In what appears to be a transition year, the Toronto Blue Jays will see what a lot of their young players have to offer, but with that being said, what should our realistic expectation be like?
Sorry to break it to you, Dad, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not going to be hitting .400 this upcoming season.
This, of course, may be a good time for those who think like my Old Man to move onto the next article as my aim over the next x-amount of words will be to essentially predict an aspect of the upcoming season.
Now, as a human hoping to survive in 2019, I do scroll through my Twitter timeline a good 2-to-20 times every 24 hours and as one does, I have seen my fair share of outlandish expectations for the Blue Jays super-prospect.
He is grouped among the game’s top-10 third baseman despite not playing a single regular season game at the Rogers Centre – or any other MLB ballpark for that matter. I have seen predictions that range from Guerrero hitting .350 to him boasting an OPS of over 1.000 in his rookie campaign.
Do you even know how many dudes had an OPS of over 1.000 last year?
Who you may ask?
Oh, just some guys named Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez. National League MVP Christian Yelich finished the 2018 year with an OPS of 1.000, right on the dot. No big deal, just four of the game’s best hitters.
So as Vladdy is set to start of his 2019 season in Buffalo – for the sole purpose of working on his defense of course – I take a look at the Jays’ top prospects who are hoping to make a name for themselves on the Major League level. Moreover, I hope to provide some realistic expectations for the team’s young stars of tomorrow, by taking a deep dive into whatever advanced stats FanGraphs can provide me with.
- Richard’s Grades: 70 Hit | 70 Game Power | 40 Speed | 40 Field | 55 Arm || 65 Future Value
Let’s just get this one out of the way.
While a batting average of .400 and an OPS of over 1.000 may not be in the realm of possibility, that does not mean that Vladdy isn’t one of the most special 19-year old prospect the game has ever seen.
With incredible raw power at the plate that grades out to an 80, understanding Guerrero the hitter goes far beyond the insane minor league box scores. He has an advanced approach at the plate, one far beyond his years, with an elite understanding of the strike zone and incredible barrel awareness.
Keeping his approach in mind, it’s very rare to see prospects not struggle with whiffing at any point in their minor league career. Guerrero’s K/BB rate throughout his MiLB tenure is essentially 1:1; sporting a 7.8% K rate and an 11.7% walk rate through 30 games at Triple-A Buffalo this past season.
wRC+ and wOBA are two other stats that are good at telling us how good at sports a hitter is or isn’t.
wRC+ is a rate stat that attempts to quantify the value of every hit (single, double, etc.) as opposed to treating every hit as if it was the same while taking park effects and the run environment into account. Meanwhile, wOBA is a more advanced version of OBP, which similar to wRC+, looks to provide independent values for every hit.
Through 61 games in Double-A, Guerrero had a wOBA of .481 and a wRC+ of 203. In 31 games of Triple-A baseball, he boasted a wOBA of .428 and a wRC+ of 175. For reference, the greatest baseball player in the world, Trout, had a .447 wOBA and a wRC+ of 191 in 2018 for the Los Angeles Angels.
Furthermore, as Guerrero progressed through the minors, his line drive percentage (LB%) has gone up with each year. The MLB average is usually in the low 20’s. In Double-A, Guerrero’s LB% was up to 22.6% and an impressive 29.0% in his short stint in Buffalo.
Interestingly enough, his numbers last season were comparable to Trout’s minor league numbers the year before his rookie campaign.
While it is fair to compare the impact bats, defensively, it is difficult to envision a future where Guerrero is the Blue Jays third baseman of the future.
The arm is definitely there, but the athleticism, the lateral quickness and the fast twitch to handle the hot corner is simply not. Watching Guerrero attack a slow roller is not a pretty sight. A future at first base may be plausible, but ultimately, the bat is unique. It’s explosive and it’s rare, so an eventual move to a designated hitter role is most likely what the future entails for the game’s no. 1 prospect.
- Realistic Expectations: .320/.388/.575, 22 HR, .340 wOBA, 135 wRC+, 4.2 WAR
- Richard’s Grades: 60 Hit | 55 Power | 35 Run | 50 Field | 45 Arm || 55 Future Value
Between Danny Jansen, Keibert Ruiz (Los Angeles Dodgers), and Joey Bart (San Francisco Giants), a case could be made that the Blue Jays have one of the three best catching prospects in all of baseball.
I won’t beat around the bush – projecting catchers is incredibly difficult.
Hindsight’s funny how it goes.
But this is why a catcher like Jansen is so rare.
With the way the game works today, players don’t steal bags as much as they once used to, thus a below average arm will not kill Jansen’s future success.
The most important aspect of catching, I would argue, is framing pitches. A hitter’s batting average falls off a cliff when a count goes from 1-1 to 1-2. I cannot understate how important framing is.
And Jansen? He’s not a bad framer. He’s not great, but it’s a skill that can be worked on.
