Jays From the Couch brings you the 2020 Blue Jays’ Top position players as presented by Professor Q
The baseball world is transitioning away from hot stove season towards prospect season. So far, we’ve seen Blue Jays Top 10 lists from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, as well as a Top 30 list from Prospects Live, with lists from FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline still to come.
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, mainly because I didn’t want to put my readers through the ordeal of reading 8,000-plus words in one go again. 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.
Players with legitimate offensive and defensive potential, who have displayed it at a full-season level
This group of position player prospects have displayed enough potential to be viewed as likely major leaguers and possible solid regulars. Each has multiple things going for them, which opens up multiple paths to the big leagues. Last year, this group included Cavan Biggio, whose ability to get on base, hit for some power and play a strong second base helped him to a promising rookie season. He looks like a player who can be a solid regular for the Blue Jays for years to come.
Wall is among the prospects who have seen their stocks rise over the last year. A year ago, I saw him as a lottery ticket hitter who needed to show improvement as a centre fielder, as well as at the plate. 2019 saw Wall check off both of those boxes in his second go of Double-A (he made 337 PA at the level in 2018). In his age-23 season, a year “behind” schedule based on Kiley McDaniel’s guidelines, but still a year younger than the average Eastern League player, Wall was an above-average CF (9 fielding runs above average, based on Clay Davenport’s data) and hitter (129 wRC+). He walked more than ever (10.4%), got his strikeout rate back down to the low-20s (23.2%), generated lots of base hits (.347 BABIP) and produced a little power too (.149 ISO). A strong season at Triple-A could see him push his way into the Jays’ CF conversation, the area in which the team is arguably most unsettled.
As was the case a year ago, Espinal finds himself lauded for both his offensive and defensive skill-set. Offensively, he stuck to his bread and butter, avoiding strikeouts — his 14% K rate ranked in the 89th percentile among all upper-level (AA/AAA) minor leaguers with at least 500 PA — and generating line drives (24.9% LD rate, 87th percentile). Ditto on defence, where he produced 9 FRAA over 71 games at second and 0 FRAA over 32 games at short. Now on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, Espinal has a shot at making the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder, particularly with Richard Ureña now an Oriole. Failing that, he will continue his development with AAA Buffalo, waiting for a big league opportunity he seems likely to get at some point this season.
Adams is the second of two prospects (along with Espinal) to once again find themselves in this category. A year ago, I noted that “if he can more regularly tap into his raw power over the next couple of seasons, he could end up being a solid everyday catcher”. Well, he definitely did that, producing a .181 ISO during his time with AA New Hampshire, a mark that ranked in the 81st percentile among Eastern League hitters (min. 250 PA). This improvement was driven by hitting fewer grounders (34.4% GB rate at Double-A in 2019 vs. 42.8% at High-A in 2018) and more flies (47.2% vs. 37.6%). Next season, his primary goal will be to cut down on the strikeouts — his 22.4% K rate between Short Season-A and High-A (2017-19) ballooned to 31.6% at Dobule-A. He will likely work on his plate discipline at Triple-A to start 2020.
Like Wall, Palacios’s solid 2019 season helped him move up from the lottery ticket category he found himself in a year ago. He did basically everything I “asked” of him back then. Improve his CF defence? Check — he produced 6 FRAA over only 36 games at the position. Improve his below-average power numbers? Check — he posted his best-ever ISO, a .150 mark that ranked in the 67th percentile among Eastern League hitters (min. 250 PA). Cut back on grounders? Check — he lowered his GB rate from a High-A worst 60.8% to a 42.9% mark that was only slightly higher than average. Palacios managed to take on the challenge that is Double-A by producing at a higher rate (134 wRC+) than he had at previous levels (2016-18 wRC+ of 121). It’s unclear if he’ll end up back at the level to start 2020 or if he will join his Fisher Cats outfield partner Wall at Triple-A.
