Toronto Blue Jays: One prospect to keep an eye on in 2020

1 Mar 1998: A fan trying to get a ball autographed at a spring training game, the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick S
1 Mar 1998: A fan trying to get a ball autographed at a spring training game, the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. The Toronto Blue Jays beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick S /

With all the media hype and attention towards other top prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Ryan Sloniger is a catching prospect Blue Jays fans should keep a tab on after his successful first year of professional baseball.

If you were to ask Blue Jays fans if they know who Ryan Sloniger is, only the diehard fans would probably know about the right-handed catching prospect out of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Sloniger spent 4 years at Penn State, playing in over 166 games for the Nittany Lions while crafting a .246/.339/.366 slash line to go with 9 home runs, 81 RBI’s, and 71 walks. His best season was in his Junior year, as his slash line would jump to an impressive .306/.404/.494 and would see him collect a college career-best 5 home runs and 31 RBI’s for one season.

In the 2019 amateur draft, Ryan Sloniger was drafted in the 38th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was the third last selection by the Blue Jays and was the latest round specific selected player to sign with the organization after the picks in the 39th and 40th round decided not to sign with the organization.

After being drafted, Sloniger would make his debut with the Rookie League Bluefield Blue Jays on June 19, playing in two games before being sent to the Class A Vancouver Canadians. After a short 7 game stint with the Canadians, Sloniger would be sent back to Bluefield, where he would finish out the majority of the season before being called back to the Canadians to round out the 2019 campaign.

While with the Blue Jays and Canadians, Sloniger was able to produce both offensively and defensively that kept him getting put into the lineup whether he was in as the catcher or as the designated hitter.

In his first professional season, the 5’11 Pennsylvania native was able to carve out an impressive .304/.379/.551 slash line while also smashing 7 doubles,10 home runs and 31 RBI’s between both leagues. Defensively, Sloniger would start 28 games for Bluefield and 8 games for the Canadians in the catcher position, where he would go on to finish the season with a .992 fielding percentage along with 10 assists, 1 double play, and only two errors. The only blemish on his record was his throwing arm, where he was only able to throw out 13% of runners stealing during those 28 games.

I find players like Sloniger very interesting mostly because they have the stats to prove that they can produce on the field but fit the ‘dark horse’ or ‘underdog’ category when you talk about players making it to the MLB.

As a college player, he was a staple in the Penn State lineup and the Blue Jays threw him a line in the later rounds to allow him to keep playing baseball, an opportunity that Sloniger was able to utilize to its full advantage. He was able to produce some of his best offensive statistics in just one season of MiLB ball (when compared to his time at Penn State) but was also kept in the Bluefield and Vancouver lineups consistently, whether it be as the catcher or in the DH role.

Statistically, players drafted in the later rounds (let’s say past the 20th round) usually don’t make it to the major leagues and if they do, they are used as injury stop gaps or on an emergency basis and are really only there for a cup of coffee and nothing more.

For example, a study conducted by Richard T. Karcher looked at the MLB amateur drafts from 1996-2011, and out of all the players drafted in the 11th-15th rounds during those seasons, only 12.7% of them ever reached the MLB and only 5.2% of them played more than 3+ years on baseballs biggest stage.

That’s not to say it is impossible for players in the later rounds to not be everyday contributors (a great example being former Blue Jays centerfielder and 32nd round selection Kevin Pillar), it’s just that they have to fight a lot harder to work their way through the farm system against higher drafted players.

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Am I saying that Ryan Sloniger is a guaranteed MLB superstar? Of course not, but you have to admire a player in his position who is making the most of an opportunity to try and reach the MLB. I can’t guarantee that this upcoming season will be just like his previous year, but if Sloniger can go out and produce similar stats both offensively and defensively as he did in 2019, then I think he deserves a chance to move up the farm system and continue facing more competitive players/teams. I also believe that another productive year in the minor leagues could even see Sloniger crack the top 30 prospect rankings for the Toronto Blue Jays by seasons end.

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With all this uncertainty, one can only hope that the Toronto Blue Jays found a diamond in the rough in the 38th round with Ryan Sloniger, and I truly believe Blue Jays fans will hear and learn a lot more about him over the next few years if he can keep contributing as he did in 2019.