A couple of years ago the Blue Jays had a talent-rich system with two elite prospects at the top. One generational talent, and plenty of other young, talented players that offered big league upside.
Anytime a system is blessed with that level of talent, it’s usually going to be left in the dust after that group of players graduate. That’s somewhat the case with our neighbors to the North. While this system isn’t nearly what it used to be, there are still some intriguing prospects that are worth rostering. There are certainly some intriguing arms, including one of the game’s best pitching prospects, complemented by a handful of young J2 talent to give Blue Jays fans a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
Let’s jump right into the nitty-gritty of Toronto’s farm system:
1. Nate Pearson, RHP, 23 years old
An absolute physical specimen is truly the only just way of describing Pearson. He stands at an enormous 6-foot-6, 250 pounds with proportional strength and a certain physicality to him when he steps on the mound.
Pearson’s fastball regularly sits in the high 90’s and he hits triple-digits with ease. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with him holding his velocity deep into his outings, something that bodes well in his favor. His most effective off-speed pitch is a power slider with plus actions that play in the high 80’s and is already a swing-and-miss pitch. Pearson changes speeds effectively with a mid 70’s 12-to-6 breaking ball, although the slider is easily the more advanced pitch between the two. He rarely throws a changeup that projects to be nothing more than an average pitch. Even without the traditional four-pitch mix, Pearson has a powerful arsenal that is going to miss bats at a high rate regardless of level.
Despite all the positives surrounding Pearson, I do have my reservations. His delivery is “high effort” and for someone that throws as hard as he does, that tends to lead to inconsistencies and injuries. He’s done an ample job of keeping his mechanics under control but you have to factor in the wear-and-tear that’ll come on his body from consistently throwing as hard as he does.
Pearson doesn’t seem like he’s going to be much of an innings eater at the big league level despite having the frame to do so. He’s most effective in short, five-inning spurts where he can empty the tank and not have to worry about pacing himself out. Even then, however, this is a special pitching prospect with arguably one of the highest ceilings in all of baseball. He has ace-upside and if he flails out as a starter–which is the least likely scenario–he could become one of the best relievers in baseball.
2. Jordan Groshans, SS, 20 years old
The second prep bat taken in the 2018 MLB Draft, Groshans started 2019 off on a tear before going down with a foot injury that would eventually sideline him for the entire season. Still, what he showed in that 23-game sample size were major improvements from his draft year and solidified him as the No. 2 prospect in this system.
Groshans is a wiry athlete with a projectable 6-foot-3 frame. His swing is still somewhat raw from a mechanical standpoint, but his combination of pure bat speed and natural talent allows me to believe that he’ll figure it out as he continues to develop. Groshans doesn’t swing-and-miss much, and his ability to make contact with the baseball is advanced for his age. More power will come as he fills out his frame and the future outlook for him is somewhere consistently in the .280+ range with 20+ home runs throughout his peak years.
Toronto has two future staples on the left side of their infield for at least the next five seasons, meaning Groshans is a bit out of luck to stick there. We could see him transition over to second base or potentially even make a move to the outfield, too. If Groshans can continue to build off what he started this season he’s going to skyrocket up prospect lists at this time next year.
3. Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP, 19 years old
We may have Simeon Woods Richardson ranked higher than most, but this is an all-in type of mentality on this kid and I completely buy into the breakout 2019 season he had.
Still just 19 years old, Woods Richardson was acquired by the Blue Jays from the Mets in the Marcus Stroman trade at last year’s trade deadline. Toronto promoted him to High-A after they acquired him, where he made six starts, posting a 2.54 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and .182 batting average against.
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Woods Richardson looks the part of a starting pitcher and still has room to continue filling out his frame. What truly makes me buy into him moving forward is his polished and unique pitch mix. Woods Richardson throws two fastballs, a four-seam, and two-seam, with the former showing above-average vertical spin and the latter showing late run to his arm-side. He’s shown the ability to spin a 12-to-6 curveball that has a natural vertical break, pairing well with his four-seam fastball. His changeup is primarily used against left-handed hitters, fading away from them.
