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Toronto optimistic about youth, roster moves

Blue Jays select 18-year-old pitcher in Rule 5 Draft as Meetings conclude
MLB.com @gregorMLB

LAS VEGAS -- The Blue Jays remained pretty quiet at this year's Winter Meetings, and their week will be defined by those who left the organization as opposed to those who joined.

Toronto's biggest move of the week was parting ways with veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. After parts of four disappointing seasons with the Blue Jays -- save for some memorable postseason moments -- general manager Ross Atkins decided he was no longer worth having on the roster.

LAS VEGAS -- The Blue Jays remained pretty quiet at this year's Winter Meetings, and their week will be defined by those who left the organization as opposed to those who joined.

Toronto's biggest move of the week was parting ways with veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. After parts of four disappointing seasons with the Blue Jays -- save for some memorable postseason moments -- general manager Ross Atkins decided he was no longer worth having on the roster.

The Blue Jays decided to release Tulowitzki and the $38 million he has remaining over the next two years. That's a hefty bill with no chance of a return, but Atkins and his front office felt it was the appropriate move to make, as it clears room for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and the organization's younger players.

The other two notable departures this week were Jordan Romano and Travis Bergen, who left via the Rule 5 Draft. The additions for the Blue Jays will be put off until a later day, but make no mistake about it: This roster still has many holes that need to be filled before Opening Day.

Video: Chisholm on Tulowitzki and the Blue Jays parting ways

"It could be days, it could be weeks, but we certainly accompished what we set out to accompish while we were here," Atkins said when asked on the final day if he was any closer to making a move.

BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS

1. Starting pitching
The Blue Jays need at least one, and ideally two, starting pitchers. Atkins said he made progress in both trade and free-agent options for starters earlier this week, and it's possible there could be some movement there in the near future.

2. Relief pitching
Toronto needs another set-up man, a left-handed reliever and more depth, but this part of the roster might be put on the back burner until the rotation is taken care of. Expect the Blue Jays to hunt for bargains like they did a year ago when Seunghwan Oh, John Axford and Tyler Clippard were all signed late and to low-level deals.

3. Back-up shortstop
The departure of Tulowitzki creates a need for a back-up shortstop. The utility-infielder job likely belongs to Richard Urena, but the Blue Jays would be well served to add another option -- likely in the form of a Minor League deal -- to protect against injuries. That way, No. 2 prospect Bo Bichette won't be rushed to the big leagues if either Gurriel or Urena gets hurt.

Video: Mark Shapiro on Blue Jays' 2018 season, Vlad Jr.

RULE 5 DRAFT

Toronto picked right-hander Elvis Luciano from the Royals with the 10th overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft despite the fact that he is 18 years old and has never pitched above Rookie ball. The Blue Jays also lost a pair of promising pitchers, as Romano went to the White Sox and Bergen went to the Giants.

In the Minor League phase of the draft, the Blue Jays picked right-hander David Garner, who missed all of 2018 after testing positive for a banned recreational substance. The Giants then combed the Blue Jays organization for a second time by taking lefty Sam Moll in the second round.

Video: Atkins on selecting pitcher Luciano in Rule 5 Draft

GM'S BOTTOM LINE

"We have an incredible feel for the opportunities. At some point, either we'll have to push a little bit, or someone else will blink, and we'll start to move closer toward executing one of the deals, but we have a very good feel for our opportunities." -- Atkins

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays

In surprise move, Blue Jays take teen in Rule 5

Blue Jays confident in 18-year-old, who has never pitched above Rookie level
MLB.com @gregorMLB

LAS VEGAS -- The Blue Jays gained one prospect, but they lost two others as the annual Winter Meetings came to a close Thursday morning with an eventful Rule 5 Draft.

Toronto picked right-hander Elvis Luciano from the Royals with the 10th overall pick, despite the fact that he is 18 years old and has never pitched above Rookie ball. The Blue Jays also lost a pair of promising pitchers, as Jordan Romano went to the White Sox and Travis Bergen went to the Giants.

LAS VEGAS -- The Blue Jays gained one prospect, but they lost two others as the annual Winter Meetings came to a close Thursday morning with an eventful Rule 5 Draft.

Toronto picked right-hander Elvis Luciano from the Royals with the 10th overall pick, despite the fact that he is 18 years old and has never pitched above Rookie ball. The Blue Jays also lost a pair of promising pitchers, as Jordan Romano went to the White Sox and Travis Bergen went to the Giants.

The Blue Jays will pay the Royals $100,000 for Luciano, and he must remain on Toronto's 25-man roster for the entire 2019 season, or else he'll be offered back to Kansas City for $50,000. That might seem like a stretch for a guy who has never pitched a full professional season, but the Blue Jays have gone with a high-risk, high-reward approach.

"Elvis is an exciting young arm that we've done a lot of work on and feel that any time you can acquire someone who has the chance to be a Major League starting pitcher, or a significant chance to be that, based on our projections, based on our scout looks," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said.

"The work that we did on him, these types of attributes are hard to acquire. The age, there are pluses and minuses to that. The pluses are the upside, the very high ceiling. The minuses are the risk and the unknown in how little he has pitched."

Luciano was available in this year's draft because of an odd loophole. Atkins didn't get into many specifics, but he said that Luciano's contract was voided earlier in his career because of a health issue. The Blue Jays did not disclose what the issue was, but it made Luciano available a lot sooner than other Rule 5 candidates.

The issue here is that Luciano doesn't even turn 19 until after the start of Spring Training. If he cracks the Opening Day roster, he would become the youngest pitcher in franchise history. In most cases, there would be concern that rushing this type of pitcher to the big leagues would cause serious damage to his overall development, but the Blue Jays seem to think that he is up for the challenge.

When the Blue Jays announced the pick, there was some initial speculation that a side deal might be in the works to keep Luciano in Toronto's system without having to place him on the 25-man roster. That does not appear to be the case.

"We wouldn't have taken him if we didn't think he had the stuff to [pitch in the Majors right away]," Atkins said.

"The stuff projects very well objectively and subjectively, so it will be a good opportunity for him. Our hope is that he is facing Aaron Judge and facing some of the better hitters in the game, and what an incredible challenge that will be. And we'd love to see that happen."

Romano was ranked Toronto's No. 28 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He spent most of last season with Double-A New Hampshire, where the 25-year-old went 11-8 with a 4.13 ERA over 137 1/3 innings. Romano projects as a starter long term, but the White Sox will likely slot him into the bullpen as a possible long reliever, similar to what the Blue Jays did with Joe Biagini in 2016.

Bergen wasn't ranked on Toronto's list of top prospects, but he was certainly trending in that direction. The 25-year-old lefty split last season with Class A Advanced Dunedin and New Hampshire, and he allowed just 12 runs (six earned) over 56 2/3 innings. The product of Kennesaw State likely will compete for a job out of the Giants' bullpen as a lefty reliever, which is something the Blue Jays severely lack.

"Not surprised," Atkins said. "Jordan cleared last year through the Draft. I think with Travis Bergen, the year that he had, from a performance standpoint, both guys are exceptional teammates, exceptionally hardworking, and teams did a great job in scouting them.

"We do a lot of second-, third- and fourth-guessing before we get to today. We were aware of the risks not protecting and ultimately prepared for that."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays eyeing starters via trade, free agency

Toronto has offers on table amid uncertainty in rotation
MLB.com @gregorMLB

LAS VEGAS -- The market for starting pitchers gained more clarity on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, and while the Blue Jays were not involved in any of the transactions, the club does have some standing offers on the table.

J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, Lance Lynn and Tanner Roark were among the starters who were reportedly either traded or signed new deals in Las Vegas. The Blue Jays remained inactive in official transactions, but they are in the market for a couple of starters, and behind-the-scenes conversations have continued.

LAS VEGAS -- The market for starting pitchers gained more clarity on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, and while the Blue Jays were not involved in any of the transactions, the club does have some standing offers on the table.

J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, Lance Lynn and Tanner Roark were among the starters who were reportedly either traded or signed new deals in Las Vegas. The Blue Jays remained inactive in official transactions, but they are in the market for a couple of starters, and behind-the-scenes conversations have continued.

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins said he has options for both free agency and trades, and while he didn't want to commit to one avenue over the other, it does sound like the Blue Jays might be getting closer to getting something done. It's just not there quite yet.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

"I'd say it's split," Atkins said when asked about free agency vs. trades to find a starter. "Today, literally, we have made progress in both of those areas. ... We definitely made progress today. We have offers out. There could be yes's and no's coming. There could be a negotiation that starts to move in a direction, and it also could all just go away or just hit pause."

Veteran left-hander Dallas Keuchel remains the top starter available through free agency, but despite some previous rumors to the contrary, Toronto is not a realistic landing spot. The Blue Jays are instead expected to target a secondary tier of starters where some value can be found on short-term deals.

Video: Possible landing spots for Yusei Kikuchi

Japan's Yusei Kikuchi, the non-tendered Shelby Miller, Mike Fiers and Trevor Cahill are some of the starters who fall into that category, while former Blue Jays prospect Kendall Graveman, who underwent Tommy John surgery midway through last season, represents a longer-term play.

Toronto's rotation currently includes Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Borucki with a lot of uncertainty, but a decent amount of depth, behind them. Trent Thornton, Julian Merryweather, Sam Gaviglio, Thomas Pannone and Sean Reid-Foley are among those who could compete for a job, so the club won't be pressured into any deals, but at least an arm or two is expected.

Video: Chisholm on if Blue Jays would move Sanchez, Stroman

"I feel like we have such a good starting point with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, traded for Trent Thornton, having a really good Triple-A rotation, there is enough pitching there that we feel like we would be able to add depth," Atkins said.

Change of plans in the Rule 5
The Blue Jays initially were not expected to make a selection in this week's Rule 5 Draft but Atkins' stance appears to have changed in recent days. Toronto, which currently has two open spots on its 40-man roster following the release of Troy Tulowitzki, is now expected to make a selection.

Toronto also faces the strong likelihood of losing someone in the Rule 5 for the first time since 2011. The Blue Jays were forced to leave a large number of Rule 5 eligible players exposed, and names such as outfielder Forrest Wall, right-hander Jordan Romano and left-hander Travis Bergen might generate some interest.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Atkins conceded. "In protecting Jacob Waguespack, felt like that was mitigating that [risk] somewhat, but there are several other players that we really struggled to not protect I would imagine some other teams would have some interest in."

The four-man outfield
The Blue Jays will be using a lot of different on-field strategies next season compared to the tactics previously used by former manager John Gibbons. New manager Charlie Montoyo suggested on Tuesday that his club might occasionally use the "opener" strategy of having a reliever start games. The following day, Atkins suggested the Blue Jays will be a lot more aggressive with shifts, including the use of a four-man outfield.

Video: Montoyo talks ties to Puerto Rico, managerial style

The Twins were among the teams to use a three-man infield and four-man outfield when Justin Smoak was batting for Toronto. The Blue Jays are likely to follow suit in isolated situations with pull-heavy hitters.

"There will be an increase and uptick in that," Atkins said. "John Gibbons was very traditional and was slower to move to that type of innovation. Not to say that he wouldn't, but I think Charlie's experience with it being successful, having already had that, he will be more apt to try things that are perceived as different."

Quotable
"Each quarter, each year and each season is going to be different for us. We haven't been working here for a long time, and we've had incredible support in the time that we have been here, it's only been positive, but it will only get better from year in and year out, and it will turn into increasing the term of our vision and increasing how far we are looking out in terms of payroll." -- Atkins, when asked if he had permission from ownership to save money from 2019 payroll and re-allocate it to '20 instead

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays decide to part ways with Tulowitzki

Shortstop, who missed 2018 due to injuries, faced uphill climb to crack infield
MLB.com @gregorMLB

LAS VEGAS -- Troy Tulowitzki's time with the Blue Jays officially came to an end, as the five-time All-Star was released on Tuesday morning with two years remaining on his contract.

The move came one day after general manager Ross Atkins met with Tulowitzki's representatives at the Winter Meetings. The 34-year-old shortstop is owed $34 million over the next two years of his deal, plus an additional $4 million buyout for 2021. Toronto remains on the hook for that full amount.

LAS VEGAS -- Troy Tulowitzki's time with the Blue Jays officially came to an end, as the five-time All-Star was released on Tuesday morning with two years remaining on his contract.

The move came one day after general manager Ross Atkins met with Tulowitzki's representatives at the Winter Meetings. The 34-year-old shortstop is owed $34 million over the next two years of his deal, plus an additional $4 million buyout for 2021. Toronto remains on the hook for that full amount.

The sudden release was somewhat surprising, but not entirely out of the blue, because it came less than a week after Atkins made some very candid comments about the veteran infielder. Atkins said Tulowitzki would have to "overachieve" to regularly play shortstop at an "above-average level."

Video: MLB Now talks Blue Jays releasing Tulo, his future

"Ultimately a tough decision for the Toronto Blue Jays that we had to make," Atkins said on Tuesday afternoon. "We feel like it's in the best interest of the organization, in the best interest of Troy -- fortunately, because of the professionalism and respectfulness of [agent] Paul Cohen and Troy Tulowitzki, we agreed upon that."

The decision to release Tulowitzki paves the way for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to become the everyday option at shortstop. Brandon Drury is expected to start the year at third, with Devon Travis at second and Justin Smoak at first. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., ranked as MLB's No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, should be ready to take over third by the end of April, while Richard Urena offers depth as a utility infielder.

Tweet from @MStrooo6: 2Lo is my dawg man. Super sad to see my brother go. He���s a winner. Unreal clubhouse presence. Always willing to help and mold young players. One of the best baseball minds I���ve ever been around. His career is far from over. See you soon my bro!

Tulowitzki, despite his past pedigree, did not fit into that roster alignment. Reports suggest his recent workouts in California have been going well, but the 12-year veteran hasn't played in a Major League game since July 28, 2017, because of ankle and foot injuries. Tulowitzki has every intention of playing in the Major Leagues next season, but it's a total guess as to whether it will actually happen.

Atkins sidestepped questions about exactly how the money owed to Tulowitzki will be handled by ownership group Rogers Communications. Toronto would not say whether the $38 million owed will be counted towards this year's payroll or if the ownership group would spread it out over several years.

Video: Charlie Montoyo on Tulowitzki being released

"I don't want to get into an accounting discussion, but that money is on our books," Atkins said.

Tulowitzki was acquired from the Rockies by former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos alongside veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins prior to the 2015 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Toronto sent Jose Reyes and prospects Miguel Castro, Jesus Tinoco and Jeff Hoffman to Colorado in a deal that led to mixed results for both sides.

When Tulowitzki arrived in Toronto, he had two National League Silver Slugger Awards, had been named to five All-Star teams, won two Gold Glove Awards, and was generally considered one of the top shortstops in the game. His numbers with the Blue Jays never lived up to the previous pedigree, as he finished with a .250/.313./.414 slash line and appeared in just 238 games for the ballclub over almost three and a half seasons.

Video: Must C Crushed: Tulo powers Toronto in must-win game

The one contribution fans and critics should not overlook, despite all of the injuries and struggles, was Tulowitzki's impact on a pair of teams that went to the postseason. Tulowitzki hit a crucial home run in Game 3 of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Rangers, and he drove in seven runs during the ensuing AL Championship Series against the Royals.

The postseason memories will not be forgotten any time soon, but ultimately this is not the way Toronto envisioned the tenure ending when the blockbuster trade was made a few years ago.

Video: Tulo's had some big hits in playoffs for Blue Jays

"It's certainly not the way anyone would plan it, write it up, or script it," Atkins said of the release. "Professional and respectful. That's what I think of when I think of Troy Tulowitzki. I think of the contributions he's made to the Toronto Blue Jays and the game.

"His passion for baseball is unmatched. His commitment to the organization was 100 percent the entire time he was here. It's not what anyone was hoping for, but ultimately professional and respectful."

Video: Duquette, Morris on Blue Jays releasing Tulowitzki

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Troy Tulowitzki

Montoyo isn't opposed to 'opener' strategy

New skipper wants 'good pitching' as Blue Jays eye rotation setup
MLB.com @gregorMLB

LAS VEGAS -- Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo has at least considered the possibility of bringing the "opener" strategy north of the border as the club looks to get more creative with in-game management next season.

Montoyo was the bench coach for a 2018 Rays team that helped the opener approach become mainstream. Teams used bullpen days plenty of times before, but Tampa Bay arguably was the first professional team to purposely use a so-called reliever in the first inning before turning things over to the starter.

LAS VEGAS -- Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo has at least considered the possibility of bringing the "opener" strategy north of the border as the club looks to get more creative with in-game management next season.

Montoyo was the bench coach for a 2018 Rays team that helped the opener approach become mainstream. Teams used bullpen days plenty of times before, but Tampa Bay arguably was the first professional team to purposely use a so-called reliever in the first inning before turning things over to the starter.

The thinking is that teams use a high-velocity reliever to face the top of the order. A "starter" is then brought into the game with the possibility of getting into the late innings without having to face the heart of the lineup a third time. Montoyo wouldn't say for sure that it's going to happen in Toronto, but he also spoke out in favor of the move.

Blue Jays decide to part ways with Tulowitzki

"If we had the right pitching to do it, it's going to work," Montoyo said on Tuesday during a media availability on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings. "If you don't have the right pitching -- at the end of the day, you've got to have good pitching. You can use the opener all you want, but if we have guys throwing 98 to open the game, that works pretty good."

Video: Charlie Montoyo on Blue Jays' offseason, acquisitions

The one thing the Blue Jays don't intend to do is purposely schedule bullpen days. They do not want to have one spot in the rotation that requires multiple innings from multiple relievers on a regular basis, and instead the club will focus on coming up with a traditional starting five.

The only debate within that starting five is whether all five will start the game in the first inning or whether some will be brought in a little bit later. Toronto currently projects to have Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Borucki in the rotation with a slew of arms in competition for the final two spots, and more additions likely on the way through free agency.

"We're planning on filling the rotation with guys who are starters and looking to build a pitching staff more in line with what fans are accustomed to," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "Having said that, the season could start, we could have one injury and that could completely change that, performance could completely change that. But we're going to look to acquire as many starters as we can."

Sleeping in
Blue Jays players might be able to look forward to getting a little bit more sleep during Spring Training because Montoyo is a major proponent of starting workouts later in the morning. In the past, Toronto's clubhouse opened at 8 a.m. during the spring and players often are there around 7 a.m.

Montoyo appears to favor pushing everything back by a couple of hours. The Rays have taken a similar approach in recent years as the club looked to maximize recovery time and ensure its players weren't overworked early in the season. Now, the Blue Jays might do the same.

"Spring Training is in construction now, so we've got only three fields," Montoyo said in reference to the renovations currently underway in Dunedin, Fla. "So we've got to deal with that. We'll start Spring Training later, later in the day, like 10:00 [a.m.], give the guys more sleep time."

Quotable
"I just want them to play the right way. If I have guys who have speed, I've got to make an adjustment to whatever team we get. From experience I know that if you get a team that hits three-run homers, I'm not going to be hitting and running. Seems like the team we've got, we could do both. That's pretty cool." -- Montoyo, when asked what style of play he would prefer to see from the Blue Jays

Worth noting
• Montoyo would not commit to a specific batting order next season and he suggested that process won't start until Spring Training, but the new skipper at least likes the potential of his young lineup, which is expected to be filled with young players.

"Yeah, I'm not there yet," Montoyo said when asked about his lineup. "But what this team reminds me a little bit of is Boston five years ago when Mookie Betts was there, and finished last, and look where they are now. So that's my hope, Boston, the team they have now, that all these kids become players like that. That's my hope, and I think that's what's going to happen."

Video: Montoyo excited by Guerrero Jr.'s potential

• The same stance was taken when it came to questions about where top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will hit in the lineup when he is eventually promoted to the big leagues.

"That's going to be a talk with all the coaches and stuff, and we're going to decide where to hit him," Montoyo said. "I'm not going to decide that on my own. It's going to be a team deal where we're going to hit him."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays aren't looking to part with starters

Clubs inquiring about Stroman, Sanchez at Winter Meetings
MLB.com @gregorMLB

LAS VEGAS -- Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins claims Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are generating "significant interest" from rival teams, but it remains "unlikely" either starter will be dealt this offseason.

Atkins continued a recent streak of being surprisingly candid with local reporters as he stated on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings on Monday that he was willing to entertain all offers. Listening to proposals and following through on blockbuster trades are two very different things, but it's clear all teams know there's a deal to be made if they want to ante up.

LAS VEGAS -- Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins claims Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are generating "significant interest" from rival teams, but it remains "unlikely" either starter will be dealt this offseason.

Atkins continued a recent streak of being surprisingly candid with local reporters as he stated on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings on Monday that he was willing to entertain all offers. Listening to proposals and following through on blockbuster trades are two very different things, but it's clear all teams know there's a deal to be made if they want to ante up.

"There is significant interest in both of our starting pitchers," Atkins said in reference to Sanchez and Stroman. "A lot of teams, for a long time, have talked about those individuals. There is, by no means, a motivation on our part for them to be anything but Toronto Blue Jays. That's what we think about when we write out our rotation, it has them in it.

"But we know who's interested, and now it's determining how interested, in terms of what it would take. There's an objective equation to that and how it lines up with your needs. The short answer is, it would need to be a fair deal."

Stroman and Sanchez are just two names in a relatively large pool of starters reportedly on the trade block. The Indians have been entertaining offers for Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, the Yankees are shopping Sonny Gray, and there were rumors earlier this offseason about the Mets and Noah Syndergaard.

Add in a group of free agents headlined by Dallas Keuchel, which lacks a lot of big names, but contains plenty of depth, and it would appear to be a buyer's market for pitching. That doesn't bode well for a team looking to potentially score a big haul for two pitchers who each have two years of control remaining on their contracts, but Atkins insists that's not true.

"We wouldn't be having discussions if that were the case," Atkins said when asked if other teams were trying to buy low. "The only discussions we're having are the ones where we feel there is the potential for a good return."

Setting expectations
The Blue Jays aren't expected to be very active at the Winter Meetings. The club remains in the market for at least one starting pitcher, possibly two, and there's a clear need for a couple of setup men for the bullpen, but it's quite possible some of those moves will not happen until the new year.

