C – Alejandro Kirk – With the early January trade of veteran Russell Martin (back home) to the LA Dodgers, 23-year-old top prospect Danny Jansen and 2016 trade acquisition Reese McGuire are poised to battle for the starting gig this coming season, that leaves plenty room for the Blue Jays to cultivate their next backstop. The stout (5’9”-220 lb.) Mexico native Kirk “technically” played his first season in 2018. I emphasize “technically” because he debuted in 2017 and played only one game due to a hand injury. In 2018 though, he came out swinging, ranking fourth in the Appalachian (APPY) League in hits (73) fifth in hitting (.354) and home runs (10); and his 57 RBi tied Tampa Bay uber prospect Wander Franco for the Appy League lead. He also he drew 12 more walks (33) than strikeouts (21). Moving forward, he’s going to have to continue hitting at this pace. His lack of athleticism, lack of speed and his defense places more pressure on his bat than ever. Guys like him are fun to root for though. Think Willians Astudillo, but with more K’s and walks. Kirk could see either SS Vancouver or (more likely will be) challenged with an assignment to LoA Lansing. Either way, he’ll be real intriguing to follow.1B – Ryan Noda – I don’t mention 23-year-old Rowdy Tellez here because he logged 23 games in the majors last season batting .270 with nine home runs and 31 RBi. But despite Tellez performance, Noda, a 2017 – 15th rounder out of the University of Cincinnati, could eventually blast his way to the Rogers Centre. For LoA Lansing, the 6’3”- 215 lb. lefty ranked within the Midwest (MWL) League top ten in runs scored (78), home runs (20), RBi (80) and total bases (195). What could separate Noda from the rest of the system’s first basemen is his ability to draw walks, with 109 last season and 168 free passes over 190 career minor league games, which isn’t prototypical for the position. It wouldn’t be shocking for Noda to see Double-A in 2019, where we’ll see if his bag of tools is truly legitimate.2B – Samad Taylor – It’s equally as exciting as it is a shame when you see a kid like Taylor breakout the extra bases like he did in 2018, only to step back, view the middle infield landscape of the Blue Jays organization, and conclude that the 2016 – 10th round draft choice might be the odd man out. The 2019 Baseball America Blue Jays Top 10 includes five middle infielders; four shortstops and one second baseman, with the crown jewel being SS Bo Bichette, while second base looks toward Cavan Biggio, who batted .250 with 26 home runs for AA New Hampshire last season. Taylor, who came from the Cleveland organization in a 2017 trade, carried a .293 average with 23 doubles, 13 home runs and 74 stolen bases into 2018. However, a switch must have gone off, as Taylor crushed 32 doubles, stole 44 bases and scored 57 runs for LoA Lansing last season. The only smudge was that his boost in extra bases helped sell out his average, which dipped to a career low .228. Don’t sleep on Taylor despite the huge prospect log jam directly in front of him.3B – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Enough said.SS – Kevin Smith – Casual fans my look at some of the names on our list and think that they made it based on many factors such as primary resource rankings and such. However, in the case of Smith, nothing planted him on this year’s OAS list other than his 18-time “UTR Hitter of the Day” distinction last regular season. Smith not only broke out batting .302 with 31 doubles and 25 home runs across two levels last season (LoA Lansing and HiA Dunedin), but he adds incredible intrigue to a system that already has two prospects ahead of him on the depth chart (Biggio and Bichette). I absolutely love Smith; have since he was drafted out of the University of Maryland in 2017 (4th round), but inside the incredibly competitive A.L. East, combined with the glut of Blue Jays prospects up the middle, something tells me that another great season from Smith turns him into tremendous trade bait in case Toronto needs a solid piece to put them over the top in the race for the postseason. Add Smith to any and every second tier or prospect “watch” list.LF – Cal Stevenson – If you follow NCAA baseball, our choice of Stevenson, a 10th round draft pick out of the University of Arizona, shouldn’t come as a surprise. But if you don’t, all you have to do is look at the 5’10”- 175 