It’s a safe, above-average mix for a teenager that should start next season back in High-A and finish out at the Double-A level. Woods Richardson profiles best as a mid-rotation starter at the big league level and you should be buying into the hype now before it’s too late. He’ll be a consensus top-75 prospect in the game by this time next season, if not higher.
4. Orelvis Martinez, 3B/SS, 18 years old
Martinez signed with the Blue Jays for $3.5 million back in 2018 as one of the top international prospects from his respective class.
From a pure polish standpoint, Martinez has one of the highest floors from an international prospect that I’ve personally ever evaluated. Most international signees are fairly raw from a true baseball standpoint and provide tremendous upside, but Martinez is different. He possesses that unique combination of both polish and ceiling, making him as safe of a bet as a teenager could be.
Martinez has several intriguing tools, but the two that stand out to me are the bat speed and raw strength he possesses. His hands are quick enough to catch up to high velocities already and there’s already plenty of loud contact coming from his swing. As he adds muscle and weight onto his wiry 6-foot-1, 188-pound frame, more power will come for Martinez, making him a legit 25+ home run threat once he reaches the big leagues. He owns an advanced recognition of the strike zone as well, striking out at less than a 20 percent clip and walking at nearly a nine percent rate.
Martinez has split playing time between third base and shortstop thus far into his professional career, but the long-term fit for him seems to be at the hot corner. This could be Toronto’s replacement for Vlad Jr. if the young phenom ever makes the move away from third base. In Martinez, the Blue Jays are potentially getting someone with plus power that doesn’t strike out a lot and will get on base at a decent clip. Sign me up.
5. Alek Manoah, RHP, 22 years old
As I’m sure you’ll notice as we continue to dive into this list, the Blue Jays have a “type” when it comes to pitching prospects: large human beings that look like they could play offensive tackle in the NFL. Manoah, their first-round pick in 2019, is every bit of his imposing 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame.
Although he isn’t the greatest athlete, Manoah repeats his mechanics well for how big he is. He missed bats at an astonishing rate at West Virginia and did so again in his 17-inning professional debut, posting a 39.7% strikeout rate and 16% swinging-strike rate. His arsenal consists of a mid-to-high-90’s fastball with late life and occasional arm-side actions. A powerful slider is what makes him a strikeout machine, as it tunnels well with his fastball and flashes plus actions. He rounds out his repertoire with a changeup that still needs more development and could be an average pitch at some point in his career.
Part of the intrigue into Manoah is his frame projects to eat innings at the big league level. There’s also some concern that he isn’t athletic enough to hold up throughout a full 162-game season and that he’ll only be a two-pitch guy moving forward. Personally, Manoah profiles to me as an innings eater that can stick as a starting pitcher in the long run, especially as that changeup continues to develop.
6. Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, 19 years old
Guess what? Another gigantic pitcher here for the Blue Jays. Standing at 6-foot-6 and roughly 245 pounds, Kloffenstein signed with Toronto as a third-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
Kloffenstein throws two fastballs, a four-seam, and a two-seam, that typically sit in the low 90’s. You’d have to assume that more velocity will come given his age and projectability to his frame, but how much heat he tacks on could ultimately be the determining factor on what his ceiling truly is. He’s fairly polished for a teenager, throwing two distinct breaking balls in a slider and curveball, with the latter being the more favorable pitch moving forward. He’ll also throw a changeup with some dive to it that makes a particularly effective pair with that two-seam fastball of his.
There’s so much to like about Kloffenstein and I think he’s one of my favorite young pitching prospects in the game. He creates excellent extension downhill, making him an uncomfortable at-bat and will probably lead to high ground ball rates throughout his professional career. He is poised for a breakout season in the Midwest League whenever minor league play resumes and an uptick in velocity makes him more intriguing than he already is. Buy in now before it’s too late.
