TSN Original: The First Family
Eight Toronto Blue Jays prospects will be continuing their development on the fields of the Arizona Fall League when the off-season showcase kicks off its 26th season in October.
Headlined by prized Cuban infield project Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who was signed to a seven-year, $22-million major-league deal last November, the Blue Jays wanted to continue the 2017 seasons of the group of eight for various developmental reasons, a few of them linked to health.
Combined with the fact he was away from the baseball field while defecting, Gurriel was forced to miss the first two months of his North American debut this season thanks to a hamstring injury, leaving the 23-year-old middle infield prospect with just 225 plate appearances to date.
The six-team fall league — all eight Blue Jays prospects will suit up for the Peoria Javelinas — will give Gurriel the chance to get an additional 80 to 100 plate appearances under his belt before the off-season.
Gurriel will be sent into the Arizona sun as a middle infielder, primarily a shortstop, as the Blue Jays continue to develop his versatility in the dirt, even though many talent evaluators around baseball believe he’ll eventually end up in the outfield.
“From the start, what we’ve seen is work ethic and a desire to get better,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said of his Cuban investment. “He’s obviously talented — plenty of bat speed, plenty of bat to ball — but he’s missed a lot of baseball. He needs development, he needs reps, he needs time. That’s what’s shown up. He was out for close to a year and a half, almost two years, and there’s some making up to do.”
Right-hander T.J. Zeuch, the Jays’ first-round pick in 2016, and catcher/first baseman Max Pentecost, who both battled back injuries this season, are in the same boat.
“Each one of them has missed significant time, whether it be injury or just transitioning to professional baseball, and this is an appropriate level for each of them to continue their development,” Atkins said.
Joining that highly regarded trio are 24-year-old right-hander Andrew Case, 23-year-old right-hander Jackson McClelland, 23-year-old southpaw Daniel Young, 21-year-old catcher Javier Hernandez, and 25-year-old outfielder Jonathan Davis.
If you’re not familiar with the AFL, it’s no cakewalk.
The circuit is littered with elite prospects every single year, and 2017 will be no different.
Four players from MLB Pipeline’s top 20 prospects are heading to Arizona in October, including outfielders Victor Robles (Washington Nationals), Kyle Tucker (Houston Astros) and Ronald Acuna (Atlanta Braves), as well as catcher Francisco Mejia (Cleveland Indians).
“It’s one of the rare aspects in baseball where you have an elite group of talent and some control over how they will be exposed to their development,” Atkins noted.
The AFL wraps up with the championship game at Scottsdale Stadium on Nov. 18.
Meanwhile, Blue Jays catching prospect Reese McGuire, who’s finishing off a truncated year due to knee surgery at Double-A, will suit up for the Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League from Oct. 20 to Dec. 24.
Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the Francisco Liriano deal in exchange for Drew Hutchison last summer, McGuire, known for his defensive ability behind the plate, is currently on a tear in New Hampshire, slashing .360/.418/.680 with four home runs since returning in the first week of August.
McGuire’s six homers in 101 at-bats so far this season are two more than he hit in his first four minor-league seasons combined.