TORONTO — Despite being very different players and taking much different routes, Leo Jimenez and Spencer Horwitz ended up in the same place last fall.

After posting two of the organization’s more intriguing statistical seasons in the minor leagues, Toronto Blue Jays’ decision-makers wanted to test both players against some stiff competition to get a better handle on what they have heading into 2022.

From the time they arrived in the Arizona Fall League last October, Jimenez and Horwitz took turns impressing, leading many to believe breakout seasons could be on the horizon. At the root of it all for both players is one foundational skill: The ability to get on base at an elite level.

“That’s what stands out to me, his approach,” said Lance Rymel, a coach in the Chicago Cubs organization who led the Mesa Solar Sox to the AFL championship in November. “The ability to control ABs and then get his swing off, that’s what you really see that’s special from Spence.”

Horwitz’s approach at the plate led to a .400 on-base percentage in 2021, and if that holds up over a full season at Double-A in 2022, he’ll be on a whole lot more radars.

The OBP attached to Jimenez’s 2021 line is even more impressive.

At the age of 20, the Panamanian middle infielder posted a .523 on-base mark, getting plunked by an astounding 25 errant pitches during the regular season, and then four more times in 15 AFL games.

The baseball has a way of finding his body.

Added to the 40-man roster by the Jays in November, Jimenez’s leather is what’s going to get him to the big leagues.

“The glove’s great,” Rymel said. “He’s been playing short and second and he’s very comfortable at any position, basically, on the infield and then he’s got some sneaky pop, too. Watch his BP, he can drive some balls. Very impressed with those Blue Jays guys. They come in and get their work done and you can see the routine they have, and they take it onto the field, so you can see why they’re having success.”

Along the same lines as their twin ability to get on base, Jimenez and Horwitz are both trying to add some more power to their profiles.

Their respective stocks will start to soar if that happens.

Easier said than done, however.

That process is well underway for Horwitz, a 24th-round pick out of tiny Radford University in Virginia.

“About halfway through the season, at the end of July, we broke down some video and saw some minor adjustments that we wanted to do with my hands, and it turned out to help a lot,” Horwitz explained. “When we were just looking at spray charts and we wanted some more power because the discipline was still there, we thought the hand placement would help a lot. And it did. We saw some more pull-side power in the air, so it helped.

“I think that’s why I’m overlooked a lot,” Horwitz added. “I’m not flashy and don’t have that light-tower power, don’t have that lightning speed, but I’m going to give a quality at-bat every time I’m out there.”

After hitting just 10 homers in 105 games at High-A, Horwitz popped a pair over the wall in a four-game cameo at Double-A to finish out the season.

It’s a similar story for Jimenez, who hit just one home run in 2021, which was actually the first of his minor-league career.

Unlike Horwitz, who needs to add some more power to carry high offensive positional bar at first base or left field, Jimenez doesn’t necessarily need to sacrifice his high-contact ways, an approach that’s led to a .292/.423/.371 career slash line since he signed in 2017.

“I’ve been working on hitting for more power, staying on my back side,” Jimenez said. “You want to try to get power, but not giving away the hitter that I am. I’m still a hitter that can put the ball in play a lot and that happened to me at the beginning of the season where I was sacrificing too much contact for power.”

With Horwitz and Jimenez leading the way as great candidates after solid building-block seasons in 2021, here are seven prospects from my Blue Jays top 50 who could enjoy a breakout year.


