John Sickels released his 2017 Top Prospect list for the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on his list. I’ll confess here that Sickels is one of the prospect writers with whom I agree the most, mainly because I tend to be anti-hype about younger prospects and reserve my judgement until they can prove themselves to more than just a set of tools. Baseball IQ and other skills that take time to develop generally weigh heavier in my assessment of players. That said, it’s hard to argue with this year’s #1 player who has loud tools but also a maturity that belies his age.
I heartily recommend you follow the link above to read through Sickels’s list first as well as his explanation. I like his grading system and he is very stingy on the “A” grade. Last year, Anthony Alford was the Jays’ #1 prospect with a B/B+ grade.
After a tremendous debut at the age of 17 in the Appalachian League, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is the Jays’ consensus #1 prospect and Sickels thinks no differently. Guerrero is the first of three Blue Jays to get a B+ grade, signalling that the players who were already known in the system are looking more and more like solid major league contributors. I really have no qualms with ranking Guerrero at the top. Despite his being several years away from the major leagues, he has only shown me (and all the scouts I’ve spoken to) that he’s a special player with an extremely high chance of making it all the way to The Show and being an excellent player there.
In the #2 and #3 slots you find Sean Reid-Foley and Richard Urena. If I had to rank these two, I would probably do it just like Sickels has. From what I saw from Reid-Foley last year, he’s figured a lot of things out and his plus fastball is being complemented very well by his offspeed pitches. Urena, for me, still needs to show that he can be more patient at the plate. He suffers a bit from “Dawel Lugo Disease” meaning that he has such good hand-eye coordination and can make contact with just about anything that he doesn’t lay off pitches out of the zone. This hurts his walk rate and on-base percentage and causes him to hit “pitchers’ pitches” more than “hitters’ pitches.”
At #4-#6 are the B grades of Lourdes Gurriel, Anthony Alford and Rowdy Tellez. Of the three, he remarks that Tellez is the closest to the majors despite being younger. His bat is probably going to be the best of the three, since Gurriel is such a wildcard at the moment and Alford still has yet to play in Double-A.
The next two are Jon Harris and T.J. Zeuch. These two are both late first round college arms and neither was particularly dominant in his first year. Zeuch has the bigger arm (and bigger body) but Sickels believes that both will be “fine inning-eating starter[s].” In this case, I think that Harris is more polished after a very strong season last year, particularly in Lansing and, as such, he deserves his higher placement on this list.
Falling to #9 is Conner Greene who heads the list of B-/C+ grades. With more velocity than either Harris or Zeuch, Greene hasn’t been able to find his consistency at the higher minor leagues and, for him, the development will be about command and offspeed pitches.
Greene is followed by Justin Maese and Bo Bichette, both of whom are young, interesting players. Bichette was outstanding in his professional debut but there are concerns about his hitting mechanics which leave people wondering if he’ll be able to adjust at higher levels. Maese is less sexy but he has an ability to throw strikes and uses his sinking fastball to get ground balls.
The next batch include Angel Perdomo, who stuck out a ton of batters last year, J.B. Woodman who had a very strong first season after being drafted, Max Pentecost, who still hasn’t been able to play defensively and Josh Palacios, another recently drafted outfielder who had a great opening season.
While players like Perdomo, Woodman and Palacios are up and coming, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez have had their stock fall over the years and were traded to the Blue Jays in the Francisco Liriano deal. There’s talk about the Blue Jays looking at McGuire for the backup catcher role in the big leagues while Ramirez was injured most of the time he was in the Blue Jays’ system last year.
A trio of pitchers make up the back end of the list with Ryan Borucki (recently added to the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster), Francisco Rios and Zach Jackson coming in at #18-20. Of the three, I like Borucki’s potential to move quickly in 2017. The lefty really rebounded after a rough start to the year and if he can remain healthy (an issue throughout his career), could move quickly. Rios’s wart is that his secondary pitches still need to improve while Jackson could be the real sleeper with a good arsenal for a bullpen pitcher, and he could start 2017 in Dunedin and then hit Double-A by the end of the year.
There are no real surprises to me in this list. I’m a bit curious to see how other writers rate Gurriel. He’s very much an unknown and we’ll see how he performs this year but I’ve read a number of different takes about his potential and readiness for the majors. I think the placement of Reid-Foley is a little higher than I’ve seen elsewhere but I think that 2016 was a breakout year for him and if he pitches like I’ve seen him pitch, he could easily justify this #2 ranking.
What do you think of Sickels’s list? Who do you have as #1? Is there someone you think is a dark horse?
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