With alternate camps coming to an end, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.
Top position prospect: Austin Martin, SS/OF (No. 2 on Blue Jays Top 30/MLB No. 16)
The Blue Jays landed the best pure hitter in this year’s Draft when they selected Martin with the fifth overall pick. The Vanderbilt product led all NCAA Division I in runs (87) and the Southeastern Conference in batting (.392) and on-base percentage (.486) as a sophomore in 2019, leading the Commodores to a College World Series title. Martin was off to another fantastic start in ’20, slashing .377/.507/.660 before the pandemic abruptly ended the season after just 16 games. Altogether, Martin produced a .368/.474/.532 slash line during his college career, tallying 57 extra-base hits (14 homers), 43 steals and more walks (85) than strikeouts (82) in 140 games.
“He’s a natural hitter,” Toronto director of player development Gil Kim said. “The swing gets into the hitting zone quickly and efficiently, and he shows elite plate discipline.”
That Martin was announced as a shortstop on Draft day was somewhat surprising after he had been moved from third base to center field -- a decision prompted by some throwing issues -- early in the 2020 season. But as a plus athlete with quick-twitch actions, Martin has long been viewed as someone who could succeed defensively at any number of positions, and he spent the summer getting reps at shortstop, second base and center field after getting some early work at the hot corner.
“It was great to have Austin with us for the summer,” added Kim. “He’s a great teammate, a hard worker and showed an advanced understanding of his preparation and work routines. This first summer was mainly about acclimating Austin to professional baseball and learning as much as we could about him while he learned and acclimated to the organization as well.”
Top pitching prospect: Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 93)
One of the youngest players in the 2018 Draft class, when the Mets took him in the second round, Woods Richardson joined the Blue Jays along with lefty Anthony Kay in the 2019 Deadline deal that sent Marcus Stroman to New York. Toronto pushed Woods Richardson, just 18 at the time, up to Class A Advanced Dunedin shortly after acquiring him, and the young right-hander responded to the challenge by pitching well over six starts in the Florida State League. Including his time with Class A Columbia, he compiled a 3.80 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a 5.25 strikeout-to-walk rate during his first full season, logging 106 2/3 innings across 26 starts between the two organizations.
Beyond his impressive numbers, Woods Richardson proved to be an incredibly advanced prospect for his age, showing a blend of stuff, pitchability and aptitude that made him a must-have for the Blue Jays in Rochester.
“Simeon showed four plus pitches and really good feel,” said Kim. “He worked on executing his fastball up in the zone, continued to show a plus changeup, and features two distinct breaking balls. He made a lot of progress with the action and command of his curveball since Spring Training.”
Youngest prospect: Woods Richardson
In a normal 2020 season, Woods Richardson might have become the first high school pitcher from the 2018 Draft to reach the Double-A level. While that obviously didn’t happen, the 20-year-old still faced plenty of upper-level hitters over the summer at Toronto’s alternate training site, where he made strides in all aspects of the game.
“As the youngest pitcher there, we were encouraged to see his confidence, presence and competitiveness come out intensely this summer,” noted Kim.
2020 Draft picks
Martin was the only one of Toronto’s five 2020 Draft picks to see time at the club’s Rochester site.
The Blue Jays have always been high on shortstop Jordan Groshans’ (No. 3/MLB No. 70) offensive ceiling, viewing the former first-round pick (No. 12 overall in 2018) as someone who will hit for both average and power from the middle of a lineup. His performance since entering the professional ranks, though limited due to injuries, has only strengthened the club’s optimism in the 20-year-old shortstop’s bright future. In 2019, Groshans produced a .337/.427/.482 line at Class A Lansing over his first 23 games before succumbing to a season-ending foot injury.
“Having missed almost all of 2019, he got thrown right into a big league environment in Toronto (Summer Camp)," Kim said. "There were some struggles at first, but he really impressed by staying resilient and focused on development throughout the summer and made some big gains with the consistency of his mentality and focus.
“The ball jumps off his bat and he was able to show a good understanding of utilizing the whole field. There’s legit power in there, and he ended up leading the group with six home runs. He worked just as hard on his defense, as his footwork continued to improve at shortstop.”
The Blue Jays definitely have a type when it comes to the pitchers they like to draft in early rounds: big, physical arms who are a bit on the raw side, despite usually having plus velocity, nasty secondary stuff and at least average control. West Virginia standout Alek Manoah (No. 5), a 6-foot-6, 260-pound right-hander, fit that profile to a T before the club selected him 11th overall in the 2019 Draft. He excelled that summer in his pro debut, limiting Class A Short-Season Northwest League batters to a .213 average while racking up 27 strikeouts (against five walks) in 17 innings.
“Alek has an electric arm, and really made progress with the development of his changeup as a third pitch,” said Kim. “He added good depth to the pitch and was able to use it effectively to complement his plus fastball/slider mix. He’s an intense competitor, and we were excited to see him continue to progress against upper-level hitters.”
No. 8 prospect Gabriel Moreno (No. 8), who signed for $25,000 in 2016, is one of the better young catching prospects in baseball, projecting as a backstop who can impact games both with his bat and with his defense behind the plate. In his age-19 season last year in the Midwest League, Moreno batted .280/.337/.485 for Class A Lansing, adding 12 homers, 17 doubles, five triples and 52 RBIs.
“Gabby has quick hands, plus bat speed and is very accurate with his barrel,” noted Kim. “Despite not having played above Low-A, he showed some promise against pitchers with much more experience than him. He was able to turn around elite fastball velocity and also improved his swing decisions in leverage counts.”
Josh Palacios, a fourth-round pick in 2014, is the best defensive outfielder in Toronto’s system and showed more impact at the plate during the 2018-19 seasons, slugging exactly .416 in back-to-back years while improving his OPS from .770 to .787.
“He was one of the biggest standouts from camp,” said Kim about the 25-year-old center fielder. “He was a tireless worker and constantly challenged himself to get better in practice and games. He was willing to fail in his work in order to get better and ended up seeing positive results with his contact rate and plate discipline. He incorporated a toe tap and was able to fire his hands a bit higher and more behind the ball.”