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Vlad Jr. not shying away from leadership role

'I'm excited to see all of the young talent coming up together,' he says
Special to MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays gathered their brightest young stars in Toronto this week for their annual Development Program, which the organization believes will advance the talent and leadership of its highly anticipated top prospects.

In what Blue Jays fans will hope is a sign of things to come, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stood in the middle of it all with a sparkling championship ring on his finger. Baseball's top prospect was one of several players in the room who starred on the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats' championship run in the Eastern League, and despite the endless accolades he's collecting as an individual player, the 19-year-old was eager to shift the focus.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays gathered their brightest young stars in Toronto this week for their annual Development Program, which the organization believes will advance the talent and leadership of its highly anticipated top prospects.

In what Blue Jays fans will hope is a sign of things to come, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stood in the middle of it all with a sparkling championship ring on his finger. Baseball's top prospect was one of several players in the room who starred on the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats' championship run in the Eastern League, and despite the endless accolades he's collecting as an individual player, the 19-year-old was eager to shift the focus.

MLB Pipeline: Blue Jays Top 30 Prospects

Guerrero is familiar with leading in offensive stat categories, but now, the prodigious power hitter is becoming more comfortable with being a leader off the field.

"I know this is a very talented team," Guerrero said through the club's mental performance coach and translator, Tanya Bialostozky. "I'm excited to see all of the young talent coming up together and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together."

Video: Atkins having fun watching Guerrero Jr., Bichette

With the stars of the Blue Jays' 2015 and '16 playoff runs nearly all departed and the club in a clear rebuilding phase, all eyes are on Guerrero. It's been that way since he first stepped onto a baseball diamond, but he's finally reached the point that Toronto has been waiting for.

The next time that Guerrero sets foot in that locker room, it will be for his home debut.

"I'm very happy and very excited because I've played with a lot of them, so I know them," Guerrero said. "We are focused on putting up good numbers, doing a good job, and as a team coming up together, being successful."

Guerrero's shadow was hard to escape in 2018, but infielder Cavan Biggio's 26 home runs and 99 RBIs certainly made some noise. Biggio and Guerrero share famous MLB bloodlines and are now pushing one another toward the Majors.

"Vladdy is a very special player," said Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. "His mix of power and contact, his makeup, he's going to be a good fit right here in this locker room. A lot of guys are going to get along with him. He's going to listen. He's going to be very mature and humble about it, and I think that's what combines everything for him."

Guerrero's leadership was brought up unprompted by several teammates. Players like Biggio and Toronto's top shortstop prospect, Bo Bichette, say that Guerrero can lead in different ways, too.

Sometimes, he's the joker, laughing along like any 19-year-old would. Earlier this week, a group of Blue Jays prospects and coaches went to a curling club in Toronto and gave one of Canada's favourite pastimes a try, which led to plenty of banter in the clubhouse.

Video: Bo Bichette discusses his goals for 2019, Vlad Jr.

Other times, especially when he's in the batter's box, Guerrero leads by example. He's humble, like Biggio says, but he also knows that pitchers are wary of starring in the next viral Vlad Jr. home run video.

"When I'm up there, I know that I have to be patient and pick the pitch that I want," Guerrero said. "When I step in, my mindset is that I'm the best guy in the world and that it's the other guy who has to try hard."

Keegan Matheson is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays

Young Blue Jays pitchers see opportunity ahead

Recently added hurlers participate in Player Development Program; Pearson progressing in recovery
Special to MLB.com

TORONTO -- As the Blue Jays transitioned into their ongoing rebuild, general manager Ross Atkins made it clear that young and controllable pitching would need to be a cornerstone of the club's next phase.

Looking around the locker room at the Blue Jays' Prospect Development Program in Toronto on Friday, it's clear that Atkins followed through. Five young pitchers in attendance had been added to the organization since July, and all five have already pitched in Double-A or higher.

TORONTO -- As the Blue Jays transitioned into their ongoing rebuild, general manager Ross Atkins made it clear that young and controllable pitching would need to be a cornerstone of the club's next phase.

Looking around the locker room at the Blue Jays' Prospect Development Program in Toronto on Friday, it's clear that Atkins followed through. Five young pitchers in attendance had been added to the organization since July, and all five have already pitched in Double-A or higher.

Julian Merryweather, Hector Perez, Andrew Sopko, Trent Thornton and Jacob Waguespack suddenly have an opportunity in front of them. They've also got some high expectations.

When you're the trade return for franchise icon Josh Donaldson, all eyes are on you.

"It's MVP or bust this year," Merryweather said, laughing. "That's kind of the motto I'm going with this year. It's obviously big shoes to fill, but I'm just happy to be in the room with these guys here and be part of the future."

Sopko finds himself in a similar situation, coming over from the Dodgers for fan favorite Russell Martin.

To these young pitchers, Toronto could represent a quicker path to the Majors. The recent additions of Clayton Richard and Matt Shoemaker should help to solidify the back end of Toronto's rotation, but plenty more arms will be needed both in 2019 and beyond.

"It's just extra motivation for us," Sopko said. "Obviously, the ultimate goal is to be right here. The fact that there's opportunity, it gives you motivation."

Waguespack, the towering right-hander who came over from Philadelphia for Aaron Loup, is another name that Atkins brings up often when discussing rotation depth.

Instead of bringing in veteran arms to steady their rotations in the upper Minors, the Blue Jays may be able to survive on prospects alone. That's a new reality for the club, but one that was consciously chased.

"There is a good opportunity here," Waguespack said. "Obviously we have a lot of young guys here, or we will in the clubhouse, but it's just about going out and competing."

Pearson expecting workload limit
Toronto's top pitching prospect, Nate Pearson, missed nearly all of 2018 after a comeback liner broke his arm in May. The hard-throwing righty is back to full health and threw 20 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League, but still needs to be monitored in 2019.

"They're going to have an inning limit on me," Pearson said. "I'm not sure what it is and we haven't decided what it is, but there will be some sort of limit on me because I haven't built up to throw 150 innings yet."

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

Jackson thinking north-south
Relief prospect Zach Jackson racks up strikeouts and owns one of the organization's best curveballs, but walks have been a serious issue, as he allowed 51 over 62 innings in 2018. If he can find the zone more consistently, his fastball and curveball combination could really play up.

"We started looking a lot on the analytical side, being able to attack the top of the zone," Jackson said. "Especially the trend in baseball with high fastballs and curveballs, it really plays in my favour."

Keegan Matheson is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays, Julian Merryweather, Hector Perez, Andrew Sopko, Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack

Inbox: Will Vlad Jr. make Opening Day roster?

Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm fields Blue Jays fans' questions
MLB.com

Are you able to explain the logic behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. not starting on Opening Day? I keep reading they need to hold him back until the end of April.
-- Michael, Melbourne, Australia

At this point, it's basically a foregone conclusion that Guerrero will start the year in the Minors, and it's all because of service time. Toronto gains an extra year of control by delaying his Major League debut another few weeks. Why? According to to the rules, a full year of service is defined as 172 days on the Major League roster, but the season spans 187 days. So the only way to guarantee 2019 won't count as a full year is by pushing back Guerrero's arrival date.

Are you able to explain the logic behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. not starting on Opening Day? I keep reading they need to hold him back until the end of April.
-- Michael, Melbourne, Australia

At this point, it's basically a foregone conclusion that Guerrero will start the year in the Minors, and it's all because of service time. Toronto gains an extra year of control by delaying his Major League debut another few weeks. Why? According to to the rules, a full year of service is defined as 172 days on the Major League roster, but the season spans 187 days. So the only way to guarantee 2019 won't count as a full year is by pushing back Guerrero's arrival date.

