Toronto Minor League Spring Training report

April 21st, 2021

Austin Martin and Jordan Groshans rank as the No. 6 and 7 shortstop prospects in the game, according to MLB Pipeline. They also happen to share the same organization with the Blue Jays and, these days, even the same alternate training site at Toronto's Minor League complex in Dunedin. As if that wasn't enough, they are following in the same footsteps of player-development success story Bo Bichette -- the extra-base-loving young hitter who occupies the very same position in the Majors.

In short, they know the score.

"They're obviously aware, regardless of whether we address it specifically with them or not," said Blue Jays assistant director of player development Joe Sclafani. "Thinking about those types of things, they have had a great attitude about all of it. They just want to become the best baseball players that they can be."

Too many shortstops across the board is a classic good problem to have in the prospect world, and no one will find the Jays or their players complaining any time soon. But it's important to remember why Martin and Groshans could give Toronto such a promising predicament in short order.

Martin was selected by the Jays with last year's fifth overall pick after a stellar three-year run at Vanderbilt. The right-handed slugger finished his time with the Commodores as a .367 hitter with a 1.007 collegiate OPS over 140 games. He also played every position in college besides right field and catcher, meaning Toronto could mold him defensively however they saw fit. The Jays have set on shortstop in the early going, hoping that even if Martin is average there his bat will push him to the position's elite.

It's a strategy they've gone through before with Groshans, a first-round pick himself in 2018. The Texas native was off to a hot start with Class A Lansing in 2019, hitting .337/.427/.482 over 23 games before he suffered a season-ending foot injury in May. The canceled Minor League season in 2020 robbed Groshans of a chance to pick things back up in competitive play, and like Martin, he was forced get what he could out of the organization's alternate training site in Rochester.

Now in Dunedin, the Jays have been left with a pair of promising 1999-born prospects who could both play the premium position of short. Groshans has the stronger arm of the pair and also has three inches on Martin, making him a natural option to slide over to third. He did so for three Grapefruit League games in Major League camp and continues to give the hot corner looks in alternate-site workouts and games. Martin, meanwhile, has moved back to center, third and second -- all in hopes of cracking manager Charlie Montoyo's Major League lineup as quickly as possible.

"They both want to play shortstop," Sclafani said. "We're trying to figure out the best way to continue to let them get as many shortstop reps as possible but they see how the game has transitioned and especially how Charlie's using the versatile guys in the big leagues. They realize that [versatility] gives them the best chance to get there sooner."

It's interesting that both Martin (who turned 22 in March) and Groshans (who will do so in November) are at the alternate training site at all. Philosophies differ by organization, but most clubs have treated the alt site as a Triple-A roster, keeping only the Minor Leaguers who could help the big club quickly in that space. The Jays have utilized a different tactic with several top prospects moving from Major League camp straight to the alt site in hopes of maintaining their spring momentum.

"They were obviously a few weeks ahead of the rest of the guys that were coming in," Sclafani said, "so we thought developmentally, it was the best thing for them to do to continue to get games against the best competition that they could play against. We will likely move them out at some point, but right now they're in a great spot."

Given his deeper experience in the pro game, Groshans would appear to be a candidate for a higher level than Martin, possibly at Double-A New Hampshire while the latter seems like a candidate for High-A Vancouver. No matter where they're exactly placed, expect the two to be separate for now. Toronto will gladly sort out the problem of who is the true shortstop of the group at a later date.

"We want to give those guys a chance to continue to develop at shortstop because they both feel like they're shortstops at heart," said Sclafani, "and we agree with them."

Alternate training site report
No one came out of Major League Spring Training hotter than No. 7 prospect Alek Manoah, and that hasn't stopped since his move to the Minor League complex in Dunedin.

The 2019 11th overall pick touched as high as 97.8 mph on the Statcast radar guns and leaned heavily on his above-average slider to great effect. The results in his three Grapefruit League appearances were eye-popping. Manoah struck out 15 of the 24 batters he faced and allowed only one hit and no walks (though three hit batsmen) over seven innings. Even though the former West Virginia ace did appear at last year's alternate site, Manoah pitched like he was making up for lost time.

