors means examining his stats to guide our understanding of his future MLB potential is particularly tricky. He was a terrible MLB reliever in 2019 but…of course he was. The question isn’t whether he will be a good MLB reliever in 2020, but whether he can develop into a good MLB starter a few years from now.

Back in 2018, he was a very average starter in the Appy League. There were 19 pitchers in the league with at least 50 innings pitched and ten starts and Luciano was middle-of-the-pack in terms of basically every meaningful stat. However, he was also the second youngest of the bunch (after Eric Pardinho) and the only one in their age-18 season, which gives positive context to his average-ness.

My guess is he starts the 2020 season at Class A, mainly because of the depth of pitching ahead of him in the Jays’ system. It’s also not a bad idea to start him there because the kid could use a confidence boost after his time in the majors. Moreover, Class A is the level at which you’d expected a 20 year old pitching prospect to be anyways.

 

Julian Merryweather

Merryweather finds himself among the lottery tickets, rather than the relief-only prospects, because I have no clue if he remains a starter or is now viewed as a reliever. He has effectively missed two full seasons, making only two MiLB appearances in 2019, as well as four more in the Arizona Fall League, so he’s even less suited for scouting-the-stats than Luciano.

His potential as a starter is rooted in his pre-Tommy John surgery performance. As I noted last year, “Merryweather has produced as a starter at each of the three highest levels of the minors. At both High-A (2016) and Double-A (2016-17), he maintained better-than-average strikeout, walk and home run rates. At Triple-A (2017), his strikeout and walk rates were similarly strong, but he gave up homers a lot more often than he had at the lower levels (0.63 HR/9 at High-A/AA vs. 1.50 HR/9 at Triple-A). That said, his HR/FB jumped after the promotion, from 8.2% to 15.1%, which suggests he may have been more unlucky than ineffective.”

Obviously, after two lost seasons, it’s unclear what kind of starter he might be. As plenty have noted, he threw fastballs up to 100 mph last summer, so there is still an arm there post-TJ, one that might end up transitioning into a relief role this season. That would certainly help ease the logjam of starters in the upper levels of the Jays’ system. His first three AFL appearances showed what he could offer in such a role — he struck out six over four innings, walking one and allowing only two singles — though his last appearance was rough.

His starting level is probably the toughest to predict. He could be eased back into action in a lower level or extended Spring Training, or he might end up starting the year at an upper level if he shows he’s ready to go.

 

Hector Perez

A year ago, I said that “Perez seems like the archetypal upper-minors, “could become a very good starter, should at least become a very good reliever” kind of prospect”, and that remains the case. Unfortunately, his limited progress in 2019 makes the former outcome decreasingly likely, though far from impossible.

Perez walks too many batters, a result of his struggles to throw strikes — among 88 pitchers to crack 120 innings and 25 starts at Double-A over the last two seasons combined, Perez’s walk rate (12.6%) and strike rate (59.9%) each ranked third from the bottom. On the other hand, his ability to limit homers (0.55 HR/9, 90th percentile) and generate whiffs (12.8%, 86th percentile) and strikeouts (23.1%, 75th percentile) underlies his continued MLB potential.

A lack of space in Buffalo’s rotation to start 2020 means that Perez will likely continue his development at Double-A. I can imagine his season progressing in a number of different ways. If the traffic jam ahead of him eases up for any reason, he might end up starting games at Triple-A. If it doesn’t, he might remain at Double-A throughout the year. And, if there is a need in the Jays pen, it also wouldn’t surprise me to see him get a run in the majors, given that he is on the Jays’ 40-man roster.

This feels like a make-or-break year for Perez, as the Jays are past the point where they can keep a minor-leaguer with his mix of flaws and potential on the 40-man roster. If he struggles to show his abilities in a starter’s role, he could quickly see himself thrust into relief, a role in which he could certainly build a long MLB career.