Kirk burst onto the prospect radar in 2018, seemingly out of nowhere, with one of the best offensive seasons at the Advanced Rookie level. He produced a 160 wRC+, driven by incredible plate discipline (13.5% BB rate against a 8.6% K rate) and power (.204 ISO). He started the 2019 season with Class A Lansing, but lasted less than a month, as he managed to improve upon his walk rate (18.8%), strikeout rate (8.3%) and power numbers (.221 ISO), producing a 173 wRC+.
He was subsequently promoted to High-A, putting him a year ahead of Kiley’s guidelines. He once again displayed incredible plate discipline, posting the level’s best BB/K (1.23). While his ISO (.159) wasn’t what it was during his time with Bluefield and Lansing, it was still comfortably above average for his level (76th percentile). Overall, he posted the level’s fourth-best wRC+ (153) among batters with at least 250 PA. Impressively, it’s also the 11th-best wRC+ posted at High-A by an age-20 batter since 2006, with a number of effective major leaguers (Corey Seager, Christian Yelich, Jay Bruce and Byron Buxton) ranking ahead of him.
A year ago, in spite of the 11 FRAA he produced behind the plate, I put him in the “Strong Hitter, Uncertainty in the Field” category because of the things I read about his size. In 2019, he produced 4 FRAA during his stint at Class A and 12 FRAA while he was with High-A Dunedin. Until he shows he can’t play catcher, I will assume he has a promising future at the position. Given that he dominated High-A pitching, it seems likely he will start 2020 at Double-A.
Taylor benefits somewhat from inertia, in terms of his placement in this year’s edition: he was in this group a year ago and, in spite of some knocks, I opted to leave him be. One knock is the fact that his defensive performance at second base, at least in terms of Davenport’s FRAA, declined meaningfully from 2018 — his solid 6 FRAA fell to a -5 mark in 2019. The other knock is his rather high strikeout rate (27.9%, 23rd percentile in the Florida State League), which is worrisome given the bigger challenges ahead of him at Double- and Triple-A.
While Taylor’s overall production last season (107 wRC+, 63rd percentile) looks fine, splitting his season by way of his late May/early June IL stint is illuminating. Prior to his time on the IL, Taylor ran a poor 72 wRC+ over 149 plate appearances. Afterwards, over 235 plate appearances, Taylor exploded with a 130 wRC+, driven by a strong walk rate (13.2%) and a good bit of power (.186 ISO). [His strikeout rate was nearly identical before and after his injury.] Those very strong two-and-a-half months, as well as his relative youth for his level (2.5 years below the league average), are a major reason why I still feel quite optimistic about his future. After a full season in Dunedin and a strong finish, he’ll likely continue his development at AA New Hampshire in 2020.
A year ago, I had Lopez, like the next two Blue Jays prospects, among the legitimate offensive/defensive prospects who hadn’t had the chance to show off their skills at a full-season level. In 2019, he got that chance and did not disappoint. Playing with Class A Lansing, Lopez kept a customarily-tidy strikeout rate (12.8%) and generated a high rate of base hits (.365 BABIP). The result was a strong 132 wRC+ and a .324 batting average that led the level (min. 400 PA). Defensively, his role evolved from a jack-of-all-trades in 2018 to an everyday shortstop in 2019. While he didn’t excel in the role (-7 FRAA over 79 games), a breaking-in period is to be expected given the position’s difficulty. After a full and successful season with Lansing, Lopez seems likely to start 2020 with High-A Dunedin.
Conine had an unusual 2019 season. It started with a 50-game suspension for taking a banned substance and when he did play, he struck out a whopping 35.9% of the time. And, yet, he managed to produce the level’s second-best wRC+ (169) among batters with at least 300 PA by hitting for a ton of power (.293 ISO, second-best), generating a lot of base hits (.405 BABIP, also second-best) and walking reasonably often (10.9% BB rate, 71st percentile). This profile makes him a tough prospect to project, but his ability to generate hard contact will ensure that he gets his chance to develop into a hitter that strikes out at a more modest rate. Defensively, he once again looked like an above-average right fielder (3 FRAA), with his strong arm helping him record nine outfield assists. I, like many others, are very curious to see how he performs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League next season.
