The Arizona Fall League got under way yesterday with a couple of Toronto Blue Jays prospects contributing in a 10-8 loss by their Surprise Saguaros to the Salt River Rafters. Seven Blue Jay prospects have joined the Saguaros and will get a chance to get some extra action in before being able to take a break this offseason.
The biggest name among the Blue Jays’ Saguaros is, of course, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The minor league batting champ in 2018, he has already started off his AFL season by doing Vladdy things, going 3/5 with two doubles and three RBI. You can expect more of the same as the Blue Jays try to give him some more ABs to make up for the month or so he lost due to a knee injury. Incidentally, Guerrero was pinch-run for late in the game by former Blue Jays’ minor leaguer Lane Thomas.
Also seeing some action in the AFL debut was Cavan Biggio who was 1/4 with an RBI, a stolen base, a sac fly and a run while playing right field. The Blue Jays have said that they want Biggio to be a “super-utility” player and are looking for him to get more experience in the outfield after playing second base, third base and first base in New Hampshire. I can see Biggio having a decent fall campaign but I can also see him striking out quite a bit and hitting in the .230-.260 range with a couple of home runs.
The Blue Jays have also sent infielder Santiago Espinal who came over to the Blue Jays from the Red Sox in the trade that sent Steve Pearce away. Espinal hit .313/.363/.477 in 256 at bats in Advanced-A with the Red Sox and while those numbers dropped in Dunedin, he hit for a better average and OBP (.286/.354) in New Hampshire with a lower slugging percentage (.395). Still, Espinal is a solid middle-infield prospect and giving him a few more looks will be important but the Jays still have another year before they need to make a decision about him being protected from the Rule 5 Draft.
The most electric pitcher in the Blue Jays’ contingent is Nate Pearson. The 2017 first-round pick is a fireballer who lost almost the entire 2018 season after starting late with an oblique injury and getting his elbow broken by a line drive in his first start. Pearson features a fastball that sits in the high 90s and can touch 101 or 102 mph and will be working on developing his offspeed pitches while in Arizona.
Righty Jackson McClelland has emerged as one of the Blue Jays’ minor league relievers with the best arms in the past two years. Hitting 101 mph on the radar gun, McClelland pitched in Dunedin and New Hampshire this year with some mixed results. When he was on, he was untouchable as his 48 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings in Dunedin can attest but he also had a 4.10 ERA in Dunedin and was touched for four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings with five walks and nine strikeouts in New Hampshire. McClelland is among the pitchers on the precipice of being selected in the Rule 5 draft if not protected this offseason and the Jays are going to be looking hard at what he does in the AFL leading up to the November roster deadline.
Another Jackson, Zach Jackson, is also getting looks in the AFL. Zach is a 23-year-old righty who had a strong season in New Hampshire with a 2.47 ERA and 1.29 WHIP but walked 51 batters (to go with 75 strikeouts) in 62 innings. While he was able to limit the damage of his walks (particularly by giving up only 29 hits), I’m sure the Blue Jays are hoping that the AFL experience helps him find a little more command.
New York State native Shawn Morimando is probably the most under-the-radar player among the Blue Jays’ AFL contingent. Signed as a free agent in July after he was released by Cleveland, the 25-year-old righty was a 19th-round pick by the Indians in 2011 out of high school and has shown a lot of promise up until 2017. He only pitched in four games for the Bisons (after four games for the GCL Blue Jays) after recovering from an injury, posting a 4.50 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, walking only two batters in 20 innings with 11 strikeouts in Buffalo. He’s a wild card for being protected on the 40-man roster this offseason and while the Blue Jays hope to get a good look at what he can do with Surprise, the other 29 teams are also going to see what he can do too.
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