• Vlad Jr. highlights 2019 infield

The Blue Jays can't say any of this publicly because it would provide clear-cut evidence the club is manipulating Guerrero's service time. Instead, expect Toronto to focus on the aspects of Guerrero's game that could use a little bit of work before it's on par with the rest of his skill set. The Cubs did something similar in 2015 when Kris Bryant was left off the Opening Day roster, only to be promoted on April 17 before going on to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

:: Submit a question to the Blue Jays Inbox ::

Don't the Blue Jays need to trade an outfielder? Using a Teoscar Hernandez/Billy McKinney platoon doesn't really make sense because they need to find out if both can be productive everyday players.
-- Christopher M., Richmond Hill, Ontario

You're not wrong. At some point the Blue Jays need to make a decision, but it doesn't have to be right away. There should be plenty of at-bats to go around if Toronto puts together an outfield rotation that sees Randal Grichuk making some occasional starts in center and Hernandez receiving occasional at-bats at DH. With five players -- including Kendrys Morales -- for four spots, playing time should not be that big of an issue.

If McKinney and Hernandez have strong camps and get off to hot starts, the Blue Jays might have a problem on their hands, but it's one they'll be more than happy to deal with. Neither player would benefit from yet another stint in the Minors, so the Blue Jays might as well see what they've got at the Major League level, even if it's not in the traditional everyday role. After all, Hernandez is already 26 and McKinney is 24.

Do you think just releasing Troy Tulowitzki was really best for the team when they could have traded him for prospects and not have to pay for him to play for another team?
-- Justin M., Chicopee, Ontario

In order to trade Tulowitzki for prospects, there would've needed to be an offer on the table to make it happen. There wasn't. There also wasn't a scenario in which the Blue Jays could have avoided paying almost the entire $38 million he was owed over the next two years, no matter what happened.

The only thing up for debate here is whether Toronto should have waited a little bit longer before making a final decision. If Tulowitzki showed up in Spring Training and proved he was healthy, would the Blue Jays have been able to get something for him in return? Possibly, but no matter how good he looked, no team was taking on that money, so the downside doesn't go nearly as deep here as most people think. This was always going to be a sunk cost.

Everyone talks about Danny Jansen as the latest "catcher of the future." But what do you think about Reese McGuire? I feel like his arm/defense is superior to Jansen and that there's more to his bat than people think. Could he supplant Jansen as the catcher of the future?
-- Jay P., Cambridge, Ontario

Jansen will get the first crack at the full-time role, but McGuire will have plenty of opportunities over the coming months and years to take the job away. These two have pushed each other at the Minor League level for well over a year, and that trend will continue at the Major League level for the foreseeable future.

McGuire does have the superior arm, and the 23-year-old has drawn a lot of praise for his work with a pitching staff. The bat you referenced hasn't developed as hoped, though, with a .651 OPS for the Bisons last season. McGuire had some offensive success earlier in his Minor League career, but he currently projects as an elite backup. If Jansen struggles early, that could change. But for now, the job is his to lose.

Video: CLE@TOR: McGuire cuts down Ramirez at second

If the Jays find themselves in a similar situation to the Rays last year near the Trade Deadline (vastly overperforming), do you think that'll change any of their sell-off plans for the veterans (Marcus Stroman, Justin Smoak, etc.)?
-- Aren B., @ArenBergstrom, Toronto

If the Blue Jays are contending midway through the year, they won't be selling off any assets. If anything, they'll be looking to make some short-term additions to strengthen the roster while making a run at the postseason. Even so, it's easy to see why that's not the expected outcome for this organization. The Yankees and Red Sox are coming off seasons in which they won at least 100 games, and both clubs are expected to just as good this year.

Toronto, meanwhile, features a lot of promising young talent and is in the midst of a rebuild that will extend into 2020. If the young players develop early and this team contends ahead of schedule, the Blue Jays would be overjoyed. There just won't be too many people who expect it will happen that quickly, and that's why Stroman, Smoak and others should be on their way out before long.

Any teeny chance that Jose Bautista could be brought back, maybe play a final year in a Blue Jays uniform? Paid league minimum last year ... could still smack a few, mentor newbies, maybe one more bat flip?
-- Carla, @CarlaCarmact, Halifax, Nova Scotia

There's no chance of Bautista returning to play another game in a Blue Jays uniform, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities that he will eventually retire as a Blue Jay. Toronto honored Roy Halladay that way when the future Hall of Famer announced his retirement in 2013, and it would only seem fitting to give Bautista a similar send-off.

I'd say there's more than a decent chance that could happen at some point, but it will be determined by Bautista, who has yet to show any kind of indication that he plans to retire. The 38-year-old was a late signing in 2018, and he might be one again this year. It just won't be in Toronto.

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

30 best defensive prospects -- 1 for each team

MLB.com

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

American League East

Orioles: Cadyn Grenier, SS, No. 9
Grenier's stellar glovework at shortstop was key in helping Oregon State win the 2018 College World Series, and in the process, he established himself as one of the best defensive prospects in the Draft before going to the Orioles as the No. 37 overall pick. With good hands, plus arm strength and plenty of range, Grenier has all the ingredients needed to stick at the position long term.

Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec, 3B, No. 6
Dalbec has always possessed a strong arm and has worked hard to improve his agility and range at third base, with several Red Sox officials rating him as a plus defender and scouts outside the organization grading him more as solid. He also owns prodigious raw power and ranked second in the Minors in extra-base hits (70) and RBIs (109) last year, and fourth in homers (32).

Yankees: Estevan Florial, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 45)
Florial has some of the best all-around tools in the Minors, with well-above-average raw power, speed and arm strength. He continues to improve as a center fielder, projecting as a plus defender, and has an exceptionally strong arm for the position.

Rays: Lucius Fox, SS, No. 9
While there's no shortage of standout defenders in the highly athletic Rays system, Fox, a top-flight athlete with plus-plus speed, could be the best. He's played shortstop exclusively as a pro and committed 15 errors in 105 games last season while reaching Double-A at age 21. His athleticism makes him an electrifying defender, and he has the requisite physical tools to remain at the position for the long haul.

Video: EAST@WEST: Fox showcases range, slick glove in 3rd

Blue Jays: Kevin Vicuna, SS, unranked
The Blue Jays felt so good about Vicuna's defense in 2017 that they had the then-19-year-old handle shortstop duties for Class A Advanced Dunedin from April 23-June 1, even though Vicuna previously had never played above the Rookie Gulf Coast League. He's an athletic and, at times, flashy defender, with quick, twitchy hands that help him absorb anything hit his way and a quick release that causes his average arm strength to play up across the infield.

AL Central

White Sox: Nick Madrigal, 2B, No. 5 (MLB No. 49)
The White Sox may try Madrigal at shortstop, because he has the hands and actions to thrive there, but his average arm makes him a better fit at second base. With his quickness and instincts, he could be a Gold Glove Award winner at the keystone, and he also rated as the best pure hitter in the 2018 Draft, where he went No. 4 overall.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox

Indians: Eric Haase, C, No. 27
Haase reached the Majors for the first time late last season, seven years after the Indians took him in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft. Though he's blossomed on both sides of the ball during the past two seasons, it's been Haase's defensive gains that have helped him climb the Tribe's depth chart. After throwing out 37 percent of attempted basestealers in 2017, Haase improved that mark to nearly 49 percent in '18 (33 of 68).

Tigers: Jake Rogers, C, No. 12
The Tigers got Rogers as part of the Justin Verlander deal, and in Rogers' first full season with the organization, he cemented himself as the game's best defensive catching prospect, earning a spot on MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team for the second year in a row. He threw out 55.6 percent of potential basestealers in 2018, upping his career rate to 48.5 percent.

Royals: Sebastian Rivero, C, unranked
M.J. Melendez is very athletic for a catcher and has a chance to become a plus defender with an arm to match. Yet South Atlantic League managers rated Rivero, his teammate at Lexington last summer, the low Class A circuit's best defensive backstop in a Baseball America survey last year. The Royals liken Rivero to a young Salvador Perez, and in addition to his physical ability, Rivero also draws raves for his leadership skills, intelligence and work ethic.