 

Nick Allgeyer

Allgeyer was drafted by the Jays in the 12th round of the 2018 draft and made his full season debut in 2019, spending the entire year at High-A Dunedin. While he had little prospect buzz heading into the season, his strong performance will likely have him on more people’s radar in 2020.

Allgeyer was among the FSL’s pitching workhorses, making 22 starts and pitching 118.1 innings. In addition to quantity, Allgeyer displayed quality, ranking well among his fellow FSL workhorses across many key metrics. In total, 16 FSL pitchers cracked 20 starts/100 innings pitched in 2019. Allgeyer was among the leaders in terms of overall metrics like FIP (3.56, fourth) and xFIP (3.48, sixth), as well as key underlying metrics like strikeout rate (20.9%, fifth), walk rate (5.8%, third), K-BB% (15.1%, fourth), home run rate (0.76 HR/9, sixth) and swinging strike rate (11.8%, third).

Allgeyer’s year at High-A bears some similarity to Zach Logue‘s 2018 season at the same level. A year ago, Logue’s solid performance led me to put him in this category, with further strong performances at Double-A key to confirming his potential as a major league pitcher. Unfortunately, Logue struggled in his first season at Double-A,  putting that potential into doubt, though he’ll likely get another chance in 2020 to show his mettle.

In Allgeyer’s case, the number of pitchers ahead of him in the Jays’ system makes it unlikely he will start the upcoming season at Double-A, the logical destination after his strong 2019. That said, I would imagine he eventually finds himself in New Hampshire at some point. Ultimately, his performance in his first taste of the upper minors will give us more information about his own potential as a major league pitcher.

 

Sean Wymer

Wymer was a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft and had a solid stint at Short Season-A Vancouver that summer. In 2019, he made his full season debut with Class A Lansing, spending the entire summer there.

While Wymer’s full season stats don’t necessarily look like those of a promising pitcher, there are nevertheless positive indicators in his performance. One positive aspect that requires no context is his ability to limit walks, with his 5.9% walk rate ranking sixth among 51 Class A pitchers who made at least 20 starts and pitched at least 100 innings. This jibes with his strength at throwing strikes, as his 66.3% strike rate ranked eighth across the level

A notable part of Wymer’s season was a terrible five-game stretch he had in late May/early June. While he still avoided walks very well (6.3% walk rate), he struggled immensely to strike batters out (6.3%) and gave up six homers (3.00 HR/9), running an 8.78 FIP in the process.

Otherwise, he was consistently solid, producing a 3.28 FIP over the first six starts of the season and a 3.54 FIP over his last 15 starts. So, while the 4.16 FIP he produced in 2019 ranked only 34th across Class A, the 3.46 FIP he produced over the 21 starts (119.2 IP) on either side of those terrible five games would have ranked 11th (excepting for the fact that every pitcher’s FIP would also be higher had I removed their worst five starts). It’s also worth noting that he pitched a complete game in his final start, giving up one run in the win.

Wymer was mainly a reliever in college, so part of his major league promise lies in the idea that he’d be more likely to successfully make an eventual transition to the bullpen should he not stick as a starter. Like most of the system’s A-ball pitchers, it’s hard to say at what level Wymer will start the season. My guess is he returns to Class A, where he can build confidence before attacking FSL batters.

 

Pitchers already being used in a relief role, who have MLB potential

As so many major league relievers are failed starting pitching prospects, relief-only prospects often need to be particularly effective in the role in order to get their chance. Moreover, I tend to focus on relief prospects in the upper minors, who have shown their skills against high-quality hitting.

 

Jordan Romano

2019 was Romano’s first season as a reliever and the Canadian’s performance certainly reflected both his potential and the work ahead of him.

His strength is striking batters out at a much higher rate than he walks them, a useful skill for big league relievers. Among International League relievers (min. 30 IP, max. 5 GS), Romano’s 31.9% strikeout rate (86th percentile) and 8.4% walk rate (74th percentile) were both well above average, with his resultant 23.5% K-BB% (89th percentile) ranking among the league leaders.

