Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Prospects! Prospects! Prospects!

Ahhh, prospects. Used to be that’s all we had ’round these parts. Or, they used to be all we thought we had, before José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación decided to get great and fucked everything up!

I joke, of course. But it was in the first year of the post-Halladay rebuild, 2010, when we all were ready to dream on Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud, and Brett Wallace’s monstrous hips that José exploded into superstardom — taking a whole lot of shit for being one of the game’s first true out-of-nowhere post-testing elite sluggers along the way, handling that stupidity remarkably well, which is something he has never really gotten enough credit for. The following year Brett Lawrie had his late summer cameo, in which he looked like Josh Donaldson (ca. 2013-2016… *SIGH*) for six weeks, after tearing up the PCL all season. Edwin went nutso to the tune of 43 home runs the following year.

Suddenly, ahead of schedule, after grooming a great many fans into hugging prospects like a security blanked, everything changed. Prospects suddenly became capital, whether we liked it or not, as the Jays tried to take advantage of the great, cheap core pieces Edwin and José had built themselves into. And the days of prospect hugging — true, shameless, unabashed prospect hugging — sort of went away.

Oh, there have been prospects to drool over since. Sanchez and Stroman coming up. Osuna would have been one had he not jumped so quickly to the big leagues. Dan Norris was a thing for a time. Jeff Hoffman was definitely a thing. But nothing quite like the days of d’Arnaud, Gose, Marisnick, Norris, Hechavarria, and the Lansing Three.

Those days are coming again, though. The Jays continue to say that they’re aiming to contend in 2018, and maybe they will be — there’s more on the big league roster to like than people give credit for; if you like your endpoints arbitrary, they’ve played .500 ball since the inexplicable 1-9 start; and some of their more disappointing players (Bautista, Liriano, Estrada) are coming off the books — but it’s more likely to be a bumpy ride from here back to full-on World Series contender status. And when they do get there again, it will be on the backs of a lot of the guys that are currently in the farm system.

This is a good thing, because the system is actually really starting to take shape after the dip it took following the massive trades of 2015.

MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, and FanGraphs have all released major prospect updates this week — and Keith Law had one for ESPN.com that I missed taking a look at a couple weeks ago — and I think they’re all worth checking out…

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We’ll start with MLB Pipeline, which is the big one, really, because — for one thing — whatever you think about the league-owned scouting service, it’s fuckin’ robust, and it’s all publicly available. That makes it maybe a little too easy for people to not go much farther than here sometimes, though that isn’t to say it’s not good!

Anyway, Pipeline released its Midseason Top 100 this week, and it turns out that Vladimir Guerrero and Bo Bichette are two of the better prospects in baseball! (I know, I was shocked by this, too).

Vlad is their sixth best prospect, up from 34th before the season started. As you’d expect, they mention his “preternatural ability to barrel the ball,” and impressive plate discipline, but it’s not like there aren’t still potential obstacles ahead. “Guerrero boasts the offensive profile of a future All-Star who should spend much of his career hitting in the middle of a big league lineup. However, retaining his athleticism without becoming too bulky could pose as a challenge for Guerrero moving forward, and possibly portend a move to the outfield or first base.”

I can live with that!

Bichette’s jump is, somehow, even more impressive than Vlad’s. He now ranks 30th, with Nick Senzel (Reds third baseman, ranked 11th, taken second overall) now the only player from the 2016 draft to rank ahead of him. Bichette was taken 66th! And even though that number doesn’t quite reflect what club’s thought of him — he claimed to have turned down several offers in the draft, using his commitment to play at Arizona State to find a situation that suited him best (and gave him a big enough bonus) — but still! In the companion piece, Jonathan Mayo notes that Bichette made the biggest leap of anyone who didn’t make the preseason list (71 spots, from a theoretical 101 all the way up to 30), which was trumped only by the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, who moved up 80 spots from 93rd to 13th). (Of course, we don’t know if Bichette was actually 101st — he probably wouldn’t have been, had the rankings gone that deep — so his move upward may have been even more impressive).

Hey, and Anthony Alford hung around on the list, too, moving from 70th to 49th… presumably mostly because of graduations ahead of him, since he really hasn’t had all that much of a season (just 43 games in the minors) due to injuries. Speaking of which, he was activated off the DL and optioned to New Hampshire on Tuesday (where he’d already been playing on a rehab assignment).

The other reason I call MLB Pipeline “the big one” is because they’ve also updated their Blue Jays top 30 list — and provided public scouting reports for each and every one of those players.

