Blue Jays pitching prospect Alek Manoah dazzled in his Major League debut Thursday, tossing six scoreless innings against the New York Yankees enroute to a Blue Jays win. The front office showed an immense amount of confidence in the West Virginia product, as they decided to move him to the big leagues less than two years after selecting him in the first round and after throwing a mere 35 minor league innings.
Calling up Manoah may be a signal from management that they are done “babying” their top prospects. If they feel that a highly touted minor leaguer is the best option in the organization at their position, they’ll be in the major leagues regardless of age or experience to help this team win.
If the Manoah call-up is the start of a new trend in the organization, then I think it’s reasonable to believe that we are going to see more top prospects pushed this year, ending with them making the jump to the active roster. The Blue Jays still have a couple of holes on their roster, whether it be behind the plate, on the mound, or at the hot corner. Though these problem areas could be solved via trade, the club has several highly regarded prospects who could potentially fill in these positions.
I think there is a real possibility that we could see another top prospect in the Blue Jays farm system make their debut this season. The question is: which one?
With the way he’s swinging the bat as well as the improvements he has made defensively, I believe that catcher Gabriel Moreno has the best chance to be the next top prospect that we see make the jump to the big leagues.
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Moreno has been outstanding to begin the 2021 campaign, posting an eye-popping slash line of .393/.457/.639 while also mashing three long balls and leading the league in RBI with 19 so far this season. This excellent start to his season is coming off a great winter. Moreno hit for a .373 average while walking more than he struck out in the Venezuelan Winter League, playing against a competition nearly eight years older than him on average.
Moreno has always been viewed as an all-around player; after all, when the Jays signed him back in 2016, he was a second baseman who they hoped to convert into a backstop due to his great athleticism and a plus arm. Though his bat is definitely the strongest part of his game, the righty slugger has improved behind the dish every year at the professional level. He showcased these strides by catching 43% of base stealers in the winter league and has only allowed one passed ball in 15 games this season, after eleven in 54 games back in 2019.
Despite how great of a season Moreno is having, I don’t think he’s up until at least the end of the season. Moreno is only 21 years old and has played a mere 15 games at the AA level. Catching is one of the most physically and mentally demanding positions to play in all of baseball, so the Blue Jays are going to want to give the youngster plenty of opportunities to master his craft at the minor league level first.
The Jays have received little production offensively from their catchers this season, posting an atrocious .173 batting average combined. They also haven’t gotten outstanding defensive play to make up for this lack of offensive production. Their main backstop, Danny Jansen, has been mediocre at best behind the dish, posting a league average .992 fielding percentage and is in the 67th framing percentile according to Baseball Savant, as well as throwing out a career-low 11% of base stealers.
The Jays need more from their catching position. If they are unable to add a veteran at the deadline, and Jansen continues to struggle with the bat, then I think it’s a real possibility that Gabriel Moreno gets a shot with the big club down the stretch and beats other top prospects such as Austin Martin, Jordan Groshans and Simeon Woods Richardson to the Majors.
Bringing up a 21 year old catcher in a potential playoff race would definitely be a risk. If Moreno can keep swinging the bat the way he has been and prove to the front office that he is physically and mentally ready to be a big-league catcher, then I think bringing up Moreno may be a move that turns a position that is currently a liability, into a strength.