Twins: Gilberto Celestino, OF, No. 14
Signed by the Astros for $2.5 million in 2015, Celestino made his United States debut in '17, then got dealt to the Twins in the Ryan Pressly trade last season. He's drawn comparisons to Albert Almora Jr. for his instincts in center, and coaches in Elizabethton feel he's one of the best defenders they've ever seen.

AL West

Astros: Myles Straw, OF, No. 15
Straw has double-plus speed that gives him tremendous range in center field, where his plus arm also stands out at a position not noted for strong throwers. That quickness also plays well on the bases (he topped the Minors with 70 steals in only 79 attempts in 2018) and allows him to beat out hits (he led the Minors with a .358 batting average in '16).

Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF, No. 6
The Angels signed Adams away from playing football and baseball at North Carolina, and he immediately put his tools on display during his pro debut and during instructs. He's still raw, but the Angels feel he has elite range and the highest ceiling as a defender in the organization.

A's: Nick Allen, SS, No. 15
Allen was viewed by many scouts as perhaps the best defensive prospect available in the 2017 Draft, and he's done nothing to diminish that reputation after signing for more than double slot value as the A's third-round pick. There is no doubt among scouts that Allen can stick at shortstop. He's already a plus defender there, with outstanding range that leads to many highlight-reel plays and plus arm strength that allows him to make throws from all over the diamond.

Mariners: Evan White, 1B, No. 5
It's not often a first baseman is mentioned as one of the premier defensive players in the Minors, but that's the reality with White, who recently was named to the All-Defense Team. All signs point to him becoming a Gold Glove Award winner at the position, as he's athletic with outstanding footwork, a strong arm and plus range. His ability to pick throws is elite, and he makes every infielder on his team better as a result.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Rangers: Jose Trevino, C, No. 28
Trevino won Rawlings Minor League Gold Gloves in both 2016 and '17, before surgery on his non-throwing shoulder last July squashed any chances of a three-peat. He's an outstanding receiver and blocker, gets the most out of his strong arm with a quick release and accurate throws and also earns high marks for his ability to run a pitching staff.

National League East

Braves: Cristian Pache, OF, No. 6  (MLB No. 68)
Pache is generally considered to be the best defender in the Minor Leagues, leading our All-Defense Prospect Team. He has the speed and instincts to be a Gold Glove center fielder to go along with a right fielder's arm.

Video: Mayo looks at MLB Pipeline's 2019 All-Defense Team

Marlins: Jose Devers, SS/2B, No. 13
The cousin of Red Sox third basemen Rafael Devers, Jose was acquired by the Marlins last offseason in the blockbuster trade that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx. While he doesn't have his cousin's offensive profile, Devers is a far superior defender, with the soft hands, slick footwork and strong arm needed to be a big league shortstop. He showcased his defensive prowess last season, committing only seven errors and posting a .971 fielding percentage as an 18-year-old in full-season ball.

Mets: Andres Gimenez, SS, No. 1 (MLB No. 55)
The shortstop on our All-Defense Team, Gimenez reached Double-A in 2018 as a teenager. While he needs to add strength offensively, he has everything he needs to play shortstop defensively in the big leagues. He has plus hands, range and the internal clock to allow him to slow the game down.

Phillies: Luis Garcia, SS, No. 14
Signed for $2.5 million in July 2017, Garcia had a tremendous debut in the Gulf Coast League in '18 on both sides of the ball. He has a strong arm to go along with terrific hands and feet, and speed that gives him excellent range to stay at shortstop long term. He's only going to get better as he matures.

Nationals: Victor Robles, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 4)
Revered as one of the top defenders in the Minor Leagues and a member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Robles has game-changing abilities in center field. His near top-of-the-scale speed gives him range for days in center field, and he's made strides in improving both his reads and routes in the past two years. His plus-plus arm is among the strongest in the Minors, and he totaled 29 outfield assists from 2016-17 before an injury-plagued campaign in '18.

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

NL Central

Cubs: Miguel Amaya, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 87)
Amaya's defensive ability and makeup led the Cubs to sign him for $1.25 million out of Panama in 2015, and he continues to impress even though he has been pushed aggressively in the Minors. His aptitude to frame and block pitches is advanced for a teenager, and his arm strength has improved to at least solid and plays up because of his quick transfer and accuracy.

Reds: Mike Siani, OF, No. 9
The Reds' fourth-round pick got first-round money to sign because of his all-around tools. But his defensive skills have long stood out, and he might have been the best defensive outfielder in the 2018 Draft class, with the ability to cover a ton of ground in center and an arm that allowed him to throw low-90s fastballs from the mound in high school.

Brewers: Payton Henry, C, No. 11
A sixth-round pick in 2016 who signed for nearly twice his slot value, Henry threw out nearly 44 percent (46 of 105) of attempted basestealers and had only six passed balls in his first full season. A quick release and a strong, accurate arm help Henry to combat the running game, and evaluators have been impressed with how he's developed a receiving style that utilizes his big, athletic frame. Henry is also praised for his energy and leadership skills.

Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, No. 2 (MLB No. 48)
Hayes was the third baseman on our All-Defense Team, and for good reason. He entered pro ball as one of the better defenders at the hot corner, but he's gotten even better as he's committed himself to his conditioning, adding to his agility and range to make him the best in the Minors at the position.

Cardinals: Delvin Perez, SS, No. 28
The Cardinals' first-round pick in 2016 has had trouble finding any traction offensively, but there are no concerns about his defensive chops. He gets plus grades on his arm and his overall fielding, thanks to a plus arm when he needs it, above-average hands and plus speed that helps him cover a lot of ground.

NL West

D-backs: Geraldo Perdomo, SS, No. 21
Perdomo's United States debut in 2018 was solid all-around, and he even earned a promotion from the Arizona Rookie League to the Pioneer League in the process. Tall and rangy, the teenager has shown the tools to stay at shortstop long term with outstanding range, actions and hands to go with a strong arm.

Rockies: Yonathan Daza, OF, No. 18
Thanks to his plus speed and fine instincts, Daza covers a lot of ground in center field, and he possesses a plus-plus arm that stands out at his position. He's also a career .310 hitter who won the Class A Advanced California League batting title in 2017 with a .341 mark.

Dodgers: Will Smith, C, No. 5
An outstanding athlete for a catcher, Smith has already shown that he's capable of playing third base and filling in at second. He has very soft hands and impressive agility, making him a fine receiver and framer, and he has a solid arm that plays better than that because of his fast footwork.

Padres: Buddy Reed, OF, No. 13
A member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Reed's 70-grade speed and long, gliding strides allow him to cover huge swaths of territory in center field -- and he showcased that with his catch in last year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Reed also has a strong arm and recorded 12 outfield assists in 2018, surpassing his combined total from his first two seasons.

Video: WLD@USA: Reed wired up, makes great grab at the wall

Giants: Joey Bart, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 23)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Bart draws more attention with his bat, but his work behind the plate is impressive as well. He has improved markedly since high school, when scouts wondered if he could stay at catcher, enhancing his agility and receiving and improving the accuracy of his strong arm.

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.

Around the Horn: Vlad Jr. highlights 2019 infield

After promotion, top prospect expected to take over third in talented Toronto diamond
MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays lost one of the biggest names in all of baseball on Aug. 31 last year, when they traded away Josh Donaldson. But the good news is that his soon-to-be replacement might become an even bigger star.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arguably is already considered Toronto's "Face of the Franchise" and he has yet to appear in a Major League game. That will change by late April, and once it does, the future will become the present for a rebuilding Blue Jays organization that features plenty of young talent.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays lost one of the biggest names in all of baseball on Aug. 31 last year, when they traded away Josh Donaldson. But the good news is that his soon-to-be replacement might become an even bigger star.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arguably is already considered Toronto's "Face of the Franchise" and he has yet to appear in a Major League game. That will change by late April, and once it does, the future will become the present for a rebuilding Blue Jays organization that features plenty of young talent.

As MLB.com continues its annual Around the Horn series, it's time to take a closer look at the Blue Jays' infield, where one name in particular looms large above all the others.

