The 2011 Baseball America Prospects Handbook ranked Noah Syndergaard as the 24th best Jays prospect. The same year, they had Kyle Drabek listed as the best Jays prospect. We all know how that turned out. In 2010, they had Ryan Goins listed in the 24th spot, and the year’s best Jays prospect was Zach Stewart. Again, we know how it turned out.
The point is, although many of us get all bent out of shape about the top ranked prospects when they get dealt, promoted, or demoted, the truth is that more often than not, the roster will be composed of players that are ranked well back from the Top 10.
With this in mind, I’d like to take a look at three unheralded Jays prospects who could soon make the same leap in the rankings and onto rosters that both Syndergaard and Goins made. These are not guarantees, they’re just a trio of “keep you eyes on that prospect” players who deserve more attention than what they’re getting.
RHP Jose Manuel (Berdecia) Espada, 18 years old, GCL
- 6’0″ 170 lbs, 5th rd pick ’15 ($330,000), from Puerto Rico
Most people know Justin Maese fairly well, and rightfully so after the outstanding season he had as the best pitcher in the Jays GCL club. The guy they may not know well enough is Maese’s team-mate, Jose Espada, who held his own and did so while being a full year younger than Maese. While I fully support having Maese ranked as high as most have him (15th on MLB.com), I still wish Espada was ranked higher. In my opinion, a lot of it has to do with projection and his body type, two things that Marcus Stroman proved don’t always matter when looking at starting pitchers.
As we sit here today, Espada is ranked 25th on the Jays Top 30 Prospects list for MLB.com. A Spanish article states the following about how scouts and cross-checkers viewed Espada at the time of the draft
The great thing about baseball compared to other sports is that you can make wildcard picks like Espada was for the Jays and see what you get out of it without hurting your chances of success significantly.
Espada wasn’t listed on Baseball America’s top 500 MLB draft list, and yet he certainly looks like he was worthy of the draft selection.
This is where many people critique how scouting works when it comes to pitching. So many scouts are looking at the radar gun and size of the pitcher only when making their assessments that they forget to look at other ingredients. The ingredients in this case include two above-average pitches, and the ability to throw both of them for strikes.
More from Jays Journal
- Blue Jays: Adam Cimber, the unlikely decision King
- Toronto Blue Jays: Has the Shift Killed Kevin Gausman’s 2022 Cy Young Hopes?
- Blue Jays: What Yusei Kikuchi’s latest stumble should mean
- Blue Jays: Alek Manoah on pace to succeed in possible postseason
- Blue Jays: Bradley Zimmer has carved himself a valuable role
Of Espada’s 10 starts in 2015, we observed the following:
- Averaged 3.4 IP per start
- Had 0 BB in 4 of his starts
- Had only 1 BB in 4 starts, 2 BB in 2 starts. Never allowed more than that
- Allowed a mere .159/.208/.227 line vs LHB
- His stats actually improved with runners on base, going from .213/.267/.350 without runners on base to .174/.204/.348 with runners on
The GCL is not exactly the best environment where hitters terrorize pitchers, so I realize that we have to temper expectations when it comes to Espada. Many pitchers come out of the GCL looking dominant and fade away thereafter. However, there’s something about a pitcher that’s always willing and able to throw strikes at will and does so without getting knocked around that gets my attention.
With that in mind, keep an eye on Espada. He could soon become one of the better Jays prospects.
RHP Guadalupe (Ayala) Chavez, 17 years old, GCL
First, if you’re searching for him he may be listed as Lupe Chavez, vice Guadalupe. Just wanted to clear that one up. Second, as with Espada, Chavez found himself off the top prospects lists and still managed to perform at a higher level as those who received much greater signing bonuses. In his case, it’s the likes of Juan Meza and Kevin Vicuna, two players he’s outdone by a wide margin so far in their short careers.
More from Toronto Blue Jays Prospects
- One prospect the Blue Jays should not have traded at the deadline
- Blue Jays: Can expanded rosters provide positivity?
