TORONTO — The 2019 season will always be remembered as the year the future arrived.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the end of April.
Cavan Biggio at the end of May.
Bo Bichette at the end of July.
That much-talked-about minor-league system, which Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and president Mark Shapiro have pointed to time and again as the reason for optimism, has finally spat out the names baseball fans in Toronto have awaited.
While it didn’t translate into wins or the American League Rookie of the Year award for Guerrero like many had expected, the shift from the veteran core that went to the postseason in two straight Octobers to the baby-faced group expected to be the future is complete.
Now the hard work begins.
Creative roster building via trades and free agency will be needed for this franchise to take the next step, but the pipeline will continue to be the focus in order to make this a sustainable operation.
So what’s left?
Well, it’s not the same star-studded minor-league system it was a year ago, but the pitching depth has improved and there were a number of under-the-radar performances across the Blue Jays’ eight affiliate clubs this season that deserve attention and a spot on our annual organizational prospect all-star team.
How the team was picked
First things first, you have to be a prospect still.
That’s why you won’t find the Bichettes, Biggios, or Guerreros of the world, as all three of those names, and a handful more, have surpassed the 130-at-bat or 50-innings-pitched thresholds this season.
Since it’s a prospect team, preference is given to the top 50 or so names in the system, but that doesn’t rule out a fringe prospect or a recent draftee who hasn’t had much time to make the impact needed to jump up outsiders’ prospect lists.
There’s a number them dotting this 25-man active roster.
In that same vein, a player’s prospect pedigree doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed a spot on this annual list of organizational all-stars (check out last year’s team here).
Jordan Groshans, by far the best bat in the system, didn’t play enough games after being shut down in May due to a left foot injury that was described as a stress issue in the navicular bone, an area at the top of the foot.
A handful of the organization’s top pitching prospects — 2019 first-rounder Alek Manoah, Brazilian bonus baby Eric Pardinho, and high-upside right-hander Adam Kloffenstein — simply didn’t haul enough innings, despite solid performances.
For the most part, players are also placed at their primary position, unless creativity is needed thanks to a lack of options.
After the roster was put together, Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim provides his take and some insight on each player’s 2019 campaign.
C - Alejandro Kirk, A/A+
2019 Stats: .290/.403/.465, 7 HR, 39 XBH, 44 RBI, 56 BB, 39 K
Why he made the team: More walks than strikeouts is always a good thing, but when you pair the refined plate discipline with some pop and an improving defensive reputation you have a standout year. He’s got work to do defensively and his body type comp is the portly Willians Astudillo, so he’s no lock prospect-wise, but you can’t quibble with the 2016 signee out of Mexico’s production to this point.
Kim: “He continued to show good feel for the strike zone while learning which pitches he can do damage with. Defensively, he made positive strides with his game-calling and ability to lead a pitching staff.”
1B - Yorman Rodriguez, A-/A
2019 Stats: .360/.387/.502, 5 HR, 22 XBH, 40 RBI, 11 BB, 18 K
Why he made the team: Not to be confused with the Yorman Rodriguez that had a cup of coffee with the Cincinnati Reds a half-decade ago, the Jays’ Rodriguez is a contact machine, producing a 7.1 per cent strikeout rate across two levels this season. After pounding Northwest League pitching to the tune of a .369 average and a .915 OPS, Rodriguez also fared well in a 22-game stint at Low-A Lansing with a .344/.354/.490 slash line.
Kim: “Yorman showed a natural feel for finding the barrel and using the whole field, and we were able to take advantage of his versatility by playing him both behind the plate and at first base.”
2B - Miguel Hiraldo, Rookie/A
2019 Stats: .299/.346/.485, 7 HR, 29 XBH, 37 RBI, 14 BB, 36 K
Why he made the team: The fresh-faced Hiraldo, who was handed $750,000 to sign during the 2017 July 2 international free-agent period, spent the majority of his age-18 summer at rookie-level Bluefield, where he looked like the bat-first prospect he was expected to be. Where he plays defensively is a legit question, and the Jays tested him out by giving him 30 starts at second base (nine errors), after splitting his time between short and third in his 2018 debut. He might be an outfielder when all is said and done.
Kim: “His tireless work with manager Luis Hurtado in Bluefield paid dividends, and we were very encouraged with the positive strides he made with his pre-pitch setup and body control on defence. We saw Miguel’s power potential continue to develop as he showed the ability to make consistent hard contact versus Appy League pitching.”
