In putting together a top prospects list, invariably there’s some buyer’s remorse, and more than a few tweets or comments about who was left off – rest assured that the 11-20 list went through several drafts before it was published.
As anyone who has ever coached a team can tell you, when you’re selecting players at a tryout, depending on the sport, there is a percentile of players that stand out right away. And there are some you know just aren’t going to make it. The biggest group of players tends to be in between those two, and often there isn’t a lot of difference between them. Maybe their skills sets are different, but their overall potential and ability to help the team are not, on balance.
Here are five players who were fringe candidates for the Top 20. All are on an upward trajectory, but their tools don’t project as elite. Still, if they continue to develop at the pace they did this year, it’s reasonable to expect one or more could break through to the Top 20 next year.
1. Chavez Young, OF
The toolsy Bahamian had a breakout summer in his first crack at full season ball with Lansing, and was the only minor leaguer to combine 50+ extra base hits with 40+ stolen bases. Young can play all three OF positions, has a patient approach at the plate, and makes thing happen on the bases.
Despite that, Young is not considered a top prospect. His best tool is considered to be his speed, and even though he’s a switch-hitter, his bat is not considered elite. It’s interesting that he didn’t appear on Baseball America‘s Top 20 Midwest League prospects despite a decent .285/.363/.444 line, nor was he moved up to Dunedin during the season. Reports suggest he’s already tapped into his power, and 8 HRs will not get you far in the long run. Still, there is some sleeper potential with Young, but we won’t get a true read on him until he plays at a higher level.
2. Jordan Romano, SP
We always want to see someone who grew up a short distance from the Rogers Centre do well. Especially when it’s someone as personable and available as Romano, who Future Blue Jays has kept close tabs on for several seasons.
Romano came out like a house on fire this season, winning his first eight decisions, and was named the Eastern Division starter in the Eastern League All-Star game. He was also named a post-season EL All-Star, and was near the top of many Pitching stats. Over the past three seasons, he’s missed a lot of bats, totalling 338 Ks over that span.
Romano’s post ASG numbers were not as glittering as his pre ones were. He gave up more contact, and EL hitters batted .292 against him over that span. Romano has worked diligently to develop a change up to complement his 93-94 fastball and slider, but he hasn’t fully learned the many nuances of it yet.
Interestingly, in his one-inning All Star game outing, Romano dialled his fastball up to 98, sitting 94-97. If he isn’t added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster this month, there’s a good chance a team will take a chance on him in the Rule 5 draft and move him to the bullpen.
3. Alejandro Kirk, C/1B
There’s a lot to like about a guy with roughly the same dimensions as an oversized fire hydrant. In his first year of play in the system (he was a late 2016 sign, but in his first GCL AB last year re-injured a hand he had originally hurt in an off-season car accident), he slashed a ridiculous .354/.443/.558.
The issue with Kirk is that he’s a bat-first player. At 5’9″/220, he has no real position except behind the plate, where reports say he was at least adequate in an emergency role.
We need to see more of Kirk at higher levels, but we suspect it might be fun to watch his plate appearances.
4. Zach Jackson, RP
Owner of a funky, over-the-top delivery, Jackson is very tough on right handed hitters, who managed only a .108 batting average against him in AA this year.
Jackson has fanned better than a batter per inning since being drafted in 2016, and struck out 10.9/9 in 2018. Control problems have plagued him, however, as he walked 7.4/9 this past year.
Jackson has a long reach in the back during his delivery, which makes it very difficult for him to achieve a consistent release point. His fastball sits 93-94, and is paired with a 12-6 hammer of a curve.
When he was drafted, there was some thought that Jackson could move quickly. Command issues have dictated otherwise, but there’s a live arm there.
5. Cal Stevenson OF
Forget for a moment Stevenson’s video game numbers (.359/.494/.518) for Bluefield in the Appy League. He’s a guy whose tools (except for his speed) grade out as average across the board.
So, why is he even in a top prospect conversation?
Maybe it’s his ability to work the count and get on base. Or perhaps it’s because he’s one of those heart and soul guys whose approach and work ethic might help him to outperform his projections. Or maybe even it’s because of his high baseball IQ, which is evident in just about every aspect of his game.
The odds against Stevenson are long, but it will be fun to watch him in full season next year.