- Blue Jays: 2022 Tournament 12 returns as Canadian Futures Showcase
- Blue Jays: Top Pitching Prospect Tiedemann Impresses in AA Debut
- Blue Jays 2022 Draft: Who did Toronto Land in Round Two?
Here’s a rule of thumb I live by when I read or research players playing in the Dominican Summer League: if they get
, pay attention, because it’s an indication of how quickly the team wants to get them acclimated to playing baseball on U.S. soil.
The fact that the Jays did this with Chavez drew my attention, particularly with him being so young. Additionally, Chavez is a converted outfielder who doesn’t have a ton of pitching experience. Despite both of these issues, he rose to the challenge and performed admirably.
The repertoire Chavez has to work with includes a mid-90s fastball, an above-average and well-developed change-up, and a decent curveball that’s behind both (per Ben Badler). Any time you have a young pitcher with an advanced change-up, they seem to get moved more quickly, as the Jays did with Chavez. The great change-up is also the reason I believe he’ll continue to move up quickly and should continue to have plenty of success.
Toronto Blue Jays
In terms of the 2015 season, here’s what I liked most from Chavez:
- For his last 5 GS in the DSL, threw a min of 5 IP and didn’t allow more than 2 ER
- Once promoted to the GCL and after his first start, he only gave up 2 ER over 16 IP
- Had a 9 BB / 39 SO ratio vs RHB (168 PA)
- Did not allow a single HR
- Faced 67 batters, yet only allowed 10 extra base hits (9 doubles and 1 triple)
The one oddity I noticed with Chavez was that he was that as with Espada, he was better with runners on base – only his margin was much greater. His line against without any runners on was .304/.385/.357 while it improved to .181/.254/.224 with runners on.
There’s a lot to like about Chavez and he’s a prospect that should be much higher on most people’s radars than he currently is. If I were to rank the top Jays prospects at this point, he may even crack the top 20 at this point.
RF Edward Olivares, 17 years old, GCL
- 6’2″ 186 lbs, international FA (not on BA’s Top 30 for 2014), from Venezuela
Edward Oliveras wore #3 for the GCL Blue Jays last season and coincidentally there are three things that I really like about his 2015 stats. First, he kept strikeouts to a minimum (19%) and walked a fair amount (10%) which helped him achieve a good OBP (.345). Second, his power developed slightly as he managed 12 extra base hits in 116 AB. And finally, all of this was done while continuing to steal bases at an above-average success rate (88%). These three items, combined with his being able to adjust to life and baseball in the U.S. simultaneously, provide for an intriguing prospect.
His 14 SB were good enough for 9th place in the GCL, but it was his increase in power numbers that is most intriguing. If we translate those numbers to a full season (assuming 500 AB), it would result in 50 extra base hits (34 doubles, 4 triples, 12 HRs). Combine that with what would be approximately 60 SBs and you have a very intriguing player on your hands.
Yes, the low batting average from last season is worrisome overall, but less so when you examine his splits. Over the last 90 days of the season, his line is .244/.404/.488 with 6 extra base hits in 52 PA, 5 SB, and only 7 SO. Essentially, the more comfortable he got with his surroundings, the better Oliveras got.
There’s no reason to expect the Jays will have him repeat the GCL in 2016, although they could decide to have him repeat the level. He’s competing with fellow 2014 international free agent Freddy Rodriguez and others for a spot in Bluefield. If you ask me, he deserves a shot to be there and could jump onto everyone Top 30 Jays Prospects lists in short order if he does.
This kid’s got wheels, he’s got some pop in his bat, and the talent is there for him to compete for an OF spot in Bluefield. We’ll be watching him closely as he continues to get our attention based on what he’s doing on the field.
Hopefully this article’s brought you more information about some of the lesser known Jays prospects to keep an eye on in 2016 and beyond. There’s a lot to like from all three of them and I expect they’ll all make significant jumps up the rankings very soon.