In 2018, Moreno gave Jays fans a taste of his potential by producing big power (.216 ISO) over a handful of plate appearances (167) between the rookie-level Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s a catcher. In 2019, he took his prospect hype to the next level by producing a 134 wRC+ (90th percentile), the best mark among catchers at his level. Key to his success was an ability to limit strikeouts (11.1% K rate, 98th percentile) and generate a lot of power (.205 ISO, 95th percentile). He was an effective catcher as well, producing 4 FRAA over 53 games.
Impressively, he did all of this at an age (19) that is a year “ahead of schedule” relative to Kiley’s guidelines. Among age-19 batters at the Class A level, not one (at least since 2006) produced both a better strikeout rate and ISO than Moreno. In fact, only two others managed to produce both a strikeout rate and ISO that ranked in the 90th percentile or better among age-19 batters: Nolan Arenado and Jurickson Profar.
For a franchise that has long failed to develop catchers, a 2020 season with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in the majors, Adams at Triple-A, Kirk at Double-A and Moreno at High-A is an extremely exciting prospect.
Players with legitimate offensive and defensive potential, but with limited professional experience
This group of prospects has similar all-around potential to the previous group, but haven’t had a chance to display their talent at a full-season level. Yet.
Groshans is arguably the most highly-touted of the Blue Jays position player prospects, unsurprising given that he was drafted 12th overall in 2018. He found himself in this category last season and remains here only because of the left foot injury that limited him to 96 plate appearances with Class A Lansing in 2019. He was a revelation over that short stretch, generating a tonne of line drives (31% LD rate) and, thus, base hits (.433 BABIP) on his way to posting a 167 wRC+. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Jays opt to send Groshans back to Class A, even if only the first month or so of the season, or directly on to High-A Dunedin.
Morris is one of the newest members of the organization, having been drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. He was sent to Short Season-A Vancouver for his first taste of pro ball, where he split his time between second and short. Over 29 games at each position, he graded out as roughly average (-1 FRAA). Offensively, Morris’ potential is most clearly evident in his plate discipline — his 0.88 BB/K ranked seventh across the Short Season-A level (min. 200 PA), while his 7.3% swinging strike rate ranked 11th — which, combined with an above-average BABIP (.313), helped him run the level’s 14th-best OBP (.384). A promotion to Class A seems likely for Morris in 2020.
Hiraldo is a returnee to this category as he, along with Leonardo Jimenez, were promoted from one rookie level in 2018 to another in 2019. He followed up his strong season in the Dominican Summer League in 2018 with another strong season in 2019, this time in the Advanced Rookie Appalachian League. One of the youngest hitters at the level, Hiraldo produced one of the league’s lowest strikeout rates (14.1%, 91st percentile), as well as above-average power (.181 ISO, 80th percentile). His overall performance was quite strong, with his 126 wRC+ ranking in the 80th percentile. He will likely spend the bulk of 2020 playing with Class A Lansing.
Jimenez spent his summer beside Hiraldo in Bluefield. Whereas Hiraldo is the power hitter of the two, Jimenez showed adeptness at generating base hits, running a .368 BABIP (96th percentile). His penchant for generating line drives (26.9% LD rate, second-highest in the Appy League) is likely an important reason for his high BABIP and one that suggests he can maintain it going forward. Like Hiraldo, Jimenez kept a tidy strikeout rate (17.1%, 78th percentile) which, combined with his strong BABIP, helped him run a very good OBP (.377, 84th percentile). Like Hiraldo, I expect him to spend most of 2020 playing in Lansing, where his talent will be tested at a full season level.
Martinez made his pro debut last summer playing in the Gulf Coast League, where he displayed the raw power that motivated the Blue Jays to sign him in the first place. It’s early days for Martinez, but it’s nevertheless hard to overstate how promising his GCL performance was. Over the last 14 GCL seasons, 1,099 batters made at least 150 plate appearances in a season. Martinez’s .275 ISO is the tenth-highest mark on the list and the best among batters in their age-17 season. His 150 wRC+ is the sixth-best mark among age-17 GCL batters and sits alongside previous strong performances at the same age by current MLB stars like Juan Soto (184), Rafael Devers (146), Ronald Acuña Jr. (145) and Miguel Sanó (131). Martinez is likely to play his 2020 season with Advanced Rookie Bluefield.