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Atkins is being particularly careful with free agents, or trade targets, because he wants to leave space for his developing core of prospects to grow into Major Leaguers. Toronto began promoting some of its top Minor League talent last year, and it's the development of that youth which clearly has become the top priority.

"We would rather have more flexibility, or complete flexibility, to know what our opportunities would be on the starting pitching front before we are aggressive with relievers," Atkins said.

"I know it can feel not quite as exciting in an offseason for a fan that we're not acquiring free agents as frequently as we have the last few years. We're not as aggressive on the trade front, potentially, as some fans would like us to be, but we are also in a unique opportunity to make sure that we create the best possible environment and opportunity for our young players that will be transitioning."

Happ still an option?
The Blue Jays remain interested in a possible reunion with free-agent starter J.A. Happ, who reportedly is seeking a three-year deal on the open market. The Yankees have long been the presumptive favorite to re-sign Happ, but Toronto continues to monitor his market as a veteran leader for what is soon to become a very young Major League staff.

"J.A. is one of the most professional guys that I've been around," Atkins said. "He is very much that leader that could have that influence on young players, and already has here. The interest is there ... we have [talked]. There are a lot of representatives that we've met with, a lot of firms that we've met with, we've been in touch as well."

Quotable
"We're not shopping any of our players. We feel like there's a good group of players that we can build around and look to complement, but at the same time, we'll entertain when a team has interest. ... We know which teams have interest in certain players. Other teams know which players we're interested in and that's happened long ago.

"Now it's just determining how you value them. We haven't found the need to shop any of our players. Specific to Russ, we're very glad to have him, glad he's here, all of those things which are very true, but we would consider some opportunity, if there was one, to move him for talent, that makes sense for the organization." -- Atkins, when asked about trade talks surrounding Russell Martin

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays

Smoak, Happ nab end-of-year Blue Jays awards

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Justin Smoak and J.A. Happ were the big winners when the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced its annual awards on Wednesday afternoon.

Smoak was the unanimous pick for Blue Jays Player of the Year. Happ received Pitcher of the Year honors despite being traded to the Yankees on July 26. Catcher Luke Maile won Most Improved, and lefty Ryan Borucki was named Rookie of the Year.

TORONTO -- Justin Smoak and J.A. Happ were the big winners when the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced its annual awards on Wednesday afternoon.

Smoak was the unanimous pick for Blue Jays Player of the Year. Happ received Pitcher of the Year honors despite being traded to the Yankees on July 26. Catcher Luke Maile won Most Improved, and lefty Ryan Borucki was named Rookie of the Year.

Former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons received the John Cerutti Award, which is given out annually to someone who displays goodwill, cooperation and character. It was once known as the "Good Guy Award" and later changed to honor the late Blue Jays pitcher who passed away in 2004.

The Toronto chapter also announced on Wednesday afternoon that in 2019 the Blue Jays Pitcher of the Year Award will be renamed the Roy Halladay Award in memory of the likely Hall of Famer who died in a tragic plane crash on Nov. 7, 2017.

Video: BAL@TOR: Happ strikes out 9 over 5 solid innings

Smoak received all of the first-place votes for Player of the Year following a season in which he led American League first basemen with a .352 on-base percentage and an .805 OPS. The 32-year-old ranked first on the Blue Jays with 77 RBIs and reached the 25-homer plateau for a second consecutive season.

Happ made just 20 starts before a midseason deal to New York, but considering Toronto's struggles on the mound this year, that was still more than enough to win the top award. Happ represented the Blue Jays at the All-Star Game and posted a 4.18 ERA over 114 innings before the deal. Borucki, who posted a 3.87 ERA over 97 2/3 innings, finished second in the voting while reliever Ryan Tepera finished a distant third.

Maile picked up most improved after his slash line went from .146/.176/.231 in 2017 to .248/.333/.366 in '18. The backup catcher posted career highs in hits (50), doubles (13), RBIs (27) and runs (22), and he had a stretch of recording a hit in nine consecutive at-bats with runners in scoring position, which set a franchise record.

Borucki edged out infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for top rookie. The 24-year-old's 11 quality starts were tied for a team high with Marco Estrada, and they were the most by a Toronto rookie since Marcus Stroman had 14 in 2014. Borucki finished his rookie campaign with a September ERA of 2.65, ninth best among AL starters, and an opponents' average of .165, which ranked fourth.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, J.A. Happ, Justin Smoak

Two Blue Jays make AFL's Top Prospects team

MLB.com @wboor

Braxton Davidson's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning back on Nov. 17th lifted the Peoria Javelinas to back-to-back Arizona Fall League titles and signified the end of the AFL season.

However, here at MLB Pipeline, coverage of the AFL is constant. Following the on-the-field play, we have released our top 10 breakout prospects, the top 25 prospects of the AFL and our All-Arizona Fall League Team.

Braxton Davidson's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning back on Nov. 17th lifted the Peoria Javelinas to back-to-back Arizona Fall League titles and signified the end of the AFL season.

However, here at MLB Pipeline, coverage of the AFL is constant. Following the on-the-field play, we have released our top 10 breakout prospects, the top 25 prospects of the AFL and our All-Arizona Fall League Team.

Of course, there's always room for more accolades and that's just what we have below as the Arizona Fall League announced its 2018 Top Prospects team on Monday morning.

The team, selected by league managers and coaches, recognizes players who distinguished themselves against other top prospects throughout the AFL. Voters were asked to consider not only a player's AFL performance, but also their Major League projectability.

Catchers

Daulton Varsho, D-backs No. 5 prospect: Varsho, who put together four multihit efforts over a five-game span, hit .262 and drove in nine runs in 18 games.

Keibert Ruiz, Dodgers No. 2 prospect (No. 39 on Top 100): Ruiz played in just 13 games, but left a strong impression on the league's managers and coaches. The 20-year-old hit .286 with six RBIs and also drew six walks while striking out just twice.

Video: Top Prospects: Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers

First Base

Tyler Nevin, Rockies No. 11 prospect: Nevin hit a career-best .328 over 100 games during the regular season and carried that momentum with him into Arizona. Nevin got off to a fast start in the AFL, opening play with a 10-game hitting streak. From there, it was more of the same. The 21-year-old was the AFL's only .400 hitter and ran away with the batting title, slashing .426/.535/.593 and also finished third in the league with 20 RBIs.

Video: SRR@PEJ: Nevin recovers nicely to end the 3rd

Evan White, Mariners No. 5 prospectWhite, who collected 14 RBIs over 18 games, hit .257 with a pair of homers in the AFL. White put together a nine-game hitting streak from late October to early November and also stole two bases after stealing just four during the regular season.

Second Base:

Keston Hiura, Brewers No. 1 prospect (No. 30 on the Top 100): Hiura's ability to hit was no secret -- something his 70-grade hit tool clearly indicated. However, just because it was known that Hiura can hit doesn't mean that watching him do so was any less impressive. The Brewers top prospect went to Arizona to work on his defense and while he made strides in that department, it was his offense that led to him MVP honors. Hiura, who hit .323, led the league in hits (31), RBIs (33) and total bases (54). He also hit the only grand slam of the AFL, put together 11 multihit games and turned in two five-RBI performances.

Jahmai Jones, Angels No. 4 prospect: Jones, coming off a season during which he hit just .239 over 123 games, hit .321 with two homers and 11 RBI in 19 AFL contests.