Video: Montoyo excited by Guerrero Jr.'s potential

Third base: Guerrero
Guerrero will likely start the season at Triple-A Buffalo, but he won't be there for long. If Toronto waits approximately three weeks into the season before adding Guerrero to the active roster, it will gain an extra year of control as the Dominican native would not be eligible for free agency until at least after the 2025 season.

Prospects normally should be treated with caution, but Guerrero defies all of the game's norms. The question doesn't seem to be if he will become a successful Major Leaguer, but whether he will become one of the game's greats. Hype meets reality this April and Blue Jays fans should enjoy the ride.

Shortstop: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
One of the reasons the Blue Jays released Troy Tulowitzki in December was to clear the way for Gurriel. Bo Bichette still seems to be the shortstop of the future, but he is not expected to arrive until late 2019 at the earliest, which gives Gurriel an early crack at securing the long-term job.

Video: TB@TOR: Gurriel smashes 2 solo homers against Rays

Gurriel clearly has the arm to handle the position, but his footwork still needs to improve. The 25-year-old Cuban is a candidate to eventually shift to second or corner outfield, but for now he's a shortstop, and he will look to build on a strong rookie season, when he posted a .755 OPS over 249 at-bats.

Second base: Devon Travis
Travis should open the year as Toronto's starting second baseman, but he might not be long for the job. Brandon Drury likely will shift from third to second once Guerrero receives his long-awaited promotion, and what that means for Travis' future in the organization is anyone's guess. The 27-year-old had his first healthy season in 2018, but it coincided with a drop in production at the plate. Travis' offense is his biggest asset, but he'll need a strong Spring Training and early April to secure long-term at-bats.

Video: TOR@BAL: Travis smacks a home run to left field

First base: Justin Smoak
Smoak returns for another year after the Blue Jays decided to pick up his $8 million option for 2019. The 32-year-old wasn't quite able to replicate his breakout 2017 season, but he still led the Blue Jays with 25 home runs and 77 RBIs last season en route to being named the team's top player by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Video: TB@TOR: Smoak caps comeback with walk-off HR in 9th

Smoak, who is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season, will be a midseason trade candidate with prospect Rowdy Tellez waiting in the wings.

Utility: Richard Urena
Urena will compete against veteran Eric Sogard for the final spot on Toronto's bench. The 22-year-old Urena was once considered one of the organization's top prospects, but his stock has fallen after a pair of subpar years in Triple-A.

Video: HOU@TOR: Urena corrals a comebacker to get the out

However, Urena's performance in the Majors has been better than his performance in the Minors, and a utility role appears to be in his future. The only question is whether that begins on Opening Day or whether the club would prefer Sogard's veteran influence. There won't be room for both players on the roster unless one of the other infielders goes down with an injury.

Infield: Drury
Drury might be the biggest wild card on this list. The 26-year-old has made it known that he wants to be a third baseman, but the Blue Jays can only offer him that job for a few weeks in early April before handing it over to Guerrero. That's why most people expect Drury to eventually become Toronto's everyday second baseman, but another alternative is using him all over the field in a super-utility role. Drury has played six positions during his career -- so he has the versatility required for a flexible role, but he also wants to find a permanent home.

Video: TOR@SEA: Drury pulls RBI double down the line in 9th

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, Brandon Drury, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Justin Smoak, Devon Travis, Richard Urena

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a bunch of his fellow Blue Jays prospects went curling

Over the last few weeks, much of the baseball world has focused on the future of A's first round-draft pick, Heisman-winning quarterback and generational two-sport athlete Kyler Murray. The debate over whether Murray should play baseball or football has become a huge story thanks to the insanely talented youngster's ability to play two sports outrageously well.

Bart leads list of Top 10 Catching Prospects

MLB.com

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

There's a good amount of turnover on this year's Top 10 Catching Prospects list compared to the 2018 version. That starts at the top, with a member of the 2018 Draft Class, Joey Bart, leading the way.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

There's a good amount of turnover on this year's Top 10 Catching Prospects list compared to the 2018 version. That starts at the top, with a member of the 2018 Draft Class, Joey Bart, leading the way.

Video: Top Prospects: Joey Bart, C, Giants

Francisco Mejia, now with the Padres, continues to be a mainstay, sitting in the top two for the third straight season. Keibert Ruiz of the Dodgers, the A's Sean Murphy and Danny Jansen from the Blue Jays are the other holdovers from last year's Top 10. Graduation caused some serious turnover, with Carson Kelly, now with the D-backs, Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Chance Sisco (Orioles) and Victor Caratini (Cubs) all moving on to larger big league contributions.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Joey Bart, Giants (2021)
2. Francisco Mejia, Padres (2019)
3. Keibert Ruiz, Dodgers (2020)
4. Sean Murphy, A's (2019)
5. Danny Jansen, Blue Jays (2019)
6. Ronaldo Hernandez, Rays (2021)
7. Miguel Amaya, Cubs (2021)
8. Daulton Varsho, D-backs (2020)
9. MJ Melendez, Royals (2021)
10. Andrew Knizner, Cardinals (2019)
Complete list »

Top tools

Hit: Mejia (60)
Mejia has hit at pretty much every stop in the Minors, starting with his 50-game hitting streak and .342 average in 2016. Following his trade to the Padres last year in the Brad Hand deal, he showed what the fuss was about by hitting .328 with Triple-A El Paso en route to making his San Diego debut. His ability to swing the bat from both sides of the plate is well ahead of his defense behind it.

Video: Top Prospects: Francisco Mejia, C, Padres

Power: Bart (60)
The No. 2 overall pick in last June's Draft, Bart not only has a strong college power resume, with double-digit home runs as a sophomore and a junior, but he showed that it would translate immediately in the pro game when he hit 13 home runs in just 45 Northwest League games during his pro debut. He has the potential to hit at least 25 homers annually.

Run: Varsho (55)
There are some who feel Varsho is athletic enough to play second base if catching doesn't work out, and he certainly did nothing to dampen that evaluation during his first full year. Varsho stole 19 bases in 22 tries in just 80 California League games. He then went on to swipe eight more during his Arizona Fall League stint.

Video: Top Prospects: Daulton Varsho, C, D-backs

Arm: Mejia, Murphy (70)
Mejia has thrown out 33 percent of potential basestealers in his Minor League career. Last year, that was down to 28.9 percent, though he also spent less time behind the plate compared to other seasons. Murphy threw out 34.3 percent in 2018, which actually brought his career percentage down to 35.5 percent.

Video: Top Prospects: Sean Murphy, C, Athletics

Field: Murphy (65)
Murphy would be the runner-up on the All-Defense Prospect Team thanks to his all-around work behind the plate. In addition to his arm detailed above, he's agile with excellent blocking, receiving and game-calling skills. He gets very high marks for his ability to work with a pitching staff.

Superlatives

Ceiling: Melendez
The 2017 second-round pick showed off all of his skills during his first full season. He finished fifth in the South Atlantic League in home runs and slugging percentage, and he should tap into his raw power even more as he refines his approach. Behind the plate, Melendez used his plus arm to throw out nearly 42 percent of those trying to steal last season.

Video: Top Prospects: M.J. Melendez, C, Royals

Floor: Ruiz
Murphy could be a candidate if you wanted to focus solely on defense -- his glove will make him a big leaguer. But Ruiz's bat, with the ability to hit for average and power, provides a little more certainty that he'll be a big league regular at the position.

Video: Top Prospects: Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers

Rookie of the Year candidate: Jansen
There are several on this list ready to contribute in 2019, but Jansen appears to be the only one heading into the season as the No. 1 backstop on the depth chart. He had a solid big league debut in August and September last year to build a foundation for his first full year in the big leagues.

Video: Top Prospects: Danny Jansen, C, Blue Jays

Highest riser: Hernandez
Hernandez began 2018 as the Rays' No. 20 prospect, but was up to No. 7 by the end of the season. Now he's jumping onto this Top 10 list for the first time after a year that saw him hit 21 home runs in his full-season debut while throwing out 36 percent of runners trying to steal.

