Believe it or not, but despite the Blue Jays opening the 2015 season with six rookies – Devin Travis, Dalton Pompey, Daniel Norris, Miguel Castro, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez – on their 25 man roster, it hardly made a dent in the depth of their farm system.
Even with their less than stellar track record in ACTUALLY signing their first round picks (Tyler Beede and Phil Beckford, anyone?) and recent history of mortgaging the future in trades (Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Jake Marisnick etc…), the Blue Jays front office has done a near spectacular job in restocking the farm system year in and year out.
It doesn’t matter how they go about it, whether it be in the MLB Amateur Draft or signing international free agents, General Manager Alex Anthopolous and the Blue Jays brain trust have been able to acquire an abundant amount of prospects that will be able to help the organization in the future. Only time will tell whether that impact will be felt on the actual field or via the trade market, but it is good knowing that you have that deep of a farm system at your disposal.
With the MLB Amateur draft right around the corner, we will be taking a look at the Blue Jays Top 5 pitching and positional prospects. With apologies to current Buffalo Bison teammates, Miguel Castro, Dalton Pompey and Daniel Norris, these “future reports” are only focusing on those Blue Jays prospects who HAVE NOT made their MLB debut.
Up first, we will look at the Top 5 Pitching Prospects currently in the Blue Jays organization.
Jeff Hoffman · RHP · 22 years old · 6’4 · 185lbs
Acquired: 1st round (9th overall) 2014 MLB Amateur Draft
Current Affiliation: Dunedin Blue Jays (Single A)
Blue Jays Prospect Rank (MLB.com): #3
What You Need to Know:
- Report from ESPN prior to the draft: “While Hoffman doesn’t have the track record of [White Sox No. 3 overall pick Carlos] Rodon, the stuff is very comparable, and if he can pitch for East Carolina like he pitched over the summer, he is a legit contender to be the first player taken in June.”
- His college pitching coach at East Carolina, who also coached Chris Sale while he was at Florida Gulf Coast, said that Hoffman has the stuff to be an MLB ace: “Big leaguers are easy to spot at that level, and Hoffman’s unbelievable work ethic, discipline, and 99 mph fastball give him ace potential.”
- Baseball America: “At his best, Hoffman’s athletic body, electric fastball and ability to maintain his velocity evoke Justin Verlander.”
- Hoffman on his strike zone approach: “I’m going to pound the fastball in there until the other team proves they can hit it.”
- Even with having to recover from TJ, Hoffman should be considered an advanced pitcher and could climb through the minors quickly.
Scouting Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a5cGLTvn9w
- Fastball: Throws two fastballs (four seam and two seam). Four seam is a heavy fastball that sits in the mid to high 90’s and regularly touches 97-98. His two seam sits in the low to mid 90’s and features above average sink and runs inside to right handed hitters.
- Curveball: Viewed as a plus to plus-plus pitch and as dominant as his fastball. The curve has good depth and biting action and sits in the 78 to 81 mph range.
- Changeup: Not as good as his curveball, but he has shown to have a more consistent feel for it. The changeup is viewed as above average to plus and could continue to develop into another filthy weapon at his disposal. It sits in the mid to upper 80’s and has good, late movement down and in to right handed hitters.
- Hoffman has also shown the ability to throw an average slider, but has seemed to put it in his back pocket for the time being.
MLB ETA: 2017
Sean Reid-Foley · RHP · 19 · 6’3” · 220lbs
Acquired: Supplemental First Round (49th) 2014 MLB Amateur Draft
Current Affiliation: Lansing Lugnuts (Single A)
Blue Jays Prospect Rank (MLB.com): #6
What You Need To Know:
- Considered to be one of the best prep school pitchers available in the draft, the jays landed him in the supplemental draft and signed him at slot value.
- Could be considered a steal as he shad potential to be among first 30 names called, not to mention having signed a college commitment letter.
- Tall and athletic frame which could allow for more velocity as he ages. His athleticism also allows him to repeat his delivery with relative ease; even if it isn’t the most fluid of deliveries.
- One cause for concern is in his pitching mechanics. Tends to throw across his body with a high arm slot and pitching elbow. The Blue Jays have been rumoured to potentially tweak his delivery as it could result in an elbow or shoulder injury.
- If everything clicks, he projects as a mid rotation pitcher at MLB level.
Scouting Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uNZSBRahBY
- Fastball: Sits between the 92 and 95 mph range and can hit 97 on the radar gun. His fastball also has above average movement inside to right handed hitters due to him throwing it with his two fingers held in close proximity to one another.