3B - Orelvis Martinez, Rookie
2019 Stats: .275/.352/.549, 7 HR, 20 XBH, 32 RBI, 14 BB, 29 K
Why he made the team: Get on the Orelvis hype train while there’s still room because seats are filling up fast. You don’t hand a prospect $3.5 million to sign if you don’t believe in his tools, and Martinez quickly turned tools into production in his first year of pro baseball. The pop in the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder’s bat is legit, and his ability to barrel up the baseball isn’t something you usually see a 17-year-old do as regularly as Martinez did in the Gulf Coast League this summer. Even though he was a level above in Bluefield during his age-17 debut in 2016, Guerrero’s eight homers in 62 games are quite similar to Martinez’s seven bombs in 40 games.
Kim: “Orelvis is working hard to improve his execution of routines, and we were pleased with his progress. Offensively, he was able to control his movements and translate that into a consistent ability to barrel up the baseball, resulting in a strong debut season in the GCL.”
SS - Otto Lopez, A
2019 Stats: .324/.371/.425, 5 HR, 30 XBH, 50 RBI, 34 BB, 63 K
Why he made the team: The Dominican-born, Montreal-bred Lopez took home the Midwest League batting crown, hitting .324 in 492 plate appearances. Lopez also shows intriguing versatility, making starts at shortstop (78), second base (18), and in the corner outfield spots (11). In 217 minor-league games, Lopez has now posted a .374 on-base percentage.
Kim: “Otto is one of our hardest workers, and he was one of the more exciting players in the system this past year, as he showed the ability to make a difference in all facets of the game. He showed good contact skills while also getting on base consistently. He was able to use his speed on the basepaths and made significant strides with his footwork and throwing efficiency from shortstop.”
LF - Josh Palacios, AA
2019 Stats: .266/.371/.416, 7 HR, 27 XBH, 38 RBI, 45 BB, 70 K
Why he made the team: Drafted in the fourth round out of Auburn in 2016, the lefty swinging Palacios has quietly put together a consistent start to his pro career. His .787 OPS in 82 games this season in Double-A is a smidge better than the .770 OPS he posted in 2018, which is a good sign. He also walked more and struck out less, leading to a 134 wRC+. The outfield depth in the system is thin and Palacios’ age-23 season in New Hampshire has him near the top of the depth chart.
Kim: “Josh is one of the more exciting players in our system. He’s a dynamic athlete with a quick bat, and he worked hard with hitting coach Donnie Murphy to produce a little more damage at the plate.”
CF - Forrest Wall, AA/AAA
2019 Stats: .268/.351/.422, 11 HR, 45 XBH, 45 RBI, 55 BB, 123 K
Why he made the team: Acquired in the 2018 deadline deal that sent reliever Seunghwan Oh to the Colorado Rockies, Wall reached Triple-A this season after a fairly boring, yet solid, season in Double-A, popping 45 extra-base hits and stealing 13 bases (he was also caught eight times). Once a highly regarded prospect who was chosen 35th overall in 2014, Wall’s journey has been winding, but he’s in the right system to potentially get a shot at a major-league job down the road.
Kim: “Forrest was able to focus on staying aggressive with his approach, and he also continued to make strides defensively in the outfield. He continued to show athleticism and an ability to impact the game in all facets.”
RF - Griffin Conine, A
2019 Stats: .283/.371/.576, 22 HR, 43 XBH, 64 RBI, 38 BB/125 K
Why he made the team: Conine was made for the style of baseball that’s being played in 2019. He’s a three-true-outcomes bat, showing impressive power with 22 bombs in just 348 trips to the plate, but also striking out way too frequently (35.9 per cent) and showing the ability to take a walk (10.9 per cent). The upper levels are going to test that swing and miss and pitch recognition, but it things ever fully click, watch out.
Kim: “Griffin is one of our hardest workers and one of our smartest players. It was impressive to witness that commitment with his cage work and swing analysis, and we were excited to see him get to that freakish raw power in Lansing. We’re excited to see him continue to adjust to the higher levels as his career progresses.”
C - Gabriel Moreno, A
2019 Stats: .280/.337/.485, 12 HR, 34 XBH, 52 RBI, 22 BB, 38 K
Why he made the team: Just nudged out of the starting lineup by Kirk, Moreno is the best catching prospect in the system, and one scouts believe could develop into a well-rounded big-league starter. Hitting .280 in full season ball as a teenager is impressive, let alone doing it as a teen with all the other responsibilities that come with being a catcher.
Kim: “Gabby was able to enjoy a productive offensive year in part due to his commitment to improving his swing decisions. An athletic receiver, we were encouraged by the strides Gabby made with his game preparation and his ability to lead a pitching staff.”