Video: Top Prospects: Ronaldo Hernandez, C, Rays

Humblest beginnings: Knizner
The Cardinals have a knack for finding late-round talent and it looks like they've done it again with Knizner, a seventh-round pick in 2016. The North Carolina State product was a third baseman until he began his catching career as a sophomore and now he's ready to be a big leaguer, thanks to a .310/.373/.460 line and a 36.2 percent caught stealing rate.

Video: Top Prospects: Andrew Knizner, C, Cardinals

Most to prove: Mejia
Yes, Mejia has hit pretty much everywhere he's been in the Minors, but he has a .583 OPS in 76 big league plate appearances, a small sample size for sure. That, combined with questions about his ability to catch full-time and showing he was worth trading for, makes the spotlight a little brighter on him in 2019.

Keep an eye on: William Contreras, Braves
The younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, William had a very strong first taste of full-season ball, earning a promotion to the Class A Advanced Florida State League at age 20. He has a solid approach at the plate with some pop (11 homers in 2018) in addition to a strong arm and solid receiving skills behind it.

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

First Spring Training workout dates for all clubs

MLB.com

Major League Baseball has revealed the first Spring Training workout dates for pitchers and catchers and those for the full squads for all 30 clubs. MLB also announced game times for all Cactus and Grapefruit League action in February and March.

Major League Baseball has revealed the first Spring Training workout dates for pitchers and catchers and those for the full squads for all 30 clubs. MLB also announced game times for all Cactus and Grapefruit League action in February and March.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The A's, fresh off their surprise run to the 2018 American League Wild Card Game, will be the first club to have its pitchers and catchers report. They'll do so on Monday, Feb. 11, followed by the Indians and Mariners on Feb. 12 and the remainder of MLB clubs in the days following. Oakland and Seattle will travel to Tokyo to stage two exhibition games each against Japanese teams on March 17-18, followed by the first two games of the 2019 regular season on March 20-21 at Tokyo Dome.

Complete Spring Training schedule

Oakland and Seattle will hold their first full-squad workouts on Saturday, Feb. 16, in Arizona, with the rest of MLB following suit in the days after. The Braves will be the last club to hold its first full-squad workout, doing so on Thursday, Feb. 21. The A's and Mariners open Cactus League action with a matchup on Feb. 21, and the Rays and Phillies open up Grapefruit League action the following day. The Red Sox and Tigers will play exhibition games against college teams on Feb. 22.

Here are first-workout dates for pitchers and catchers and full squads for each team:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Angels: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Astros: Feb. 14/Feb. 18
Athletics: Feb. 11/Feb. 16
Blue Jays: Feb. 14/Feb. 18
Indians: Feb. 12/Feb. 18
Mariners: Feb. 12/Feb. 16
Orioles: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Rangers: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Rays: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Red Sox: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Royals: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Tigers: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Twins: Feb. 14/Feb. 18
White Sox: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Yankees: Feb. 14/Feb. 19

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Braves: Feb. 16/Feb. 21
Brewers: Feb. 14/Feb. 19
Cardinals: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Cubs: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Diamondbacks: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Dodgers: Feb. 13/Feb. 19
Giants: Feb. 14/Feb. 19
Marlins: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Mets: Feb. 14/Feb. 18
Nationals: Feb. 14/Feb. 19
Padres: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Phillies: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Pirates: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Reds: Feb. 13/Feb. 18
Rockies: Feb. 13/Feb. 18

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

The MLB.com Hall of Fame ballot results are ...

MLB.com

Six MLB.com writers were among those eligible to cast ballots in the 2019 Hall of Fame vote conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

• Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Six MLB.com writers were among those eligible to cast ballots in the 2019 Hall of Fame vote conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

• Complete Hall of Fame coverage

As many as four candidates -- and possibly more -- could be elected, according to the public ballots amassed online. Here's a look at how the six voted, and at the bottom you can see what the totals look like among this group:

T.R. Sullivan
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Roy Halladay
4. Edgar Martinez
5. Fred McGriff
6. Mike Mussina
7. Mariano Rivera
8. Billy Wagner
9. Larry Walker
10. Michael Young

There are many offensive players who could/should be elected based on their career numbers. I strongly believe McGriff is unfairly overlooked because he was one of the last great hitters before the offensive explosion of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Mussina also thrived as a starting pitcher in the American League right in the thick of that era. It should not have taken him this long to be elected. I'm not big on comparables, but Wagner was every bit as good of a reliever as Rivera or Trevor Hoffman.

Video: MLB Tonight on Mike Mussina's Hall of Fame case

Mark Feinsand
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Roy Halladay
4. Edgar Martinez
5. Mike Mussina
6. Manny Ramirez
7. Mariano Rivera
8. Curt Schilling
9. Gary Sheffield
10. Omar Vizquel

Three of the players I voted for a year ago -- Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome -- were inducted into the Hall, so the holdovers (Bonds, Clemens, Edgar, Mussina, Manny, Schilling and Sheffield) took up the first seven spots on my ballot.

That left me with up to three open spots to fill. Rivera was an obvious choice for one of them in his first time on the ballot, as was Halladay, who, despite a modest win total (203), was one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation. Although I delved into their statistics to confirm what I already knew, these two were no-brainers.

Video: Roy Halladay's case for the Hall of Fame

The final spot was a little more difficult. After a first examination of the 26 players, I narrowed down my choice to Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Andy Pettitte, Scott Rolen, Vizquel, Larry Walker and Vernon Wells. (OK, Wells wasn't really on my list, but he was one of my favorite players I ever covered, so I considered using my last spot for him for about 30 seconds.)

Although I probably would have voted for five or six of these players had the ballot been open-ended and without the 10-man limit, my choice ultimately came down to two: Pettitte and Vizquel.

Pettitte is viewed by many as a borderline candidate, a take I can't argue with. While his candidacy might be seen differently by voters, I think he belongs in the conversation. (Based on my voting history, I'm obviously not holding his HGH admission against him.) Having seen similar players such as Jorge Posada, Kenny Lofton and Johan Santana fall off the ballot in their first years, I considered voting for Pettitte in an effort to help him get the requisite 5 percent for him to be on the ballot again next year.

Ultimately, Vizquel's excellence in the field (he took home 11 Gold Gloves and is in the conversation as the best defensive shortstop ever) won out. He might not have been an offensive force, but Vizquel was far from an automatic out, finishing his career with 2,877 hits. Pettitte had a great career and will likely be in the mix for my vote again next year, but my belief that Vizquel should be in the Hall outweighed my hopes of seeing Pettitte remain on the ballot.

Jeffrey Flanagan
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Roy Halladay
4. Andruw Jones
5. Edgar Martinez
6. Mike Mussina
7. Manny Ramirez
8. Mariano Rivera
9. Curt Schilling
10. Larry Walker

It was difficult leaving off McGriff and Rolen, but we only get 10 spots, which is why I've always favored a binary system -- simply yes or no to each candidate. As for the PED issue, my stance hasn't really changed: If what they did (or didn't) do is so egregious, the Hall of Fame should take those players off the ballot. Don't make us be the morality judges.

Video: MLB Network debates Bonds, Clemens' merits for HOF

Richard Justice
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Roy Halladay
4. Edgar Martinez
5. Mike Mussina
6. Mariano Rivera
7. Scott Rolen
8. Curt Schilling
9. Billy Wagner
10. Larry Walker

Easy calls on nine of the 10. All belong in the Hall. As for Wagner, he's one of greatest closers ever, and if they're part of the game (same for DHs), the best of them should be in the Hall. I didn't like leaving off Andruw Jones, Todd Helton, Jeff Kent, Omar Vizquel, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield, who at least deserve to be in the conversation longer.