Given my emphasis on stats, prospects with little to no pro experience (like Brown and Rikelvin de Castro) can be tricky to rate. In these situations, I lean a bit more on prospect evaluators to guide me and they seem to like Brown’s two-way potential, though they emphasise the long road between him and the majors, particularly when it comes to developing into a strong hitter.
He made his pro debut this summer in the GCL, making 63 plate appearances, not quite a large enough sample size to draw meaningful conclusions. Overall, he was a strong producer, posting a 148 wRC+. Power is something he’ll need to grow into, so I’m not surprised that he didn’t hit any balls over the fence. He did rack up base hits (.357 BABIP) and walks (14.3%), helping him post a very solid .444 OBP that was tops among 17 year old GCL batters in 2019 (min. 50 PA). Going back to 2006, Brown’s .444 OBP is second only to Ozzie Albies‘ .481 mark (over 78 PA) in 2014.
Predicting where he’ll start in 2020 is a little tricky. Jordan Groshans was an early-round high school draft pick in 2018 and started the subsequent season with Class A Lansing. That said, Groshans was in his age-19 season, whereas Brown will be in his age-18 season. In 2019, Miguel Hiraldo and Leonardo Jimenez were in their age-18 seasons and played at Advanced Rookie Bluefield, so my guess is Brown ends up starting 2020 in West Virginia.
Rikelvin de Castro
Last year, the lone prospect on my list that hadn’t played pro ball yet was Orelvis Martinez, who was the Jays top international signing a few months earlier. This year, once again, the Jays’ top international signing is the lone prospect on my list without any pro experience. Statistically, there isn’t much to note. From what I understand, unlike other recent major Blue Jays IFA signings, he appears to be a lock to stay at shortstop, but will need to develop the offensive side of his game.
Players who have shown a great deal of offensive potential, as well as defensive uncertainty
This group is made up of those prospects most likely to be labelled “bat-first” prospects. They’ve each shown an ability to hit, but have uncertain positional futures. As such, each have a narrow set of paths to the big leagues: hit and field well enough to be every day players or hit well enough to be used in a platoon or bench role. This year, it’s a single-prospect category, as last year’s cohort included players who either have lost their prospect status (Rowdy Tellez and Billy McKinney), have been traded (Chad Spanberger), have been moved up to a higher category (Alejandro Kirk) or have been moved down to a lower category (Brock Lundquist).
Noda has been a polarizing prospect since he arrived on the scene in 2018 with a standout performance (190 wRC+) as a college hitter in the Advanced Rookie level. Over his first two pro seasons, he wowed with 20%-plus walk rates and .200-plus ISOs. That said, his 20%-plus strikeout rates were an area of concern that naysayers pointed to as evidence that he would struggle at higher levels. A year ago, with all of that in mind, I noted that he had an important season ahead of him, one which would shed more light on his MLB potential.
Ultimately, his 2019 performance had aspects that could bolster both a positive and negative view of Noda’s potential. On the one hand, doubters could point to his ever-increasing strikeout rate, now up to 29.4% (18th percentile among High-A batters with 300+ PA). They could also note that his walk rate and ISO both fell relative to 2017-18. On the other hand, optimists could point to the fact that his walk rate (15.8%) remained in the 98th percentile for his level, while his ISO (.180) remained in the 86th percentile. They could also note that his 138 wRC+ (96th percentile) suggested that Noda’s overall offensive performance was still quite strong relative to the level he was playing in. As such, it seems that I must once again conclude by saying that next year will be an important one for him, going up against Double-A pitching, with their quality stuff and legitimate plans of attack.
Players who have shown a great deal of defensive potential, as well as offensive uncertainty
This group is made up of prospects who have shown proficiency at a positive-value position, but who have important question marks regarding their ability to develop into major league-calibre hitters. This category retained all five prospects from the 2019 edition and added four others who fell from higher categories.
