The Blue Jays graduated an impressive group of prospects recently, such of a talented group that you would expect the farm system to be barren. That’s simply not the case however, including a potential ace starting pitcher (something they desperately need). He’s not alone, so where is the upside? Who should we be watching closely? Let’s take a look:
1) Nate Pearson – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2020
Grade – B+
There are few pitchers with the upside of being an ace, but Pearson is one of them. Pitching across three levels in 2019 he showed more than enough in two of the three skills we look for from a pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 10.53 K/9
- Control – 2.39 BB/9
- Groundballs – 39.5%
He clearly has the stuff to miss bats, with a 13.4% SwStr%, with the size (he’s listed at 6’6” and 245 lbs.) and stuff (with a fastball that’s been clocked at over 100 mph) that teams look for. While there are still questions about his control, he’s clearly made strides there as well. The question is going to be in his home run rate, especially since he’ll currently reside in the AL East. There also is always going to be the concern that an injury could crop up, given the type of velocity he possesses, though at this point is there any pitcher who doesn’t have injury risk?
Having made a few appearances in Triple-A and with the Blue Jays in need of help in the rotation, a healthy Pearson will get an opportunity in the Majors this season.
2) Jordan Groshans – Shortstop
ETA – 2022
Grade – B+
If it wasn’t for injury there would likely be a lot more hype surrounding Groshans. The 2018 first round selection was limited to 23 games in ’19, before a foot injury ended his season in May. When he was on the field he was impressive, hitting .337 with 2 HR, 13 RBI and 12 R. His approach was his most impressive skill, playing as a 19-year old:
- Walk Rate – 13.5%
- SwStr% – 9.9%
The power has not yet developed, though it should come in time as he matures and learns. He also has enough speed to contribute a few stolen bases per year. Whether he is slotted at shortstop or has to move to third base, he has all of the tools to be a successful player who could develop into a 25/10 type player to go along with a solid average.
3) Simeon Woods Richardson – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B
Acquired from the Mets as part of the Marcus Stroman trade, Woods Richardson showed impressive skills pitching as an 18-year old and splitting time between Single-A and High-A. It’s no surprise that the underlying skills were more impressive at Single-A, though he more than held his own after the Blue Jays pushed him to High-A after the trade (28.1 IP):
- Strikeouts – 9.21 K/9
- Control – 2.22 BB/9
- Groundballs – 35.7%
The groundball rate was the biggest falloff (he was at 49.3% prior to the trade), but it was such a small sample size that there’s little reason for concern. He needs to show that he can work deep into games, as his longest outing was 5.1 IP. He was limited earlier and started to consistently work at least 5.0 innings from July forward, and while it makes sense to limit him in an effort to keep him healthy eventually the handcuffs have to come off. He’s clearly on the fast track and once he proves he can work deeper into games, his stock could really soar.
4) Alek Manoah – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
Manoah is massive, listed at 6’6” and 260 lbs., who is primarily a two-pitch pitcher featuring a big fastball. Given his size there is the risk of control issues, and while he didn’t show it after being selected in the first round of the ’19 draft he was a 21-year old working at Low-A so we need to keep it in perspective.
There is the chance that his limited repertoire ultimately leads to a move to the bullpen, but that’s not going to be in the cards currently. There are two big ifs that will ultimately determine his value:
- Will he be able to maintain strong control?
- Will he be able to develop his changeup?
Those two questions will determine his ceiling, and given his age we should start to get answers quickly.
5) Alejandro Kirk – Catcher
ETA – 2022
Grade – B-
There are questions about his size and his ability to stick behind the plate, as he’s listed at 5’9”. However by all reports he’s a solid defensive catcher, and if he can stick his bat will play that much more. Playing the year at 20-years old he showed a tremendous ability to handle the bat over 372 PA split between Single-A and High-A:
- Strikeout Rate – 10.5%
- Walk Rate – 15.1%
- SwStr% – 5.3%
His power hasn’t developed yet (7 HR), but he added 31 doubles and 1 triple. As he matures physically and learns to be a little more aggressive there is upside that should develop. A catcher who can hit for a high average while adding 15 HR is a commodity, so look for Toronto to continue developing him in hopes that he proves he can handle the position.
The Next Five:
6) Orelvis Martinez (SS, Grade – C+) – Signed in 2018 at 16-years old, the potential is there for him to develop into a big-time power threat (think 30+ HR annually). Obviously he’s young and needs to develop his approach, considering his 23.0% SwStr%, and there also is a good chance he needs to shift to 3B as he matures physically. He’s got significant upside, and he’s another prospect who could quickly climb up lists.
7) Gabriel Moreno (C, Grade – C+) – Playing at Single-A Moreno showed both power (34 extra base hits, including 12 HR, over 341 PA) and a strong approach (6.7% SwStr%, 11.1% strikeout rate). We’d like to see a few more walks, but there’s no question that he has an idea at the plate and should develop into a 15+ HR as he continues to develop. He’ll turn 20-years old prior to 2020, but he should open the year at High-A, potentially reach Double-A before the year is out and put him as a potential arrival in 2021. For those in two-catcher formats, he needs to be on radars.
8) Adam Kloffenstein (RHP, Grade – C+) – Pitching at Low-A Kloffenstein showed a tremendous groundball rate (60.1%), while missing bats (14.1% SwStr%) and an ability to throw enough strikes (3.22 BB/9). It was only 64.1 IP, but the 2018 third round pick could come quickly as the Blue Jays start to accelerate the process. He is still extremely young (despite being drafted two years ago he’ll pitch most of 2020 at 19-years old), but he’s already developed physically and has a quality arsenal that should excel at the highest levels. Don’t be surprised if the Blue Jays take the handcuffs off in 2020, leading to him soaring up prospect lists.
9) Anthony Kay (LHP, Grade – C) – Another part of the Marcus Stroman trade, Kay already arrived in the Majors and could become a mainstay in the rotation in 2020. Already 24-years old, the biggest knock against Kay is his ability to throw strikes, as he particularly struggled with the Blue Jays Triple-A team after the trade (5.50 BB/9 over 36.0 IP). He also could struggle with home runs, considering his 35.1% groundball rate in the minors in ’19 and that he’ll be pitching in the AL East. Both of those things help to lower his grade, though he could become a C+ type prospect.
10) Miguel Hiraldo (SS, Grade – C) – He hit .299 with 7 HR and 11 SB over 260 PA in ’19, though a 12.0% SwStr% is something to watch. It’s possible he gets exposed as he faces more advanced pitching, but he also could mature/develop and take another step forward. This will be a key year in his development, so watch him closely.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: