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First Look at Potential Blue Jays Farm Rosters: High-A Vancouver Canadians

Minor League full-season teams have roster limits, as you might expect.

It’s set at 28 for AAA and AA, and 30 for the two A-ball squads. As things stand, there are at least five too many guys associated with the Bisons’ squad, though of course a certain number of guys will regularly be found on the IL.

I make 30-31 guys contending for the Fisher Cats roster. But the issue is that for both teams there are about 12 candidates for the bullpen which doesn’t fit. That situation only gets worse in Vancouver and, boy, wait until you see the crowd in Dunedin.

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As per my pattern, let’s start with the rotation…

Last week I mentioned the two most highly regarded starters on this roster as long-shot promotion candidates. Rather than try to say the same stuff in different terms, let me just quote myself: There are at least two highly regarded prospects who spent time in High-A Vancouver last year that will get at least some consideration for a promotion when camp breaks.

Adam Kloffenstein, still just 21, had a disappointing overall line last year, in a season that had some peaks and some very low valleys. The big issue was the troubling tendency to lose the zone, sometimes in the middle of what had been an impressive start, leading to a 5.4 BB/9 ratio on the season. He’ll need to show he’s found a path out of that maze in order to move up, I’m not sure why they would rush him until he does.

On the other hand, there’s Sem Robberse. A year younger than Kloffenstein, and more polished, he earned his way to an August Vancouver promotion with impressive work in Dunedin but it took him much of the rest of the season to gain his footing. Like Klof, there’s no urgency to push him out of Spring unless he really wows them this month. It’s much more likely these two start the year back with the Canadians.

The next guy I need to mention came up last week as well. I’ve seen commentary that suggests that Yosver Zulueta will be started out at Dunedin again and that’s certainly possible, but at 24 and in his last year before they have to make a 40 man roster decision, and given other aggressive decisions in the last few years, I don’t think they will dither. Zulu was the darling of spring training a year ago. The then 23-year-old signed out of Cuba needed a little polish but was creating buzz every time he took the mound. He’s fully recovered from the major knee injury that ended her season last year and my guess is that they put him here which C’s fans will surely enjoy. Of the three, he’s the most likely to earn a mid-season bump to AA.

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Next in line is 2020 draftee Trent Palmer, who recovered from early-season issues with his control to a magnificent stretch run that saw him post a 2.32 ERA over his last seven starts covering 38.2 IP, striking out 43 and giving up just 18 hits,  thanks in large part to throwing two 7 inning no-hitters in this run. The walks were still higher than ideal, but they had been over 9 per 9 IP coming into August so progress. He’s pretty much a lock for this rotation.

There are a lot of things that could happen with the fifth spot. The most typical would be 2021 4th round choice Chad Dallas. Given the staggering amount of arms Dunedin has to sift through, Dallas being a college pick starting at high-A is not really a stretch. A couple of other guys from that draft are getting more buzz but they are three years younger so are more likely in the mix for Dunedin. First-rounder Gunnar Hoglund will be at least mid-season getting into a game that counts.

Another possibility is 22-year-old Eddison Gonzalez. Acquired from Tampa Bay after 2019 to complete a mid-season deadline deal,  Gonzalez had come off a promising campaign. A 2.45 ERA in the now-defunct NY-Penn League, with 77 strikeouts and a most impressive 13 walks in 62.1 innings. He missed all of 2021 with an undisclosed injury (Tommy John?). Looking in from outside, we can’t guess how the recovery (and recovery of skills) will go but I’m rooting for this one.

Last year, Paxton Schultz came over from the Brewers early in the year and did…fine. At least until early August, then he faded badly down the stretch. He’s trending towards org filler status unless he can reverse that trend.  Beyond that, as far as on roster guys, it’s basically filler. Troy Watson, who also missed the year with injury and was mediocre in Lansing when he did pitch, and Sean Wymer, also coming off injury,  who was once thought promising but has regularly sucked when on the mound. Both are in danger of being released this spring. There’s also Alejandro Melean who pretty much sucked in 14 starts last year but had better outcomes in the ‘pen so he’s not a factor here either.

If there’s an opening it’s likely Naswell Paulino is first in line to get promoted from Dunedin. His 3.82 ERA and .207 OBA speak well of him, as well as his 10.1 K/9 argue for it, his 5.6 BB/9 argues a little against. Behind him might be Michael Dominguez. A 2019 pick in the 15th round, he came into last season with only 24 professional innings, and his first appearance was July 9 (Tommy John? These things are seldom reported at this stake). When he has pitched, though, he’s done quality work.  Later in the season, Eric Pardinho (reportedly healthy) and 2021 draftee Ricky Tiedemann will be pushing. More on these guys next week.

CJ Van Eck would be in this discussion but he’s out for the year with Tommy John surgery.

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The bullpen is much more uncertain…

There are at least 14 candidates, not counting the several potential promotions from Dunedin, but none of them are particularly impressive. Let me see if I can sort out who might be worth commenting on.

One of those is the aforementioned Alejandro Melean who struck out 30 (and walked 10) in 22 relief innings for a 3.62 ERA. Like others before him, he might blossom in a full-time relief role. Beyond Melean and Juenger whom I’m certain will be promoted, there are no less than 12 bullpen candidates on this roster not counting washed-out starters and guys who might need to move up from even more crowded Dunedin and most of them don’t have impressive results to recommend them. Not all of these guys are going to make it until opening day. If there’s another potential breakout here’s it’s probably Gabriel Ponce.

He’s 22, a 2019 draft pick, and had a 13.2 K/9 and 7.7 H/9. But like so many relievers at the lower levels, the K’s are tempered by too many walks – 5.6/9 in this case. Thomas Ruwe‘s results are not that dissimilar, but he’s 26 and was signed out of indy ball so you can read that as either both of them have upside, or as that it’s not all that hard to run up strikeouts as a pitcher in A ball.

There are 10 other guys theoretically in play on this roster but, frankly, none of them are good enough for me to highlight their name. Some of them will surely escape being released but it’s more because you need to have more than 3-5 arms down there. Rule 5 pick Abdiel Mendoza, listed on the Buffalo roster because that’s how it works, will probably land here because (a) he’s 23, (b) he has no experience above A-ball, and (c) there’s a lot softer competition on this roster. He might be a bit better than most of these guys.

It’s worth noting that a lot of these mediocre to bad guys could be pushed aside by promotions, particularly by 2021 draftees. Connor Cooke, 10th round, has some mild buzz in the early days of camp. Jimmy Burnette (28th) is likely good enough to be here. Matt Svanson (13th) did well in his cup of coffee last summer. There’s also Trent Wallace and Hunter Gregory – it would not be a total shock if all five of these guys made the squad rather than some of the poorly performing incumbents. Also, Conor Larkin but he didn’t pitch professionally last year and I have no basis to speculate. I should also note that they may see any of these guys as starters over the long term and they only pitched in relief last year because they were just drafted.

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Mar 29, 2021; Clearwater, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays Orelvis Martinez (95) look on after hitting a home run during the sixth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at BayCare Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Among the hitters, most of these guys have something to prove…

Behind the plate, the likely starter is Zach Britton, the 5th round choice in 2020. He played some OF in 2021, but got the big majority of his playing time behind the plate. A .743 OPS wasn’t awful, particularly compared to the other guys I’m about to mention, but you’d like him to make more contact, and show more pop. Still, moving back behind the plate after having been out is a demanding task so patience is key. Behind him could be…any number of guys. There’s Rodrigo Vigil who’s now fourth on the depth chart in Buffalo (but who’s also 28), there’s Anthony Morales who can’t hit at all, and Jose Ferrer who’s even worse (no idea how their defense is but something must be keeping them employed). Maybe Andres Sosa? He hit well in all of nine complex at-bats, then poorly in 16 for Dunedin – but I imagine this job will be decided by glove work.

At 1B, PK Morris is the obvious choice. One might think of him as a poor man’s Spencer Horwitz, he put up a .407 OBP in Dunedin last summer, but a .412 slugging leaves much to be desired. At 2B, most starts will likely go to Addison Barger. He’s a SS and will see time there as well when this other guy I’m about to mention isn’t at short. He was very streaky at the plate last year and will need to gain some consistency. You could argue that he might break in AA but with the players ahead of him, he seems to be better fitted here.

The “other guy” in question, of course, is #2 overall Jays prospect Orelvis Martinez. Virtually everyone agrees that he’s ultimately a 3B (I personally wonder, if he and Groshans stay in the organization, which will seem better suited to move out to RF, I suspect it’s Martinez). But like with Groshans, they will likely continue to give him a large share of SS appearances for now, while working him at third maybe a quarter to a third of his games. Wherever he plays, it’s his bat that turns heads. His combined 28 homers in 98 games across both A ball teams last year was the story but he also had 26 doubles and if you dream on those rates over a full MLB season… And he may just be getting started.

At third, the guy with the most reps on his sheets is John Aiello. He’s 25, old for the level, but he’s only gotten to play in nine games since 2019, when he did fine but not great at Lansing. The bench features a few guys with some flexibility. Trevor Schwecke has significant innings at every IF position, but he’s apparently not much of a hitter. Davis Schneider has most of his work at 2B but can play third. And Hugo Cardona is primarily a SS but can play 2B naturally.

In the outfield, I’ve got a revised take. Last week I suggested Zac Cook as a potential AA assignment on opening day, I wrote of him thus: “Get used to the name Zac Cook. Cook was an undrafted Free Agent after the super-short 2020 draft and he’s looking like a find in early returns. After an .820 OPS in 34 games at Dunedin, he got pushed to Vancouver where he got even better running up a .901 OPS in 48 games. His strikeouts are too high but otherwise a fine debut. Announced as a 2B at signing, he got some turns there but a lot more innings in CF and LF.” However, that projection was mainly driven by offense.

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The other four players I mentioned for the AA outfield have two legit CF and another guy who can play there, while there’s really no obvious candidate, other than Cook, to play CF in Vancouver. Technically, any of the three – Cook, Berroa, and Eden – could be the one left back.

My hunch is based on maximizing Cook’s chance to refine his skills in CF whereas the other two would lose less by sharing time there in AA, given they have more experience at the position. In RF you’ll likely find Will Robertson, a prospect who lost nine weeks’ worth of games to injury last year and had an inconsistent overall season. There’s promise that he could reestablish his status this year.

Also on the roster are more fringe guys Harrison Ray (who has played some infield, mostly 3B) Eric Rivera, and Justin Ammons. There aren’t any outfielders below this level that seem ready for the jump to High A, though there are a few legitimate prospects.

Previously…

Triple-A Buffalo Bisons

Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats

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