"I think that's the part that people tend to forget a little bit is that this is his first full season," Sclafani said. "He was so determined throughout the shutdown and obviously got a great experience at the alt site last year. He went home, and he worked his tail off. He did everything that we had asked them to do and wanted to make an impression at big league camp again. For him to come in and do what he did was really impressive and just kudos to him for how hard he worked."

Like Martin and Groshans, Manoah is unlikely to open up at Triple-A Buffalo despite his work with the alt-site group now, but there's little doubt the right-hander will be raring to go wherever he does report. Manoah is up to five innings in his spring outings as he closes out April.

"We're not holding him back in any way," Sclafani said. "He wants to pitch. He wants to compete. He loves to be out there, so he'll stay at that number for a little bit. Then depending on how things shake out when our teams break in a little over a week or so, he'll be full go and ready to push."

Camp standout
The Jays have been waiting to get Adam Kloffenstein really going since the right-hander -- a high-school teammate and friend of Groshans -- was taken in the third round of the 2018 Draft.

Kloffenstein spent 2019 at the short-season level with Vancouver and was then robbed of a chance to extend himself in 2020. That said, he did get a chance to pitch in the independent Constellation Energy League back in his home state, where he played for Team Texas (featuring a coaching appearance by Roger Clemens) and Sugar Land. The results on the field weren't stellar by way of a 4.64 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 12 walks in 21 1/3 innings, but the experience against some former Major Leaguers and Triple-A caliber players forced the 6-foot-5 hurler to grow in what could have been an off year. His 93-94 mph sinking fastball showed more promise, as did his pair of above-average breaking pitches. That has carried over to this spring, and Sclafani noted that Kloffenstein's time in indy ball should have a lasting effect beyond Minor League camp.

"I think it definitely had a big impact on him," said the Toronto exec. "He was around a lot of advanced guys. He was one of the youngest guys in the league too. Being on Roger Clemens' team and talking to a bunch of guys, I think it just helped open his eyes to some different ways of doing things, and he tried to pick and choose what he liked, what will work for him. ... He struggled a little bit, and he was candid about that when we talked about it. But it was great that he has used that to fuel his fire a little bit."

Among other standouts, the Jays have been pleased with how advanced Gabriel Moreno continues to look from behind the plate and the way middle infielder Leonardo Jimenez has carried his momentum after going 3-for-6 in the Grapefruit League as a 19-year-old.

Prospect we'll be talking about in 2022
Orelvis Martinez could have gotten even more serious consideration for a Top 100 prospect spot, had he been able to play a normal 2020 season. The shortstop signed for $3.5 million in July 2018, and one year later, he backed up Toronto's investment by hitting .275/.352/.549 with 20 extra-base hits and only 29 strikeouts over 40 games in the complex-level Gulf Coast League.

Ranked as Toronto's No. 6 prospect, Martinez spent part of what would have been his first full season at Toronto's alternate training site last year, and ahead of his age-19 campaign, the right-handed slugger held his own comfortably in the Grapefruit League, where he went 4-for-11 (.364) with a homer and a double. Now, he has carried his 55-grade hit tool and plus power potential back to Minor League camp, where he no longer looks like just one of the young guys.

"With the way his maturity has come along and the ways he's had his routines buttoned up, he's really shown some exciting growth," Sclafani said. "Can't wait for him to get into some more games and show what he can do in a full season."

In the Dominican
The Jays have run two different camps at their complex in the Dominican Republic to this point. The first one in January was meant to welcome those who signed early in the 2021 international window and acclimate them to the Toronto system over the course of a two-week program. The second served as a ramping up for 15 players who eventually moved stateside for Minor League Spring Training. The organization will open the facility a third time in about a month for preseason preparation for the Dominican Summer League campaign.

No. 20 prospect Manuel Beltre featured as part of the early program in January. The 16-year-old shortstop signed for $2.35 million out of the Dominican Republic, thanks to his above-average hit tool from the right side and impressive infield arm. He was already considered fairly ahead of other players his age because of his travel-ball experience back home, and the Jays have backed that up with an aggressive approach early in his career.

"He's been here in Minor League camp as well, which has been a lot of fun," Sclafani said. "He's a lot of fun to be around, brings great energy every day. He's definitely pretty advanced and fits right in with our group here."