The Blue Jays released the rosters for their four Minor League clubs on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s Minor League Opening Day, with top prospects set to play at each level.
This has been a difficult 18 months for prospect development, as most of these players haven’t seen game action since the end of the 2019 season. For those drafted in '20, this also represents their delayed professional debuts.
Individual assignments were more challenging as a result, as teams don’t have 2020 stats to work off of. The Blue Jays will also make use of their fully renovated training complex in Dunedin, Fla., for many of their younger prospects just beginning their careers.
“It was definitely different,” said Gil Kim, Toronto's director of player development. “Each year you go into Spring Training weighing a bunch of different variables and factors as far as past performance, recent performance, where each player is in their development curve and a little bit of how they look in Spring Training. This year, we probably had to factor that in a little bit more, given the last year.”
Here is a look at the prospects on the Blue Jays' Top 30 list (per MLB Pipeline) who will be playing at each level.
Triple-A Buffalo Bisons
Pearson should soon pitch his way back into the big leagues, where the Blue Jays need him, but the assignment of Manoah to Triple-A speaks to the organization’s confidence in the 23-year-old. Manoah was the star of Spring Training, dominating the Yankees twice. With his high-90s fastball, wipeout slider and mound presence, there’s plenty to like in Manoah, who could put himself on the MLB radar by year’s end.
Murray could also pitch his way into the starting-depth picture, along with his “invisible” fastball that has an elite spin rate. Palacios has already seen time with the big league club and could again, while Smith is looking to get back to his 2018 form at the plate. If he hits, his defense will help carry him to the Majors.
The Bisons will open their season playing home games in Trenton, N.J., as Buffalo's Sahlen Field undergoes renovations to prepare for the expected arrival of the Blue Jays at some point this summer.
Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats
This is the prospect hotbed, similar to the teams that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette shared as they came up through the Minor Leagues. Martin and Groshans will share the shortstop position, with Martin playing center field and Groshans playing third on days they’re not at short. There could be a spot for one or both of these young players in the big leagues at some point in 2022. Keep an eye on Groshans’ power numbers, as he’s bulked up and started hitting the ball even harder over the past year.
Woods Richardson will lead the staff and should pitch his way to Triple-A at some point this season, while Moreno, the young catcher who the Blue Jays are high on, will get everyday reps behind the plate. The Blue Jays already have Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Riley Adams in the catching conversation, but Moreno, who was a shortstop until the Blue Jays moved him back behind the plate, brings a unique and athletic profile.
Class A Advanced Vancouver Canadians
Kloffenstein, who’s still only 20, added some velocity to his sinking fastball over the past year, moving it from the low-90s to the 93-94 mph range. The big right-hander impressed the Blue Jays with how he made use of the lost Minor League season, and when you pair that improved fastball with his strong breaking balls, the confident right-hander will have a chance to move to Double-A at some point in 2021.
Van Eyk will be making his professional debut after the Blue Jays added him in the second round of the 2020 MLB Draft, and he brings a mature arsenal at 22. Given that, he’s a candidate to move quickly, if his performance allows it. Vancouver’s pitching staff will also feature Hagen Danner, who the Blue Jays drafted in the second round in 2017, as a catcher. Danner was also scouted as a pitcher coming out of high school, so he’ll be a fascinating development case to track.
Given the ongoing closure of the Canada-U.S. border to all non-essential travel, the Canadians will open their season playing home games in Hillsboro, Ore.
Class A Dunedin Blue Jays
Two of the Blue Jays’ top international signings in recent years, Martinez and Hiraldo, will lead the infield and lineup in Dunedin. Martinez is primed to make a jump into the Top 100 conversation in his first year of full-season ball, and he brings loads of offensive upside with some of the best raw power in the farm system. There’s plenty of development ahead, but Martinez is a name you’ll be hearing much more of by midsummer.
Zulueta grabbed the attention of Blue Jays fans in Spring Training when he showed up throwing in the upper-90s, flashing the potential to someday reach triple digits. The Cuban right-hander, who has recovered fully from Tommy John surgery, is very raw, and there will be bumps along the way, but his ceiling is something you can dream on.