I don’t want to cut and paste too much out of that, but the Jays-specific list worth digging into. Some thoughts:

  • Logan Warmoth jumps all the way up to 4th, ahead of last year’s top pick TJ Zeuch (5th), and Sean Reid-Foley (6th).
  • The Jays’ second pick this year, Nate Pearson, follows them, then it’s Max Pentecost getting some love at 8th after his long trip through the injury wilderness.
  • Rowdy Tellez and Conner Sheen go from 5th and 6th to 12th and 11th respectively. Yeesh. Though… justifiable when you see young Rowdy’s .203/.272/.325 line at Buffalo, or Conner’s 4.96 ERA.
  • Three catchers — 2017 draftees Hagen Danner and Riley Adams, and Pentecost (technically) — ahead of Danny Jansen? Hmmm…
  • I thought Ryan Borucki might end up a little higher than 13th, but I guess they’re still a little cool on him, saying that he merely “continues to show the ingredients needed to develop into a back-end starter.”
  • You can rank the just-signed Eric Pardinho but not Lourdes Gurriel? Okaaaaay. (The fine print at the bottom explains: “The rankings follow the guidelines laid out by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in terms of who falls under the international pool money rules: Players who are at least 23 years old and played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.”)
  • Speaking of prospects of yore (which… weren’t we?) seeing the name Zach Jackson on here is a real trip.

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Moving on, and speaking of Gurriel (which… weren’t we?), Baseball America has updated their Jays top 10, and the young Cuba did meet their eligibility rules, ranking fourth. It’s Pentecost who surprises here, jumping from outside the pre-season top 10 into 5th. I guess they think the bat will play even if he can’t catch — though people seem to think his receiving is making strides despite a lot of lost development time, but that it’s his oft-operated-on shoulder that might make throwing well enough an issue.

Tellez was sixth for BA heading into the season, but has slipped out of the top ten, though Greene moves back only one spot (he was 5th, now takes Tellez’s place at 6th). Perhaps the crew at BA is of a like mind with Keith Law on Greene. In his most recent chat, Law had this to say about the young right-hander:

Erix: Hey Keith. Last week you mentioned Connor Greene as a fringe top 50 prospect. I’m curious as to what the reports on him are. Scouting the stat line (I know) shows little swing and miss, and too many walks (but an elite groundball rate). Thanks!
Keith Law: He’s been up to 98 pretty regularly and will at least flash above-average secondary stuff. Still not fully filled out physically either.

I’ll take that! And speaking of KLaw, his mid-season top 50 dropped a little over a week ago, and as one would expect by this point, Vladito and Bichette. Vlad (8th) “might be his father with patience,” he says — a terrifying thought for anybody but Blue Jays fans — while he mentions Bichette’s “almost wild approach” as he ranks him 34th. Thing about that approach is, apparently one of the reasons he felt that the Jays organization was the best place for him was the fact that they were going to allow him to continue to be himself and not try to overhaul his swing too much. Safe to say it’s working out well for both…

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Finally we come to FanGraphs, who here on Wednesday released their mid-season top 100 based on KATOH — their ever-more-sophisticated minor league projection system. Originally based purely on minor league stats, Chris Mitchell has since incorporated an element of scouting as well, creating “KATOH+”.

Here’s what I wrote about this new element when I looked at Mitchell’s/KATOH’s pre-season top 100 back in March:

You can read here about last season’s changes — which also takes you deep into the heart of Mitchell’s methodology overall. And in the preamble to this year’s top 100, he explains that he has introduced a parallel KATOH that he calls KATOH+. In that ranking, the stat-line projections of the original system are blended with scouting information. Specifically, he incorporates players’ rankings on Baseball America’s Top 100 list, and, for those outside the top 100, their Future Value grades from FanGraphs’ own Eric Longenhagen.

How he does so, I haven’t the foggiest idea, but I assume it can only be the correct way, because… Vlad Jr. ranks second!

Vlad Jr. no longer ranks second. HE RANKS FIRST!

And by a pretty damned nice margin, too. KATOH+ pegs him for 19.6 WAR over his first six years of big league service — second-ranked Gleyber Torres of the Yankees gets just 16.3. For… y’know… whatever little all this is worth.

Even the version of the system based on stats alone like Vlad, albeit not quite as much: he ranks third.

KATOH also likes Bo Bichette, who ranks 23rd on the Plus version, and 19th on the stats-only. And there’s one more Blue Jays prospect on the lists: on the stats-only one, Danny Janson cracks the top 100, coming in at 83rd. One thinks that with a little more scout love — which he may ultimately get if his bat keeps producing the way it’s done so far this season in New Hampshire (.298/.393/.435 — and as a right-handed hitter, so it’s no mirage from that crazy short porch in Manchester).

So… yeah…