The off-season has arrived and, of course, many baseball thinkers out there have their ideas about what the Blue Jays should do moving forward. It’s not unrealistic for the Blue Jays to bounce back from their disappointing 2017, however, there are areas of concerns and holes in the lineup that need to be addressed if this club is going to be able to hang with the elite of the American League. Recent comments by Ross Atkins certainly reinforced the idea that they’re likely going to mostly stick with their aging core. Realistically, then, this group has a three-month window, from the beginning of the season, to convince the front office that they have another run in them. If not, we could see even deeper changes.
In the meantime, the Jays need have to try to reconcile that will to compete with the fact that Mark ShapIro has made it quite clear that their plan is also to keep strengthening their minor league system, with the goal being to build a strong and sustainable pipeline of talent available to the big league team. You can’t really argue against this approach, but it means that, for now, the organization will be less willing to trade players like Vlad Jr. or Bo Bichette.
That doesn’t mean that prospect deals are entirely off the table, though. But with Vlad and Bo surely off limits, and players like Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernández too close to the big leagues to be moved, I wondered which other prospects are out there — either for trade or for the Blue Jays to keep themselves. To find out, I contacted the awesome, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (voice of the Lansing Lugnuts and a great Twitter follow at @jgoldstrass), to discuss which players look like they’re ready to will shred in the Jays’ farm system like Eddie Van Halen next year.
* * *
Logan Warmoth has to be a candidate to make noise in 2018, right? What do you have to say about Logan, Jesse?
Are we talking about the 1st-rounder enough? He was the Jays’ top pick last year, batted .361/.422/.526 in his first 24 games, and then ran down, understandable due to the long summer. Now, let’s say he goes out in Lansing or Dunedin in 2018, snatches an All-Star nod, batting .320+ with an .800 OPS and strong defense — reasonable expectations, all. Noise increased, and people should start to dream on a Vlad/Bo/Warmoth infield.
Do you think that ShapIro and Atkins would consider trading either Bichette or Warmoth?
Not yet. Bichette just destroyed all expectations, and Warmoth was just drafted as their top overall pick. If they did, it would have to be because 1) they caught wind of something untenable about one of them, or 2) someone became available to them on another team that they simply couldn’t pass up. Now, “untradeable” is a heavy word. In the Blue Jays’ organization, I’m tempted to think Vlad Jr. should be the only true untradeable guy right now. Still, if you’re going to deal away a potential MLB multiple-All-Star infielder, as both of those guys should be, you either have to be sure something’s wrong with one of them – or be sure you’re getting something great back in response. (Example: Giving up Franklin Barreto in the Josh Donaldson deal.)
Let me give you another guy to watch this coming year: Edward Olivares. Why couldn’t Edward be the next Teoscar Hernández? They’re the same height, the build, and they possess the same power/speed combination. He’s coming off a 26-double, 9-triple, 17-homer, 18- steal season in Lansing. A big 2018 in Dunedin makes him a legitimate prospect and gives the Jays another dynamic outfielder who impacts the game offensively and defensively. Olivares would have totally made a lot more noise last year if he wasn’t, ya know, sharing the field with Bichette and Vlad Jr.
Where do you think he will finish out the season next year?
I hope he does exactly what he did in 2017, where he tore up his Opening Day assignment, shouldered the offensive burden after Bo/Vlad were promoted, and earned his own promotion not long afterward. He should start 2018 in Dunedin and finish it in New Hampshire.
The farm has some real potential outfield pieces that could potentially share the turf at the Rogers Centre in 2020 if all goes well, I think. Maybe an outfield of Alford, Hernández, and Olivares is a real possibility and could give the future Blue Jays speed, defence, athleticism, and hitting. I don’t want to get too carried away here, but the aces are high – Iron Maiden? Yes – that’s noise. Okay, moving on…
Now, let’s not forget about some of the young arms in the system too, let’s just spit some names out there to begin, Jesse.
Begin with the premier starting talents: Ryan Borucki, T.J. Zeuch, Nate Pearson.
Okay, let’s just stop there – so Nate Pearson should start the season in Lansing, right?