Jon Paul Morosi
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Roy Halladay
4. Edgar Martinez
5. Fred McGriff
6. Mike Mussina
7. Mariano Rivera
8. Scott Rolen
9. Curt Schilling
10. Larry Walker

I voted for Bonds and Clemens, as I have every year. For now, at least, my policy regarding players tied to PED use remains unchanged: I do not vote for players suspended under MLB's drug policy from 2005 to present, but I support the best all-around players from the complicated era that preceded it.

Rivera is one of the clearest first-ballot Hall of Famers in history, and Halladay's dominant peak (in a hitter-friendly ballpark, against AL East competition) makes him worthy of the Hall. McGriff, overlooked for far too long, hit more home runs -- with a better adjusted OPS -- than first-ballot Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Carl Yastrzemski; McGriff is eminently qualified for Cooperstown.

My toughest decision came among Rolen, Vizquel and Sheffield for the last of my 10 spots. I opted for Rolen, given the overall quality of his career, at a position underrepresented in the Hall. Rolen is one of only three third basemen in history with at least seven Gold Gloves and seven All-Star appearances. The others are Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt.

Video: MLB Network on Edgar Martinez's case for the HOF

Chris Haft
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Roy Halladay
4. Jeff Kent
5. Edgar Martinez
6. Mike Mussina
7. Mariano Rivera
8. Curt Schilling
9. Omar Vizquel
10. Larry Walker

Rivera's career forestalls debate. And if you feel free to vote for closers, you should feel free to vote for other specialists, such as Martinez the designated hitter. I dismounted my moral high horse regarding Bonds and Clemens two or three years ago. I needed some persuasion to vote for Walker; by contrast, I remained stubbornly loyal to Kent. Mussina embodied consistency; Schilling dominated the postseason and Halladay finished 98 games above .500 in just 390 starts. As for Vizquel, I pity those who can't or won't comprehend his excellence.

Vote totals of the 6 MLB.com writers

With 75 percent of the vote needed for entry to the Hall, Bonds, Martinez, Rivera, Mussina, Clemens, Halladay, Schilling and Walker received enough support -- the first six appearing on all six ballots, and the other two appearing on five of six ballots (83 percent) -- from MLB.com writers.

Barry Bonds -- 6 votes
Roger Clemens -- 6
Roy Halladay -- 6
Edgar Martinez -- 6
Mike Mussina -- 6
Mariano Rivera -- 6
Curt Schilling -- 5
Larry Walker -- 5
Fred McGriff -- 2
Manny Ramirez -- 2
Scott Rolen -- 2
Omar Vizquel -- 2
Billy Wagner -- 2
Andruw Jones -- 1
Jeff Kent -- 1
Gary Sheffield -- 1
Michael Young -- 1

These teams could improve from within in '19

Prospect callups, injury returns can equal impact of a star free agent
MLB.com

With so much focus on the free-agent market and trade winds, it can be easy to forget about the other players whose first games will be worth paying just as much attention to next season. The marketplace is one way for teams to improve, but sometimes the answers can be found right within a club's own roster.

Diverting from the Hot Stove for just a second, here's a mix of veterans and rookies we're looking forward to seeing just as much in 2019.

With so much focus on the free-agent market and trade winds, it can be easy to forget about the other players whose first games will be worth paying just as much attention to next season. The marketplace is one way for teams to improve, but sometimes the answers can be found right within a club's own roster.

Diverting from the Hot Stove for just a second, here's a mix of veterans and rookies we're looking forward to seeing just as much in 2019.

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
You can be forgiven if Miggy slipped off your radar for a while; most of his 2018 highlights came in either bitter cold temperatures or dreadful rain, and a torn bicep ended his season by mid-June. But since it's been a while, it's worth a reminder that Cabrera was as lethal as ever in many ways at the plate -- even if the homers were slow to come. Here's where some of Cabrera's contact metrics stood among qualified hitters by the time he tore that bicep tendon on June 12.

• 54.6 percent hard-hit rate (6th)
• 98.1 mph average line drive/fly ball exit velocity (T-17th)
• .315 expected batting average (T-8th)

Cabrera should be back in the Tigers' Opening Day lineup, and while he'll be entering his age-36 season, Detroit is hoping Cabrera can stay on the field enough to showcase that significant talent still left in his bat.

Corey Seager, Dodgers
Here's another big name who's been off the grid for a while, especially after the incredibly deep Dodgers managed to reach the World Series even without one of their bona fide stars. A quick refresher: Seager's 134 league-adjusted OPS+ in 2016 tied for the highest by a rookie shortstop in modern history, and his '17 season was nearly as good despite some elbow issues.

Video: LAD@SF: Seager hammers 2-run homer to right

We just saw Gleyber Torres come back from Tommy John surgery and make an immediate impact for the Yankees. Fangraphs' Steamer projections are similarly optimistic about Seager -- likely due back in May -- believing he'll be somewhere between a 5- to 6-WAR player. The Dodgers might still wind up signing Bryce Harper or trading for J.T. Realmuto, but getting a healthy Seager back in the lineup would be just as impactful.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
There might be no better reflection of the excitement surrounding Guerrero than his Steamer projection, which places him between Aaron Judge and Nolan Arenado among the 20 or so best players by WAR in 2019. Projections are typically conservative, but that's just how much MLB's top prospect has raked in the Minors. Guerrero's OPS hasn't finished below .800 at any level, and his strikeout rate has never risen above 13.4 percent -- still nearly 10 points below the Major League average last season.

Video: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks to impress in the Majors

We don't know exactly when Guerrero will make his Major League debut, but his first big league at-bat figures to be one of the biggest moments on the 2019 calendar.

Eloy Jimenez, White Sox
Baseball's No. 3 prospect isn't far behind Guerrero in terms of his prodigious skill with the bat. Jimenez was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte last June and proceeded to hit .355, compile a .996 OPS and knock 12 homers in 228 plate appearances, ramping up expectations on the South Side for the White Sox biggest piece from their Jose Quintana trade with the Cubs.

"We're hoping that this young man's career for us is going to be one of those future impact guys," White Sox manager Rick Renteria told Baseball America last month. "I don't want to call him a Hall of Famer, because that's a lot to put on a kid's plate, but he has the skill set to potentially be a very, very impactful frontline Major League player."

Jimenez probably could have made it to the big leagues last September, but the White Sox outfield figures to get a lot more potent whenever he arrives this spring. Perhaps Jimenez and Guerrero could give the American League its own version of last summer's thrilling Rookie of the Year race between Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto.

Video: Cassavell on the excitement around Tatis Jr.

Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias, Padres
It's not every day that a team can envision the middle of its infield fortified by two top-50 prospects, but that's the enviable situation San Diego finds itself in with MLB Pipeline's top-ranked prospects at shortstop and second base. Tatis and Urias are 20 and 21, respectively, so they'll take their lumps. But with everything pointing toward 2020 and beyond, Padres fans have to be excited to see two significant pieces of the team's future step closer toward the present.

Jimmy Nelson, Brewers
Milwaukee got within one game of its first World Series appearance since the Reagan administration, and it did so with a new-age mix of bullpenning and diamond-in-the-rough starters like Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley. But here's the type of ace the Brewers hope can step back into the fold this year:

Nelson's ranks among qualified NL starters, 2017

ERA: 8th
FIP: 3rd
K-BB%: 7th
WAR: 4th

Nelson became a breakout ace, but unfortunately his shoulder injury took him away much too quickly. Nelson's rehab went slower than expected last summer, but if he can break camp atop the Brewers' depth chart, he represents a huge boost to their hopes of repeating in the NL Central.

Video: Reyes on returning from elbow surgery

Alex Reyes, Cardinals
This is almost a copy-paste from last year at this time, when Cardinals fans were anxious for Reyes to return from Tommy John surgery and slot in as either a lights-out closer or electric starter. His first game back in 2018 didn't go according to plan, as his velocity dipped after three innings and he wound up needing more surgery for a torn lat. But there's still reasons to be optimistic with Reyes: He hit 97.7 mph in that May 30 start against Milwaukee, and the Brewers were late on many of their swings before his velocity dropped. If Reyes can find that easy gas again and stay on the field, this righty could boost several areas of the Cardinals' pitching staff depending on how they decide to use him.