- Slider: Viewed as his second best pitch, the slider sits in the mid 80’s and has lots of spin with late biting action. ESPN wrote that: “his breaking ball is inconsistent and there’s some noticeable arm angle changes, but at its best it offers plus spin and late bite, and he has a good feel for the pitch.”
- Changeup: Viewed as a work in progress and would currently rank as an average pitch at its best. Biggest issue with the changeup is his inability to throw it from the same arm slot as his fastball. This “tipping” of the pitch allow hitters to know that it’s coming and adjust accordingly. Until he gets a better feel for the changeup, he will be viewed as a predominant two pitch pitcher.
MLB ETA: 2018
Jairo Labourt · LHP · 21 · 6’4 · 205lbs
Acquired: Signed as an International Free Agent in 2011
Current Affiliation: Dunedin Blue Jays (Single A)
Blue Jays Prospect Rank (MLB.com): #10
What You Need to Know:
- The Blue Jays have found great success on the international free agent scene and Labourt is one of many big arm high ceiling arms that they have managed to stockpile.
- The big Dominican southpaw has an effortless delivery with clean arm action. Should bode well for his durability in the long run.
- Struggled with his control in his first few seasons but a change to his pitching mechanics has resulted in better control and an elevated groundball %.
- The biggest knock against the big lefty has been his inconsistent command of his pitches. He will need to continue to improve his control and hit the strike zone in order to continue advancing through the minor leagues.
- Development of change-up could be the difference between him starting or relieving. Has projected as a “workhorse” starter due to his large frame.
Scouting Video: https://youtu.be/rMAWCMrNQ8U
- Fastball: Heavy with good sinking motion – aided further by Labourt’s downhill pitching delivery – that routinely sits in the 89 to 93 mph range and has hit 95 mph on the radar gun.
- Slider: Considered the better offering of his two secondary pitches. He will throw his slider between 83 to 86 mph and it is prone to diving out of the strike zone and into the dirt as it approaches home. Definitely has the potential develop into a “wipeout” slider.
- Changeup: Currently a work in progress and forces him to rely more on his slider as an off speed offering. Labourt’s changeup will sit between 77 and 79 mph but is rarely used in comparison to his other pitches. He will need to further develop this in order to stay as a starting pitcher at the major league level.
MLB ETA: 2017
Matt Smoral · LHP · 21 · 6’8 · 220lbs
Acquired: Supplemental First Round (50th overall) 2012 MLB Amateur Draft
Current Affiliation: Dunedin Blue Jays (Single A)
Blue Jays Prospect Rank (MLB.com): #11
What You Need to Know:
- Due to his enormous height, similar pitch arsenal and deceptive left-handed delivery, Smoral has (unfairly) been compared to both Randy Johnson and Madison Bumgarner.
- Originally projected to be a first round draft selection but fell to the Supplemental 1st round due to a broken foot he suffered in High School. The injury could be a blessing in disguise as if he even remotely reaches his potential he could be a big time steal.
- After dealing with an assortment of injuries in his first two seasons, Smoral made big strides in 2014 by appearing in 52.1 innings.
- Despite this minor success, Smoral is still considered to be a work in progress. The main reason for this, aside from the injuries, has been his struggle to repeat his delivery and throw his pitches for strike.
- Unfortunately for the 6’8 lefty, the primary culprit for his command and delivery issues is his enormous stature. Since their size forces them to be releasing the ball practically on top of the batter, young pitchers with immense height tend to have more problems learning to hone their mechanics than their shorter peers.
Scouting Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjL2H_W2uTA
- Fastball: Sits in the low 90’s but has been known to hit as high as 95 mph on occasion. His fastball is graded as an above average pitch that could eventually develop into a plus pitch as he continues to progress. Smoral’s low ¾ arm slot and smooth delivery of the pitch also helps it to appear even faster to opposing batters.
- Slider: When he has a good feel for it, the slider will appear more as a plus pitch than an average to above average one. Throws it in the mid 80’s, but does tend to struggle with his control and command which causes it to flatten out and appear more hittable. When it is on though, it has the makings of a true “wipeout” slider.
- Changeup: Still a work in progress compared to his slider. Will sit in the high 70’s to low 80’s range and has good late sinking and fading action as it nears the plate. His changeup comes from a similar arm slot as his fastball which allows it to be more deceiving to batters. Despite it still being a pitch in development, he has shown to have a good feel for the changeup.
