Ups and downs from the Blue Jays' farm

May 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

If you think the Blue Jays have been a roller-coaster to watch, their farm system is taking it to another level. 

There have been some surprising struggles and early breakouts at every level, providing plenty of early momentum for mid-season adjustments to our Top 30 list

Here’s a look at who’s up and who’s down:


No. 2 LHP Brandon Barriera

This isn’t just about Barriera’s debut, but it helps. The 19-year-old struck out six over four innings of no-hit ball with Single-A Dunedin last week, showing that mix of polish and upside the Blue Jays loved out of the Draft. From here, can the Blue Jays recreate the development magic they sprinkled on Ricky Tiedemann?

I’d bet a dollar on Barriera being on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list by this time next season, if not sooner. 

No. 7 RHP Sem Robberse

Coming into 2023, the knock on Robberse was that his style leaned toward finesse, which isn’t the cleanest fit in today’s MLB. That outlook is a little different now.

Robberse has finally put on weight, which he and the Blue Jays have been working on for years. The 21-year-old feels the strengths in his legs now, and it’s starting to show up in his fastball velocity, which is reaching the mid-90s more consistently. In his last outing, Robberse threw six innings of shutout ball, allowing just one hit and striking out seven. 

It’s happening quietly, but Robberse is changing his projection.

No. 29 Damiano Palmegiani

A handful of lower-ranked players, including Davis Schneider and Rainer Nunez, deserve some love, but Palmegiani’s start has been excellent. The 23-year-old has as many walks (24) as strikeouts, giving him a .443 on-base percentage. Palmegiani has some pop, too.

This is Palmegiani’s first taste of Double-A, so he’ll stay a while, but he’s clearly playing himself into a promotion to Triple-A at some point this season. His profile of playing first and third limits his potential paths to the big leagues, but Palmegiani’s bat is awfully intriguing and he’s prioritizing himself in this system.


No. 3 RHP Yosver Zulueta

If you catch the Cuban right-hander on the right day, you’d wonder how he could be anything other than the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect. On other days, you see more of the pitcher who has posted a 5.54 ERA with 11 walks over 13 innings to open the season in Triple-A, running up his pitch count too quickly in many outings. 

In Zulueta’s last outing, his fastball averaged 94.6 mph and peaked at 95.5 mph. The numbers from his start prior to that were a touch lower. Zulueta’s velocity should warm up with the weather, but so much of his prospect status has leaned on a fastball that can reach up to flirt with 99, one that looks like one of the best pitches in the organization at times. 

“Zulu” is pitching in a bulk role by design, throwing two-to-three innings at a time. At 25 and with a spot on the 40-man roster, the Blue Jays need to see results soon, and that could come easier in a multi-inning relief role long-term, similar to what you’re seeing now from Nate Pearson.

No. 4 3B/SS Orelvis Martinez

The first month of Martinez’s season has been difficult to watch at times. He’s hitting just .089 with a .169 on-base percentage, averaging a strikeout per game. Martinez’s four home runs have been moon shots, but hitting the ball 900 feet doesn’t matter when there are this many empty at-bats in between. 

Although he is only 21, Martinez is reaching a point where his prospect status can no longer survive on power potential alone. His 30 home runs in Double-A last year were dampened by a .203 average. The shine is officially wearing off. 

No. 14 UTIL Otto Lopez

Lopez’s slow start is the most surprising of the bunch. Zulueta and Martinez are still very much “prospects” in that they have massive tools, but perform inconsistently. Lopez has always been the opposite, with his production typically outweighing any standout physical skills. 

So far, though, Lopez is batting just .192 with a .486 OPS. Lopez has typically been a safe bet to bat near .300, but his approach hasn’t been as sharp this season and his walk rate reflects that. This one is tough on the Blue Jays, because Lopez should be able to provide depth at nearly every position on the diamond and typically profiles as an ideal bench piece with his contact skill. Bet on him to bounce back, but these early struggles weren’t expected at all.