TORONTO -- Toronto's Minor League system is still a work in progress, but with a developing core of young talent, the Blue Jays have a lot more depth than they did at this time last year.With the exception of a brief appearance from Anthony Alford, and the September callups of
TORONTO -- Toronto's Minor League system is still a work in progress, but with a developing core of young talent, the Blue Jays have a lot more depth than they did at this time last year.
With the exception of a brief appearance from Anthony Alford, and the September callups of Teoscar Hernandez, Richard Urena and Carlos Ramirez, 2017 was not a year for Blue Jays rookies. It should be a different story in '18.
Here's a closer look at some of Toronto's top prospects, who could become factors at some point next season:
OF Alford (No. 3): Barring something unexpected, Alford will not make the team out of Spring Training, but he could become an option midway through the year. Toronto's outfield of Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, Kevin Pillar and Hernandez won't be enough to bury Alford on the depth chart, and it seems like only a matter of time before he receives an opportunity. Alford hit .343/.373/.443 in the Mexican League this winter, and he will look to carry that success into the spring. He has more upside than just about anyone on this list, and he remains a core piece of the future.
C Danny Jansen (No. 17): Jansen is expected to open the year with Triple-A Buffalo, where he will compete against fellow prospect Reese McGuire for a possible promotion. Toronto appears inclined to start the season with Russell Martin and Luke Maile behind the plate, but if Martin goes down with another injury, it could open the door for Jansen. The 22-year-old has always been respected for his defensive abilities, but his stock soared in 2017, thanks to batting a combined .323/.400/.484 in all three levels of the Minors. Jansen appears to be the catcher of the future.
RHP Ramirez: Ramirez was an unknown at this time last year, but the converted outfielder rose through the ranks, thanks to a borderline historic season. Ramirez did not allow an earned run over 25 appearances in the Minors, and his brief audition with the big league club was a success with five earned runs over 16 2/3 innings. Ramirez will compete for a job this spring, but regardless of what happens, he figures to assume a prominent role at some point during the year. The scary thing is with only three years of pitching under his belt, Ramirez might just be getting started.
LHP Thomas Pannone (No. 22) and LHP Ryan Borucki (No. 13): The Blue Jays used a rotating cast of characters to fill out their rotation in 2017, but this year, the backup roles should belong to a couple of promising prospects. Borucki began last season with Class A Advanced Dunedin and by the end of the year moved on to Buffalo, which is where he will return in '18. Pannone was acquired as part of the deal for reliever Joe Smith, and he is coming off a year in which he posted a 2.36 ERA over 25 starts. These two will be the first line of defense in case injuries continue to be a problem.
RHP Conner Greene (No. 11): Greene was added to the Blue Jays' 40-man roster earlier this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He has the ability to maintain upper-90s velocity deep into his starts, but command continues to be a problem, as does the development of his secondary pitches. Toronto remains committed to him as a starting pitcher despite this past season's 5.29 ERA in Double-A, but if at some point that changes, he could become a potential dominant reliever.
3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (No. 1): A list of Toronto top prospects cannot be complete without mentioning Guerrero. Just like teammate and fellow prospect Bo Bichette, it seems almost impossible that Guerrero will become a factor this early, but considering his talent, it also can't be ruled out entirely. He'll begin the year in either Dunedin or New Hampshire, but he should be in Buffalo by the end of the season. Guerrero has the potential to become a generational position player, something Toronto has not developed since Carlos Delgado.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.