Toronto Blue Jays: One prospect the organization should have kept

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 12: A bag of practice ball rests in a bag at Kauffman Stadium April 12, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 12: A bag of practice ball rests in a bag at Kauffman Stadium April 12, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays made a flurry of moves last week, and one of them may have Ross Atkins regretting the trade a few years down the line.

With the expanded 2020 playoff structure due to COVID-19, the Toronto Blue Jays have a legitimate shot of making the postseason this year. They are currently in a race for the second AL East division spot, but could also factor into the Wild Card race if the New York Yankees do end up finishing second by the end of the season.

In an effort to shore up the bench and rotation due to some injuries to the roster this season, the Blue Jays went out and got some reinforcements for the last month of the campaign. The organization acquired the likes of pitcher Robbie Ray from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Taijuan Walker and Daniel Vogelbach from the Seattle Mariners, shortstop Jonathan Villar from the Miami Marlins, and pitcher Ross Stripling from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ray, Walker, and Villar are free agents at the end of this season, while Stripling has two years of arbitration before becoming a free agent in 2023. Vogelbach was DFA’d roughly a week after being acquired and was picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Blue Jays dipped into their prospect pool to acquire these assets, with the organization sending relief pitcher Travis Bergen to Arizona, outfielder Griffin Conine to Miami, outfielder Alberto Rodriguez and cash (for the Vogelbach trade) to Seattle, and pitcher Kendall Williams to the Dodgers (there is a second prospect to L.A. but the player is unknown at this time). At the start of 2020, Conine was the Blue Jays #15th ranked prospect and Williams was #13 on the list.

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If you were to grade these transactions, a majority of fans would say that the Blue Jays did have a successful trade deadline, bolstering some areas in the lineup that are currently impacted by injuries, all while not giving top prospects like Austin Martin, Jordan Groshans, and Simeon Woods-Richardson. While the Blue Jays did have a positive trade deadline, there is one prospect I wish the team didn’t trade away.

While he was only ranked #13 on the Blue Jays top 30, Kendall Williams was the organization’s second-round pick in the 2019 amateur draft. Drafted out of high school from the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, the Blue Jays convinced Williams to forego his commitment to Vanderbilt University, a notoriously tough school to convince high schoolers to not attend, and instead commit to playing pro baseball.

In his first year with the Blue Jays, Williams spent the last half of 2019 (he was in school before being drafted) in the rookie league with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays, pitching in six games; five of which he started. He would throw to an incredible 1.13 ERA with 19 strikeouts and a 0.813 WHIP while walking seven batters in 16 innings. At 6’6, Williams is considered a starting pitcher with a four-pitch arsenal and a fastball that reaches 95mph but sits around 90-92mph. He throws at a three-quarters arm slot, which bodes well for his curveball, a pitch scouts prefer over his slider, but he also features a changeup that is a great addition to his other two off-speed pitches.

While his stats in 2019 are super impressive, it is obviously a very small sample size to really say that he has the potential to be a bonafide major league pitcher. With the 2020 minor league season being canceled, it’s really tough to gauge how the right-hander would have faired over the course of a full season given his age and experience. High school pitchers are often considered very high risk to draft because of their raw potential, but also because they can have a difficult time adjusting to more polished hitters.

Was there a guarantee that Williams was going to be on the Blue Jays roster in a few years? Of course not, but at the same time, it feels like the organization just didn’t get enough of an opportunity to see what the 20-year-old had to offer.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Ross Stripling is a great addition to the Blue Jays rotation/bullpen and he isn’t just a rental player, which makes the deal all that sweeter in the long run. I just personally wish we could have kept a high potential arm like Williams and sent over a middle infielder instead, mostly because the Blue Jays have a stronger depth with their current roster, and top prospects like Martin and Groshans who are closer to making the MLB stage. One could argue that the Blue Jays do have significant depth with other pitchers like Nate Pearson, Alek Manoah, and Woods-Richardson (among many others), making Williams available for trade purposes, but I feel like the Blue Jays infield is more established and 2B, 3B, and SS prospects would be more expendable for trades.

Now, this trade and article can obviously be debated by fans on various angles, who the team should have given up, why Williams was okay to send, or that trading middle infielders instead of Williams is a terrible idea, but I personally think the Blue Jays may regret this trade further down the line.

His first year (albeit a small sample) was impressive, but looking at his videos and combing through his scouting reports, I just wish we could have seen more of him playing in a professional league before trading him away. It just seems like he has a high ceiling, and the Blue Jays most likely figured that they had enough prospects in their pitching depth charts to send him to L.A. for Stripling, who can help the roster push for the postseason.

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I could be totally wrong and he could fizzle out and be another career minor leaguer, but the potential for him to be an MLB pitcher is there right now, and I hope we don’t have a scenario where the Blue Jays traded away a young arm just to regret it later on. Of course, this will all be a moot point if the Blue Jays advance far along into the postseason this year, but like Williams and his development, we will just have to wait and see who wins this trade further down the line.