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SCOREBOARD

Horwitz still stuck and raking at Triple-A in month of May

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TORONTO — As always, the first two months of the minor league season has produced a mixed bag of stories for the Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect pipeline.

From a pair of disappointing elbow injuries suffered by pitchers Brandon Barriera and Landen Maroudis to a hot hitting group of bats at Triple-A who can’t seem to do enough to push their way into the picture, the month of May produced a smattering of good and bad throughout the system.

Using our annual top 50 Blue Jays prospects list as a guide, here’s a look at how some of the prominent names — one notable bat and one notable arm at each of the affiliates, plus a Canadian from the annual league-wide top 20 list — fared in the month of May.

 

TRIPLE-A BUFFALO BISONS

Bat to watch: 1B Spencer Horwitz (No. 15)

Horwitz produced a monster April with a .937 OPS, but May wasn’t quite as hot for the 26-year-old left-handed hitter.

Horwitz was still one of the best hitters in Buffalo, but his .299/.395/.437 slash line didn’t come close to matching the .342/.490/.447 behemoth he posted in the month of April, quieting some of the calls for Horwitz as a big-league bench bat.

There are two reasons Horwitz is still stuck in Triple-A despite production that would normally be getting a whole lot more attention.

The first is the balancing act between the value of everyday at-bats in Buffalo versus the smattering of appearances he’d make in place of veteran pinch hitter Daniel Vogelbach.

The second reason is the .314 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching, further limiting the spots Horwitz can be used in.

There’s simply not much opportunity for Horwitz or anyone playing the left-handed bench bat role right now, especially with the fact he’s blocked by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Justin Turner at the cold corner and DH.

Arm to watch: RHP Hagen Danner (No. 37)

After a bit of an up and down April that saw him post a 4.15 ERA, Danner has found a groove lately and has allowed earned runs in just two appearances since April 17. 

Already on the 40-man roster after making his big-league debut last year, Danner is likely one of the next bullpen arms in line to be recalled in the coming weeks. 

The 25-year-old righty registered a 1.80 ERA last month and held opposing hitters to just a .597 OPS.

 

DOUBLE-A NEW HAMPSHIRE FISHER CATS

Bat to watch: OF Devonte Brown (not ranked)

With many of the club’s upper-echelon prospects either hurt or not exactly humming along, this list is dotted with more non-top-50 names than usual and Brown is one of them.

Signed as an undrafted free agent two years ago out of North Carolina State, the stocky outfielder has performed well across the last two calendar years, showing a nice sampling of power, speed and athleticism.

In addition to all three outfield spots, the Jays have also tried the right-handed hitter at first base and second base periodically.

The issue for Brown has been strikeouts, and it’s actually gotten worse this year as his K-rate has climbed to 38.6 per cent.

That hasn’t muted Brown’s numbers, however, and thanks to a .494 BABIP the 24-year-old is carrying an impressive .288/.381/.431 slash line.

In the month of May, Brown batted .323/.417/.441 for one of his best month’s as a pro.

Arm to watch: LHP Trenton Wallace (not ranked)

Thanks to middling velocity from the left side, Wallace was available for the Blue Jays to pluck in the 11th round of the 2021 draft out of the University of Iowa aka Caitlin Clark U.

Already 25 years old, Wallace’s age and draft pedigree will force him to prove it at every single level, but the southpaw is doing a great job of that to start 2024.

After a solid month of April, Wallace has been dazzling since, registering a 2.77 ERA in May and a 2.58 mark overall across his first nine starts.

Even more impressively, Wallace was really hard to hit in May, using his funky delivery to toss 26 innings and allow just 14 hits.

Wallace was in consideration for the back end of the top 50 list this year and he’s likely to find himself in the 30-40 range next January if he keeps this up all summer.

 

HIGH-A VANCOUVER CANADIANS

Bat to watch: OF Dasan Brown (No. 29)

Blessed with a major-league toolkit in a lot of areas, Brown’s stock has been all over the map since being drafted 88th overall way back in 2019 and his start to the 2024 season has been more of the same.