lb. lefty’s walk/strikeout ratio in college and from his debut season in 2018, and he’ll become an instant favorite “Watch” list prospect. Stevenson started his collegiate career with Nevada of the Mountain West Conference, but transferred to Chabot College for his sophomore season. He found a home with the Arizona Wildcats as a junior and senior, but no matter where he played, he drew walks, ending his well-traveled college career with 151 walks to 93 strikeouts in 2014 games. The Jays drafted him, assigned him to the GCL, and after 11 walks and nine hits in 19 at-bats (.474) over six games, he moved up to Rookie Bluefield and kept the show going. Stevenson struck out only 21 times and averaged an even walk per game (53), which lead the APPY League. His walks combined with his .359 batting average helped him rank second in on-base percentage. As much a “Watch” prospect as there is in not only the Blue Jays system, but all the minors heading into 2019.CF – Chavez Young – Another prospect who had a breakout season in his first go-around in full-season ball. Like Stevenson above, Young is as true an under-the-radar prospect there is, as a 39th round draft choice out of Faith Baptist Christian Academy (GA) in 2016. Despite Lansing’s 76-64 record and second place finish in the Midwest League Eastern Division last season, the Lugnuts were loaded with hitting prospects and the (then) 20-year-old not only lead the roster in six offensive categories, but the MWL in runs scored (88) and sat within the league’s top five in total bases, stolen bases, triples and doubles. There’s a Lot to like here.RF –Brock Lundquist – If anything, Lundquist had a bit more prominent season than expected. The 5’11”- 190 lb. lefty finished the season with 22 doubles, 18 home runs and a .286 batting average over two levels after collecting only 17 extra-base hits and a .251 average in his 2017 pro debut with SS Vancouver. I expect the All-Pro level mustache connoisseur to play all of 2019 for AA New Hampshire.Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Yennsy Diaz – (20) / HiA Dunedin “Solid Stash”** Yennsy Diaz has increased his UTR stock each year since his 2015 debut in the DSL, and earning a UTR Organizational All-Star mention. That performance translated into being named “One to Watch” in 2016. Now 22-years old, Diaz gets the “Solid Stash” marker after spending most of the season in Dunedin, and could start 2019 at Double-A New Hampshire. His radar signal quickly reached prospect followers on opening day of 2018 when he struck out 10 hitters at LoA Lansing. The best attribute from the 6’1″ 160 lb righty would be his capability of sustaining his velocity (90’s) deep into games and beginning to pitch to contact. The Blue Jays added Diaz to the 40-man roster in late November, to protect him from the December Rule 5 draft.
2. LHP Zach Logue – (18) / HiA Dunedin
3. RHP Maverik Buffo – (14) / HiA Dunedin
4. RHP Patrick Murphy – (14) / Double-A New Hampshire “Take a Flyer”
**Murphy spent most of 2018 at HiA Dunedin, but made a spot start in New Hampshire in late May. Upon his return to Dunedin, Murphy went on a tear the rest of the way. He won 6 of his first 10 starts and finished 8-1 during his last 17 starts. Over that time, the big bodied (6’4″ 220lb) right-hander had a 1.83 ERA with 96 strikeouts over 98.1 innings, an outstanding .195 opposing batting average, and an equally impressive 61% ground ball rate. A particular unknown on the UTRMinors scale at the start of the 2018 season, the 23-year old captured the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year award. He also garnered attention by displaying triple-digits on the radar gun, but his newfound success was mostly in the vast improvement of his change-up. The organization had to protected Murphy from the Rule 5 draft, thus added him to the 40-man roster.
5. LHP Tayler Saucedo – (10) / Double-A New Hampshire Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Jackson McClelland –(8)/ Double-A New Hampshire
** A dangerous relief pitcher that combines deception with a 100-mph fastball.
2. RHP Brayden Bouchey – (7) / Double-A New Hampshire
3. LHP Jake Fishman – (5) / Triple-A Buffalo
** Travis Bergen (6) would have occupied this spot, but was scooped-up by the San Francisco Giants during the Rule 5 draft. Fishman made a brief appearance at Buffalo in June, but made 44 appearances with HiA Dunedin.