MLB ETA: 2018
Ryan Borucki · LHP · 21 · 6’4 · 175lbs
Acquired: Selectied in the 15th round (475th overall) in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft
Current Affiliation: Vancouver Canadians (Single A)
Blue Jays Prospect Rank (MLB.com): #12
What You Need to Know:
- Slipped to the 15th round due to an elbow injury which would eventually require Tommy John surgery. Missed the entire 2013 season, but came back to pitch 57 innings between two levels of Single A in 2014
- Since being drafted and undergoing surgery, has worked to “smooth out” any mechanical issues with his delivery which has allowed for better control and command of his pitches
- Even with his career being delayed due to injury and rehabilitation, Borucki has shown an advance level of polish and a high baseball IQ. This should only continue to advance and develop as he moves throughout the minor leagues
- His tall and athletic frame could allow for more size to be added, which in turn would result in an added boost in velocity
- Has drawn comparisons to former Blue Jays and current Miami Marlins pitching prospect, Justin Nicolino, due to their similar build
Scouting Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9utr39N8Z4
- Fastball: Mainly sits in the low 90’s but has hit as high as 94 mph on the radar gun. His fastball has shown to have good life to it and tends to run inside to left handed hitters. As mentioned above, he could add more velocity if he adds some more size to his frame.
- Curveball: Not as polished as his changeup but has a pretty decent feel for the pitch. Curveball will sit in the mid 70’s and may have more of a “slurve” movement depending on how he grips it.
- Changeup: The better offering of his two secondary pitches, Borucki’s change, like his curveball, will sit in the mid 70’s range. He has shown a better feel for the pitch and seems more comfortable throwing it in high leverage situations than his breaking ball.
MLB ETA: 2018
Honourable Mention: RHP Alberto Tirado
Coming up next… the Top 5 Toronto Blue Jay positional prospects.
Toronto Blue Jays
Home Ballpark: Skydome… Does ANYONE seriously call it the Rogers Centre?
2014 Finish: 83 – 79 · 3rd AL East
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 83.5 · Over
What We Love:
- Offseason Additions: Hard not to be (real) excited about the trio of players that the Blue Jays brought in during the offseason. First, the Jays landed one of the biggest fish in the free agent market when they signed Russell Martin to a 5 year deal. Although 2014 backstop (Dioner Navarro) did a more than admirable job, in Martin, the Jays receive one of the game’s premier defenders, a proven winner and a clubhouse leader. As big of a signing as the Martin deal was, it (nearly) took a backseat to the move that followed. In late November, the Blue Jays and Athletics pulled off a blockbuster of a trade that saw the Athletics receive oft-injured, but highly athletic 3B, Brett Lawrie; along with a trio of minor league prospects (Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman and Franklin Barretto). The Blue Jays, on the other hand, received one of the game’s premier players and elite 3B in Josh Donaldson. Even though Donaldson is only entering his third full MLB season, he has already finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in back to back years; as well as getting his first All Star nomination last season. Donaldson already draws rave reviews for his durability, leadership and defensive capabilities, but you have to figure that his offensive stats will also get a boost as he leaves the cavernous Oakland Coliseum, for the more HR friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. Not to be left out of the shuffle was the acquisition of OF Michael Saunders from the Mariners, in exchange for LHP J.A Happ. Saunders has already endeared himself to the Blue Jays and their fans, when he opted to have his meniscus removed, opposed to surgery, after tearing it early on in Spring Training. Although the decision will leave him more open to long term injury, it’s a move that will allow him to return by mid-April rather than after the All Star break.
- Youthful Starting Rotation: Losing Marcus Stroman was a HUGE blow, but thanks to a well stocked farm system, that blow should be softened. Stepping up in the place of the “Stro Show” will be a pair of the Blue Jays top prospects, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. Sanchez, who thrived out of the bullpen a year ago, was originally looked at as a candidate to reprise his role and help solidify a (weak) bullpen. Instead he will get the chance to take the mound every 5th day and show off his deadly arsenal of a high 90’s sinking fastball and a devastating, 12 to 6, curveball, that we refer to as; “the Dirty Sanchez.” He has also been working on a cutter and a slider in the offseason so he can become a more rounded starter. Daniel Norris, whom has been garnering more offseason attention for his living arrangements than for his pitching capability, was originally slated to open the year in Buffalo (AAA), but a combination of Stro’s injury and an impressive spring has made it near impossible to send him down. Norris also offers a lot more upside than the other pitcher in the running, Marco Estrada (who is more cut out for the ‘pen), and has more experience/polish than the duo of impressive youngsters; Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna. Not to be outshone by Norris and Sanchez, Drew Hutchison will be leaned on (heavily) to help shoulder the workload. Record aside (8-11), Hutch had a solid, first season back from Tommy John surgery; making 32 starts and averaging a strikeout an inning over 184.1 innings. Not to count chickens before they hatch, but Blue Jays beat writer, Jeff Blair, believes that this particular crop of pitching prospects rivals the days when the Jays had Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar as pitching prospects. It really is hard not to get excited about the prospects of these young arms.
