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Pipeline report: Blue Jays camp

Farm system suggests impressive youth movement on the way
MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on Blue Jays.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays struggled to finish last season as they relied heavily on an older and often injury-plagued Major League roster. While the club won't be much younger in 2018, the Blue Jays have a youth movement on the way that could set up the team as a perennial playoff contender in the coming years.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on Blue Jays.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays struggled to finish last season as they relied heavily on an older and often injury-plagued Major League roster. While the club won't be much younger in 2018, the Blue Jays have a youth movement on the way that could set up the team as a perennial playoff contender in the coming years.

Blue Jays' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Nate Pearson

No. 9 in MLB Pipeline's latest system talent rankings, the Blue Jays boast the best offensive prospect duo in the Minor Leagues in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the organization's Nos. 1 and 2 prospects, respectively. Their impact potential was on full display in 2017, when the pair thrived alongside each other in their first full season while putting up gaudy numbers across Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin.

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

Guerrero, the son of 2004 AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero and MLB Pipeline's No. 3 overall prospect, proved an exceptional talent last season, showing preternatural hitting ability, power potential and an overall feel for the game that has him poised to soon become a star at the highest level. The recipient of the second-highest bonus in franchise history when he signed for $3.9 million in July 2015, Guerrero, at age 18, produced a .323/.425/.485 batting line, with 13 home runs, 28 doubles and more walks (76) than strikeouts (62) in 119 games between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues.

Bichette, meanwhile, was equally impressive. Playing the entire season at age 19, the No. 13 overall prospect and son of former four-time Rockies All-Star Dante Bichette, took Midwest League MVP honors and led all Minor Leaguers in batting average. Playing in 110 games between the two levels, he slashed .362/.423/.565 with 14 home runs, 41 doubles and 22 stolen bases. Factor in his stellar pro debut from the previous year, and Bichette, a 2016 second-rounder, heads into 2018 with a .372/.427/.591 batting line in 132 career games.

Though obviously blown away by the teenagers' on-field performances, it was how they both went about their business while positively influencing other players within the organization that has the Blue Jays convinced more than ever that they house a pair of future stars.

"Vladdy has an absolute passion to play to this game, absolutely loves baseball," said Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim. "You can see that through the way he brings positive energy on a consistent basis and how he's always smiling and working hard when challenged with defensive drills. His level of focus in-game is high and he likes to compete, and that's an area we're very excited about with Vladdy, because it does translate to other players."

Kim's praise also extends to Bichette, who, like Guerrero, has emerged as an organizational leader on and off the field.

"Bo is an intense competitor who comes to beat you and wants to be great. That attitude is felt amongst his teammates and throughout the organization," he said.

While the Blue Jays knew that they were getting an impressive offensive talent in Bichette, a natural shortstop, they also knew there were questions about his future defensive home. Some of those questions still remain, although Bichette certainly has done his part to assuage such concerns within the organization.

"The level of commitment Bo has shown in playing shortstop and improving his defense the past two years is just outstanding," Kim said. "This past offseason, Bo proactively reached out to our infield coordinator Danny Solano and came [to Dunedin] twice per week to work with Danny on his defense. He was asking us for video clips of him last season to compare them to other Major League shortstops.

"Bo's taking ownership of his career, and that's very exciting."

Arms on the rise

The Blue Jays added a pair of high-ceiling arms to their system in 2017, drafting hard-throwing right-hander Nate Pearson with the second of their two first-round picks and then inking 16-year-old Brazilian righty Eric Pardinho the following month at the outset of the international signing period.

Pearson, whom Toronto selected No. 28 overall out of JC of Central Florida and ranks No. 4 on the Blue Jays' new Top 30 prospects list, has more upside than any hurler in the Blue Jays' system. Making all but one start during his pro debut with Class A Short Season Vancouver, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder posted a 0.95 ERA and a 0.58 WHIP over 19 innings (seven starts), with 24 strikeouts and a .097 opponents' average. He continued to thrive in the postseason, turning in two impressive starts that were key in helping the Canadians claim the Northwest League title.

"It's a mid- to upper-90s fastball, even triple digits at times, with late life," said Kim of the 21-year-old righty. "The slider and the changeup are both quality secondary pitches; he has a curveball as well. He's a power pitcher, and that ability is only enhanced by the makeup and competitiveness that he shows.

"Nate has a level of intensity and competitiveness to him, not just on the mound, but with his commitment to routines. He has a very strong work ethic, takes his recovery and arm-care routine very seriously. To have a pitcher at that age who is already as competitive and intense with his preparation and routines as he is on the mound is awesome."

Pardinho, on the other hand, is yet to make his professional debut but already ranks as one of the organization's better prospects, checking in at No. 7 on Toronto's Top 30 list after signing for $1.4 million.

"Eric's a very humble person; he gets on the mound and has a quiet confidence about him. For such a young pitcher, he has an advanced feel for pitching. He has a very talented arm, throws a variety of secondary offerings and commands his entire mix," noted Kim.

"He has all of the ability to be a very good Major League starter someday, but, again, it's his level of humility that has probably been one of the most impressive things about him so far."

Video: Alford on debut, Jansen on his catching abilities

Camp standouts

The Blue Jays stocked up on up-the-middle players in the 2017 Draft, using their first five picks to select Pearson and a pair of shortstops and catchers. Among the latter group was Riley Adams, the club's third-round pick and No. 16 prospect for 2018.

After standing out for his physicality and right-handed power potential while at the University of San Diego, Adams has impressed the Blue Jays with his development and overall maturation behind the plate since entering the organization.

"What we love about Riley is his leadership and his presence behind the plate," noted Kim. "He prioritizes relationships with pitchers and communication, and he has one of the strongest work ethics in the organization. He obviously has not just the ability, but more the quality of teammate that he's been and shown here in camp, in terms of helping guys like Hagen Danner and some of the other younger catchers, has been the impressive thing about him."

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Toronto Blue Jays