2B - Adrian Montero, DSL
2019 Stats: .322/.459/.398, 0 HR, 8 XBH, 17 RBI, 24 BB, 11 K
Why he made the team: Part of the Jays’ 2018 international signing class, Montero spent his summer wreaking havoc in the Dominican Summer League. Montero, who just turned 18 in August, stole 17 bases, produced a ridiculous .459 on-base percentage, and a crazy 16.2 per cent walk rate. No matter what league, that’ll play.
Kim: “Adrian showed impressive plate discipline to go along with good contact skills. He’s a gamer who was one of the true spark plugs for the DSL squad this past season.”
SS/2B - Leonardo Jimenez, Rookie
2019 Stats: .298/.377/.377, 0 HR, 15 XBH, 22 RBI, 21 BB, 42 K
Why he made the team: Another international signing — Jimenez signed for $825,000 in 2017 — that has shown an ability to handle aggressive assignments, the light-hitting middle infielder doesn’t produce much power from his 160-pound frame, but this season he showed an ability to control the zone and get on base.
Kim: “We were pleased with Leo’s first season under the lights. He played a reliable shortstop, and improved throughout the year with his footwork angles. As the season progressed, he was able to improve control of his moves at the plate, and we felt that the improved swing led to more consistent contact.”
OF/1B - Ryan Noda, A+
2019 Stats: .238/.372/.418, 13 HR, 41 XBH, 74 RBI, 74 BB, 138 K
Why he made the team: While he wasn’t quite the on-base machine this year that he was in 2018 when he put up a gaudy .421 mark in 124 games at Low-A Lansing, Noda still produced. His 138 wRC+ was the fifth-best mark across all of the advanced A ball circuits.
Kim: “Ryan continued to commit to an aggressive approach. Dunedin hitting coach Matty Young and Ryan had already established a relationship from 2018, and the two were able to work together to help Ryan continue to understand his optimal approach and which balls he best drives.”
SP1 - RHP Nate Pearson, A+/AA/AAA
2019 Stats: 5-4, 2.30 ERA, 101.2 IP, 63 H, 27 BB, 119 K
Why he made the team: What more can you say? Pearson breezed through three levels this year, going from intriguing power pitcher and a top 100 prospect to one of the top three or four pitching prospects in the game. The body is ideal, the velocity is elite, and now the results have caught up. The most impressive aspect of Pearson’s season was his ability to hold his monster stuff deep into games, a good sign for his top-of-the-rotation ceiling.
Kim: “Nate is always learning and he’s consistently getting better. What we’re most encouraged about are the work ethic, selflessness, competitiveness and desire to be great that he consistently models as a leader of this organization.”
SP2 - RHP Joey Murray, A/A+/AA
2019 Stats: 10-7, 2.75 ERA, 137.1 IP, 105 H, 49 BB, 169 K
Why he made the team: A relatively obscure eighth-round pick out of Kent State University in 2018, Murray authored one of the better stories in the system this summer, posting a 2.75 ERA across three levels and punching out 169 batters in just 137.1 innings. One thing that doesn’t show up in the traditional numbers is Murray’s high spin rate fastball, which gives the low-90s offering deceptive life.
Kim: “Joey’s success began in the off-season with a commitment to arriving to spring training in the best shape he could. He used that off-season progress to help a more explosive lower half. Hitters weren’t able to get comfortable off of his fastball, and he enjoyed a very successful debut in full season that saw him advance three levels.”
SP3 - RHP Maximo Castillo, A+
2019 Stats: 11-5, 2.69 ERA, 130.1 IP, 115 H, 28 BB, 114 K
Why he made the team: This powerfully build righty – he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 256 pounds – was another of the system’s breakout arms in 2019, going from posting a 4.52 ERA in the Midwest League last season to a stingy 2.69 mark this year. Castillo isn’t overpowering, but he limits the hard contact and made huge improvements to an already good walk rate, issuing just 1.9 free passes per nine innings.
Kim: “Max spent a good portion of last off-season in the U.S. while committing to his physical development. We saw an improvement with his lower half in the delivery, and a changeup that was able to miss more bats. Max also made some progress towards developing the curveball as his third pitch.”
SP4 - LHP Anthony Kay, AA/AAA/MLB
2019 Stats: 10-8, 2.96 ERA, 133.2 IP, 111 H, 56 BB, 135 K
Why he made the team: Statistically, it was an odd year for the 24-year-old southpaw. Prior to the Marcus Stroman trade, Kay dominated in Double-A (1.49 ERA in 12 starts), before being promoted to Triple-A and struggling to the tune of a 6.61 ERA in his final seven starts in the New York Mets’ organization. Once he joined the Buffalo Bisons, the walks jumped but the strikeouts did significantly as well, and Kay’s 2.50 ERA across seven starts earned him a big-league promotion.
