The Blue Jays have built some great homegrown pitching staffs in the past, but what they’ve got brewing in their MiLB system now may be their best yet.
When you’ve followed the Blue Jays as long as I have, it’s not hard to think back on all of the different prospects that have come with great hype over the years. Some of them met or even exceeded expectations like Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay, while others never quite fulfilled their potential, such as Travis Snider, Brett Lawrie, and countless others.
While looking ahead to the forthcoming MLB draft, I’ve been thinking a lot about the current state of the Blue Jays’ minor league pipeline, and wondering how they might approach the draft this year. As I’ve reviewed what has been built over the last few years, I’m getting more and more exciting about the homegrown group of pitchers that is coming together. In fact, and I know this is extremely premature to say, I think there’s potential that this could be the best group of pitching prospects the franchise has ever assembled.
That might sound like a bold statement, but I’m not so sure that it is. The first group that comes to mind would be from earlier this decade, which included the likes of Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino, and more. Syndergaard obviously became the prize of that foursome, and while Stroman and Sanchez have both had success, it didn’t turn out to be a group of Cy Young winners like many of us dreamed it would be. The other group that immediately comes to mind for me would be the one with Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, and others, which was another solid pitching foundation to build on, and the group that helped the World Series winners in the 90’s that included Juan Guzman, David Wells, Pat Hentgen, and more.
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Getting back to the present, the current group of pitchers will likely come in different waves, but the Blue Jays really do have the potential for something special. At the forefront would be Nate Pearson, who heads the franchise prospects list, and is universally viewed as a top 10 prospect in baseball. He’ll make his MLB debut at some point in 2020 as long as there’s a season. There’s a very real chance he could be a difference maker right away, and hopefully an ace level performer at some point in his career.
Also inside Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list would be Simeon Woods Richardson, who the Blue Jays acquired from the Mets as part of the Stroman trade last season. He’s not even 20 years old yet, but he’s on a fast track to having an impactful career, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him pushing for a spot at the highest level by no later than 2022. The other pitcher the Blue Jays acquired in that deal was Anthony Kay, and while he’s not rated as highly on the prospects list (Baseball America has him at #9 in the Blue Jays’ system), I really believe he has the potential to be at least mid-rotation performer.
As far as immediate help on the way, the next impact arm probably belongs to Alek Manoah, who the Blue Jays selected in the first round of the 2020 draft. Unfortunately the big right-hander’s development might be stunted this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but at 22 years old and coming off of a successful college career and a solid first pro stint, his development shouldn’t be a long one. Baseball America has him fifth on the Blue Jays prospect list, and he has a top of the rotation type of ceiling as well.
It doesn’t stop there either, although it’s more about that second wave I was referring to earlier. At #10 on Baseball America’s list for the Blue Jays would be Adam Kloffenstein, who was profiled by Alexis Brudnicki of MLB.com on Tuesday. In the article, Kloffenstein graded himself on his future potential, and you’ve gotta like some of the things he said:
"‘When I’m on the mound, I’m a totally different person and I don’t think anybody’s better than me. As soon as my outing’s over, that all goes away, but the whole day before an outing I’m in that zone, that mode, and having confidence in your stuff and conviction with what you’re doing definitely helps in being aggressive.”"
At 6’5″ and 243 lbs, the 19-year-old already believes in his physical tools enough that he thinks he could compete in the big leagues right now, but he also acknowledges there is a lot of work to be doing in order to be mentally ready for a challenge like that. He has the raw ability and seems to understand what he needs to do in order to make that next leap, and that’s an exciting thing for the future of the Blue Jays’ rotation.
That’s not all, as the Blue Jays have two more pitchers inside their top 15 prospects list according to Baseball America, and that would be Kendall Williams and Eric Pardinho. The latter has formerly been viewed with even greater potential than he has these days, but he’s also battled some elbow problems early in his career. What feels kinda crazy is that Pardinho is still just 19 years old, even if it feels like we’ve been talking about him for a few years already (we have). He was ranked at #84 on Baseball America’s top 100 list prior to the 2019 season, but has since seen his stock fall a bit. As for Williams, he has sneaky potential as well, and was taken as the Blue Jays’ third round pick in 2019. He’s also just 19 years old, and gives the Blue Jays quite the group of under-20 arms between him, Woods Richardson, Kloffenstein, and Pardinho.
The Blue Jays may very well use their first round pick this year on another starting pitcher, but in reality they likely don’t have to, depending on how the rest of the top five picks go. I’m sure they’ll take the player they view with the greatest potential, and that could be a pitcher like Emerson Hancock, but right now the Blue Jays are very well set up for the future of their rotation. While these youngsters develop they have veterans like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Matt Shoemaker, and Chase Anderson to help carry the load, and some of them will still be around to show them the ropes when they arrive.
Add it all up and the future of the Blue Jays rotation should be very bright. In fact, I’d go as far as saying this forthcoming group might be the best pool of pitching prospects the Blue Jays have ever assembled.