41. OF Gabriel Martinez

Last year’s rank: Not ranked
2020 rank: Not ranked
Acquired: 2018 IFA (Venezuela)
2022 age: 19
Expected starting affiliate: Low-A Dunedin
YEAR IN REVIEW: Thanks to a high-contact profile and a bat path that looks similar to Gabriel Moreno’s in the lower minors, Martinez is player many inside and outside the organization are picking to have a breakout 2022 season. As an 18-year-old in 2021, the smooth right-handed hitter had zero problems with the Florida Complex League, torching pitching to the tune of a .330/.448/.410 slash line in 31 games. He then had four hits in 12 at-bats in a late-season cameo at Low-A.
OUTLOOK: The one issue with Martinez’s line above is that it did not include a home run, and the power tool will be the separator between Martinez being an interesting prospect and a very good prospect over the next couple of years. Defensively, he’s likely going to be limited to left field.
MLB ETA: 2025


35. 1B/LF Spencer Horwitz

Last year’s rank: Not ranked
2020 rank: Not ranked
Acquired: 2019 draft (717th overall)
2022 age: 24
Expected starting affiliate: Double-A New Hampshire
YEAR IN REVIEW: Mentioned to me as a potential sleeper last off-season, Horwitz didn’t make the top 50 cut in 2021 and the 6-foot, 190-pound left-handed hitter out of tiny Radford University in Virginia went out and proved he’s a lot better than that 24th-round draft pedigree would suggest. Sent to High-A where the Vancouver Canadians affiliate was displaced to Hillsboro’s Ron Tonkin Field in Oregon, Horwitz raked to the tune of a .290/.401/.445 slash line, highlighted by more walks than strikeouts at 70:66. Those who saw him this year raved about the approach, one that allowed him to pile up free passes due to a calculated plan and not simply taking advantage of more inexperienced pitchers. With just 10 homers, however, Horwitz has been working to add some pop to his profile.
OUTLOOK: While Horwitz’s regular season was impressive, he further solidified his reputation as a bat to pay attention to with an impressive Arizona Fall League showing, finishing sixth in batting with a .375 average and a .944 OPS across 16 games in the prospect-laden circuit. If that performance was any indication, Horwitz should have no trouble keeping things going inside Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in New Hampshire this season, where a handful of lefty power breakouts have happened in the past.
MLB ETA: 2023


30. RHP Chad Dallas

Last year’s rank: Not in system
2020 rank: Not in system
Acquired: 2021 draft (121st overall)
2022 age: 22
Expected starting affiliate: High-A Vancouver
YEAR IN REVIEW: When it comes to college pitchers, the Jays definitely have a preference for big-bodied arms that have a track record of throwing strikes. That’s the 5-foot-11, 210-pound right-hander’s profile in a nutshell. Dallas, who flashed the makings of a quality four-pitch mix during his time at the University of Tennessee, was shut down by the Jays after being drafted in the fourth round last July because of his 103-frame college workload, but he logged innings during Florida Development League in the fall.
OUTLOOK: Featuring a low-90s fastball and a couple different breaking balls that he commanded well during his NCAA days, Dallas is one of the pitching prospects that the organization is excited to take the reins off this season. We’ll know a lot more about the college-aged arms — Dallas, Trent Palmer, CJ Van Eyk and Hayden Juenger, specifically — that the Jays have drafted recently at the end of the 2022 season.
MLB ETA: 2024


20. SS Estiven Machado

Last year’s rank: 19  
2020 rank: Not ranked
Acquired: 2019 IFA (Venezuela)
2022 age: 19
Expected starting affiliate: Florida Complex League
YEAR IN REVIEW: Seen by many as a potential breakout prospect heading into the year, Machado tore his hamstring running to first base during his first at-bat of his first FCL game in June and missed the rest of the season.
OUTLOOK: When healthy, the switch-hitting shortstop has shown flashes of the complete package — Machado puts together good at-bats and hits the ball hard for a 5-foot-10, 170-pounder — but he’s also a complete mystery at this point. Even though he holds serve here at No. 20 based on the potential upside, it’s an important year for Machado to prove he can stay healthy and pile up some much-needed at-bats in the lower levels.
MLB ETA: 2025


