The Blue Jays prospects likeliest to make an impact in 2017

Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays infielder Rowdy Tellez during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays infielder Rowdy Tellez during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect pool features an encouraging wave of young talent at or near the advanced-A level

Unexpected prospect contributions have been a theme for the Blue Jays’ in recent years, but following the 2015 exodus of young talent, Toronto’s system has been in rebound mode.

Successfully, too. The Blue Jays now have a handful of legitimate positional prospects — led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Anthony Alford — an area of development that’s plagued the franchise for too long. Despite much of the organization’s existing at the high-A or double-A level, there are still a handful that could touch the MLB level with a leap year.

Roberto Osuna is the perfect example of this, jumping from high-A Dunedin in 2014 to the Blue Jays’ opening day roster the next spring. Always considered to have a massive ceiling, Osuna had battled health, was just 20 years old, and was considered by some rankings as a back-end top-100 prospect (not entirely dissimilar to where you’d find some prospects below).

Dalton Pompey‘s 2014 is another example, where he jumped from a mid-range prospect in Dunedin to the MLB roster. Daniel Norris made that same jump.

For every argument of a prospect being “too raw” or “too far off”, these exist as the counter-point. The odd prospect will have all of the pieces fall together very quickly, especially with some improvements to their physical game (which was a significant reason behind Osuna’s rise, and one that is not mentioned enough). Granted, the new regime does not seem nearly as eager to push prospects, but a combination of their performance and MLB need could change that.

Here are a few prospects to keep an eye on:

1B Rowdy Tellez  (Expected assignment: AAA)

Tellez is the obvious name on this list, and with the expected departure of Edwin Encarnacion, many Blue Jays fans have turned their hope to the young slugger. The presence of Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, and Steve Pearce at the MLB level clogs the road a bit, but if injury or poor performance hit — and Tellez is performing himself — the door could open quickly.

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The triple-A level is a valuable test for power prospects because that is where they’ll get generously “junkballed”. This refers to the long line of veteran minor-league pitchers Tellez will face at triple-A who, despite lacking velocity, continue to grind out their career with breaking pitch after breaking pitch. They’re also a little headier than the average 20-year-old fireball prospect, too, which adds a further challenge.

Coming off a very strong season in double-A with 23 home runs and a .917 OPS, Tellez has set himself up nicely. Defence will be an area of debate with Tellez, but he remains confident in his work:

“I want my infield to be 100% confident in throwing the ball to me. I think my infield and my defence is going to carry me also,” Tellez told Jays Journal. “Everybody is going to say ‘he’s on an American League team so he’ll have the ability to DH when he needs to.’  I don’t want to DH, I really don’t.”

C Reese McGuire (Expected assignment: AA)

Mcguire, who was acquired in the Drew Hutchison and Francisco Liriano deal, is an MLB-ready defender. In fact, some believe he’s well past that. It’s his bat, however, that the rest of his game is waiting on.

With a .667 OPS at the double-A level in 2016 (.335 OBP), McGuire didn’t do himself any favours in that area. If he’s even able to take a small step forward, however, and perhaps find some small level of power in his stroke, McGuire could be closer than many think.

His rise would only be a result of injury at the MLB level, though, where Russell Martin and A.J. Jimenez are currently projected to be the one-two (unless further additions are made, which is likely). In an emergency, McGuire could keep the pitching staff afloat and play well behind the plate. If he slaps some hits together, at this point in his development, that’s a bonus. (Keep in mind that Josh Thole hit .200 with a .522 OPS over four years in Toronto. The bar for backup catchers is exceptionally low when it comes to hitting).

RHP Conner Greene (Expected assignment: AA)

The gap between Greene’s floor and ceiling is very, very wide. His fastball is a plus pitch and profiles very well in the future, but his secondary pitches and consistency have lacked at times. A month ago, our Lucas Silva took a deep look at how his repertoire could play up immediately in a bullpen role.

For a right-hander with velocity, a K/9 of 6.1 and BB/9 of 4.4 last season were below expectations. He’s finished each of the last two seasons in double-A New Hampshire, however, and that is his likeliest starting point for the year ahead. A late-season taste of the bigs might be a more realistic goal.

LHP Tim Mayza (Expected assignment: AA)

Mayza will be 25 when the season opens and won’t appear on many prospect lists, but as a lefty coming off an encouraging season between high-A and double-A, there’s something worth looking at. His time with the Fisher Cats (AA) didn’t go as smoothly, but over 48.2 relief innings with Dunedin (+A), Mayza posted an impressive 1.66 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and just 2.8 BB/9.

Toronto’s left-handed relief depth is obviously thin, and while Mayza will likely have a pool of veteran MiLB signings to manoeuvre around, a strong April and May could put him on the radar later in the season.

Next: Latest on Encarnacion: Clubs interested, opt-out possibility

LHP Ryan Borucki (Expected assignment: +A)

Borucki’s injuries have kept him at an early point on his development arc, but with his recent addition to the 40-man roster, stranger things have happened. The ability to throw a baseball 60 feet and 6 inches with his left arm doesn’t hurt, either.

The 22-year-old was brilliant in single-A Lansing last season, but will need to conquer advanced-A Dunedin before climbing the ladder. There’s a ‘non-zero chance’ that he’s the shocking riser in the farm system in 2017, but a realistic goal might be to reach double-A and excel there, setting him up for a big 2018.

Honourable Mentions:  OF Harold Ramirez (Expected: AA), RHP Sean Reid-Foley (Expected: +A/AA), RHP Jon Harris (Expected: +A), OF Dwight Smith Jr., (Expected: AA/AAA)
Dark Horse:  RHP Zach Jackson (A)