7. Miguel Hiraldo, MIF, 19 years old
Moving away from the pitching prospects, Hiraldo is one of three position players inside the top 10. He’s a bat-first prospect with a strong, physically advanced frame for a 19-year-old.
What Hiraldo can do at the plate for his age is impressive. He controls the strike zone well and owns an advanced recognition of the zone. Most teenagers strikeout at above a 20% clip, but not Hiraldo. He owns a swinging strike rate of 12.1% and strikes out at roughly a 14% rate.
Most teenagers in pro ball that don’t strike out a lot tend to not hit for much power, but Hiraldo is the exact opposite. His estimated fly ball distance of 320 feet last season was above-average and he’s shown plus raw power to his pull-side in gameplay already. We’re talking about a 19-year-old that doesn’t swing-and-miss much and has already shown flashes of hitting for plenty of power moving forward. Hiraldo will start next season in the Midwest League and he’s slowly becoming one of my favorite teenage bats in the game.
8. Kendall Williams, RHP, 19 years old
Throw another 6-foot-6 pitcher into the mosh pit of tall arms scattered throughout the Blue Jays system. Williams was a second-round pick out of the prestigious IMG Academy in the 2019 MLB Draft.
There’s a lot to like with Williams, starting with his highly projectable frame. He’s only 205 pounds right now and could easily add 10 to 15 pounds over the next few seasons, potentially upping his fastball velocity from that current low 90s band up to somewhere between 94-96 mph. Williams’ delivery works on a downhill plane, allowing his fastball to jump on hitters and play with tilt. His offspeed pitches have shown flashes of being quality offerings, primarily his breaking ball that can be his swing-and-miss pitch to pair along with that heater.
Williams is a pure projection prospect that will rely on the potential for increased velocity. If that never comes, it’s possible he’s nothing more than a long reliever or even fizzles out as a pitcher completely. This ranking suggests that’ll be the least likely outcome, allowing Williams to skyrocket up prospect boards once we start to see flashes of those. He’s worth taking a shot on in deep dynasty leagues.
9. Anthony Kay, LHP, 25 years old
Kay was the final piece acquired by the Blue Jays in the aforementioned Stroman deal and was viewed as the main piece at the time. He’s made improvements in his game since coming to Toronto and might be the safest pitching prospect in this entire system.
There’s not much flashiness to the 25-year-old Kay’s game, but he’s capable of eating innings while getting the job done. His fastball sits between 92-94 mph with high-spin rates, meaning that it’ll play up to a higher perceived velocity. When Kay initially made his professional debut his top secondary pitch was his changeup, but that is no longer the case. His high-spin curveball is now the better of the two pitches. With that being said, Kay’s changeup is still a sound offering that even flashes above-average actions at times when he controls it down in the zone. He’ll comfortably throw all three pitches for strikes, giving Kay a pretty reliable repertoire to work with.
Like I said earlier, Kay isn’t going to be flashy but he’ll certainly get the job done. He got his feet wet at the big league level last season and was expected to compete for a spot in Toronto’s starting rotation before the delay. Kay is a safe bet to be a back-end arm in the big leagues and those guys are valuable assets to fill innings. He’s someone I’d potentially look into targeting.
10. Gabriel Moreno, C, 20 years old
Moreno slots slightly above Alejandro Kirk on this list, but it’s an air-tight race between the two young catching prospects in this system. He signed for just $25,000 back in 2016 and strung together a quality season as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League, slashing .280/.337/.482 with 12 home runs.
There’s a lot to like about Moreno at the plate. He struck out at a below-average 11.1% rate in 2019 and owns a strong recognition of the strike zone, rarely swinging-and-missing at the dish. Moreno did show improved power this season in a relatively pitcher-friendly league and there’s more raw power in that wiry 5-foot-11, 160-pound build. It’s an advanced offensive skillset from a catcher, which has some appeal in the fantasy game.