Michael Pineda, Twins
It's hard to overlook the fact that Pineda has pitched just 89 games since he made the All-Star team as a rookie in 2011, but the big right-hander is cleared for Spring Training and has a chance for his first healthy season in years. There's a lot to unlock if Pineda can take the mound: As MLB.com's Andrew Simon pointed out, he's ranked among the game's upper echelon at missing bats and limiting walks even in his more injury-riddled times as a big leaguer.

Video: CHC@CIN: Darvish strikes out 7, limits Reds to 1 run

Yu Darvish, Cubs
Darvish's injury-riddled 2018 had ripple effects across Chicago's roster: The Cubs picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option this offseason partly as insurance in case Darvish gets hurt again, and that might have kept them financially hamstrung for shopping sprees like the Harper sweepstakes. But a full-strength season from Darvish would be just as beneficial for the North Siders as picking up Harper. Darvish is a dominant staff leader when he's right (a reminder that he's on pace to be one of the game's all-time strikeout-per-nine innings leaders), and the Cubs need him to be that pitcher more than ever with Hamels and Jon Lester continuing to age.

Darvish says he's ready for Spring Training and 2019, and Chicago fans have roughly 101 million remaining reasons to hope he's right.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Blue Jays ink Phelps to 1-year, $2.5 million deal

MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays signed right-hander David Phelps to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with a club option for 2020 on Saturday.

According to MLB.com sources, the deal includes a series of creative incentives. The total value for 2019 could reach $5.75 million while the team option will be valued anywhere from $1 million to $8 million.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays signed right-hander David Phelps to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with a club option for 2020 on Saturday.

According to MLB.com sources, the deal includes a series of creative incentives. The total value for 2019 could reach $5.75 million while the team option will be valued anywhere from $1 million to $8 million.

The incentives for 2019 work as follows: Phelps will receive $125,000 each for 25 and 30 games finished and $250,000 each for 35 and 40 games finished. On top of those incentives is another layer, which involves $250,000 each for 25, 30 and 35 appearances and $350,000 each for 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 appearances.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

The option in 2020 will be worth $1 million if Phelps appears in fewer than 30 games this season, $3 million if he appears between 31-39, $5 million for 40-49, $7 million for more than 50 and fewer than 40 games finished, and $8 million if more than 50 appearances and more than 40 games finished.

The complicated structure seems to make a lot of sense for both sides. Toronto built in some added protection as Phelps continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, which was performed in March of 2017. Phelps receives guaranteed money up front with the possibility of making quite a bit more if the Blue Jays eventually trade closer Ken Giles.

Phelps, 32, made his last big league appearance in 2017, when he posted a 3.40 ERA for the Marlins and Mariners. He offers plenty of swing-and-miss potential with 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings but also 4.2 walks per nine innings. Over a six-year career, he owns a 3.89 ERA in 228 appearances.

The Blue Jays had been looking for another set-up man to join right-hander Ryan Tepera in front of Giles at the back end of the bullpen. Toronto is expected to add another relief arm or two before Opening Day, following the departures of Seunghwan Oh, John Axford, Tyler Clippard and Aaron Loup from last year's bullpen.

Other relievers in the mix for a spot this spring are lefty Tim Mayza along with right-handers Joe Biagini, Danny Barnes, Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano, David Paulino and Jacob Waguespack. Phelps is one of the more proven names on that list and should have no trouble finding a late-inning role if he proves healthy early in the year.

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, David Phelps

1 per team: Players who could stay put until 2025

MLB.com

The 2013 season doesn't seem that long ago, does it? It seems like it just happened. (The passage of time is a crazy thing.) But in the world of baseball, it was a long, long time ago. How long? Look at the top 10 hitters and the top 10 pitchers in WAR in '13. Of those 10 hitters and 10 pitchers, only two players on each list (Mike Trout and Joey Votto among the hitters, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright among the pitchers) are still on the same teams they were just six years ago. That is an astounding amount of turnover, and reminds us how difficult it can be to predict the future.

Nevertheless: Let's try. Today at the Thirty, we attempt to pick the one player on each team's current 40-man roster who is most likely to still be on that roster in six years. Sticking to the current roster raises the level of difficulty. Otherwise, I could just pick Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the Blue Jays, and every other team's top prospect, and be done with it. For this list, you have to be here now and in 2025. The crazy thing about this experiment of guesses: There will be multiple, maybe double-digit, teams that have none.

The 2013 season doesn't seem that long ago, does it? It seems like it just happened. (The passage of time is a crazy thing.) But in the world of baseball, it was a long, long time ago. How long? Look at the top 10 hitters and the top 10 pitchers in WAR in '13. Of those 10 hitters and 10 pitchers, only two players on each list (Mike Trout and Joey Votto among the hitters, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright among the pitchers) are still on the same teams they were just six years ago. That is an astounding amount of turnover, and reminds us how difficult it can be to predict the future.

Nevertheless: Let's try. Today at the Thirty, we attempt to pick the one player on each team's current 40-man roster who is most likely to still be on that roster in six years. Sticking to the current roster raises the level of difficulty. Otherwise, I could just pick Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the Blue Jays, and every other team's top prospect, and be done with it. For this list, you have to be here now and in 2025. The crazy thing about this experiment of guesses: There will be multiple, maybe double-digit, teams that have none.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

Blue Jays: Danny Jansen, C
Unlike Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette, he's already on the 40-man roster; he hit three homers in 81 at-bats last season. Like them, he's currently a top-75 prospect.

Orioles: Trey Mancini, OF
The toughest call on the board. The Orioles are starting over in every conceivable way, and there will be a lot of turnover here in the next few years. The guess here is Mancini, who is a fan favorite already and could maybe hang around long enough to be a platoon or bench bat in 2025, when he'll be only 32.

Rays: Willy Adames, SS
Attempting to guess who will be on the Rays' roster in two years, let alone six, is a fool's errand, but Adames is the centerpiece of everything the Rays are going to be trying to do over the next decade.

Red Sox: Mookie Betts, OF
He's a free agent after the 2020 season, but the Red Sox should never let a star like this get away. And he wants to stay

Video: Betts signs record deal to avoid arbitration

Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton, RF
As the guy who is signed through 2027, he's the obvious pick here. Aaron Judge hits free agency in 2023, by the way.

CENTRAL

Indians: Francisco Lindor, SS
It's tough to imagine the Indians letting Lindor go … though they may have to choose between him and Jose Ramirez.

Video: Lindor gets his second career Silver Slugger Award

Royals: Salvador Perez, C
He survived the last teardown. He's their Yadier Molina -- he'll survive any future ones.

Tigers: Jeimer Candelario, 3B
He's more likely than anyone else here to be a member of the next contending Tigers team.

Twins: Max Kepler, OF
Kepler feels like the type of player the Twins would come to some sort of modest, Paul DeJong-esque extension with, doesn't he?

White Sox: Yoan Moncada, 2B
With any luck, Eloy Jimenez will be there right alongside him.

WEST

Angels: Mike Trout, OF
Put it this way: If Mike Trout isn't on the 2025 Angels, everything about that franchise is radically different than it is right now.

Video: Guardado on the latest between Angels and Trout

Astros: Jose Altuve, 2B
Alex Bregman seems like the most likely extension candidate -- Altuve's deal runs out after the 2024 season -- but the Altuve-Astros relationship feels like one that shouldn't be broken.

Athletics: Matt Chapman, 3B
The ideal extension candidate, Chapman could be the face of the franchise whenever it moves into its new digs.

Mariners: Justus Sheffield, LHP
He made his debut in September, so he's on the Mariners' 40-man, even if he might not start the season in the Majors.