McGuire’s placement in this category was one of the last/toughest choices I had to make: how could one describe a guy with a 133 wRC+ at the MLB level as having “offensive uncertainty”? First, there is the small sample of MLB plate appearances (138), which limit how much we can take from his MLB performance so far. Second, there is the fact that he ran the third-largest xwOBA-wOBA gap in the majors last season (min. 100 PA), suggesting that his results at the plate weren’t that reflective of strong underlying contact. In particular, while he produced a very good .227 ISO, his xISO was a much more modest .134. Third, there is his production at Triple-A, in particular his career 80 wRC+ and .112 ISO.
All of that is not to say that McGuire won’t be a good MLB hitter (I certainly will be cheering him along the way). My point is simply that while I believe McGuire’s catching ability should allow him to spend years in the major leagues, I’m less confident that he will continue to be an above-average hitter during his MLB career.
2020 is a make or break year for Alford: now out of options, he will either make the Opening Day roster or find himself designated for assignment. After the 2017 season, Alford was among the Jays’ most prized prospects, coming off a solid showing (135 wRC+) with Double-A New Hampshire. However, after two seasons that saw him deal with various injuries and produce underwhelming numbers at the Triple-A and MLB levels, Alford’s stock has fallen considerably. His ability to play across the outfield means that even modest success at the plate can keep him in the major leagues, something he’ll be hoping to display this season with the Blue Jays.
Davis has never been regarded as highly as Alford, mainly thanks to Alford’s prodigious tools. However, the two are at the point in their respective career’s where performance is arguably as or more informative than one’s tools. Like Alford, Davis can play all three outfield positions well. Unlike Alford, Davis has a decent track record of Triple-A production at the plate. A year ago, I noted that “An unusually low BABIP (.295, compared to .322 at Double-A) suggests he may have been due a few more base hits, while a better-than-average whiff rate (8.5%, 71st percentile) suggests that his plate discipline wasn’t fundamentally as bad as advertised (0.29 BB/K, 19th percentile).” In 2019, his first full season at Triple-A, he did indeed see his BABIP rebound (.333). He also produced another strong swinging strike rate (8.9%), which contributed to improved plate discipline (0.48 BB/K) and above-average production overall (117 wRC+). While he hasn’t yet produced meaningfully at the MLB level, it’s worth noting that he did well in September — he posted a 108 wRC+, which was well-supported by his .319 xwOBA (itself above the September 2019 MLB average of .314). Given his MiLB options, I anticipate that he will start the 2020 season with AAA Buffalo.
A year ago, Smith was among those who displayed their two-way abilities over a full season of baseball, thanks to his strong performances at the Class A and High-A levels. Unfortunately, his performance at Double-A in 2019 saw some of his prior issues further exposed, adding doubt to whether he would indeed eventually patrol the Rogers Centre infield. Even when he was tearing up High-A, Smith’s plate discipline was a concern, with his BB/K (0.26) well below average and backed up by a swinging strike rate (14.7%) that was higher than most batters. Last season, at Double-A, he saw both his BB/K (0.19) and swinging strike rate (17.7%) worsen even moreso.
Positively, he maintained his power, posting a .193 ISO (89th percentile) that actually ranked a little better, relative to his peers, than the .194 ISO (87th percentile) he had posted at High-A. He also continued to field shortstop well, producing 5 FRAA over 87 games there. Thus, while his star is diminished from a year ago, it has not been extinguished. It will be interesting to see if he starts the season back at New Hampshire or if the organization moves him along to Buffalo.
Through two-and-a-half pro seasons, Warmoth has struggled to limit his strikeouts and generate power. One can struggle with one or the other, but not both, at least not if they have MLB aspirations. Last season, at Double-A, Warmoth’s struggles were particularly acute, resulting in a 71 wRC+ that ranked in the 8th percentile. Warmoth is a solid defender, with positive FRAAs across the infield, which will help ensure he gets further chances to prove he has big league potential. He seems due to retry Double-A. He took to High-A on his second go around, so here’s hoping he repeats the trick.