10. SS Leo Jimenez

Last year’s rank: 20  
2020 rank: 28
Acquired: 2017 IFA (Dominican Republic)
2022 age: 21
Expected starting affiliate: High-A Vancouver
YEAR IN REVIEW: Jimenez produced one of the quirkiest statistical lines you’re ever going to see in 2021, slashing .320/.523/.392 to sit top five in on-base percentage in the entire minor leagues thanks to walking more than he struck out and somehow managing to get hit with 25 pitches in 59 games. Defensively, Jimenez is slick. While the arm isn’t elite, Jimenez’s glove is the calling card, with an ability to slow the game down and make all the plays at either middle infield spot. Despite spending the entire year at Low-A Dunedin, Jimenez ended his season as one of the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League, where he once again put up a gaudy .412 on-base mark in 15 games. The Jays added him to the 40-man roster in November.
OUTLOOK: With an innate ability to find his way to first base and elite bat-to-ball skills, Jimenez possesses a big-league floor, but his ultimate offensive upside hinges on the ability to add some power to his game. Many believe it’s coming, and it’s easy to see why when you see Jimenez up close. Listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, Jimenez has extremely broad shoulders and BP sessions uncover some added thump in his right-handed bat. Right now, it’s a very Santiago Espinal-ish profile. That’s a quietly valuable player.
MLB ETA: 2024


6. LHP Ricky Tiedemann

Last year’s rank: Not in system
2020 rank: Not in system
Acquired: 2021 draft (91st overall)
2022 age: 19
Expected starting affiliate: Low-A Dunedin
YEAR IN REVIEW: Taken in the third round last summer as an extremely young junior college lefty, Tiedemann was in the 89-93 mph pre-draft, but looked like a different pitcher when he showed up at instructional league at the fall. Three months after being selected, Tiedemann was sitting 95-96 mph, touching 98, and showing a couple of swing-and-miss secondary offerings. Batters legitimately struggled to make contact. It was the tiniest of sample sizes, but there’s already a ton of helium surrounding the Long Beach lefty and he hasn’t even made his pro debut yet.
OUTLOOK: The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder didn’t test well physically pre-draft, but the Jays didn’t see that as a blemish, they saw it as an opportunity. From working out with free weights in a SoCal garage, to a professional development program inside a shiny new complex in Dunedin, added strength and balance could help Tiedemann take off, and the early results are already encouraging. Tiedemann won’t turn 20 until August, so the Jays will take it slow initially, letting him focus on the usual suspects for young pitchers: Fastball command, the changeup, and ironing out his delivery as he continues to add strength. With Nate Pearson graduating off this list in 2022, many are betting Tiedemann is the consensus top pitching prospect the Jays have by this time next year.
MLB ETA: 2024


4. 3B/SS Jordan Groshans

Last year’s rank: 3  
2020 rank: 2
Acquired: 2018 draft (12th overall)
2022 age: 22
Expected starting affiliate: Triple-A Buffalo
YEAR IN REVIEW: There are two ways to view Groshans’ 2021 season. If you simply look at the numbers on paper, you’re going to be left wanting more if you had Groshans projected as an impact bat. But if you dig a little deeper and digest the context, the right-handed hitting Texan actually had a pretty decent age-21 season at Double-A, especially considering he had hardly played for two years thanks to a season-ending foot injury in 2019 and a pandemic. Groshans made a ton of contact, improved his swing decisions as the year went on, his coaches thought, and hit .291 against competition nearly three years older than him on average. So, what’s the problem? For a prospect likely to spend the majority of his big-league time at third base, how much impact Groshans will ultimately have with the bat has slowly become the question for most that watched him. He did have 30 extra-base hits, but only seven went over the fence and his .158 isolated slugging percentage matched so-so exit velocities. But there’s lots of good, too. Over 146 minor league games since being drafted in the first round, Groshans has posted a .372 on-base mark.
OUTLOOK: With all that being said, there’s optimism Groshans’ breakout could be coming in 2022 at Triple-A Buffalo, where the offensive environment will definitely play a role. But the Jays believe the power is coming and a more aggressive mindset will help, as will some added strength for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-handed hitter. A well-rounded hitter with a good approach, Groshans isn’t on the 40-man yet, but he’s one call away now if the power starts to emerge.
MLB ETA: 2022