While the Blue Jays system has promoted a few young stars to the big leagues, there is much more talent on its way up
On Wednesday, Baseball America published their ranking of MLB farm systems, the first of the major evaluators to do so this off-season. It’s worth reading the full article, but I’ll jump to the most relevant news for Jays fans: the Blue Jays’ system ranked sixth, the same position it held in BA’s post-trade deadline update last August (when Bo Bichette was still prospect-eligible).
This is a big deal! The current group no longer includes 2019 Top 100 prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Bo Bichette and Danny Jansen, which highlights the depth of quality that exists in a system that had been described as “top heavy” in recent seasons.
The other major evaluators will likely have the Jays system ranked lower than sixth, particularly as Baseball America has always been high on this system’s depth — a year ago, BA ranked the Jays’ system third, while it was ranked fifth by MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs. Moreover, good system rankings don’t equate to championships, so we need to take these sorts of achievements with a grain of salt. All that being said, it’s not controversial to say it’s better to rank near the top of these lists than near the bottom.
The strong BA ranking is a pleasant surprise, but also perfectly reasonable, given the system’s mix of top-end talent and depth. [For a more detailed analysis of each of the following Jays prospects, check out my write-ups on the team’s 56 best position player and pitching prospects.]
The Blue Jays system is now led by the trio of Nate Pearson, Jordan Groshans and Simeon Woods Richardson, each of whom have made the 2020 Top 100-ish lists of BA, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline, John Sickels and Prospects Live. [While Pearson and Groshans also made the Baseball Prospectus Top 101, SWR did not.]
Pearson is clearly the gem of the system, cracking the Top 10 of most of these lists and ranking fairly consistently among the top two or three pitching prospects in all of baseball. Groshans’ foot injury has resulted in a wide range of opinions on him, but a healthy and productive 2020 should see him crack the Top 25 on at least some of these lists (especially BA, who have him 29th). SWR’s mix of youth (19) and level (High-A) puts him in a similar situation to Groshans — deliver in 2020 like he did in 2019 and he will rise even higher on these lists.
Beyond these three is another trio of prospects who made at least one of the aforementioned lists. Orelvis Martinez, a shortstop who produced the best ISO among 17-year-old hitters in recent Gulf Coast League seasons, made the FanGraphs (#89) and Prospects Live (#98) lists. Alek Manoah made both the BP (#83) and Prospects Live lists (#91), as well as John Sickels’ just-missed list, after striking out nearly two-in-five of the batters he faced with Vancouver. Finally, Anthony Kay, on the cusp of breaking into the majors, made Sickels’ list (#86).
Alejandro Kirk, the stocky catcher who can’t stop hitting, didn’t make any lists but “didn’t miss [BA’s] Top 100 by much” and seems to have been on the fringe of the FanGraphs list as well. Moreover, BA made public the names of all prospects who made at least one of their evaluators’ Top 150 list, which included Kirk, Adam Kloffenstein, Manoah, Martinez, Gabriel Moreno and Eric Pardinho.
Let’s say that, back in September 2018, someone said that the Jays “have arguably three prospects who are among the elite in the game and then below that it gets very thin very quickly.” This person would probably be quite surprised to learn that, in the intervening time, Cavan Biggio produced above-average hitting and fielding on his way to a two-win rookie season; or that Pearson and Groshans would become consensus Top 100 prospects; or that Martinez would start cracking Top 100 lists after only 163 electric plate appearances at the GCL; or that Kirk and Moreno would have strong 2019 seasons at levels beyond their age and become fringe Top 100 prospects.
The thing is, even a year and a half ago, the idea that the Blue Jays had talented prospects beyond Vlad, Bo and Danny should not have been terribly surprising. Biggio was a high baseball IQ player with solid skills at second whose bat exploded at Double-A in 2018. Pearson and Groshans were first-round picks who each showed flashes of serious potential that summer. Martinez was one of the top 2018 J2 signings. Kirk and Moreno each broke out in rookie-ball in the summer of 2018, showing both offensive and defensive potential. The quality that is being recognized now was hinted at by the potential they possessed then.
Over the last year and a half, that system depth has been strengthened by the addition of multiple players with major-league upside, both through the draft (Manoah, Kendall Williams, Dasan Brown, Will Robertson and Tanner Morris) and trades (SWR, Kay, Thomas Hatch and Edisson Gonzales), as well as the development of promising in-house guys (like Santiago Espinal, Riley Adams, Otto Lopez, Joey Murray and Maximo Castillo, to name only a few).
While the strong Baseball America organizational ranking is a pleasant surprise, it’s also a perfectly reasonable reflection of the system’s overall quality.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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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.