Written for Jaysjournal.com
The Toronto Blue Jays have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. Right from the bottom, they have a wonderful set up in Dunedin, and at the top, they have a perfect situation in Buffalo. While the main prospects find themselves in Buffalo and New Hampshire, there are still many reasons to be excited about the other minor league teams. Like most organizations, the Blue Jays have six minor league clubs, all of whom have been part of the organization since at least 2013.
All but one of the teams have started their 2019 baseball seasons, and have already offered some intriguing storylines. Especially with the ultra-talented top of the prospect pool.
Of course, it is headlined by Vladimir Guerrero Jr, whose bat can’t seem to come soon enough for the ”swing-and-miss” Toronto club. He just finished a rehab stint in Dunedin where he hit at a .267 rate, and was called up to Buffalo; meaning his Rogers Centre debut could come any day in the near future. While this is certainly good news, there are also other reasons to be excited about the Blue Jays’ prospect pool.
Today we will have a rundown of all the minor league teams, and their most exciting prospects so far in 2019.
Triple-A: Buffalo Bisons
The Bisons have an elite coaching staff that have been with them for a number of years now and are littered with prospects who could fill in for Toronto at any time. Whether this is a good or bad thing, we don’t yet know. A good metric to look at would be the Blue Jays MLB rosters WAR (wins above replacement) to signify whether the current MLB roster is really up to par with the rest of the league. The team WAR currently sits at -.5, meaning that most of the players could be exchanged for minor leaguers without overly affecting the on-field product.
Enough of the stats, let’s see who is most exciting down the highway.
We spoke about him a bit earlier, as he has just joined the Buffalo Bisons this week, although he did have plenty of success there last season in his brief Triple-A stint. He started his first game for the bisons as a DH and was hitting third in the order. Of course, his 2019 Triple-A debut saw him hit a home run. Well, wouldn’t ya know! I give it at least three weeks in a Bison’s jersey before he is considered for a major league call up.
He is riding a six-game hit streak and is ranked as the eighth best prospect in Toronto’s system. For batting, he is third on the team in with a .400 average, but it is his on-base percentage that has been exceptional through the first week. Over half of his at-bats have ended up with him on base. With the Jays displaying their “small ball” strategy in Tuesday’s win over the Boston Red Sox, Biggio could be a perfect fit for the Blue Jays sooner rather than later.
Other prospects in Buffalo include Anthony Alford, Sean Reid-Foley and the highly coveted Bo Bichette. However, it looks like these players will be down in Buffalo for the next little while. Alford and Reid-foley will play games Toronto this season, that’s a guarantee. On the other hand, the 21-year-old Bichette may not see the show at any point this season
Double-A: New Hampshire Fisher Cats
The Fisher Cats are the team that has the most tenure in the organization. The number of players that have been in the system is astounding, and even the manager has prior experience with the Jays Minor League affiliates. Seven of the players spent the majority of last season in Short-Season A Vancouver and all of them have moved up to Double-A.
Of course, it’s also where Vlad Jr. spent the majority of his 2018 season, as well as Bo Bichette, and the Eastern League MVP in Cavan Biggio.
Patrick Murphy has been dominant on the mound through his 10.2 innings so far this season, and on Wednesday he pitched a scoreless five innings. The 24-year-old is one of the older players on the roster but leads the team in strikeouts after the first week with 13.
One of the seven former Vancouver Canadians on the roster, Vinny Capra has been a pleasant surprise so far in 2019. Picked in the 20th round of the draft, at a point where draft picks are mostly a crapshoot, he leads the team in batting average. Batting a solid .333 through nine at bats, Vinny Capra is having much more than one would expect for a player from his draft position, admittedly in a very small sample size. While he may still be a long shot to ever see the turf at Rogers Centre, he is yet another potentially valuable piece the Blue Jays have in their prospect arsenal.
High-A: Dunedin Blue Jays
The interest in Dunedin is highlighted by one player in particular, and his name is Nate Pearson. The former first round pick of the Jays is beginning his third season in the organization, and has one of the best arms in the minor leagues.
Not many players can throw a 100MPH fastball, but Pearson has been doing that since college. Three years ago he set the Northwest League alight for the Vancouver Canadians en route to a championship. In 2018, he missed significant time with a broken arm, but again was dominant in his few starts with the Single-A Lansing Lugnuts. This year he has again moved up the ladder, although I suspect he won’t spend very long in Florida.
So far this year he has pitched two games, and picked up two wins at that. Through those two games he has a 1.29 ERA, good enough for the best in Dunedin. He is the brightest prospect in Florida, however, the team does have another top performer in outfielder Ryan Noda, who leads the team in batting average a .286, and also in RBI’s with five.
Single-A: Lansing Lugnuts
The lowest full season team in the organization, the Lugnuts are coming off of a very good campaign and have received an influx of talent ahead of this year’s campaign.
Reggie Pruitt has been in the Blue Jays system for three years now, and has caught the attention of fans thanks to his blistering base running speed. In the past he has appeared to be rushed at the plate, meaning he is unable to get on base and unable to use his speed. He has never had an OBP above .300, other than his first year of rookie ball for the Bluefield Blue
Jays. This year however has been different, he is sitting at .500 after eight at bats. While the sample size is too small to tell much of anything, it is still a promising sign for Pruitt who is showing more patience at the plate.
Lansing are another team in the organization who have spent substantial time together. They are managed by Dallas McPherson who managed the Vancouver Canadians last season. The Lugnuts also have 16 players who spent extended time in Vancouver last summer. One of those former Vancouver players is 2018 Northwest League pitcher of the year Josh Winckowski; who alongside his former Canadians teammate Joey Murray have been brilliant through seven innings each.
That’s all of the farm teams that are in action right now for the Blue Jays, and that’s the way it will be for a while. The Vancouver Canadians and Bluefield Blue Jays will both begin playing ball in the middle of June. Once they start, you can expect some free flowing roster movement around the minors. Until then, these are the guys to keep and eye on, especially as they will be consistent figures on their teams until the summer.