Blue Jays get glimpse of future this spring

Five prospects are standing out in Grapefruit League play

March 26th, 2021

TORONTO -- The structure of Spring Training in 2021 gave many of the Blue Jays’ top prospects an opportunity to compete against Major League talent in camp.

In some cases, these young players have made a statement to the organization and set themselves up to advance their timeline. This is particularly impressive following a lost Minor League season, given how differently that impacted each prospect.

No. 5 prospect Alejandro Kirk has done everything in his power to crack the Opening Day roster and be a major piece of this Blue Jays offense in 2021, but here are five other members of Toronto’s Top 30 who have opened eyes in camp.

RHP Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 4, No. 87 in MLB)

The 20-year-old has looked right at home facing Major League hitters over eight scoreless innings this spring, with just four hits allowed and eight strikeouts. If you blinked, you might have missed a few of those. Woods Richardson works as quickly as any pitcher in the organization, and given the depth and maturity of his arsenal, it’s difficult to poke many holes in his game at this age.

“My mentality on the mound, my confidence on the mound and the way I carry myself on the field, it just gives me motivation,” Woods Richardson said Thursday. “That’s what I play with. I play with a chip on my shoulder. I play very fast-paced.”

A start in Double-A New Hampshire makes sense out of the gates for Woods Richardson, and while a 2021 Major League debut isn’t the likely outcome, it’s not entirely off the table, by any means.

RHP Alek Manoah (No. 7)

Manoah entered camp in a unique spot. Drafted 11th overall in the 2019 Draft, the big right-hander looked great in his pro debut with the Vancouver Canadians, posting a 2.65 ERA over 17 innings, but just as he was building some momentum in 2020, he had to hit pause. Manoah’s talent was never in question, but the polish his game has shown this spring exceeds all expectations.

“It’s been good for me to understand that the stuff plays,” Manoah said last week. “Just go out there and be yourself. You don’t need to be too much. You don’t need to shoot yourself down. Just go out there, stay level-headed and let the game take care of the rest. I just do everything I can control.”

Opening camp by striking out 11 Yankees over five innings between two outings is as good as it gets. Manoah still has development in front of him, but if he still has some gas in the tank at the end of the season and is still reaching into the upper 90s, the door to a bullpen debut will remain cracked open.

C Riley Adams (No. 19)

Between the five catchers on the 40-man roster, Danny Jansen naturally earns attention as the starter, while Kirk is already a fan favorite. No. 8 prospect Gabriel Moreno’s arrow is pointing up, too. Adams’ name was typically saved for the next breath of that conversation, but that’s changed recently.

“Riley Adams has made an impression and said, ‘Don't forget about me,’” president and CEO Mark Shapiro said Thursday. “The ability to impact a baseball, a big strong physical [catcher] behind the plate who receives well and can lead a staff.”

Having Moreno open in Double-A and Adams in Triple-A lines up well for the Blue Jays. Adams’ defense will be the main variable here, but he’s got some legitimate pop, shown by his two home runs this spring, and it’s easy to envision him as a Major Leaguer.

RHP T.J. Zeuch (No. 28)

Zeuch pitches to contact and doesn’t rack up strikeout numbers, making him an outlier compared to most modern pitching prospects. For a time, it didn’t look like Zeuch’s style fit this era of baseball, but he’s gotten some life back on his sinker and has earned widespread praise throughout the organization this spring.

“It’s definitely come back with adjustments in the swing and guys handling the ball up a little better now, they’re a little more vulnerable and susceptible to that sinker,” said pitching coach Pete Walker. “He feels a lot better about where he fits in. You start to second guess where you actually fit in the game, I’m sure, as a sinkerballer, the way it was going. With his stuff and the results he’s getting, he’s got power to his sinker right now, and mentally, he’s extremely confident.”

OF Josh Palacios (No. 29)

Early in camp, Palacios’ name kept coming back when members of the Blue Jays organization were asked which players made the best use of 2020 and the offseason. Palacios summarized it simply.

“Mindset, focus and reps,” Palacios said. “I’ve got to get a lot more reps, a lot more comfortability than I had in 2019. I think staying consistent with what I was doing, keeping those reps and making it more muscle memory so I don’t have to think about it as much has helped.”

Jonathan Davis is still ahead of Palacios on the outfield depth chart when a center fielder is needed, but now that Palacios is putting his athletic gifts together in game situations more consistently, he’s firmly on the radar in 2021.