Third Base:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays No. 1 prospect (No. 1 on Top 100): Guerrero entered the AFL as the most talked-about prospect and certainly didn't disappoint. Guerrero picked up a trio of hits on Opening Day and kept the hits coming as he began the season with a 13-game hitting streak. The 19-year-old also impressed on the league's biggest stage, hitting a 117 mph double in the Fall Stars Game and concluded his stint in Arizona with a .351 batting average.

Video: Chisholm on Vlad Jr.'s Fall League performance

Yu Chang, Indians No. 6 prospect: Chang, who also played in the 2017 Fall League, put together a strong offensive showing. The shortstop hit .337, thanks in large part to a stretch where he strung together eight multihit efforts over 12 games. Chang also finished tied for third in total bases (45) and fourth in hits (29).

Shortstops:

Cole Tucker, Pirates No. 5 prospect: Tucker's .370 average certainly jumps off the page, but the 22-year-old impressed defensively as well. Tucker's 11 multihit games tied for the league lead (Hiura) and his 30 hits left him tied for second. Tucker also impressed off the field, reguarily staying after the game to take photos and sign autographs and was honored with the league's sportsmanship award.

Video: Cole Tucker talks about his Fall League experience

 Lucius Fox, Rays No. 9 prospect: Fox, who hit .326 over 21 games, put together an eight-game hitting streak in mid-October and tied for second in the league with 10 multihit games. Fox also drew 16 walks and stole seven bases.

Outfielders:

Luis Robert, White Sox No. 4 prospect (No. 44 on Top 100): Robert missed a little bit of time with a minor injury during the AFL, but still hit .324 over 18 games. The winner of the week five Player of the Week Award, Robert put up a 14-game hitting streak from Oc. 9 to Nov. 9. The hitting streak was the longest in the AFL since 2014.

Cristian Pache, Braves No. 6 prospect (No. 68 on the Top 100): Pache hit .279 and turned in four straight multihit games in late October, but the 20-year-old may have been even more impressive defensively. Pache showed off his 60-grade arm and his 70-grade speed on numerous occasions in the outfield and also used that speed to steal three bases.

Ryan McKenna, Orioles No. 12 prospect: McKenna hit .315/.410/.457 over 127 games during the regular season, his best season since the Orioles picked him in the fourth-round of the 2015 Draft, and continued the breakout campaign in Arizona, where he hit .344/.474/.590.

Sam Hilliard, Rockies No. 9 prospectHilliard played in just 16 games, but the small sample size didn't keep him from producing. Hilliard had multiple hits in nearly half (seven) of the games he played and finished with two homers and a .328 average.

Daz Cameron, Tigers No. 8 prospectCameron stole 24 bases in the regular season and then swiped nine bases, which tied him for fourth, during the AFL. The son of former Major Leaguer Mike Cameron hit .342 over 20 games.

Nick Heath, Royals: Heath posted a .427 on-base percentage and once he got on base, he made the most of the opportunities. The Royals prospect led the AFL in stolen bases (13) and runs scored (21), while batting .338 over 21 games.

Designated Hitters:

Peter Alonso, Mets No. 2 prospect (No. 58 on the Top 100): Alonso tied for the Minor League home run lead with 36 during the regular season and then tied for the AFL lead with six. In addition to his six homers, Alonso also hit seven doubles and often showed off his power with eye-popping exit velocities.

Video: EAST@WEST: Alonso lays out for impressive diving stop

Will Craig, Pirates No. 16 prospectCraig tied with Alonso and Davidson for the home run title, while also hitting .304 over 21 games.

Starting Pitchers

Nate Pearson, Blue Jays No. 4 prospect (No. 90 on the Top 100): Pearson racked up 23 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings and although his ERA sat at 6.20, he did spin three scoreless outings. What's more, Pearson garnered plenty of attention during the Fall Stars Game when his fastball was clocked at 104 mph.

Video: EAST@WEST: Pearson flashes 101 mph+ with regularity

Erick Leal, Cubs: Leal nearly finished the AFL with a perfect 0.00 ERA, but gave up seven runs (six earned) in his final start. The right-hander began the AFL with a 19 1/3-inning scoreless streak and finished 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA over six starts.

Relief Pitchers:

Melvin Adon, Giants No. 19 prospect: Adon, a hard-throwing right-hander, was consistently missing bats out in Arizona. Adon notched 21 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings and limited opponents to a .163 batting average against. He was particuarily tough on right-handers as they managed to hit just .091 against him.

Justin Lawrence, Rockies No. 16 prospect: Lawrence tied for the AFL lead with three saves and used a nasty fastball-slider combo to strike out 13 batters in 10 2/3 innings.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

Each team's best 1st-rounder of the past decade

MLB.com

The release of the 2019 Draft Top 50 list had the MLB Pipeline staff thinking about Drafts in years past. Teams always want to get that first pick right, and there have been some real home runs hit in the first round.

Who were the best first-round picks for each team over the last decade? MLB Pipeline dug through the first rounds of the last 10 years (2009-18) and picked the top first-rounder for each organization. Only those chosen in what was the official first round each year were considered -- no supplemental picks were allowed. The 2014 Draft has been the most fruitful, with six players from that first round making the list. The Drafts from 2012 and 2009 are right behind with five selections, with the latter boasting the player who has to be the single best first-round selection over the last 10 years.

The release of the 2019 Draft Top 50 list had the MLB Pipeline staff thinking about Drafts in years past. Teams always want to get that first pick right, and there have been some real home runs hit in the first round.

Who were the best first-round picks for each team over the last decade? MLB Pipeline dug through the first rounds of the last 10 years (2009-18) and picked the top first-rounder for each organization. Only those chosen in what was the official first round each year were considered -- no supplemental picks were allowed. The 2014 Draft has been the most fruitful, with six players from that first round making the list. The Drafts from 2012 and 2009 are right behind with five selections, with the latter boasting the player who has to be the single best first-round selection over the last 10 years.

AL East

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays, 2012 (No. 22 overall)
Stroman's profile scared away many teams in the 2012 Draft, but the Duke product has done his part to overcome the stigma associated with being an undersized right-hander. Though he regressed in 2018, while dealing with right shoulder fatigue and, later, a blister issue, Stroman posted back-to-back 200-inning seasons (2016-17) and has been worth 10.6 WAR over five seasons with the Blue Jays.

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles, 2010 (No. 3 overall)
Machado made the jump straight from Double-A to the Majors as a 19-year-old in late 2012, and quickly became a star. His 33.8 WAR is the highest among 2010 first-round position players, second only to Chris Sale, and after helping guide Baltimore to two postseason appearances as a four-time All-Star, Machado netted the organization five Top 30 prospects when it dealt him to the Dodgers this past July.

Ryne Stanek, RHP, Rays, 2013 (No. 29 overall)
Drafting in the first round has long been a problem for the typically savvy Rays, and even their selection of Stanek isn't a hands-down win for the organization, considering he was viewed as a starter (before needing hip surgery) out of the Draft. That said, the right-hander emerged as a legitimate late-inning weapon (and, at times, an "opener") for the Rays in 2018, when he compiled a 2.98 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings over 66 1/3 innings (59 appearances).

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox, 2015 (No. 7 overall)
Benintendi went from unheralded Arkansas freshman to consensus College Baseball Player of the Year as a sophomore, soaring up Draft boards in the process. The Red Sox had him No. 2 on theirs (behind Dansby Swanson), which he justified by becoming a regular in their 2018 World Series championship lineup just 13 months after signing.