Kim: “Anthony has big-time stuff, and it’s exciting to watch him compete on the mound. He goes right after hitters, challenges them on the inner half, and complements a live fastball with a sharp curveball and a deceptive changeup.”
SP5 - RHP Josh Winckowski, A/A+
2019 Stats: 10-8, 2.69 ERA, 127.1 IP, 110 H, 43 BB, 108 K
Why he made the team: A 15th-rounder from the 2016 draft, all Winckowski has done is get results. After posting a 2.78 ERA in 13 starts at short-season Vancouver last summer, the 6-foot-4 right-hander continued to get outs to start 2019, pitching to a 2.32 ERA in 13 outings with Low-A Lansing. Promoted to the Florida State League, Winckowski again enjoyed success with a 3.19 mark. He doesn’t strike many out, but he gets ground balls and limits the long ball, allowing just 20 homers over his 263-inning minor-league career.
Kim: “Josh has made so many strides forward since 2016. He continued to mature in 2019, and committed to improving his off-speed. He throws a sinker with late movement, and made positive progress with both his changeup and his slider.”
RHP - Zach Jackson, AAA
2019 Stats: 9-0, 1 Sv, 3.97 ERA, 68.0 IP, 56 H, 34 BB, 68 K
Why he made the team: Jackson is one of those relief prospects that you’re just waiting for something to click. The third-round pick out of the 2016 draft has a two-pitch mix that regularly gets whiffs, but he’s walked far too many over the course of his career. Cutting the walk rate to 4.5/9 this season at Triple-A was a big step in the right direction.
Kim: “We were most encouraged by Zach’s improved control of the strike zone. He continued to show three quality offerings, while allowing his stuff to play better as a result of improved control.”
RHP - Ty Tice, AA/AAA
2019 Stats: 3-4, 8 Sv, 2.34 ERA, 57.2 IP, 43 H, 29 BB, 64 K
Why he made the team: Standing just 5-foot-9, Tice is fun to watch on the mound, using three pitches to go right after hitters. A 16th-round pick out of Central Arkansas in 2017, Tice is on the verge of helping out the Blue Jays’ bullpen next season.
Kim: “We’ve been excited about Ty since he came into the organization, and it was nice to see how well the fastball continues to play in the upper levels. With the ability to miss bats, he was able to pitch effectively to the top of the zone and fine-tuned both his curveball and his slider to give him a lethal three-pitch mix.”
LHP - Kirby Snead, AA/AAA
2019 Stats: 7-2, 7 Sv, 3.45 ERA, 62.2 IP, 58 H, 19 BB, 68 K
Why he made the team: The owner of a wipeout slider, Snead is also on the verge of helping out at the major-league level. Snead’s command took a huge step forward in 2019, as the soon-to-be 25-year-old southpaw went from walking 5.3 batters per nine innings in Double-A last season to just 3.3 this year with Triple-A Buffalo. Snead needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter or the Jays could lose him in the Rule 5 draft in December.
Kim: “Kirby worked hard to improve his ability to get ahead in counts. He offers a different look with an effective slider, and we were pleased with how he handled himself in Buffalo.”
RHP - Bryan Baker, AA/AAA
2019 Stats: 3-6, 12 Sv, 3.17 ERA, 54.0 IP, 35 H, 36 BB, 71 K
Why he made the team: Another bullpen arm that needs to be protected in November, Baker is another piece that came over in the 2018 Seunghwan Oh trade. When Baker wasn’t walking the world this season, he was punching it out, running up a 12.7 K/9 across 22 Triple-A innings. The 6-foot-6 Baker’s solid season firmly lands him on the big-league radar heading into 2020.
Kim: “Bryan really made strides this year with dominating the top of the zone with his upper-90s fastball, as well as increasing the depth to his slider.”
RHP - Brad Wilson, A+/AA
2019 Stats: 3-3, 9 Sv, 2.09 ERA, 56.0 IP, 39 H, 16 BB, 66 K
Why he made the team: A 13th-round pick in 2018, Wilson dominated High-A to the tune of a 1.42 ERA in 38 innings, striking out 49 batters and walking just 10. While he couldn’t duplicate that success once he was promoted to Double-A, the ability to get whiffs and ground balls gives him a pretty good baseline for success.