Rangers: Rougned Odor, 2B
He, Elvis Andrus and Joey Gallo will be free agents following the 2022 season. Here's betting Odor is the one who sticks around, if anybody does.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

EAST

Braves: Ronald Acuna Jr.
He'll actually reach free agency after the 2024 season, if you are counting the days. (That's to say: If you're every other team in baseball.)

Video: Snitker on best lineup spot for Acuna Jr. in 2019

Marlins: Lewis Brinson, OF
Considering he remains the primary haul from their trades last offseason, Brinson will get every possible opportunity to prove himself.

Mets: Brandon Nimmo, OF
Though maybe only because first base slugging prospect Peter Alonso isn't on the 40-man yet.

Nationals: Juan Soto, OF
If the Nationals don't extend him, he'll hit the free-agent market with Acuna.

Phillies: Rhys Hoskins, 1B
This answer could very well change depending on how free agency shakes out this offseason.

CENTRAL

Brewers: Josh Hader, LHP
Yes, yes, he's a reliever, but still: He seems like one of the few relievers on earth worthy of talking long-term, under-market extension with, yes?

Cardinals: Paul DeJong, SS
The extension he signed last year gives the Cardinals team options on him in both 2024 and '25, and if he keeps playing like he has been, they'll happily pick them both up. (It's also possible the answer here is Yadier Molina, and may be through 2035.)

Cubs: Kris Bryant, 3B
This will be the most-watched are-they-gonna-extend-him-soon? story in baseball over the next couple of years.

Video: Kris Bryant is the No. 8 third baseman right now

Pirates: Mitch Keller, RHP
He's already on the 40-man, and he might be the best pitcher in an already underrated rotation by season's end.

Reds: Eugenio Suarez, 3B
He's signed through 2024, and the Reds have a club option on him for '25. Also, top prospect Nick Senzel isn't on the 40-man yet.

WEST

D-backs: Ketel Marte, SS
He's already got options for 2023 and '24, and he'll just be into his 30s when the D-backs have to make their next decision on him. Newly acquired catcher Carson Kelly could be the answer here as well.

Dodgers: Corey Seager, SS
Isn't right now the perfect time to start talking extension with Seager?

Giants: Buster Posey, C
As long as Posey is still playing, he'll be a Giant … right, Farhan?

Padres: Franmil Reyes, OF
It's tough to even imagine this kid being 30 someday.

Rockies: Nolan Arenado, 3B
They did a mega-extension with Charlie Blackmon last offseason, so they are clearly willing to go that route. Arenado is eligible for free agency next winter, so we'll find out his long-term fate pretty soon.

Video: Arenado seeks record $30 million in arbitration

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Blue Jays swap Martin, net 2 Minor Leaguers

Infielder Brito, right-hander Sopko acquired from Dodgers
MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have turned the page on another chapter in franchise history by trading veteran catcher Russell Martin and cash considerations to the Dodgers for Minor League shortstop Ronny Brito and right-hander Andrew Sopko.

Martin had been on the trading block for the past several months as the Blue Jays looked to transition rookie catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire to the Major Leagues. Toronto agreed to pick up $16.4 million of Martin's $20 million salary to facilitate the deal.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have turned the page on another chapter in franchise history by trading veteran catcher Russell Martin and cash considerations to the Dodgers for Minor League shortstop Ronny Brito and right-hander Andrew Sopko.

Martin had been on the trading block for the past several months as the Blue Jays looked to transition rookie catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire to the Major Leagues. Toronto agreed to pick up $16.4 million of Martin's $20 million salary to facilitate the deal.

The 35-year-old Martin was one of the last remaining pieces the Blue Jays had from their back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series. He joined Toronto prior to 2015 on a five-year contract worth $82 million, and he soon helped the Blue Jays snap a 25-year postseason drought.

"This deal made sense with our depth at catching," Blue Jays executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager Ross Atkins said. "We've added a young pitcher to the upper levels of our system and we've added another middle infielder to our system. It made sense in the short term and in the long term for us."

The most important aspect of this deal for the Blue Jays is that it marks the end of one era and the start of another. The transition began in September when Toronto relegated a healthy Martin to the bench for all but two games while Jansen and McGuire split most of the workload. That youth movement is now expected to continue.

Jansen is the clear favorite to take over as the No. 1 catcher. The 23-year-old broke onto the scene in mid-August, and he impressed during his brief stint with nine extra-base hits, eight RBIs and a .347 on-base percentage. Ranked as the No. 65 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Jansen projects to have a plus bat, but he will have his hands full defensively as he learns a new staff at the big-league level.

The trade also opens the door for McGuire, who is less certain to make the Opening Day roster, but at the very least, he will compete for a job along with Luke Maile. McGuire is known mostly for his defense; his strong arm was on full display last year as a September callup when he threw out a couple of baserunners in seven starts. The 23-year-old also has drawn praise for gamecalling and as a left-handed hitter he's an ideal partner for Jansen.

Tweet from @BlueJays: For your leadership.For your passion.For representing Canada's Team 🇨 pic.twitter.com/LT2tbkgANq

Jansen might be the favorite for the No. 1 job on Opening Day, but it's quite possible these two will battle it out over the next several years. They pushed each other last season at Triple-A Buffalo where Jansen picked up team MVP honors after hitting .275 with 21 doubles, 12 home runs and 58 RBIs. The glove-first McGuire had more difficulty at the plate with a .233/.312/.339 slash line, but he did have nine hits in 33 at-bats with Toronto as a September callup.

Maile has options remaining on his contract and he is a candidate to open the year at Triple-A Buffalo, but the organization may prefer to keep both of the rookies playing every day. That would involve one starting in Toronto and the other starting in Buffalo.

"There are no guarantees at this point," Atkins said. "Luke would certainly understand that. He has been in that position before. We'll want guys to play on a regular basis as much as we can. So that lends to Luke being on our Major League team, and because more playing time for one of the two younger catchers in Triple-A seems to make some sense. At the same time, that is not close to being etched in stone and there's a lot of time left in this offseason, too."

Friday's trade should prove to be equally as beneficial for Martin, who gets to play for a contender and rejoin the organization that made him a 17th-round pick in the 2002 MLB Draft. Martin spent four seasons with Toronto, and he hit .225/.336/.399 over 447 games. His biggest contributions came when the Blue Jays were contending as he made an AL All-Star team, and he had back-to-back seasons with at least 20 home runs from 2015-16.

The final two years were a bit of a different story. Martin was limited to 91 games in 2017 because of injuries and last season his offensive struggles eventually led to a drastic reduction in playing time. With the Dodgers, he joins a team that recently lost Yasmani Grandal to free agency and has aspirations of another NL West title.

"Russ has been very professional, he has been appreciative of his time here in Toronto and everything he has meant to this organization," Atkins said. "This country has been very powerful for him and obviously for us. Russ was great. I think the world of Russ. I told him on the phone he's one of the toughest individuals I've ever watched play the game of baseball."

Brito was ranked the Dodgers' No. 23 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline. The 19-year-old appeared in 53 games of Rookie ball last season and hit .288/.352/.489. According to Pipeline, Brito was one of the best defenders in his 2015-16 international class, which helped secure a $2 million bonus. He needs a lot more time to develop, but he has Gold Glove Award-caliber skills; his skills at the plate are quite raw.

Sopko was not ranked among Los Angeles' top prospects. The 24-year-old split last season between Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa while posting a combined 6-5 record with a 3.52 ERA over 26 appearances (22 starts). He'll likely become a candidate to join the starting rotation at Triple-A Buffalo.

"We knew Sopko as an amateur well," Atkins said. "We had at least six solid amateur scouting reports that really helped us in this decision, and certainly had a great deal of information on him as a professional. Had learned about him from an employee of ours that had worked with him at some point, in terms of teammate and makeup and his performance is encouraging.

"With Brito, we knew him before he was signed as well. ... We're excited about his performance this year. The overall ability, the spike in performance we feel like could have something to do with being disrupted by a couple of injuries. He had a broken leg and after that he has really, really performed at a very high rate for a 19-year-old shortstop."

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, Russell Martin