Video: 2015 Draft: Red Sox draft OF Andrew Benintendi No. 7

Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees, 2013 (No. 32 overall)
Judge was the second of three Yankees first-rounders in 2013, sandwiched between Eric Jagielo (No. 26) and Ian Clarkin (No. 33), and lasting that long because there were questions about how well his massive raw power would translate into production. After only hitting 18 homers in three years at Fresno State and 56 in three seasons in the Minors, he exploded for a rookie-record 52 in 2017.

AL Central

Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians, 2011 (No. 8 overall)
Cleveland landed perhaps the best player in a historically good first-round class, as Lindor has become one of the faces of game while totaling 23.9 WAR -- second to Mookie Betts (35.2) among 2011 draftees -- and leading the Indians to an American League title (2016) since his debut in '15, when he finished second in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting. Entering his age-25 season, he's garnered All-Star honors and finished Top 10 in MVP voting in each of the last three years.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals, 2009 (No. 12 overall)
The Royals haven't fared well in the first round during the last decade, though Crow made the All-Star Game as a rookie in 2011, and was an effective reliever for four seasons until he blew out his elbow shortly after a trade to the Marlins. Cristian Colon (No. 4 overall, 2010) didn't have as much sustained success but delivered the championship-winning hit in the 2015 World Series.

Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers, 2018 (No. 1 overall)
Perhaps this one is more aspirational because he's thrown only 13 2/3 career innings since being the top pick in last June's Draft, but Mize should be able to use his three plus pitches and his plus control to move quickly through the Tigers' system. Look for him in Detroit sooner rather than later.

Alex Kirilloff, OF, Twins, 2016 (No. 16 overall)
The rules for this story don't allow for a supplemental first-round pick to be chosen, otherwise Jose Berrios might be the guy. But after missing the 2017 season, Kirilloff erupted in '18, his first real full season, and is looking like one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball.

Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox, 2010 (No. 13 overall)
After 2010's Big Three of Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon and Machado, Sale should have been the next player taken. But teams psyched themselves out over worries about his low arm slot and desire for a big league contract (typical for top college arms at the time), allowing the White Sox to steal him at No. 13. He was saving games for Chicago by September and has been an All-Star in each of his seven seasons as a starter.

Video: WS2018 Gm1: Sale K's Dozier to start off World Series

AL West

Matt Chapman, 3B, A's, 2014 (No. 25 overall)
Chapman emerged as the A's next homegrown star in his first fully healthy season, as he ranked third in WAR (8.2) among all position players, finished seventh in AL MVP voting and took home the revered Platinum Glove award as baseball's best defensive player. His 11.7 WAR in 229 career games is tops among positional players from his Draft class -- ahead of even Trea Turner (10.4), who's played 360 games.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels, 2009 (No. 25 overall)
The teams that say they had Trout No. 2 on their board are sort of like the million people who say they were present for The Shot Heard Round the World. Their loss was the Angels' gain, obviously, as he's turned into one of the game's top stars, with seven All-Star appearances and two MVP Awards.

Carlos Correa, SS, Astros, 2012 (No. 1 overall)
George Springer (No. 11, 2011) and Alex Bregman (No. 2, 2015) can also make a case, but our choice is Correa. A series of impressive pre-Draft workouts gave him late helium and made him the first Puerto Rican taken with the top choice. He won AL Rookie of the Year Award honors in '15, then received All-Star recognition and won a World Series two year later.

Video: ALCS Gm1: Correa knocks go-ahead single in 6th

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners, 2012 (No. 3 overall)
Zunino struggled for several years after being rushed to the Major Leagues and hit .207 over 2,000 plate appearances with Seattle. His combination of right-handed power and strong defense behind the plate, however, became increasingly valuable, especially with the quality of the position on the decline across the Majors.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Rangers, 2012 (No. 29 overall)
The Rangers' 13 first-round picks from the last decade have produced only three big leaguers and a combined -0.4 WAR so far. An exceptional athlete who has yet to hit in the Majors, Brinson went to the Brewers in a deal for Jeremy Jeffress and Jonathan Lucroy in July 2016, and to the Marlins in a trade for Christian Yelich last January.

NL East

Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves, 2017 (No. 5 overall)
The Braves hoped Wright would move quickly when they took him with their first pick in the 2017 Draft out of Vanderbilt. Starting his first full season in Double-A was a good sign and reaching Atlanta before the year was over was ahead of schedule, even for a fast-tracker.

Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins, 2010 (No. 23 overall)
One of the 2010 Draft's better hitters as a California prep, Yelich reached the Majors in mid-2013 and received a seven-year, $49.57 million contract extension two years later. He hit .290/.369/.432 (18.6 WAR) over 643 games with Miami, and then helped the organization restock its farm system with four prospects, including Brinson and Monte Harrison, when they dealt him to Milwaukee last offseason. In his first year with the Brewers, Yelich won the batting title (.326) and powered the club to the National League Championship Series en route to MVP honors.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Yelich crushes solo homer to right-center

Michael Conforto, OF, Mets, 2014 (No. 10 overall)
It took the Oregon State product only a year to get to the big leagues, and while his performance has been a little up and down, he's hit 56 homers the last two years and has an All-Star nod already on his resume. Still only 25, he has already amassed nearly 1,400 Major League at-bats.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals, 2010 (No. 1 overall)
The Nationals' selection of Harper with the first pick in the 2010 Draft forever changed the course of the franchise, as it gave the club a player with near-immediate impact potential as well as generational-star upside worthy of building around. Over seven seasons with the Nats, Harper -- a six-time All-Star and the 2015 NL MVP -- hit .279/.388/.512 with 184 homers in 927 games, good for a 27.4 WAR.

Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies, 2014 (No. 7 overall)
Nola took his combination of solid stuff and outstanding command and made a beeline to Philadelphia, joining the rotation in just over a year following his selection. And the 25-year-old is just getting going, making his first All-Star team and finishing third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2018.

NL Central

Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers, 2017 (No. 9 overall)
The Brewers' track record with first-round picks isn't great, but Hiura could soon help reverse that trend. After leading all Division I hitters in average (.442) as a UC Irvine junior, Hiura raked his way up to Double-A this past season and then took home MVP honors in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. He still needs some more time in the Minors, but it shouldn't be long before Hiura is driving in runs from the middle of Milwaukee's order.

Jack Flaherty, RHP, 2014 (No. 34 overall)
The Cardinals have had some solid back-half-of-the-first-round selections, like Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong, but Flaherty made it to the big leagues in 2017, then finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in '18. Flaherty will be only 23 in 2019, so the best may be yet to come.

Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs, 2013 (No. 2 overall)
Bryant had a stunning junior season at San Diego, swatting 31 homers to not only lead NCAA Division I but also topping 223 of the 296 teams at that level. He raced to the big leagues, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and encoring with an NL MVP Award and World Series championship the next season.

Video: STL@CHC: Bryant belts a towering solo homer to center

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates, 2011 (No. 1 overall)
Cole's 17.4 WAR is more than double any other Pirates' first-rounder in the last decade. Perhaps his tenure with Pittsburgh was up and down, but he made the All-Star team, finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting and made three postseason starts in 2015. He's also topped 200 innings in three of the last four years (albeit the last one coming for the Astros).

Mike Leake, RHP, Reds, 2009 (No. 8 overall)
Leake spent exactly zero days in the Minor Leagues between getting drafted and his Major League debut, breaking with the Reds' rotation on Opening Day in 2010. He's compiled more WAR than any Reds first-rounder in the last 10 years (15.6) and his trade to the Giants in 2015 netted them Adam Duvall (two years of 30-plus homers) and Keury Mella, who should contribute to the pitching staff in '19.

