If the Blue Jays want to turn around their plunge near the bottom of the standings that they had in 2019, narrowly avoiding a 100-loss season (finishing 67-95), they’re going to need some help. Not all of it is going to come from outside the organization. Not only has the Blue Jays’ front office shown themselves to be reticent to spend money on bigger-name free agents who can have an immediate impact on the long-term fortunes of the club on the field, but their trades have been somewhat suspect recently, focusing on adding prospects or “buy-low” players who only might turn things around and contribute to the major leagues (I’m looking at you, Derek Fisher).
So the big question that we will ask in today’s post is whether there is someone in the Blue Jays’ minor league system who can come up and contribute to the major league team in a way that adds tangible value to the major league team. Is such a sleeper in the organization already and if so, who is he?
I’m going to confine my study to players who finished 2019 at the Advanced-A level in Dunedin or higher. Why? Because, while some players may come from this level to reach the major leagues by next September, the impact that such a player will have is minimal, being confined to the last month of the season. The fact is that 2020 might not be the year for many of these guys. The Blue Jays already have a slew of Triple-A/Quadruple-A pitchers on the cusp of trying to win a big league job including Trent Thornton, Ryan Borucki, Jacob Waguespack, Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch and Yennsy Diaz. With the Jays expected to sign at least one starting pitcher and with Matt Shoemaker expected to return, the Jays project to go at least nine or 10 deep coming out of spring training and that’s just with the guys currently in the system and one free agent addition. I’m not even counting Nate Pearson, Patrick Murphy or Julian Merryweather who are no longer really sleepers and Pearson is expected to make the big club by the All-Star Break or so. With Merryweather, a lot is going to depend on his health and whether the Jays want to keep him in a starter’s role or move him into the bullpen. So let’s say we have 11-12 pitchers who we’re already talking about who will probably carry the bulk of the load in 2020 but who might be coming after that?
I’m going to start with Joey Murray. In fact, I tagged Murray to be my sleeper pitching prospect to watch on the Lansing Lugnuts last year. Climbing through Dunedin to New Hampshire, Murray doesn’t throw hard but has a solid secondary pitch to go with his high-spin-rate fastball that has proven to be tough to hit. He’s maintained high strikeout rates (28.3% was his lowest at any level last year) while keeping walk rates reasonable (9.8% was the highest in 2019) despite his quick rise through three levels of the minor leagues, proving that even better and more experienced hitters have trouble with him. With a strong start in New Hampshire, he could be in Buffalo by June and Toronto by August if everything goes well. That said, he’ll need to be outstanding and the Blue Jays’ pitching staff will probably have to completely implode for him to get the chance to make a big impact in 2020. Maybe it’s more like 2021 is the year for Murray.
Flying way under the radar is Thomas Hatch who spent all year in Double-A, repeating the level and finding some success with New Hampshire after he was traded to the Jays’ organization. While his stuff doesn’t scream “tools,” he put together six excellent starts for New Hampshire, with a 2.80 ERA and 0.76 WHIP over 35 1/3 innings. He walked only two batters out of 128 faced while striking out 34, improving drastically over his work with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in Tennessee. I am a little concerned over his home run rate (1.3 HR/9) in NH, as that number can explode a bit in Triple-A as they’re using the MLB baseballs. But if Hatch can show the improved control while keeping the home runs in check, he could be in Toronto by mid-season, again if many of the prospects ahead of him on the depth chart falter.
Zach Logue, the lefty, didn’t have the best 2019 after really having a great year in 2018. Logue spent most of the year in Double-A and made one outing in Buffalo. I’m a little concerned with his falling strikeout rate (18.6%) but he kept his walk rate reasonable (7.5%) in his Double-A debut. Logue has some decent velocity and good offspeed pitches but I think the kicker for him will be consistency and health.
Maximo Castillo is only 20 but he’s already got two full seasons of A-ball under his belt. He had a very strong 2019 in Dunedin and has a big, durable build. and He could definitely split 2020 between New Hampshire and Buffalo if things go well for him and there’s room in Buffalo. He’s improved his strikeout rate and walk rate in 2019 at a higher level (21.8% K% and 5.4% BB%) and his velo has improved as he’s gotten older and stronger, giving him a real shot. Not many people are talking about him, but I’m gonna say that he could very well surprise people in 2021.
I’d say that Josh Winckowski is slightly behind Castillo’s development, mainly because he only spent a half season in Dunedin after starting in Lansing. He dominated in Lansing and pitched very well in Dunedin but I think he’ll start 2020 back in Dunedin. The 21-year-old righty has mid-90s velocity and is working to develop his command and consistency as he develops. Look to late 2021 if everything goes well.
Simeon Woods Richardson, acquired by the Jays for Marcus Stroman, is in a similar position as Winckowski but is three years younger, meaning that there will be no reason to rush him to Toronto. He finished 2019 as the youngest pitcher in the Florida State League at 18 and handled himself very well, with a 27.1% strikeout rate and 6.5% walk rate in six starts and 28 1/3 innings. He’ll need to log more time in Dunedin in 2020 but could reach Double-A next year and the majors as early as September 2021.
Who do you think is a sleeper for 2020, 2021 and beyond?
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