Baseball America delivers brutally honest ranking of the Blue Jays’ farm system

What are the broader implications of a poorly ranked farm system?
Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins
Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins / Brace Hemmelgarn/GettyImages

Baseball America (subscription required) released their 2024 preseason farm system talent rankings, and they once again deliver a brutally honest assessment of the Blue Jays system. Toronto ultimately wound up falling to 24th from 15th ahead of last season.

The Blue Jays have only two top 100 prospects using their methodology: Ricky Tiedemann at No. 22 and Orelvis Martinez at No. 90; and, their farm system hasn’t ranked in the top ten since 2021, when Nate Pearson, Austin Martin, Jordan Groshans, Simeon Woods Richardson, Alejandro Kirk and Orelvis Martinez were all ranked among their top 100 prospects.

BA argues the “2023 season was a step back for Toronto’s farm because many 2022 draft picks struggled. Dominican slugger Orelvis Martinez was a rare bright spot, but much of the system’s strength is reliant on top prospect LHP Ricky Tiedemann—who possesses elite upside and pure stuff but also has significant health and durability questions.“

That’s also disappointing given Toronto’s AL East rivals all have far higher ranked farm systems, with Baltimore at No. 1 even after the Corbin Burnes trade, Tampa Bay at No. 7, New York at No. 9 and Boston at No. 13.

Team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have long promised Blue Jays fans waves of MLB-ready talent. In discussing the ongoing Blue Jays rebuild in September 2018, Shapiro said, "you need to have waves of talent coming and you need to have dozens of prospects — not two, three, five prospects.”

He went on to say, “We want to build a team. We want to build a championship team. The best way to do that in the AL East is to develop the core of that talent. Not to say we won’t add to it at the right time, but to develop the core.”

So what went wrong? Weak scouting has led to some poor top draft picks in the Atkins era, from T.J. Zeuch and J.B. Woodman in 2016, Logan Warmoth and Nate Pearson in 2017, Jordan Groshans with the 12th pick in 2018 and Austin Martin with the 5th overall pick in 2020. In fact, not a single 1st round pick under Ross Atkins made the Blue Jays’ 2023 AL Wild Card playoff roster.

Other top picks, like 2021 first-rounder Gunnar Hoglund, as well as Martin, were traded in deals to acquire Matt Chapman and José Berríos, respectively.

Player development has also failed to produce enough MLB-ready talent beyond the players on the MLB roster, which is evidenced by the poor depth in the farm system.

Weak prospect pool for trade packages

Where this overall malaise is most impactful at the moment is in helping the Blue Jays make trades to add to the current roster as it nears the end of its competitive window. With the front office appearing unwilling to sign anyone not named Shohei Ohtani to a long term deal this offseason, it feels like Shapiro and Atkins are preparing for the post-Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette era.

If they had wanted to improve the roster shorter term for the upcoming season, the trade market for one-year rentals of players who will be free agents after the season was stacked with talent, headlined by Juan Soto, Corbin Burnes, Ha-Seong Kim, Pete Alonso, Willy Adames, Eugenio Suárez, Shane Bieber, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Eugenio Suárez, Alex Verdugo, Trent Grisham, Tyler O’Neill, Manuel Margot, Eloy Jiménez, Yoán Moncada and Lucas Giolito, who were all rumoured at different stages to be available, with most of them moving to new teams.

This offseason, Toronto was gazumped on trade packages by:

  • Arizona, when they acquired Eugenio Suárez (22 home runs and 96 RBI in 2023) from Seattle for 30-year-old catcher Seby Zavala, who’s only accumulated a 0.2 bWAR in four MLB seasons, plus 24-year old reliever Carlos Vargas;
  • The New York Yankees, when they acquired left-handed slugger Juan Soto (35 home runs and 109 RBI, with an OPS+ of 158) along with CF Trent Grisham from San Diego for Michael King, BA’s No. 58 ranked prospect Drew Thorpe, Johnny Brito, New York’s No. 9 prospect Randy Vásquez and Kyle Higashioka;
  • Seattle, when they acquired switch-hitting middle infielder Jorge Polanco (14 home runs and 48 RBI, with an OPS+ of 115 in only 80 games) from Minnesota for Darren Bowen, Seattle’s No. 5 prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Topa; and,
  • Baltimore, when they acquired ace Corbin Burnes (10-8, 3.39 ERA and 3.81 FIP over 32 starts and 193.2 innings, with 200 strikeouts versus only 66 walks, with an ERA+ of 127 and NL-leading WHIP of 1.069) from Milwaukee for their No. 6 and No. 7 prospects, lefty DL Hall and SS/3B Joey Ortiz, as well as a compensation draft pick after the first round in the amateur draft this summer. Hall was ranked No. 93 in the latest BA top 100 ranking.

The fact Toronto was unable to acquire any of those players via trade, and has so far only added Kevin Kiermaier, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Justin Turner via free agency, speaks to how little regard other front offices and scouts have for Toronto’s farm system and prospect pool.

That’s disappointing given the promise of waves of talent, that have been too far and few between since Guerrero, Bichette, Danny Jansen and Cavan Biggio all exceeded their rookie limits five seasons ago in 2019. Alejandro Kirk and Jordan Romano were rookies in 2020, followed by Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson in 2021, plus Davis Schneider last year.

Jays Journal contributor Matthew Rowell has only Ricky Tiedemann as a ‘Tier 1’ prospect at present, with No. 2 Arjun Nimmala and No. 3 Orelvis Martinez as ‘Tier 2’ prospects. That hardly qualifies as “waves” given the current lack of MLB-ready prospects with a high ceiling in the farm system after Tiedemann and Martinez.

Remember Nimmala only just turned 18-years old last October, and is likely two years away from being two years away. Brandon Barriera only turns 20 in March, Kendry Rojas is 21, and Landen Maroudis just turned 19 in December; Enmanuel Bonilla only turned 18 last month. In other words, there’s very little top tier talent to either trade to improve the MLB roster, or to call up as depth in the case of injuries or poor performance on the 26-man big league roster.