Where Will the Top 20 Start?
First of Two Parts…..
Predicting minor league rosters is not for the faint of heart, so let’s take a look at where I think the Top 20 Blue Jays prospects (according to MLB Pipeline) will begin their 2023 seasons.
If you’re an mlb.com subscriber, no doubt you’ve heard that your subscription includes free access to milb.tv games. If you’ve never checked out a minor league stream before, you’re bound to be struck by the quality of the broadcasts, which, while having improved considerably over the last decade, vary wildly. The lower level leagues tend to have little offered in the way of video - only two Florida State League teams aired games last year, so if it’s some Dunedin Blue Jays content you’re hankering for, you’re going to find yourself wanting.
Anyway, on to the list - in reverse order. I’ll start with the guys from 11-20 today, then give you 1-10 on Sunday.
20 - C.J. Van Eyk, RHP
Remember CJ? The 2020 2nd rounder had an impressive draft scouting report, but struggled with his mechanics and his ability to throw his curveball (his best secondary) for strikes in the Northwest League in 2021. He missed a lot of bats (100 K/80 IP), but walked almost 4.5/9 as well.
Van Eyk was shut down in late August of his first pro season, and underwent Tommy John a month later. He didn’t pitch at all last season, and depending on his recovery, he likely will spend at least the first few weeks in A ball (probably in Dunedin, to be close to the rehab staff), but Van Eyk’s ultimate destination is New Hampshire’s rotation.
Van Eyk can dial it up to at least 97, but sits 91-94 with a lot of movement. We’ve kind of forgotten about him, but if he’s healthy and is mechanically sound, Van Eyk could elbow his way back into the picture this season.
19 - Tanner Morris, UT
Morris hit well (.898 OPS) for New Hampshire last season, earning a promotion to Buffalo, where he struggled against the advanced pitching.
Not a five tool guy (to be honest, he wouldn’t be in my Top 20, but Pipeline sees something there), Morris gets high marks for his versatility (2B/SS/3B) and baseball IQ. A return to Buffalo will be his 2023 starting assignment.
18 - Otto Lopez UT
Lopez will get a chance to show his skills to Blue Jays fans when he suits up for Canada at the WBC next month.
A longshot to make Toronto’s Opening Day roster, Lopez has some value nonetheless as an up-the-middle guy who can make contact and get on base. He might be best suited to 2nd, but I was impressed with his reads as a CF with Buffalo last season. Lopez will be a Bison once again come April.
17 - Leo Jimenez SS
Placed on the 40 man in November of 2021, the Blue Jays knew last season was going to be a developmental year for Jimenez. And over the course of about six weeks last season, he was as good as any position player in the system on both sides of the ball.
He’s perhaps not the leadoff, sparkplug kind of guy Andrew Tinnish envisioned when the Blue Jays signed him, but he’s probably the most solid (if not flashy) defensive infield prospect in the organization.
But for the second season in a row, injuries limited Jimenez’ development. He appeared in only 69 contests for Vancouver last season. At the same time, Jimenez will turn 22 in May, and he’s spent this off-season in Dunedin, training with the development staff since October. There is still time for a breakout; maybe it will happen at New Hampshire this season.
16 - Alex DeJesus 3B/SS
DeJesus, who came over in the Mitch White deal with the Dodgers, was one of the top-ranked 3B prospects in the 2018 IFA class. Moved to SS as a pro, DeJesus was having a decent season in the LA organization prior to the trade, but struggled (.631 OPS, 35% K rate) with Vancouver.
Given his age (DeJesus turns 21 next month) and the guys ahead of him, a return to Vancouver for at least the first half of the season seems reasonable.
15 - Adrian Pinto 2B/SS
Pinto came to the organization in the Grichuk-for-Tapia deal prior to last season, and to be honest, his acquisition looked like something of a steal for Toronto.
The Altuve-sized Pinto is what Keith Law terms a “fun-sized player.” The Blue Jays thought enough of his strike zone judgment to skip him over the Complex League to start his stateside career in the FSL last season.
Pinto gets on base, has sneaky pop, and can steal bases. Injuries ended his season in early July, but he slashed .242/.375/.363, with 18 swipes. Only 20, Pinto might benefit from a bit more time at Dunedin, but if he’s ready to go he should be in Vancouver’s Opening Day lineup.
14 - Addison Barger INF
It took several years for it to happen, but Barger busted out in a big way last season, posting a .933 OPS at three levels and earning a spot on the 40. He was the best everyday player in the system last year by a considerable margin.
As a lefty bat who has the arm strength to play the left side of the diamond, Barger probably won’t win a big league job this spring, but he may have Cavan Biggio looking over his shoulder. Barger struggled against advanced pitching in Arizona last fall, which may have been an indicator of fatigue and/or the need for a bit more seasoning at AAA. You can definitely pencil him in Buffalo’s lineup to start 2023.
13 - Spencer Horwitz 1B/OF
Horwitz joined Barger on the 40 last fall, and like Barger, should begin the year in AAA.
AA pitching was of little challenge (.930 OPS) to Horwitz last year, but he had his challenges with AAA hurlers. The issue for Horwitz is where to play him on a big league diamond. With Brandon Belt backing up Vlad Jr at 1st, the OF would be where one would think he’ll get more minor league reps this season; Horwitz has only a handful of games in LF as a pro.
12 - Dahian Santos RHP
Santos caught a heavy dose of helium last year, and was the FSL’s Pitcher of the Month for May. Santos, owner of the best slider in the system, had his way with Florida hitters, but had his struggles in his NWL debut, failing to get out of the 1st inning. By his third start with the C’s, Santos had found his rhythm, fanning 10 in 5 innings, even though he was likely running on fumes at that point.
Santos won’t turn 20 until later this month, so it’s possible he gets a few more starts at High A before moving up, similar to the path Sem Robberse took last year. The Blue Jays would like to see the undersized Santos add a bit more weight, and a touch more velo. Scouts would like to see the development of a third pitch. Whether he starts or moves one day to the bullpen, Santos is one of the most exciting arms in the system.
11 - Cade Doughty 2B/3B
The Blue Jays took a look at the less than stellar crop of college players, and decided to focus on position players in the early rounds of the draft (after taking high schoolers with their first two picks). Professional hitter Doughty was among that group of players who air-lifted Dunedin to a playoff berth.
What I find interesting about Doughty is that scouting reports about him are peppered with the adjective “fringy”: fringy range, exit velo, and runner, and average tools. But all the guy appears to do is hit. Perhaps he doesn’t have one outstanding tool, and maybe in this brave new MiLB world Low A isn’t the best place to start college guys to get a handle on their potential, but Doughty has elite bat-to-ball skills, excellent plate coverage and strike zone judgement, as well as a great swing:
A half season of High A should be next on Doughty’s horizon. He’s probably best-suited to 2nd or a UT role in the long run, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of him this season.