Orimoloye’s 2019 season went a lot like his 2018 season. On the one hand, he showed his defensive talent, producing 8 FRAA over 84 games between the outfield corners. On the other hand, his strikeout rate crept further up (28%, a career high) and he wasn’t able to fully tap into his raw power, producing a .146 ISO (64th percentile) that was enough to help him produce at an average rate (101 wRC+), but no more than that. With over 700 High-A plate appearances, I would expect the Jays to challenge Orimoloye with an assignment to Double-A.
A year ago, I had Young in the legit offence/defence category, eager to see him rise up the minor league levels and, after a couple of seasons, into centre field for the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, he had one of those offensive seasons that wasn’t really that bad — he posted a 101 wRC+ in the FSL (46th percentile) — but also not what you’d like to see from a prospect you view with promise. While his defence was okay (-1 FRAA over 86 games in CF, 4 FRAA over 21 games in RF), he saw declines in his strikeout rate (22.8%, 43rd percentile), walk rate (7.8%, 53rd percentile) and power (.107 ISO, 41st percentile), all metrics at which Young was a better-than-average performer in 2018 at Class A. One so-so season is obviously not enough to lead me to write off a prospect, but his struggles moving from Class A to High-A are an ominous sign as we look ahead to his subsequent promotion to Double-A in 2020.
Danner looked like a second-rounder in 2018, when he hit his way to a 128 wRC+ over 137 plate appearances with Advanced Rookie Bluefield. My main question a year ago was whether he could keep his already worse-than-average strikeout rate (25.5%) from increasing further. Unfortunately, he could not, striking out in 31.3% of his 307 plate appearances with Class A Lansing last season (13th percentile). Additionally, his strong walk rate (14.6%) dropped to a below-average mark for his level (8.8%, 43rd percentile) and his previously excellent BABIP (.387) fell to the worst mark (.204) across Class A. Positively, he improved upon his 2018 ISO (.153), posting a mark (.199) that ranked in the 93rd percentile for his level. Danner is only 580 plate appearances into his pro career, so he’s got time to right the ship, though with a 28.8% career strikeout rate, he’s got some work to do. With Gabriel Moreno likely to start 2020 in High-A and given Danner’s struggles at Class A last season, I anticipate that he will remain at the level to start the coming season.
Lottery Ticket Position Players: Prospects 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.
Heading into the 2019 season, Lundquist had displayed clear offensive potential (153 wRC+ over 202 High-A plate appearances), as well as worrisome performances in the corner outfield positions. His season at Double-A did not suggest that he had moved past those defensive issues (-8 FRAA over 103 games in RF/LF), but it did introduce doubts about his offensive potential (96 wRC+). This is best highlighted by his simultaneously high strikeout rate (25.4%) and limited power (.119 ISO), with both the worst marks he has produced at a pro level. These poor metrics jibe with his elevated swinging strike rate (14%) and ground ball rate (44.6%), both meaningfully higher than they were in 2018 (11.6% and 34.9%). Given his 2019 performance and the number of outfielders expected to be in the AAA Buffalo lineup, I’d guess he gets a second opportunity at the Double-A level in 2020.
Large is a returning champion to this category. A year ago, I viewed him as a lottery ticket-type because he had played so little through his first two pro seasons due to injury (263 PA over 2017-18), but had produced when healthy, particularly in 2018 with Class A Lansing (177 wRC+, .253 ISO). Plus, as a 2B/3B he had positive defensive value. Ultimately, his performance in 2019 didn’t really move me either way. He was reasonably effective at the High-A level (130 wRC+), where he started the season, though his strikeout rate was higher than I’d like to see (26.5%). In early August, he was promoted to Double-A and had just a terrible start, going hitless over his first four games (13 PA). After a couple of days off, he re-entered the lineup and finished the season well (104 wRC+ over 81 PA), though he struck out a lot (29.1%), walked very infrequently (1.2%) and struggled to generate power (.111 ISO). As you can guess, his .393 BABIP was doing a lot of the work during that stretch. I expect Large to start 2020 at Double-A, where he will need to show improved plate discipline and a bit more power before he can secure a promotion to AAA Buffalo.