I’d love it if he did, but… what if he showed up and dominated spring training? He should, shouldn’t he? So I’d say Pearson is a strong bet to start the year in Dunedin, just like T.J. Zeuch did in 2017, and then finish the year in New Hampshire. MLB ETA 2020, aggressively late 2019.
Now, here’s the thing I’m thinking, Pearson is the new Noah Syndergaard.
My bet is that he’s more polished than Noah. We saw Noah just out of high school when he was a kid, starting to master his stuff. Pearson is a college guy, and thicker/sturdier. But they’re both definitely cut from the same mold: big honkin’ likeable right-handers who throw gas.
Now, how soon until Borucki and Zeuch are in the show – I’d like to think 2019 is their year, you?
Agreed. Borucki should be up in May/June/July. (His chief competition is Pannone.) Zeuch, if he excels, could be up in September.
Other interesting arms: Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, Jon Harris, Conner Greene, Jordan Romano, Angel Perdomo, Patrick Murphy, Justin Maese, Yennsy Diaz, and onward, with more guys due to be added once I see them pitch in Lansing in 2018. (The word is that the Jays felt great about the pitchers they picked up in June’s draft.) Consider this a bold prediction to stock away — by 2019, around the time of Vlad/Bo’s arrival, we’re going to be talking about the terrific pitching depth in the system.
And as the millennials would say, that’s dope AF. Now, from that list, if you had to choose three that you think will have impact caliber arms, who would you pick and why?
Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, Conner Greene. The Jays acquired Pannone from Cleveland for Joe Smith because they saw him as a future MLB lefty arm in their rotation. He’s polished. Reid-Foley and Greene aren’t polished and there’s a question as to whether their future comes in the rotation or the bullpen. Either way, they’ll both pitch in the Majors. Reid-Foley ranks above Greene due to command.
When do you see this future Blue Jays team becoming the now? I tend to think they transition toward it in 2019 and ’20, you?
Agreed. 2019 is going to be a new-look Jays team. It has to be, honestly. That said, we’re not going to see Bo and Vlad Jr. at their bests until we hit the next decade. We have to be ready for scuffles in their early moments in the Majors. The optimal situation sees them helping out like Miguel Cabrera on the 2003 Marlins World Champions; a tremendous young talent playing without any expectation of pressure. Miguel Cabrera in 2003 was 20 years old. It was two years after he had played in the Midwest League. In 2004, he was very good. In 2005, he was GREAT. That’s the schedule we want Vladimir Jr. on.
And here’s a future thought, Jesse – I think Stroman is the pitcher to captain this rotation in the years to come. Now, with Stroman as that guy and Sanchez/Borucki/Zeuch/Pearson, as a good future core, who do you think could be trade pieces for ShapIro and Atkins?
Everyone else. I figure that potential injuries are going to slow one or more of these guys down. The Jays need to develop others — Justin Maese, Patrick Murphy, and Yennsy Diaz, to name three — as potential depth. They become trade assets if Pearson, Zeuch, and Borucki pan out. The more prospects developed, the better. You can’t be scared of trading prospects, either. Sometimes a guy is Noah Syndergaard, most of the time he isn’t. We have yet to see the ceiling that Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, or Jairo Labourt will reach, for instance, but as of this moment I think we’d agree to trade them all again for David Price.
I don’t think any of us would trade 2015 for anything, really. Thanks so much for this great prospect talk, Jesse!
* * *
It really is hard to know what future talent will end up being — especially in baseball, as compared to hockey, basketball, and football. There isn’t total certainty in those sports by any stretch, but there is a greater level of certainty in first round draft picks. Unfortunately for baseball, that’s just not the case. Teams can’t bet on their first round picks — or really prospects at any stage — to be sure things. Just look at Deck McGuire, who the Blue Jays just recently signed.
Alex Anthopoulos drafted McGuire 11th overall in the first round ahead of Chris Sale. It’s crazy to think now, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.
Still, one thing for certain: the Blue Jays have definitely done some great work over the last two years when it comes to improving their farm system. After a bit of a lull, where some guys like Conner Greene and Sean Reid-Foley maybe went a bit sideways in terms of their development, it’s starting to get really fun to look at the future of the Blue Jays. There are a lot of names that should make some MiLB noise next year — and hopefully at Rogers Centre in the not-too-distant future, too.