Now in his third attempt at mastering the High-A level out in Vancouver, Brown’s year started with a ho-hum .685 OPS in April.

But since the calendar turned to May, something has clicked with the Oakville product’s bat as he pounded four homers last month to finish May with an eye-opening .867 OPS across 24 games.

With his glove and wheels still drawing glowing reviews, any progress Brown makes with the bat is noteworthy.

Arm to watch: RHP Chris McElvain (not ranked)

Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds at the end of March in exchange for utility infielder Santiago Espinal, McElvain doesn’t have huge projection in terms of stuff, but the 23-year-old Vanderbilt product shows some inning-eating traits that could eventually land him in the backend starter bucket.

After trying to find his footing in a new organization in April, McElvain’s month of May was impressive.

Across five starts, the righty posted a 1.75 ERA, striking out 26 across 25.2 frames.

Like Wallace above, McElvain is likely landing in the 30-40 range on next January’s top 50 list.

 

SINGLE-A DUNEDIN BLUE JAYS

Bat to watch: 1B Cristian Feliz (not ranked)

The owner of the top spot on the organization’s home run leaderboard through the first two months of the season is a very familiar name.

It’s Orelvis Martinez, who’s bashed 13 baseballs over the fence thus far.

The player sitting in third spot with seven homers is Addison Barger, another very familiar name.

Wedged in between those two with nine home runs is Cristian Feliz, who won’t be familiar to many considering he’s a 21-year-old A-ball first baseman with a 43.2 per cent strikeout rate.

Feliz actually landed on a past top 50 list, debuting at No. 42 on the 2022 edition before falling off the last two years.

It’s no secret why, either.

There’s big pop in the 6-foot-4 lefty’s bat, but the strikeouts — 73 of them in 147 at-bats — simply won’t work.

Arm to watch: RHP Nolan Perry (No. 25)

One of the more exciting lower level arms in the system, the start to Perry’s season has featured more walks than anyone would like, but the 20-year-old right-hander has been showing a 93-94 mph fastball and getting swing and miss with it, evidenced by 18 punch-outs through his first five starts.

Despite walking 10 across his 13.1 innings, Perry’s posted a 0.68 ERA so far and just went four shutout frames in his longest outing of the season to kick off the month of June.

 

FCL BLUE JAYS

Bat to watch: OF Enmanuel Bonilla (No. 5)

The most anticipated stateside debut in the system this year, Bonilla’s start in the Florida Complex League has been solid if unspectacular.

The K-rate is above 30 per cent, which isn’t ideal, but he’s already showing a good amount of power with three homers in his first 20 games as an 18-year-old.

Already pushed way up to No. 5 in the system this year based on the raw tools alone, Bonilla is much more likely to follow the Orelvis Martinez development track than anything else, giving us lots of time to talk about one of the most important next wave prospects in this system.

Arm to watch: LHP Cristopher Castro (not ranked)

A lean lefty who had not pitched since the 2021 season due to a variety of injuries, including Tommy John, Castro was one of the most impressive arms the Jays had once the FCL schedule started last month.

Already turning 22 later this summer, he’s old for the level so the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but any solid pitching performance in this system is worth talking about due to the lack of overall depth.

With 22 strikeouts across 18 frames and a ground-ball rate above 60 per cent through five starts, Castro is worth monitoring.

 

CANUCK OF THE MONTH

One of the biggest breakouts in the Cleveland Guardians system this year is Matt Wilkinson, a lefty out of British Columbia who was drafted in the 10th round last summer.

After throwing just one inning post-draft last year, Wilkinson wasn’t even in consideration for the top 20 Canadians list in January.

Now, he’s going to be a top 10 name, and the 6-foot-1, 270-pounder with the nickname Tugboat is one of the better stories across the minors this year.

After destroying the Single-A level, the 21-year-old was promoted to High-A to finish out the month of May and he responded with a pair of eight-strikeout starts.

If you throw out one start where he punched out five, Wilkinson has struck out no less than eight batters in his nine other starts, including a sensational 15-K day that saw him chuck six no-hit innings.