The future took center stage for the Blue Jays in 2019 with the arrivals of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, as the club’s talented young duo -- along with a slew of other rookies -- made for a bright spot in an otherwise rocky season that saw the club post its first 95-loss season since 1980.
Going into the season, MLB Pipeline ranked Toronto’s farm system as the fifth-best in baseball on the merits of its star power up top as well as its overall depth. Vlad Jr.’s graduation from prospect to big leaguer inevitably dealt a blow to the system -- it checked in at No. 10 on MLB Pipeline’s post-Deadline Top 15 organizational rankings in August (prior to Bichette’s graduation) -- but as a whole the Blue Jays’ system remained strong over the course of the ’19 season, thanks largely to another strong Draft and some notable prospect acquisitions via trades.
The departures of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez means that there will be plenty of opportunity for young pitchers like Sean Reid-Foley, Anthony Kay and T.J. Zeuch to carve out a spot in the rotation next season, and it shouldn’t be long until they’re joined in the big leagues by fireballer Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays’ top prospect.
Pearson, MLB Pipeline’s No. 10 overall prospect, headlines the organization’s current crop of high-ceiling arms and will enter 2020 on the cusp of the Major Leagues after finishing his first full season in Triple-A. 2019 first-rounder Alek Manoah’s power stuff could help him to make a Pearson-like rise through the Minors, and the same goes for Simeon Woods Richardson, who finished his age-18 season in the Florida State League after the Blue Jays acquired him in the Stroman trade.
The Blue Jays’ next wave of hitters is further off and will need years to develop, but they do have some potential impact bats in teenagers Jordan Groshans (MLB Pipeline’s No. 67 prospect), Orelvis Martinez and Gabriel Moreno, as well as countless others who seem poised to make significant gains in 2020.
TOP 5 PROSPECTS
HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR
Alejandro Kirk, C (No. 12): Signed for $7,500 out of Mexico in 2016, Kirk opened the 2019 season with Class A Lansing before making the jump up to Class A Advanced Dunedin, where he kept rolling at the plate. The 21-year-old finished the season hitting .290 over 92 games with seven home runs, 31 doubles and an OPS of .868. But perhaps what stood out most was Kirk’s advanced approach, as he recorded 56 walks against 39 strikeouts in 372 plate appearances.
Nate Pearson, RHP (No. 1): The Blue Jays’ 2017 first-rounder flashed his huge potential in last year’s Arizona Fall League after an injury-shortened regular season in which he tossed just 1 1/3 frames, then emerged as one of baseball’s best pitching prospects in his first healthy season, ascending from Class A Advanced Dunedin to Triple-A Buffalo. Across the three stops, the 23-year-old flamethrower compiled a 2.30 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and .176 BAA, with 119 strikeouts and 27 walks in 101 2/3 innings (25 starts).
Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP (No. 6): The Mets’ second-round pick from the 2018 Draft pitched better than his numbers suggest at Class A Columbia, and he made six impressive starts for Dunedin after joining the Blue Jays in the Marcus Stroman Trade Deadline deal to finish with a 126/24 K/BB and .238 BAA in 106 2/3 innings. The 19-year-old righty is a high-ceiling pitching prospect, armed with a plus fastball-curveball combo, a promising changeup and an advanced overall feel for his craft.
Kevin Smith, SS/3B (No. 13): A fourth-round pick in 2017 out of Maryland, Smith made waves in his first full season by posting an .886 OPS with 25 homers, 93 RBIs and 29 steals across two levels, only to regress mightily in 2019 as he moved up to Double-A. He slashed .209/.263/.402 with 151 strikeouts In 116 games at New Hampshire, then posted a .308 OPS with 38 strikeouts in 63 at-bats across 18 games in the Arizona Fall League.
Draft: Alek Manoah, RHP, 1st round (No. 3); Kendall Williams, RHP, 2nd round (No. 11); Dasan Brown, OF, 3rd round (No. 18); Will Robertson, OF, 4th round (No. 19); Tanner Morris, SS, 5th round (No. 24); Philip Clarke, C, 9th round Complete Draft list »
International: Rikelvin De Castro, IF; Estiven Machado, SS; Robert Robertis, OF; Peniel Brito, OF
Trade: Anthony Kay, LHP (from Mets); Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP (from Mets); Tom Hatch, RHP (from Cubs); Kyle Johnston, RHP (from Nationals); Curtis Taylor, RHP (from Rays)
The Blue Jays targeted big, physical pitchers early in the 2019 Draft, taking Manoah, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, with the No. 11 overall pick, followed by Williams, another 6-foot-6 righty, in the second round. They continued to add arms at the Deadline, landing the Mets’ two best pitching prospects in Kay and Woods Richardson for Stroman, along with several other established Minor League hurlers in smaller deals. The Blue Jays once again were players on the international market in ’19, as they inked De Castro (MLB Pipeline’s No. 29 international prospect) for $1.2 million and signed three other players for $600,000 or more.
2020 IMPACT PROSPECT
Nate Pearson, RHP: With size, durability and truly electric stuff, Pearson has everything that one looks for in a potential front-of-the-rotation pitcher. Working off of a fastball that routinely touches triple digits, Pearson vanquishes right-handed hitters with his plus slider and has made strides improving his changeup, giving him a weapon against lefties. The Blue Jays will handle him with care again in 2020, but there inevitably will come a time when it will be for the organization hard to justify keeping him in Triple-A.
Hit: Alejandro Kirk
Power: Griffin Conine
Run: Dasan Brown
Arm: Chavez Young
Field: Gabriel Moreno
Fastball: Nate Pearson
Curve: Patrick Murphy
Changeup: Simeon Woods Richardson
Control: Maximo Castillo
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
Toronto’s success in the Draft is reflected by the club’s rookie-filled big league roster as well as its Top 30 list, where former first-rounders Pearson (2017), Groshans (2018) and Manoah (2019) are occupying the Nos. 1-3 spots. Overall, more than half of the players on the Blue Jays’ Top 30 were drafted by the organization. What’s more, the Blue Jays have landed some of the top hitters on the international market in recent years, often acquiring additional international pool money en route to landing the likes of Vlad Jr. (2015), Miguel Hiraldo (2017) and Orelvis Martinez (2018).
TOP 30 BY POSITION
The Blue Jays have amassed an impressive collection of high-ceiling and high-floor hurlers in recent years, as 13 spots on the club’s current Top 30 list belong to pitchers. That group features six pitchers ranked in the top 10, including five of the organization’s top six prospects. That catchers and shortstops combine for 11 spots on the Top 30 reflects the organization’s ongoing effort to stockpile up-the-middle players, many of whom are likely to be coveted by other organizations should the Blue Jays pursue a trade.