NL West

A.J. Pollock, OF, D-backs, 2009 (No. 17 overall)
When Pollock was coming out of Notre Dame, he was a solid college performer, but one who didn't have a plus tool, so some thought he might end up a bit of a tweener. There have been some injuries, but there's also been an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove as an everyday center fielder, one who is currently coveted on the free-agent market.

Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers, 2012 (No. 18 overall)
After taking pitchers with their previous six first-round choices -- landing Clayton Kershaw and five non-impact big leaguers -- the Dodgers changed course and went for Seager, who was one of the better all-around high school bats but also came with some signability concerns in the first Draft with bonus-pool rules. He signed for $2.35 million ($400,000 above the assigned value at No. 18) and proved well worth it, earning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 and All-Star recognition in each of his two full big league seasons.

Zack Wheeler, RHP, Giants, 2009 (No. 6 overall)
He wasn't a cornerstone of World Series championships like Giants 2006-08 first-rounders Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, but the guy who followed them has been a quality big league starter when healthy. Wheeler didn't last long with San Francisco, however, going to the Mets in a 2011 trade for Carlos Beltran.

Trea Turner, SS, Padres, 2014 (No. 13 overall)
Turner played the first half of his pro debut on borrowed time, as he'd already been dealt to the Nationals as part of a three-team trade with Tampa Bay (that netted the Padres Wil Myers) by the time the 2015 season began. He's emerged as one of the more impactful young players with the Nats.

Video: Draft 2014: Padres draft SS Trea Turner No. 13

Kyle Freeland, LHP, Rockies, 2014 (No. 8 overall)
The Rockies hoped for Kyle Schwarber or Nola, but the Cubs and Phillies foiled those plans and led them to Freeland, whose elbow worried some clubs because he had arthroscopic surgery as a Denver high schooler. He had bone chips removed from his elbow in 2015 but has been otherwise healthy, winning 11 games as a rookie in '17 and finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting last season.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Stroman's younger brother cites him as hero

Marcus Stroman's younger brother, Jayden, was recently tasked with an assignment: fill out a mock-up of a newspaper front page all about himself -- incorporating some of his interests, hobbies and a special mini-article dedicated to his personal hero.

Jayden's pick? His big brother, Marcus, who's known for his larger-than-life personality and intense presence (and nasty pitches) on the mound. 

These are the top 50 prospects for the '19 Draft

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

The crop of talent for the 2019 Draft appears to be one of the most imbalanced in recent memory. Quality position prospects abound all over the diamond, while question marks surround the best pitchers available.

MLB Pipeline's new Draft Top 50 Prospects list reflects this dichotomy, starting with six straight hitters at the top. A lot will change before the Orioles exercise the No. 1 overall pick on June 3, but only once has a Draft started with as many as five consecutive position players. Justin Upton (D-backs), Alex Gordon (Royals), Jeff Clement (Mariners), Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals) and Ryan Braun (Brewers) were the first five selections in the 2005 Draft, which coincidentally is considered the strongest so far this millennium.

The crop of talent for the 2019 Draft appears to be one of the most imbalanced in recent memory. Quality position prospects abound all over the diamond, while question marks surround the best pitchers available.

MLB Pipeline's new Draft Top 50 Prospects list reflects this dichotomy, starting with six straight hitters at the top. A lot will change before the Orioles exercise the No. 1 overall pick on June 3, but only once has a Draft started with as many as five consecutive position players. Justin Upton (D-backs), Alex Gordon (Royals), Jeff Clement (Mariners), Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals) and Ryan Braun (Brewers) were the first five selections in the 2005 Draft, which coincidentally is considered the strongest so far this millennium.

2019 Draft order | All-time Draft picks

Top Draft Prospects

"If you're in the hunt for pitching up top, this might not be the best year for it, especially with the college arms," an American League scouting director said. "It's definitely a position-player Draft from what I've seen over the summer. It's better than what it's been the last couple of years. It's almost a little scary how good the hitters are compared to the pitchers."

The consensus among clubs is that the top tier of 2019 prospects includes as few as one and no more than three position players: Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and California first baseman Andrew Vaughn. They're also the three most highly decorated prospects in the '19 class.

Rutschman won Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series, where he helped the Beavers capture a national title to cap a breakout sophomore season in which he batted .408/.505/.628 and set school records with 102 hits and 83 RBIs. He's a switch-hitting catcher who's just starting to harness what could be plus power, and he's also a quality receiver with a strong arm.

Video: Adley Rutschman on being top-ranked Draft prospect

The son of Bobby Witt, the No. 3 overall pick in 1985 en route to a 16-year pitching career in the big leagues, Witt Jr. won the High School Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game and also Most Valuable Player Award honors at the Under Armour All-America Game, the States Play Series and the 18-and-under Pan American Championships in Panama. He's a potential five-tool shortstop who comes with some mild hittability concerns, but also plus raw power, speed, arm strength and defense.

"In 1999, we had the two Joshes [Hamilton and Beckett] and then everybody else," a National League scouting official said. "It could be a similar situation this year with Rutschman and Witt. Bobby Witt's kid is certainly one of the most exciting kids I've seen in a long time. You have to go back a long way to see a shortstop with those tools."

Video: Draft Report: Bobby Witt Jr., high school shortstop

Some teams would group Vaughn, the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner, with Rutschman and Witt. He's the best offensive player available, a .402/.531/.819 hitter as a sophomore who draws raves for his ability to barrel balls, hit for power and control the strike zone.

There's plenty of depth beyond that trio. On the college side, there's another catcher ticketed for the top of the draft in Baylor's Shea Langeliers, a five-tool sleeper in Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner and potential impact bats such as Texas Tech third baseman Josh Jung, Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday and North Carolina first baseman Michael Busch. Scouts usually bemoan the lack of college shortstops, but this year, there are five who could factor into the first round (even if they might not all stay at the position): UNLV's Bryson Stott, Texas A&M's Braden Shewmake, Auburn's Will Holland, N.C. State's Will Wilson and Clemson's Logan Davidson.

Along with Witt, shortstop C.J. Abrams (Blessed Trinity Catholic High, Roswell, Ga.) and outfielders Jerrion Ealy (Jackson Prep, Flowood, Miss.) and Maurice Hampton (University High, Memphis, Tenn.) headline an impressive group of premium high school athletes. Ealy and Hampton are also four-star football recruits, with the former a running back committed to Mississippi and the latter a cornerback earmarked for Louisiana State. Outfielder Corbin Carroll (Lakeside School, Seattle) is one of the best pure hitters in the Draft, third baseman Rece Hinds (IMG Academy) may have the most raw power available and third basemen Brett Baty (Lake Travis High, Austin, Texas) and Tyler Callihan (Providence School, Jacksonville, Fla.) combine the ability to hit for average and power.

"You'll see position players, and especially the college bats, move up into the top half of the first round," an NL scouting director said. "You could see 18-20 bats in the first round, because it's just not a great class of pitching."

Video: Draft Report: Carter Stewart, college pitcher

MLB Pipeline's top-rated pitcher is right-hander Carter Stewart, who went No. 8 overall to the Braves in the 2018 Draft but didn't sign after a disagreement over the severity of a wrist injury that hampered him at the end of his senior season at Eau Gallie High (Melbourne, Fla.). Stewart, who had the best curveball in the '18 class as well as a fastball that reached 98 mph, is expected to enroll at Eastern Florida State Junior College for the spring semester.

