As I wrote the other day, the Blue Jays are going to need some help to turn around their fortunes in 2020. And it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays will spend lavishly on high end free agents, which means no Gerrit Cole, or high-profile outfielder. So who is positioned to make an impact on the Toronto Blue Jays as a position player in the next couple of years coming up from the minor league system?
As far as position players go, some might say that the Jays are really well stocked at the major league level. They’ve got players under the age of 25 at ever position and uber-prospects Vladimir Guerrero and Bo Bichette holding down the left side of the infield (for now), neither of whom will be older than 22 next season. But everyone still has a lot to prove as most of the Jays’ hitters have very small major league sample sizes to flash on their resume. We’ll look at a few minor leaguers who may be able to usurp their current major-league counterparts’ jobs. A note: any player with major league experience will be omitted from this list. After all, we’re looking for sleepers deeper down in the organization.
Santiago Espinal, 24, was the return the Jays got for Steve Pearce and he made a big move last year, showing a little more with his bat in Double-A (.278/.343/.381) but really put up some big numbers in a 28-game audition in Buffalo, hitting .317/.360/.433. Still, a .793 OPS in a league where they saw unprecedented offensive numbers isn’t exactly encouraging. Espinal’s defensive versatility may also help him as he added 12 games in the outfield to 70 at second base and 33 at shortstop.
Forrest Wall, 23, is another guy the Jays got in a trade, coming over from the Colorado Rockies’ organization in 2018. Wall added a little more power, posting a .419 SLG with a .772 OPS in 2019 for the Fisher Cats. He had a taste of Triple-A with Buffalo and will likely start there in 2020 but his gap power was more prominent than his home run power (nine home runs and 27 doubles) and his speed only translated to 13 stolen bases in 21 tries. He’ll probably need to take another step before we can see him taking over an outfield role in Toronto with the crowded situation there of players who are probably around replacement level or slightly better.
Another outfielder, Josh Palacios, 23, had a very solid season for New Hamsphire despite missing some time due to injury. He actually posted a higher OPS than Wall, with a .787 OPS thanks to a higher OBP at .317. Palacios also showed more power than he had previously, hitting seven home runs and 18 doubles in just 341 plate appearances (after hitting 30 doubles and eight home runs in 562 plate appearances in Dunedin in 2018) and he stole 15 bases in 20 attempts. I might actually give Palacios the edge over Wall in the long run due to better plate discipline.
Catcher Riley Adams put together a solid season after a somewhat mediocre season in Dunedin in 2018. He hit .258/.349/.439 in New Hampshire, hitting 11 home runs and showing some power. While he slumped in June (.176/.256/.203), he recovered and had a strong August, hitting .280/.372/.560 with six of his 11 home runs in NH (and 14 on the season including three with Dunedin). While the Jays look set behind the plate with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, a little competition coming up from within isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
While he’s a little further away than Adams, catcher Alejandro Kirk, 20, had a monster 2019, absolutely dominating in Lansing for 21 games (with a .299/.427/.519 slash line) and putting up well-above-average numbers in Dunedin in 71 games there with a .288.395/.446 slash line. He started hitting for more power at the end of the season and he’s getting raves for his defense, throwing out 38% of potential base stealers in 2019 but he also has to work on managing his weight. With another promising catcher behind him (Gabriel Moreno, who spent 2019 in Lansing), Kirk has a lot of competition if he wants to crack the Jays’ lineup in the next couple of years but some in the Jays’ organization think he’s the real deal.
Outfielder/first-baseman Ryan Noda has an incredible eye at the plate but he also struck out a lot in 2019 despite putting up one of the best OPSs on the team at .70 with a .372 OBP and .418 slugging percentage, leading the team in home runs (13). That said, Noda has to take a big step before we can say he’s going to be a real prospect who can take away a job at the major league level.
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