Of 117 players who caught an MLB game last season, Jansen ranked 41st in framing runs saved (0.6), albeit in only 1,548 chances. The reason I mention the obnoxious amount of chances is because that sum doesn’t come close to the number of chances encountered by the catchers in the top-20.
That being said, for Jansen, the carrying tool is the bat. It’s a 60-grade bat with pop to all fields, which is something you simply do not see often from a catcher who is also capable behind the plate. Quite frankly, that is why I think plugging Jansen in at no. 25 on my top 100 prospect list in the game is very justifiable.
In just 31 games on the Major League level last season, Jansen proved why he has the potential to become a franchise catcher.
Due to the advanced approach, he was lauded for in the minors, his K-rate (17.9%) did not stand out when he moved up to the big league club. Despite a relatively pedestrian hard-hit rate (20%), his line-drive percentage suggests that in a larger sample size, it is fair to expect Jansen to barrel up more baseballs.
Lastly, a wOBA of .340, albeit in a small sample size, shows that Jansen was able to hold his own in his Major League coming out party, which should translate over into a solid rookie season.
- Realistic Expectations: .274/.336/.452, 16 HR, .342 wOBA, 118 wRC+, 2.8 WAR
- Richard’s Grades: 50 Fastball | 45 Changeup | 60 Slider | 50 Command || 45 Future Value
Who could have scripted such an impressive start to an MLB career for Ryan Borucki?
The 24-year old southpaw appeared in 17 starts for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, accumulating 97.2 innings over that span, while boasting a 3.87 ERA.
Now, this might be an unpopular opinion, but I am still on the fence with Borucki. In fact, between him and Sean Reid-Foley, I believe Foley has the stuff that plays better as a starter. Let’s just say, there is a reason Ross Atkins came out and said Borucki is not a lock for the Jays rotation to open the season.
Borucki’s best tool on the mound is his pitchability.
He is mature, he understands how to read bats, and he is comfortable in throwing his offspeed stuff in any count. In fact, his changeup is the best pitch in his arsenal. The big question with Borucki is, will he be able to develop a legitimate third pitch to stick in the rotation, otherwise, he could be a very good option out of the bullpen.
In 2018, he got barrelled up only 6.1% of the time and had a hard-hit rate of 31.1%, while having an average opponent exit velocity of 87.5 mph.
The question now remains – can Borucki replicate his performance from last year?
The lack of strike-out stuff is a factor and his slider effectiveness is still a question mark. The real test is yet to come for Borucki and it will be interesting where Borucki fits into this team’s long-term plans.
With Reid-Foley in the fray, and the likes of Nate Pearson, Eric Pardinho, and Adam Kloffenstein coming up through the system, Borucki does not have the stuff to compete for roster spots, so it will be up to Borucki’s pitchability to resist his competition.
- Realistic Expectations: 116 IP, 4.25 ERA, 4.80 FIP, 6.20 K/9, 0.8 WAR
- Richard’s Grades: 60 Fastball | 60 Slider | 50 Curveball | 45 Changeup | 45 Command | 50 Future Value
As you can imagine, I’m a fairly big fan of Reid-Foley and if he is just able to learn how to control his elite stuff, the sky is the limits for the former second-round draft pick.
And I mean, how can you not like this guy?
The mustache, the tattoos. The high heat that he throws.
He’s the type of dude you should probably not mess around with.
Throwing from a bit of an unorthodox delivery, Reid-Foley gets great extension out front and his fastball just explodes towards the mound. It’s interesting that the Blue Jays have invested in Rapsodo and have been seen using it as pitchers and catchers reported to camp. Tracking the spin rate on Reid-Foley’s stuff is something I am all in on.
Sign me up!
It’s a mid-90’s fastball that can touch 97 mph and a mid 80’s slider with tight spin. Reid Foley also has a slower breaking ball, his curveball, that has more downward depth and flashes plus, while his changeup is fringe at best.
But scouting report aside, this is the type of pitcher the Jays just don’t often have in their rotation. A guy with incredible stuff who can take care of batters without involving his defense. In his brief stint with the main club near the end of last season, the tall right-hander boasted an 11.34 K/9. Slightly up from his 10.34 K/9 in Triple-A across 85.1 innings.
In fact, as per Dr. Michael Sonne’s stuff metric, Reid-Foley boasts better stuff than 76% of all MLB pitchers.
Now, while the pitchability isn’t really there with Reid-Foley like it is with Borucki just yet, and Reid-Foley tends to go back to his electric fastball when he falls behind in counts, the 23-year old has the higher ceiling and already a solid foundation from which he can develop into an above average pitcher.
2019 will undoubtedly be a very important year in Reid-Foley’s development and the with the many questions that remain in the Jays starting rotation, he will get every opportunity to succeed.
- Realistic Expectations: 82 IP, 4.54 ERA, 4.35FIP, 9.88 K/9, 0.9 WAR
The Blue Jays will expect a lot from the four aforementioned prospects, but do not be surprised to see the likes of Jonathan Davis, Anthony Alford, David Paulino, and Billy McKinney to get a chance to make a splash in the big league in 2019.