Like Large, Podkul followed up a solid performance at one level to start the season with a less-inspiring performance after being promoted. For Podkul, 2019 represented his full season debut and he started off well with Class A Lansing. He hasn’t displayed much power as a pro, but with Lansing he walked (13.7%), avoided strikeouts (17%) and accumulated base hits well enough (.306 BABIP) to run a strong OBP (.369, 86th percentile across Class A) and be an above-average producer overall (120 wRC+). However, his time with High-A Dunedin was less productive overall (92 wRC+). Batted ball quality seemed to be an issue, as he ran a poor ISO (.073) and BABIP (.270). Positively, his strong plate discipline continued, with his 0.77 BB/K one of the top marks in the FSL. Florida is where he will almost certainly return to start 2020 and he’ll be hoping to see better results when he puts the ball in play.
Rodriguez was signed as an IFA by the Jays way back in 2014, but only made his debut at a full season level in 2019. That said, his time at Class A Lansing was short, spanning 99 August plate appearances (he spent the early part of his season playing with Short Season-A Vancouver). His MLB potential is speculative, as he is a ways away from the majors and is now a full-time first baseman (he used to catch as well). Here’s the main reason he made this list: among 1,478 batters to clear 250 plate appearances in the minor leagues last season, Rodriguez owns the third-lowest strikeout rate (6.7%). His strikeout avoidance, coupled with an okay-for-lower-levels ISO (.142) and an extremely good .369 BABIP, helped him run a very good 152 wRC+ that ranked 43rd across the minors. It’s hard to say where he starts in 2020, but the obvious guess is Class A. He seems like a guy who could flame out relatively soon or, conversely, keep hitting and find himself on a lot more people’s radars by the end of the season.
Robertson had an impressive debut with Short Season-A Vancouver, highlighted by a very balanced stat line — he accumulated walks (11.8%, 77th percentile among Short Season-A batters with at least 200 PA), avoided strikeouts (18.6%, 67th percentile), hit for some power (.136 ISO, 70th percentile) and racked up base hits at a reasonable rate (.318 BABIP, 58th percentile). The resulting 124 wRC+ (76th percentile) had me close to putting him in the legit offensive/defensive potential, limited pro experience category, but Robertson’s struggles in right field (-7 FRAA over 50 games) led me to hedge my bets and put him here. He seems like a candidate to start the season in Lansing and see a quick promotion to High-A Dunedin should he carry on at the plate the way he did with Vancouver.
Clarke didn’t get quite as many plate appearances with Vancouver as Robertson did, but there are a couple of clear positives to point out from his short 2019 season. First off, he showed excellent plate discipline, racking up the walks (12.6%, 80th percentile among Short Season-A batters with at least 150 PA) and limiting the strikeouts (13.2%, 92nd percentile). Unsurprisingly, Clarke’s BB/K (0.95) was the fifth-highest mark at his level. Secondly, while his ISO (.076) and BABIP (.292) were underwhelming, his low ground ball rate (38%, 78th percentile) suggests that he might produce better batted ball results going forward. He will likely head to Class A Lansing in 2020, where he can split catching duties with Hagen Danner. If his batted ball results improve and he maintains that excellent plate discipline, he could soon find himself among the Jays’ growing group of high-quality catching prospects.
Barger only made 58 plate appearances for Advanced Rookie Bluefield, finding himself placed on the restricted list in July. I have been unable to find any details as to why he was placed on the RL. I had him in this category last year and opted to leave him be.
Compared to last season, the big difference among my list of Blue Jays position player prospects is the lack of players in the Superstar (Vlad Guerrero Jr.) and All-Star (Bo Bichette and Danny Jansen) categories. Nevertheless, in spite of these three important graduations, this group of prospects still seems likely to produce a solid handful of major leaguers.
A big part of that potential is the number of prospects who are catchers (Adams, Kirk and Moreno), middle infielders (Espinal, Taylor, Lopez, Groshans, Morris, Hiraldo, Jimenez, Martinez and de Castro) and centre fielders (Wall, Palacios and Brown). This will help the big league club succeed in the coming years for multiple reasons: the Blue Jays should be able to fill key positions from within, excess talent can be moved to fill roles on the corners and prospects can be moved for high-quality external additions.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of JFtC Ryan Mueller
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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.