Most people don’t take defense into account in fantasy baseball, but in this case, you should. Moreno’s future as a big-league asset relies on him sticking behind the dish and that is up in the air right now. Think about taking a shot on him in a deeper dynasty league as a potential breakout candidate at a position that lacks fantasy talent.
11. Otto Lopez, SS, 21 years old
Lopez is a prospect on the rise as a 21-year-old in the Midwest League last season. His skill set isn’t sexy but it’s intriguing from a fantasy standpoint and there’s an opened up path for him to be a valuable major leaguer for the Blue Jays.
Similar to another prospect on this list, Lopez owns a potential 70-grade run tool with strong contact skills from the right side of the plate. He doesn’t hit for power and may never do so, but his goal is to simply make contact with the baseball and allow his speed to take over. That speed translates to the basepaths well and helped Lopez swiped 20 bases in 2019, a number that is a relatively safe floor for him in that regard.
Lopez is a shortstop by trade but is a versatile defender that can shift around the diamond if needed and has even played some outfield, too. That defensive versatility paired with his speed and contact skills gives Lopez a relatively safe floor as Toronto’s potential utility-man of the future.
12. Alejandro Kirk, C, 21 years old
Kirk is the perfect definition of a fantasy prospect because he mashes at the plate but offers little-to-no defensive value. He’s a short, stout 5-foot-9, 220-pound backstop that won’t stick behind the plate long-term and will either be a DH or first base only type.
The one thing that puts Kirk on the prospect radar is his elite offensive skill set. He’s potentially a 60-grade prospect offensively, showing advanced recognition of the strike zone and walking nearly five percent more than he struck out–and owning a swinging strike rate of just 5.3%. There’s some raw pull-side power in his swing that hasn’t quite translated into game power yet, but he’s certainly capable of adding that in-game element rather quickly as he continues to develop.
Kirk may struggle to find a spot at the big league level because of his below-average defense. His bat will play, however, and being a prospect in an American League organization plays into his favor. This is someone worth taking a shot on purely based on his offensive profile.
13. Eric Pardinho, RHP, 19 years old
A pitching prospect in this system who isn’t 6-foot-5, Pardinho is quite the opposite of his organizational teammates. He’s a wiry 5-foot-10, 155-pound athlete with twitchy, proportional strength throughout his body.
Pardinho hails from Brazil and was somewhat of a highly regarded pitching prospect when the Blue Jays signed him back in 2017. He’s seen an uptick in velocity since joining the professional ranks, sitting in the mid 90’s with his fastball that shows late life into the zone at times. Pardinho’s best pitch is his curveball, a potential plus offering that could blossom into a swing-and-miss pitch as he continues to develop. He also throws both a slider and changeup, the latter of the two being the more advanced pitch and showing flashes of being at least an average pitch.
Unfortunately, Pardinho suffered an elbow injury this spring and will miss the entire 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. I do have some concerns about his delivery as a whole, as it’s somewhat methodical and there is a pause in his motion before accelerating towards the plate. Some pitchers can get away with this because they’re exceptional athletes, but pausing your momentum and suddenly starting it back up again puts a lot of stress on an elbow ligament if it’s not consistently done right. It’s best to stay away from Pardinho for now despite there still being upside in this 19-year-old kid.
14. Leonardo Jimenez, MIF, 18 years old
Jimenez signed with the Blue Jays for $825,000 out of Panama back in 2017. He’s a fairly simple prospect to project, as there’s not much power to his game and it’s a tool that will likely be below-average at best once he’s filled out his lean 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame.
Jimenez owns strong control for his bat at the plate and his bat travels on a level plane, spraying line drives to all fields. There are some high swing-and-miss metrics attached to Jimenez right now, but remember that he’s an 18-year-old that is still developing his game. Expect those numbers to come down as he takes that next step in his progression and for the contact numbers to improve.
His glove will likely keep him up the middle somewhere moving forward, with second base being the most likely final destination. He hasn’t played above rookie ball since making his way stateside and you’re better off waiting to see how he performs before adding him to your dynasty stash.