Kim: “Brad showed that he could translate his competitiveness and his stuff in both Dunedin and New Hampshire. For just his first full season, we were excited with Brad’s ability to control the strike zone while missing bats at the same time.”
RHP- Dany Jimenez, A+/AA
2019 Stats: 7-3, 10 Sv, 2.59 ERA, 59.0 IP, 45 H, 21 BB, 93 K
Why he made the team: One of five players who appeared on this organizational all-stars roster last year – Noda, Hiraldo, Kirk and Jackson are the others – Jimenez continues to pile up strikeouts in the lower levels. After punching out 11.4 per nine innings last year on his way to a 3.84 ERA at Low-A Lansing, the 25-year-old Dominican managed to outdo himself in 2019, striking out a whopping 93 hitters in 59 innings across two levels. Running up a 1.87 ERA to finish the season at Double-A while allowing just 22 hits in 33.2 innings is noteworthy.
Kim: “Dany took some big steps forward this season, as he was able to better harness his athleticism and live arm. His fastball has a lot of life, and with improved fastball control, his power breaking ball was able to help him strike more hitters out.”
RHP - Jackson Rees, A/A+
2019 Stats: 5-2, 9 Sv, 0.73 ERA, 61.2 IP, 40 H, 15 BB, 88 K
Why he made the team: Signed for $1,000 as an undrafted free agent out of Hawaii, Rees has proven to be quite the find. Using a sinker/slider combo, the 25-year-old righty punched out 88 batters across 61.2 innings this season, while keeping his ERA under 1.00 the entire year. Rees’ performance at Double-A in 2020 will be interesting to track.
Kim: “Jackson took one of the biggest steps forward this past season. With a funky delivery, he worked on improving his extension out front and was able to command his sinker more effectively to the bottom of the zone. Coupled with his deception and his slider, Jackson dominated hitters at both levels.”
RHP - Cre Finfrock, A/A+
2019 Stats: 1-1, 18 Sv, 3.89 ERA, 39.1 IP, 31 H, 16 BB, 52 K
Why he made the team: Finfrock is a fun name to say, and the South Carolina native has some game to go along with the 80-grade birth certificate. After middling results in his pro debut in 2018, the 29th-round pick found himself closing out games with Low-A Lansing for most of the summer. His repertoire includes a mid-90s fastball and a power breaking ball.
Kim: “Cre worked hard over the off-season to make some adjustments with his delivery and arm action, and we saw quick results in 2019. His aggressiveness played well at the back of the bullpen, and he transformed into a shutdown reliever with a power fastball/slider two-pitch mix.”
Blue Jays affiliate hierarchy
AAA: Buffalo Bisons, International League
AA: New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Eastern League
A+: Dunedin Blue Jays, Florida State League
A: Lansing Lugnuts, Midwest League
A-: Vancouver Canadians, Northwest League
Rookie: Bluefield Blue Jays, Appalachian League
Rookie: GCL Blue Jays, Gulf Coast League
DSL: Dominican Summer League Blue Jays
Top 20 Prospects heading into 2020
A quick and dirty list of the top 20 names in the system and where they’re expected to start next spring.
1. RHP Nate Pearson, Triple-A Buffalo
2. RHP Alek Manoah, High-A Dunedin
3. 3B/SS Jordan Groshans, High-A Dunedin
4. RHP Simeon Woods Richardson, High-A Dunedin
5. RHP Eric Pardinho, High-A Dunedin
6. 3B/SS Orelvis Martinez, short-season Vancouver
7. C Gabriel Moreno, High-A Dunedin
8. LHP Anthony Kay, Triple-A Buffalo
9. RHP Adam Kloffenstein, Low-A Lansing
10. RHP Kendall Williams, short-season Vancouver
11. 2B/SS Miguel Hiraldo, Low-A Lansing
12. SS/3B Kevin Smith, Double-A New Hampshire
13. C Alejandro Kirk, Double-A New Hampshire
14. SS/2B Leonardo Jimenez, Low-A Lansing
15. OF Griffin Conine, High-A Dunedin
16. RHP Patrick Murphy, Triple-A Buffalo
17. RHP Yennsy Diaz, Triple-A Buffalo
18. C Riley Adams, Triple-A Buffalo
19. RHP Joey Murray, Double-A New Hampshire
20. RHP Tom Hatch, Triple-A Buffalo
Honourable mentions: RHP T.J. Zeuch, RHP Hector Perez, RHP Maximo Castillo, OF Dasan Brown, OF Will Robertson, OF Chavez Young, OF Anthony Alford, 2B Tanner Morris, 2B/SS Santiago Espinal, 2B Samad Taylor.