- The 1 thru 5 in the batting order: Reyes, Martin, Joey Bats, Edwing and Donaldson.
- Daniel Norris’ claim to being the Most Interesting Man in Baseball.
- The Argos signing a lease with BMO field = One small step closer grass in the dome.
- Having TWO young, high ceiling, Latino, power arms: Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro.
- Three Canadians on the 25 man roster (Martin, Saunders and Pompey).
What We Hate:
- Marcus Stroman’s ACL: I honestly still cannot bear to think or talk about this. Stro’s blown ACL was an absolute gut punch of an injury. Even though he was only about to enter his sophomore season, Stroman had the stuff and confidence of someone far beyond his years. In fact, there were some (myself included) who believed that Stro would end the season as the teams de facto ace. What makes the matter worse, if that was possible, was seeing such a severe, freak injury befall someone with so much charisma and “swag,” as the Stro Show exudes. Silver lining time:
- At least it wasn’t Tommy John (knocks on wood).
- Stro’s work ethic, tenacity and drive, will pay HUGE dividends while he rehabs.
- Stro is young enough that it shouldn’t impact his long term future (knocks on wood.)
- You know he will be the Jays biggest cheerleader all season; especially if/when the post season comes around.
I look forward to tuning into the Stro Show when it returns in 2016. Best of luck in rehab!
- Lack of Depth: Who is our Opening Day 2B? Are we really planning on a full season of Kevin Pillar in LF? What happens if Dalton Pompey falters? Who is our back up 1B? Are we really entertaining the thought of carrying Daric Barton on the 25 man roster? Will Brett Cecil be our closer all season? Are we looking at carrying three LHP in the bullpen? Is Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins really set for a big workload? These are questions that you have to face/ask when you’re team lacks depth. Unfortunately all of these questions and scenarios could be ones that the Blue Jays face in 2015. You know what would have been really nice? Having Melky Cabrera to be our opening day LF. The Melkman would have allowed Pillar and Pompey to platoon in CF and would’ve been a perfect bat for the two-hole in the lineup. The Blue Jays would love for Justin Smoak to find his bat and be able to allow Edwing to focus more on DH, but he would have to hit consistently in order to do that. As for the 2B situation, as of right now it looks like its Devon Travis’ job to lose. Travis, who was acquired from the Tigers in exchange for Anthony “the Chain” Gose, has enjoyed a great Spring Training with both the bat and the glove, yet he has never played a Major League game. The other candidates to take that job are: “all glove-no bat,” Ryan Goins and the 35 year old Macier Izturis, who is coming off a blown out knee. The biggest head shaking decision was why no one was brought in to help fortify the bullpen. In fact, the closest they came was the deal with Ronald Belisario that fell apart at the last minute. How have they not called Rafael Soriano? Dude, has pitched in the AL East and would give the Jays a RHP out of the bullpen. Don’t you find it odd that GM Alex Anthopolous went out and made the big trades and big signings, but neglected to address his team’s depth? Seems like the guy who buys an expensive car, but neglects to splurge for power windows and locks.
- The rest of the lineup (2B, LF, CF and DH) will be comprised of some combo of: Dioner Navarro, Justin Smoak, Daric Barton, Macier Izturis, Devon Travis, Ryan Goins, Dayan Viciedo, Kevin Pillar and Dalton Pompey.
- Imagining what Melky Cabrera could have brought to this lineup: legit two hitter and starting LF/occasional DH.
- That whole Duquette saga: imagine we traded Hoffman, Pentecost AND Mitch Nay for an executive?!
- That ridiculous looking Ted Rogers statue.
Player to Watch: SP Drew Hutchison. Sure there are a lot of candidates for us to pay attention to on the Blue Jays this upcoming season, but none may be as important as Hutch. In Hutchison, the Blue Jays have a young, battle tested starter, whom put up impressive numbers in his first season back from Tommy John: 184 strikeouts in 184.1 innings and a 1.26 WHIP. The main knock against Hutch is that he can struggle with his location, which can leave him prone to getting hit and hit hard (23 HR in 2014). Despite having command issues, Hutch does not issue a whole lot of free passes (60 BB in 2014) but in failing to consistently hit his target, he leaves himself open for batters to put a good swing on his mistakes. Personally, I see Hutch pitching 200+ innings and maybe winning 13 or more games.
Top Pitching Prospect: Daniel Norris · LHP · MLB ETA: 2015
Top Positional Prospect: Dalton Pompey · OF · MLB ETA: 2015
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=tor
Final Prediction: 2nd AL East