15. Griffin Conine, OF, 22 years old
Toronto selected Conine as a second-round pick back in 2018 out of Duke after he burst onto the draft scene following an impressive Cape Cod League performance before his draft season.
Conine boasts a strong, athletic 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame that helps him tap into some prodigious raw power from the left-handed batter’s box. His game revolves around hitting for power, launching 21 home runs with a .566 slugging percentage, and an estimated fly ball distance of 320 feet last season.
Unfortunately for him, that uphill path meant for elevation typically leads to high strikeout numbers, which have plagued Conine since he entered the professional ranks. You can pencil him in for at least 15-20 home runs, if not more, each season, but there just isn’t much in his contact skills that suggest he won’t strike out at more than a 30% clip.
16. Dasan Brown, OF, 18 years old
An impressive athlete with raw baseball skills, Brown has legit 80-grade speed that allows him to impact the game in multiple facets, including on the basepaths and in the outfield defensively. From a pure baseball standpoint, Brown is extremely raw at the plate and needs several refinements in his swing for him to consistently make contact at the higher levels. His elite athleticism makes him capable of doing so, but it’ll ultimately come down to Brown being able to put it all together.
17. Chavez Young, OF, 22 years old
Young is a rare example of a high school signee that was a late-round draft pick signing with his team. He signed for $200,000 as a 39th round pick a few years ago, as a toolsy switch-hitting outfielder with athleticism and upside in his game.
Similarly to the aforementioned Brown, Young needs to improve his offensive game in almost every aspect. He has bat speed and twitchiness at the dish, but Young strikes out too much, and there just isn’t much power in his swing right now. He does have stolen base upside, swiping 24 bags last season, but that won’t be as effective unless Young can significantly increase his on-base percentage.
18. Will Robertson, OF, 22 years old
If there’s one prospect towards the back-end of this list that can shoot up lists shortly, Robertson has to be that guy. A left-handed 6-foot-2, 215-pound outfielder, Robertson was a second-round pick by the Blue Jays after a strong college career at Creighton.
He earned Northwest League All-Star honors last season after slashing .267/.365/.403 with eight home runs. Robertson has an innate feel for the zone and doesn’t strikeout or swing-and-miss much, possessing a rather impressive hit tool as well. There’s raw power in his athletic frame and he does a solid job of generating loft through contact. Once that power starts to translate into games, Robertson could potentially start mashing baseballs left and right with his hit tool.
We’re playing the “wait-and-see” game with Robertson right now and are in an unfortunate stalemate because of the delay. He is only worth a shot in deep dynasty leagues as a late-round flier and you’re bought into him tapping into that mouth-watering power potential.
19. Ryan Noda, 1B/OF, 24 years old
Noda started his professional career on somewhat of a tear, cruising through the first two levels of the minor leagues before reaching High-A last season. He strung together a disappointing 2019 season, however, and that caused him to drop down most prospect lists. Still, Noda is an interesting left-handed 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman. He’s got plus power in that physical frame but Noda’s bat path travels on a flat plane through the zone instead of taking an uphill route to elevate the baseball. That, paired with his inability to repeat his swing consistently, is the main reason why Noda’s power didn’t translate much into games last season.
For someone who owns a career on-base percentage of .422, Noda strikes out way too much for me to comfortably project that he’ll continue to do so at such a high level moving forward. A career strikeout rate of 33.4% just isn’t going to do it, especially for someone that hasn’t even reached Double-A yet. There’s some interest in what Noda can be if he figures it out, but it’s not worth taking a flier on him right now.
20. Kevin Smith, 3B, 23 years old
It’s become increasingly evident that Smith’s breakout 2018 season was nothing more than a fluke. He struck out at an enormously high rate last season in Double-A, didn’t walk nearly enough, and looked completely over-matched despite being a 23-year-old at that level. His inability to hit spin in an era where pitchers are increasingly throwing more breaking balls is the biggest negative for me. This ship has sailed and it’s time to move on.