In 2019, Romano’s clear weakness was the long ball, one that could prevent him from enjoying a meaningful big league career if it isn’t fixed. Even with the context that everybody was giving up homers at Triple-A last year, Romano’s 1.91 HR/9 was abysmal (3rd percentile). Things were much the same during his short time in the majors (15.1 IP), during which he gave up 2.35 HR/9, though it is comforting that he  gave up barrels at a rate (5.3%) that was not too much worse than the average reliever (4.7%).

Romano will likely end up back in Toronto’s bullpen in 2020, where he’ll continue to get comfortable in his new role, while playing for his hometown team.

 

Kirby Snead

Snead was drafted as a reliever back in 2016 and has slowly worked his way through the Jays’ system, arriving at Triple-A last May.

Snead’s Triple-A numbers suggest a performance that was understated, but solid. He kept a tidy walk rate (8.3%, 76th percentile) that balanced a below-average strikeout rate (23.5%, 34th percentile), resulting in a middle-of-the-road K-BB% (15.2%, 46th percentile). Similarly, he conceded homers at a league-average rate (1.04 HR/9, 52nd percentile), which helped him run a league-average FIP (4.43, 48th percentile).

Snead particularly excelled at generating ground balls (52.3%, 92nd percentile), as he has throughout his pro career (54.7%). Indeed, only (apparent) bad luck kept him for conceding fewer homers, as his HR/FB was extremely high (17.6%), not just relative to his fellow IL relievers (12th percentile), but to his own career at lower levels (4.3%). With this in mind, it’s worth noting that his 4.12 xFIP ranked in the 76th percentile.

The big league bullpen looks pretty set, so Snead will likely start the upcoming season back at Triple-A. That said, a strong spring could change things, as few Toronto relievers have their positions set in stone.

 

Ty Tice

Tice has quickly worked his way through the minor leagues since being drafted in 2017, taking only two seasons to rise from Class A to Triple-A. Indeed, at 22 years old, he was one of the youngest relievers at the level in 2019.

He split the season between Double-A (24.2 IP) and Triple-A (33 IP), exhibiting different strengths (and weaknesses) at the two levels. At Double-A, his stats seem like those of a ground-baller (50% GB rate) who doesn’t rack up the strikeouts (22.8%), but effectively avoids both walks (7.9%) and homers (0.00 HR/9). At Triple-A, he continued to suppress home run contact (0.55 HR/9), but saw his strikeout (27.3%) and walk rates (14%) increase meaningfully.

His overall performance between the two levels was nevertheless strong, with his 3.27 FIP ranking in the 79th percentile among pitchers with 50-plus innings pitched (but no more than five starts) between Double- and Triple-A. His low HR/FB (3.8%) may, however, reflect good luck, in which case he was more of an average upper-minors reliever (4.15 xFIP, 52nd percentile).

He only spent the last half-season at Triple-A, so I anticipate he’ll return to the level in 2020. It will be interesting to see if he can continue suppressing homers as effectively as he did last year.

 

Bryan Baker

Baker joined the Jays’ system in 2018 as part of the Seung-Hwan Oh trade with the Rockies and is known for his high-velocity fastball.

Like Tice, he split the 2019 season between Double-A (32 IP) and Triple-A (22 IP). Unlike Tice, his numbers between the two levels couldn’t be more similar — at each level, he struck out more than thirty percent of opposing batters, walked at least fifteen percent of them and limited opponents to about half-a-home run per nine innings.

Among upper-minors relievers, Baker’s 30.6% strikeout rate was elite (85th percentile), while his 15.5% walk rate was very much not (1st percentile). Nevertheless, the good balanced the bad reasonably well, with his 15.1% K-BB% roughly middle-of-the-pack (42nd percentile). He also limited home runs well (0.5 HR/9, 80th percentile), which helped him run an above-average FIP (3.45, 73rd percentile). Like Tice, his low HR/FB (4.6%) might have been down to good luck, in which case his performance was closer to average (4.25 xFIP, 48th percentile).

