Blue Jays: Three Story Lines To Watch This MiLB Season

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MARCH 13: Austin Martin #80 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on prior to the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles during a spring training game at TD Ballpark on March 13, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MARCH 13: Austin Martin #80 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on prior to the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles during a spring training game at TD Ballpark on March 13, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

The MiLB season is underway with the AAA and AA circuits opening up last night.  Even though the Blue Jays are past their rebuilding phase and focused on making a push for the playoffs, there are still some tantalizing prospects in their system that are going to garner plenty of attention this year.

The Blue Jays are relying on their “second wave” of prospects to help turn them from a promising team into real World Series contenders.  Because of this, many of their top prospects will be under a microscope this year, which will create several storylines throughout the season. These are the three most prevalent narratives surrounding some of the Blue Jay’s top prospects entering the 2021 campaign.

How Close Is Alek Manoah To The Show

Alek Manoah was the top rated RHP heading into the 2019 MLB Draft according to MLB Pipeline.  The Jays were able to scoop up the West Virginia product with the eleventh overall pick, and that decision is already paying dividends.

Despite only having 17 professional innings under his belt with the canceled minor league season last year, Manoah was invited to big league camp this spring and allowed to compete against more experienced competition.  The Florida native took full advantage of the opportunity that he was given and had a dominant camp, throwing seven scoreless innings and striking out 15 batters in that span.

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Thanks to his performance, Manoah is scheduled to open the season in Trenton, New Jersey, the Jays’ temporary AAA home, putting him one step away from the Major Leagues. This is a massive jump to make, as Manoah hasn’t pitched above low A yet, and has been in the Blue Jays system for less than two years.

Business Insider did a study and found that only 15% of players make it to the big leagues within three seasons of being drafted.  Manoah has the opportunity to do it in just over two.  Many scouts believe that Manoah has the ability to pitch in the big leagues right now as a reliever, thanks to his power fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and a wipe-out slider that received a 55 grade from MLB Pipeline.

The Jays still want to allow Manoah to be a starter, and rightfully so, as he has the build a pitch assortment to be effective in that role at the big league level.  Developing a starter takes time, so the right-hander may need the entire season in AAA to get stretched out and accustomed to a big league starter’s workload.

It’s plausible that the Jays could require starting pitching down the stretch or could want another power arm to pitch out of the bullpen in a potential playoff race. If Manoah can build off a strong spring and continues to have success in AAA, I think there’s a chance that fans could see the Florida native in the Major Leagues at some point this season.

What Position Will Austin Martin Play

The Blue Jays were thrilled when Vanderbilt superstar Austin Martin fell into their lap at fifth overall during the 2020 draft.  Martin was projected to go within the first two picks thanks to his elite bat to ball skills, which earned him the highest hit tool in the class according to MLB Pipeline.

The Blue Jays drafted Martin because of the success he had at the plate in college, where he would slash .368/.474/.532 over the course of his collegiate career while leading the Commodores to a College World Series title in 2019.  There’s little concern surrounding Martin’s bat as he starts his professional career but the big question mark for the Florida native will be finding a position for him to play.

Martin was announced as a shortstop when the Jays selected him, so it is reasonable to assume that he will be given a shot to play up the middle, to prove he can handle such a premium position.

The Vanderbilt product was given plenty of opportunity at short during the spring but looked out of place at the position as he made several defensive miscues with both his arm and glove.  This has left many people around the organization questioning whether Martin can handle the position or if a move to a less demanding spot on the field could be in order.

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Martin only played two games at shortstop during his time at Vandy, so if he wasn’t good enough to claim the job in college, it’s unrealistic to believe he will do so at the professional level.  It will be interesting to see how much run Martin gets at short before the Jays pull the plug and try him somewhere else on the field.

Martin has plenty of positional versatility, as he played all over the diamond in college, making starts at six different positions during his time in Nashville.  Because of this versatility, I have no concerns regarding where he will play, since as long as he’s hitting, Martin will find his way into the lineup.

Is Woods Richardson The Real Deal?

Simeon Woods Richardson was the centerpiece in the return for former fan favorite Marcus Stroman.  At the time of the trade, Woods Richardson was seen as a high upside prospect, with an immense amount of talent, that just hadn’t put it all together yet on the field.

The Texas native was pitching in A ball for the Mets and seeing mixed results.  The former second-round pick had posted a 4.25 ERA through 20 starts at the time of the trade and was definitely having a tough time adjusting to playing against competition that was nearly four years older than him.

Despite not thriving in A ball, the Blue Jays front offices decided to promote Woods Richardson upon arrival, sending him to Dunedin to play in High A.  This move turned out to be a genius one, as Woods Richardson would thrive once joining the Jays, posting a 2.54 ERA in six starts to close out the 2019 season.

Those six starts garnered the righty a lot of attention, seeing him skyrocket up prospect rankings and landing in the top 100 of many of them, including MLB Pipeline.  My concern is that it was only six starts, and though he performed well, there’s a lot of stock being put into those brief outings.

I worry that his time in Dunedin was an aberration and that we could see a decline in his performance this season, which would be disappointing for a player that is being counted on to become a key piece of this ball club’s future.

Like Manoah, Woods Richardson also had a great spring and may even have better stuff than his counterpart as he has better command and a wider assortment of off-speed pitches than the big righty.

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This gives me confidence that what SWR showed after the trade was real and that he will continue to build off the success he had in the 2019 season.  If he can do so, the Jays will be looking at a key piece to their rotation for years to come, or even great trade bait if the opportunity arises.