The 2017 season hasn’t gone as planned in Toronto. The Blue Jays, expected to contend again after back-to-back trips to the ALCS, are 9-18 after one month of play. It’s been bad, it’s been ugly, it’s been frustrating, it’s been hard to swallow.
Thankfully, there are some prospects tearing up the minors worth paying attention to. Most notably, two guys in Lansing. Oh, wow. Prospects in Lansing finding their way to the Blue Jays spotlight during a catastrophic, disappointing season? That sounds familiar!
Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have been absurd for the Lugnuts so far this season, earning them nods on Baseball America’s All-Prospect Team for April. Joining them is Anthony Alford, who’s enjoyed a bounce-back season after an injury-riddled 2016 campaign.
Bichette, who the Jays drafted with the 66th pick in last year’s draft, has been tearing the cover off the ball since hitting the pros. His dad, Dante Bichette, was a good hitter back in the 90s with the Colorado Rockies, and was their hitting coach for a few seasons. Bichette, a high school student at the time, apparently said before the draft the Jays were the team he wanted to sign with, and part of that came down to his familiarity with Troy Tulowitzki from his dad’s Rockies days.
So far through 19 games and 87 plate appearances, Bichette has three home runs and 16 RBIs, and has slashed a .360/.448/.587 line. That’s right where he left off in 2016, where he mashed 1.182 OPS in 22 games with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in rookie ball before having his season cut short due to having to have an appendectomy. He wasn’t ranked in Baseball American’s Top-100 prospects in their pre-season rankings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes by the end of the season.
His teammate, Vlady Guerrero Jr, is obviously the more well-known prospect on the Lugnuts. Vlady Jr. was ranked 20th on Baseball America’s Top-100 list, which was far and away the highest of any Blue Jay prospect. Still on 18 years old (!!!), Vlady Jr. was the second-youngest player on any full-season opening day roster. He’s mashed three homers and 13 RBIs, slashing a very good .333/.449/.991 line through 21 games and 89 plate appearances.
The most impressive stat, though? He’s struck out only 12 times, and he’s walked 14 times. This kid, 18 years old, the son of the legendary hitter who swung at everything has walked more times than he’s struck out. That’s probably one of the best indicators of future success at the minor league levels. There’s no doubt that in Low-A ball you’re facing mediocre pitchers who have, like, one plus pitch, or guys who working on new stuff, so inflated production is expected. But the fact he’s showing such strong discipline is a very good sign.
And finally, we have Anthony Alford, the only one of the three on the Blue Jays’ immediate radar. Alford, like I said, missed a good chunk of the 2016 season because of a concussion and a knee injury. But this year, fully healthy, Alford has finally started to see his swing come together, which is the one thing that was expected to hold him back from really making it. Alford was ranked 59th on Baseball America’s Top-100, but at one time was ranked 25th. Remember, Alford only started playing baseball full-time in 2015, having seen a quarterback for Ole Miss.
Through 21 games and 90 plate appearances for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Alford has slashed a .321/.389/.457 line with two homers. He’s only walked nine times in comparison to his 18 strikeouts, though. But this Double-A ball. There are actually good pitchers at this level.
So that’s all encouraging stuff! Hopefully we don’t have to prospect watch all summer, but it’s good to have guys ripping it up in the system regardless.