He will likely return to Triple-A in 2019, but he seems like a prime candidate for the QEW Shuttle between Buffalo and Toronto.

 

Jake Fishman

Fishman is the lone returnee from last year’s group of solid relief-only prospects — Corey Copping and Zach Jackson had very rough 2019s — after responding to his promotion to Double-A by replicating his strong High-A performance from 2018.

There basically is no blemish to be found in his stats, with above-average marks across the board. Fishman combined a strong strikeout rate (27.5%, 68th percentile among Double-A pitchers with at least 50 IP and no more than 5 GS) with a low walk rate (6.7%, 88th percentile) and home run rate (0.57 HR/9, 60th percentile), resulting in one of the level’s best FIP marks (2.79, 84th percentile).

Unlike Tice and Baker, Fishman kept his home run rate low by generating a lot of grounders (50.9%, 86th percentile). As a result, his FIP is on much stronger footing, evidenced by his 2.77 xFIP (92nd percentile).

Impressively, Fishman pulled off the rare feat of posting both a high groundball rate and a high swinging strike rate (14.4%, 81st percentile). Indeed, over the last five seasons, only eight qualified Double-A relievers (out of 372) were able to surpass Fishman in terms of both stats. Notably, all were older than he was last year.

I’m expecting Fishman to be promoted to Triple-A. That said, like the team’s rotation, there may be a logjam in Buffalo’s bullpen, which may necessitate Fishman starting the year in New Hampshire again.

 

Curtis Taylor

Taylor, the final prospect on the list, is also one of the newest, having joined the system along with Edisson Gonzales in exchange for Eric Sogard. Another Canadian, Taylor pitched most of 2018 at Double-A and was sent back there to start the 2019 season, before an elbow sprain ended his season. Fortunately, his ligament wasn’t torn, precluding Tommy John surgery, and he has been throwing again this off-season.

His bread and butter was the strikeout, with his 28.6% strikeout rate ranking in the 77th percentile among Double-A pitchers (min. 50 IP/max. 5 GS between 2018 and 2019). Key to his success in this regard has been missing bats, with his 14.8% swinging strike rate also among the level’s best (82nd percentile).

While he wasn’t quite as effective at limiting walks (9.8%) and homers (0.69 HR/9), he rated as roughly average (48th percentile) in both regards, helping him post a FIP (3.89, 58th percentile) that was better than most of his peers.

Given the time he missed, I would expect him to start the 2020 season back at Double-A. If it appears he has not lost a step, he should see a promotion to Buffalo relatively quickly.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Compared to last season, the big difference in my list of Blue Jays pitching prospects is the increased high-level talent. The frontline starter group has expanded from just Nate Pearson to Pearson and Simeon Woods Richardson. Beyond that top group, there are more prospects in the system who have a good shot at being average-or-better MLB starters — Patrick Murphy, Eric Pardinho and Adam Kloffenstein, returnees from last year, have been joined by both new additions (Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, Alek Manoah and Kendall Williams) and guys who took a big step forward in 2019 (Joey Murray and Maximo Castillo). Beyond these standouts are a number of others with clear MLB potential. The Jays’ relief depth has also grown, with six guys in the upper levels looking like they’ll be MLB contributors in the near future. Beyond those I’ve highlighted are other relievers who have the tools to put together a strong 2020 season, like Jackson, Copping and Jackson McClelland.

All in all, this system looks primed to provide the big league club with talented pitchers for the foreseeable future.

 

Putting this list together helped me learn even more about the Blue Jays’ system and I sincerely hope that reading this post helps each of you learn a little bit more about the Jays’ prospects as well. Feel free to leave your thoughts or questions in the comments section below.

 

 

 

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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.