The Toronto Blue Jays have quickly re-stocked their farm system to the point where it has to be considered at least a Top 10 system. The organization features twoo of the top hopefuls in all of MiLB in the form of Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, but the depth of the organization is more at the lower levels, and the system as a whole is at the point where its bolstering of the 25-man roster should begin at some point this year. Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro has spoken about the need for waves up prospects to continue to come up to challenge for big league jobs. We’re on the verge of seeing that start to happen.
Here are some highlights to watch for:
1. Top prospects begin to make their way to MLB
Anthony Alford had a brief taste of the bigs last May, until a broken wrist put him on the shelf. Fully healed and fresh off a dominant stint in the Mexican Winter League, Alford will be in competition for a big league job this spring. Roster moves between now and spring training may mean that Alford begins the season at AAA, but his ascension to an MLB job is just a matter of time.
Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire both have a chance to land the job of backing up incumbent Catcher Russell Martin. Jansen had a breakout year at the plate at three levels last year, while McGuire has perhaps a better skill set for a back up.
Reliever Carlos Ramirez rode a dominant minor league season and an upper 90s fastball in only his third season since converting to Pitching. A good September showing in the majors has put Ramirez on the cusp of breaking camp with the team this April. He may be a victim of a numbers game and start the year in AAA, but he doesn’t figure to be there long.
Starters Thomas Pannone and Ryan Borucki will be in competition for a fifth starter’s job come spring training as well, barring any roster additions. Buffalo is a more likely destination, but when starting rotation help is needed, one of these two will get the first call.
And while his stateside pro debut season was uneven, Lourdes Gurriel can potentially provide some value at several positions, and he likely will reach the majors at some point this season.
Vlad and Bo continue to climb
It will be interesting to see where the golden duo begin their seasons. The club has typically preferred to have prospects spend a season at each full season level, which could see one or both return to Dunedin until June.
Both players have slugged their way through the minors, but AA is where the wheat truly gets separated from the chaff. Both have the mindset and approach to handle the higher level Pitching.
Will both players continue at their present positions? It’s hard to see moves for either player at this point, at least on a full-time basis, but this may be the season that one or both makes a case for staying at their current infield spots.
Some bold evaluators have said that Vladdy Jr will be in the big leagues this summer, but that scenario seems unlikely. The future of the team and Josh Donaldson will have a lot to say about that. The more likely path for both is a starring Arizona Fall League role after the season, which should propel them into competition for a big league job in 2019.
Eric Pardinho’s Pro Debut
While no one should get too excited about a 16-year-old prospect, Pardinho is no ordinary 16 year old. Blue Jays Assistant GM could barely contain his enthusiasm over landing the top-ranked International Pitching prospect last July.
Pardinho has clean mechanics, elite stuff, and an advanced feel for Pitching that’s uncommon for someone of his age. We’ll have to wait until June for his debut (in the GCL, in all likelihood), but he should be well worth the wait.
The Next Wave
There is a solid group of prospects beyond Guerrero and Bichette, and a solid group of them should be at Dunedin to start the season.
Logan Warmoth, Nate Pearson, Yennsy Diaz, Joshua Palacios, Justin Maese, and Edward Olivares should make for a strong core for the co-defending Florida State League champs. This is a group that is still several years away, but there is big league potential in each and every one of them.
Lansing’s Lights Out Bullpen
Lugnuts fans deserve a contender. While development always trumps winning at the minor league level, Lansing has supported this Blue Jays affiliate in the heart of Tigers country well, even when the parent club hasn’t provided a great incentive to watch the team.
Success at the short season level with Vancouver has rarely translated into winning at Lansing, but this year may be the exception. Lansing’s 5.32 team ERA was last in the Midwest League by a considerable margin, but with arms like William Oullette, Brayden Bouchey, Travis Bergen, and Orlando Pascual likely to suit up for the Lugnuts in April, the bullpen should be one of the team’s strengths. C’s Manager Rich Miller leaned on his bullpen heavily during the Northwest League playoffs, and they responded, giving up only 3 earned runs over a cumulative 27 innings in bringing the title back to Vancouver.
Two Top Picks in June
The Blue Jays have two selections among the first 51 picks in next June’s draft. Given how quickly they’ve rebuilt the system in a short period of time, there is a good chance that another high-level player or two will be added. And with the Blue Jays linked to this year’s top IFA, Dominican SS Orelvis Martinez, the system will get even deeper in 2019.