There's also uncertainty with the top arms at four-year colleges, all of whom are left-handers: Duke's Graeme Stinson, Kentucky's Zack Thompson and Texas Christian's Nick Lodolo. Stinson has to prove he can succeed and hold up as a starter after relieving for most of his college career, and Thompson missed two months last spring with an elbow injury that didn't require surgery. Lodolo was the highest unsigned pick in the 2016 Draft (No. 41 overall, Pirates) but has been more respectable than dominant with the Horned Frogs.

Clubs consider high school pitching to the be the riskiest Draft demographic, and prep righties often seem to last longer than they should. Brennan Malone (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.), Daniel Espino (Georgia Premier Academy, Statesboro, Ga.) and Matthew Allan (Seminole, Fla., High) are the premier power arms among prepsters. Former All-Star Al Leiter's son, Jack (Delbarton School, Morristown, N.J.), is the most polished high school hurler, while two-way star Spencer Jones (La Costa Canyon High, Carlsbad, Calif.) is the best left-hander.

"This is a good Draft. I like it," a second NL scouting official said. "There's not a lot of pitching at the top, but there are a lot of bats to go get."

Video: Callis breaks down Jack Leiter's draft stock

BREAKDOWN

College: 27
HS: 22
JC: 1

RHP: 12
OF: 10
SS: 10
LHP: 6
3B: 5
1B: 4
C: 2
2B: 1

Top tools

All players, as always, are given grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale for all tools or pitches. These are future grades, a reflection of what the scouting industry thinks each of these amateur players can become in the future. Here are the top grades for each tool and pitch.

Position players
Hit: 60 -- Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State; Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California; Riley Greene, Hagerty (Fla.) HS; Corbin Carroll, Lakeside (Wash.) HS
Power: 60 -- Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California; Rece Hinds, 3B, IMG Academy (Fla.)
Run: 75 -- CJ Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity Catholic (Ga.) HS; Jerrion Ealy, OF, Jackson Prep (Miss.)
Arm: 70 -- Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor
Field: 60 -- Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State; Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Colleyville Heritage (Texas) HS; Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor; Mike Toglia, 1B/OF, UCLA; Nasim Nunez, SS, Collins Hill (Ga.) HS

Pitchers
Fastball: 70 -- Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy (Fla.); Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy; Ryne Nelson, RHP, Oregon
Curveball: 65 -- Carter Stewart, RHP, None
Slider: 65 -- Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke
Changeup: 55 -- Nick Lodolo, LHP, TCU
Control: 55 -- Jack Leiter, RHP, Delbarton (N.J.) HS

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Inbox: Are any starters worth long-term deals?

Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers fan questions
MLB.com @gregorMLB

It's Hot Stove season, so let's dive into the latest Inbox.

While you read a lot about trading Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, wouldn't the right approach be to sign one, or both, to favorable long-term deals? They are young enough, and their trade value is low.
-- Seth P., Las Vegas

It's Hot Stove season, so let's dive into the latest Inbox.

While you read a lot about trading Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, wouldn't the right approach be to sign one, or both, to favorable long-term deals? They are young enough, and their trade value is low.
-- Seth P., Las Vegas

The Blue Jays need to add high-end pitching, not subtract, so I understand where you're coming from, but the answer is still no. In an ideal world, Toronto would explore long-term extensions, but that requires common ground between all parties, and to date there has been little evidence to suggest that's possible here.

Submit a question to the Inbox

Let's start with Sanchez, who has been represented by Scott Boras for the last couple of years. Boras is one of the most high-profile agents in professional sports, and he frequently encourages clients to hit the open market. There are very few examples of Boras' clients signing team-friendly deals before free agency, and it's unlikely to happen here either. Some people might encourage Sanchez to limit his risk but bet on Boras convincing him he's one big year away from hitting the jackpot.

Stroman's representatives haven't been able to agree with the Blue Jays' front office on just about anything. The product of Duke has gone through arbitration each of the last two years, and there seemed to be some bad blood after Toronto won the case last offseason. If the two sides can't agree on value for one year, it's hard to believe they will find common ground on a multiyear deal.

With so many catchers available, Russell Martin's trade value takes a hit. Should the Blue Jays not worry about trading him right away and let him help Danny Jansen develop?
-- Hayden, Clearwater, Manitoba

Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, Caleb Joseph, James McCann, Jonathan Lucroy and A.J. Ellis are just some of the names available this offseason, so your point is well taken. The group lacks splashy names, but possesses plenty of depth, and that will make it more challenging to facilitate a deal.

Does the number of available catchers really hurt Martin's trade value though? Maybe a bit, but not much. Let's be clear about one thing: Toronto is not going to be able to get much of a return for Martin no matter what happens. Regardless of who is available, the best-case scenario for Toronto is that it eats the vast majority of Martin's salary and gets a lottery ticket in the form of a bad contract, or fringe prospect, in return.

There are hundreds of articles out that say, "Don't expect any splashy free-agent signings from the Blue Jays as they are in a rebuilding season." Can you explain the logic here? Given that Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette have a six- to seven-year window before free agency and that this is the best free-agent class in recent memory, isn't this the exact time for the Blue Jays to make a big purchase?
-- Matt M., Winooski, Vt.

The reason you're reading so many articles about the lack of big moves is because that's what sources have been telling local reporters for months. It's not that beat reporters are taking a stance on what the Blue Jays should do, we're simply the messengers, and it's up to the fans to form their own opinions from there.

Every indication I have received from inside the organization is that Toronto will make incremental adds -- especially on the pitching side -- but that 2019 will be another year of development. It gives Toronto another 12 months to evaluate its in-house options before more significant additions are considered. Fans will -- and should -- debate whether this is the right approach, but that's why you're seeing the current tone from the media, because it's all about providing reliable information.

Any chance the Blue Jays plan a long-term extension for Vlad Jr. so there are no worries about service time?
-- Corey P., Fredericton, New Brunswick

If that was a realistic option, it would have been happened last season in order to facilitate an immediate callup. At this point, the Blue Jays only need to delay the arrival of MLB Pipeline's No. 1 overall prospect Vladamir Guerrero Jr. by another month to secure a seventh year of control. With such a short period of time to wait, there's not a ton of incentive to reach a long-term deal. That stance will change again in a couple of years when Toronto considers buying out some of Guerrero's free-agent seasons, but it seems unlikely to happen before his debut.

Do you see the Blue Jays trading some of their outfield surplus in maybe Dalton Pompey, J.D. Davis and Anthony Alford?
-- @tate_seb29

General manager Ross Atkins will definitely explore those types of deals, but none of those pieces are going to net much of a return. Toronto has been open to trading Pompey for more than a year, but a reasonable offer has yet to surface, and there's a good chance he will be designated for assignment at some point in the coming months.

Davis is intriguing because of his speed, but he projects as a backup outfielder and is typically the type of player who gets tossed into a much bigger deal. Alford is a possibility to be sent elsewhere, but his value took a big hit this year with a disappointing .656 OPS at Triple-A Buffalo, so it makes more sense to hold on to him and see where his career goes from here.

Given that he is likely to sign a 10-year contract, why shouldn't the Blue Jays try to get in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes? Seems to me that he would pair nicely with Vlad Jr. and help with attendance during the rebuilding years.
-- Rob M., Kitchener, Ontario

Harper would pair well with just about anybody, but his contract demands are so high he's practically in another orbit. Toronto's payroll is going down, not up, so that's the first reason this deal won't happen.

Second, teams going after Harper better be in a win-now mode. Sure, Harper would be signed for a long term, but teams would want to extract as much value as possible from his prime years in order to justify the back end of the deal. Finally, it's doubtful that Harper would have an interest in joining Toronto even if the club made a lucrative offer considering the number of contending teams that are already in the mix.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays