Blue Jays prospect stock watch (and Rogers drama update!)
On the somehow-worsening boardroom saga at Rogers, and also looking back at the season that was for 22 of the Blue Jays' most important prospects!
The Blue Jays had a lot of upheaval in their farm system in 2021, with trades and graduations depleting the ranks a bit. It’s still a strong system though, and it’s going to be an important element of how the team improves over the winter and in the coming year — provided, of course, that the stupid drama going on at Rogers doesn’t bleed over into the Blue Jays’ business. So let’s talk about both those things!
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With all kinds of drama swirling around at the top of the Blue Jays’ parent company, Rogers Communications, it appears to be business as usual for the Blue Jays. For now.
On Friday evening, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported that Edward Rogers’ role as the chairman of the Blue Jays has been unaffected by the events this week that saw the company’s board — including his mother and sisters — remove him as chairman and attempt to curb his power. Shi added that the Jays likely won’t be affected by all this in other ways either.
“At this point, the sources said the developments aren’t expected to impact a winter of opportunity for the Blue Jays, who are seeking to augment a club that missed the post-season by one game and are about to see top performers Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz hit free agency.”
“The developments aren’t expected to impact” isn’t quite as confidence-inspiring as if it had said “the developments aren’t going to impact,” but at this point Jays fans will surely take what they can get.
Of course, between Friday evening and today, things in the saga got even weirder. One of Edward's sisters, Martha Rogers, took to Twitter on Saturday to call her brother out, talking about revealing “the truth about his Trump scandal” — something I wrote about several months ago when Rogers and his family smilingly posed at Mar-A-Lago with the former president and noted threat to American democracy — and calling out his use of incredibly ghoulish crisis PR firm Navigator Ltd., among other things. She also called on him to “cease, desist and step down.”
Outlets such as the Star and the Globe and Mail reported on the tweets, and though Martha Rogers would not comment to either, they clearly believe the tweets are authentic despite the fact that her account is not verified.
On Sunday morning Derek Decloet of Bloomberg provided a good update on the all drama, suggesting that the feud, now so public, “had been brewing behind closed doors ever since the patriarch of the family, Ted Rogers, died in 2008.”
Edward, he explains, continued his power play after being removed as chairman of the board by trying to use his position as chairman of Rogers Control Trust, “the private entity that controls about 97% of the voting shares at Rogers Communications,” which “gives him broad authority to vote the family’s shares in the public company.”
At the moment nobody seems to know who is actually on the Rogers board. Edward claimed that he's made his desired changes to the board through his position with the Control Trust, while the company (and other members of his family) say that he cannot legally do so, deeming his meeting of the “new” board, set for Sunday at 7 PM ET, as invalid.
Decloet explains that they may not be able to stop him for long.
“The head of the Rogers Control Trust holds the votes that elect the board of Rogers Communications, according to the public company’s disclosures. Edward’s sisters and mother can’t remove him from that position unless they get seven of 10 votes on the trust’s advisory committee, and right now, it doesn’t appear that they can.”
The report explains that the reason all this is going on is Edward's concern about the performance of the company relative to competitors, with problems that “include sluggish growth in wireless network revenue; a loss of roaming revenue due to Covid-19 travel curbs; and a media division that’s barely profitable and carries the weight of an expensive rights contract with the National Hockey League.”
Barely profitable! He can hardly afford a new ivory back scratcher this year, I assume. Poor guy.
The Blue Jays are, of course, part of that media division, which was recently rebranded as Rogers Sports & Media.
Meanwhile, again per the Bloomberg report, in a letter sent last week to family advisor (and mayor of Toronto) John Tory, independent company directors accuse Edward of “continuous scheming.”
“The chair wants to run the company, believes he does run the company, and no CEO or management team can operate effectively under these conditions,” the directors said in the letter.
Then on Sunday afternoon Martha Rogers was back at it on Twitter, calling out “the Old Guards who puppeteer Ed” as longtime execs Phil Lind and Alan Horn, and reiterating her and the company’s position that Edward’s Sunday meeting is invalid.
“(Two) boards at one company − that’s a first. Good luck, brother,” she tweeted.
She also made the suggestion that it's her faction that’s on the side of sports fans here.
What a mess! Perhaps it wasn’t such a great idea for ol’ Uncle Ted to have left so much power at the company in the hands of a bunch of gormless children of utterly insane wealth and privilege. Who’s to say?
Dramatic as all of that nonsense is, if it’s pretty much business as usual for the Blue Jays, I suppose that should mean it’s business as usual around here as well. And what that means today is taking a look back on the seasons that the Blue Jays’ top prospects had in 2021.
I didn’t do as much writing about prospects over the course of the season as I normally do. Partly that’s because for the first time in a few years I was doing this on my own rather than as part of a team of writers, and partly it was because the Jays were a really good, win-now club at the big league level, so most of the focus naturally had to be there.
Prospects are for poor people. But, as I wrote last week, the Jays may have a lot of money to spend this winter, but it seems unlikely to be embarrassment of riches to go out and transform their roster this winter via the free agent market. Trades are going to have to be made, and prospects are going to be involved — either as pieces moving out or replacements for guys farther up the depth chart who did. Most of these guys won’t make an on-field impact for the Blue Jays in 2022, but right now they’re very important.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at which of the Jays’ best prospects saw their stock rise in 2021, which ones held steady, and which saw their stock as prospects drop. First, though, a few notes on the concept here.
• I’m not a scout and I’m not a prospect insider. I don’t talk to Gil Kim or others on the player development side of the Jays organization. So what I’m talking about here is really just my perception of the direction a player’s stock is trending based on his numbers and whatever publicly available reports on him are out there. Really it’s just a way to reflect on their seasons without making it an alphabetical list, or one where I try to rank anybody — something I’d be even less qualified to do!
• Further to that, particularly when it comes to players I have on the “stock down” list, it’s important to keep in mind that there are developmental things guys at these levels are often working on — swing mechanics, specific pitches, etc. — which may lead to rough looking numbers on the page but a season the club deems a success regardless.
• The players discussed below are more or less the guys who appear on the Jays’ top 30 lists according to Baseball America and/or MLB Pipeline, minus 2021 draftees, recent international signings with little data to consider, and the odd one where the thought of writing a couple paragraphs about him made my eyes glaze over. All told we’ll be looking at 22 players.
• The ages I’ve listed are as of today’s date.
Now, on to the prospects…
Gabriel Moreno (21), C, Triple-A Buffalo
We'll start with the obvious one. On Baseball America's pre-season list of the Jays' top prospects, Moreno ranked eighth. On their most recent list of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball, Moreno ranked eighth.
He has always been a guy that the Blue Jays liked a ton, with a bunch of excellent tools, like athleticism behind the plate, a very good arm, great hand-eye coordination, and a compact swing. He also has some power, which in 2021 he really started to tap into — that is, until a mid-season thumb injury sidelined him for a good chunk of the season.
Still, what he did over 145 plate appearances in Double-A was enough — along with absolutely glowing reports from the Jays' alternate site in Rochester last year — to convince a whole lot of people that he's managed to put it all together and is going to be a very good big leaguer in a short amount of time.
Get ready to see this stance at a little league park near you very soon.
Orelvis Martinez (19), SS, High-A Vancouver
Martinez will almost certainly have to move to third eventually, but it very much does not appear as though that's going to matter, because his bat looks like it would play anywhere on the diamond. Mind you, he's still very young and outcomes are less secure at this stage, but he had a huge season in 2021. He destroyed the Low-A Southeast for 71 games, smashing 19 home runs while hitting .279/.369/.572. He then moved up to High-A and, despite a bit of a learning curve, held his own — largely, though not entirely, on the basis of nine more home runs.
Those homers gave him 28 on the year in total, which the most in the minor leagues by a teenager by four. And that learning curve? Martinez slashed .214/.282/.491 for Vancouver. Part of the reason for that was BABIP related, as he had just a .151 BABIP over his first three weeks at the level. Part of it was that his plate discipline wasn't great early on, as he walked just 3.8% of the time over his first 78 plate appearances there. At that point his slash line was .167/.207/.347.
However, over his final two weeks there his walk rate jumped up to 14.9% and he slashed .300/.404/.750 over 47 PA.
Quick learner. And despite his youth, it might not be long before he's pushing to move up to Double-A. He'll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft a year from now, so he'll almost certainly end up on the 40-man with a chance to debut as a 21-year-old at some point in 2023.
Otto Lopez (23), 2B/SS/OF, Triple-A Buffalo
Lopez had a very nice 70 games in New Hampshire (.331/.398/.457) before getting moved up to Buffalo. (He got a small taste of the majors as well, striking out in one plate appearance.)
His line at New Hampshire was powered by a .412 BABIP, so it's a little misleading, but he walked at an 8.9% clip there, which was encouraging. That rate dropped when he moved up to Buffalo, though his strikeout rate also dropped, going from 19.7% to 13.4%, which is more the area that it's been throughout his minor league career. He's good at getting the bat on the ball and is a guy most scouting reports will say does everything well despite not necessarily having any elite tools. His positional versatility is an asset, too.
Listing him among nine upper level breakout prospects this year, Kyle Glaser of Baseball America wrote that “he has progressively learned to take more mature at-bats as he’s gotten older and has surprising average raw power he could tap in to as he gets more selective in his approach,” and suggested there's a chance that he could be an everyday second baseman rather than the utility player that once seemed to be his likeliest best outcome.
Sem Robberse (20), RHP, High-A Vancouver
Robberse didn't break out in a major way in 2021, but he was impressive in pitching his way up to High-A as a 19-year-old and continues to have a bunch of traits that make evaluators see a possible future big leaguer there. Brendan Gawlowski of FanGraphs saw him in August, and while the start he caught was uneven there was a lot to like. “In the first three innings, he was the best version of himself: he got ahead consistently, moved his fastball to both sides of the plate, back-doored his two-plane slider, elevated for whiffs, and lured hitters out of the zone with his curve.”
Gawlowski also noted that the Dutchman “has above average spin for his velo band and misses bats with both breaking pitches,” and that Robberse's numbers in Low-A were slightly misleading because “his pedestrian-looking walk rate was actually one of the top marks in his league, where the robots are handing out free passes by the dozen.”
The walks definitely went up when he moved to Vancouver, and the strikeouts were down, but he was the only teenager to throw a pitch in High-A West, and one of only six to do so in any of the High-A leagues. He's not just on track, he's ahead of schedule.
Kevin Smith (25), SS/3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Smith had a thoroughly unimpressive 36 plate appearances at the big league level in 2021, but that shouldn't take the shine off what was a great year for the former Top 100 prospect. He attained that status, according to Baseball America's evaluators at least, heading into 2019 after slashing .355/.407/.639 at Low-A Lansing then holding his own after a move up to High-A. In 2019 he lost that status as he stumbled badly in Double-A. At the end of 2020 he was Rule 5 eligible and left unprotected by the Jays, allowing any team to have claimed him. None did. He stayed in the organization, then tore it up for Buffalo all year, slashing .285/.370/.561 with 21 home runs in 94 games.
His 11.2% walk rate was easily the best of any minor league stint in his career, and nearly double of the rate he had at Double-A and High-A. His 23.7% strikeout rate was a significant improvement over 2019's 32.3% as well.
I don't know if this second breakout means he'll be able to be a useful big leaguer, but he's certainly put himself back on the map — and earned himself a spot on the 40-man, too.
Zach Logue (25), LHP, Triple-A Buffalo
Logue pitched 100 1/3 innings in Double-A in 2019, but ended up back there to start 2021. Not usually a great sign, but as MLB Pipeline notes, the Jays “put him on a velocity program, and there have been positive results there with his fastball bumping from around a 90 mph average to closer to 92-93 this season.” They add that he's also found “a mid-80s cutter that has morphed out of his slider” that helped him get right-handers out and make his way up into Buffalo's rotation in mid-2021.
His numbers in Buffalo over 89 1/3 innings were better than what he did in New Hampshire, as he pitched to a 3.32 ERA and 3.56 FIP while striking out 93 and walking just 20. He was Rule 5 eligible last winter and not taken, but will likely find his way onto the Jays' 40-man this winter in order to protect him as a rotation depth option. He could certainly end up in the Jacob Waguespack tier — solid at Triple-A yet not particularly useful in the majors — but you need those guys and that's a pretty great outcome for a ninth-rounder who was posting K/9 rates in the 7.5 range in 2018 and '19 before jumping up to 10.4 across two levels this season.
Samad Taylor (23), IF/OF, Double-A New Hampshire
The “lottery ticket” in July 2017 trade that sent Joe Smith to Cleveland and also brought back Thomas Pannone (who, FYI, posted a 7.07 ERA in 21 starts for the Angels' Triple-A affiliate this season), Taylor added an element of power to his game that has made him a much more intriguing prospect than ever before. In the pre-season top Jays prospects list at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen called him “a 20-grade in-game pop type of hitter,” then Taylor went out and hit 16 home runs in 374 plate appearances at Double-A, slashing .294/.385/.503.
The strikeout rate was high (29.4%) and the BABIP (.394) gives you pause, but the walks, the power, and the fact that he stole 30 bases (albeit while being caught eight times) has certainly increased his status as a prospect.
Part of what's changed was an experience playing winter ball in Australia last year. “Probably one of the best experiences I've had in my life,” Taylor told Shi Davidi for a Baseball America piece in July.
Importantly, the move gave him the opportunity to work on his swing.
“I'm staying more stacked on my back side to drive the ball and have more consistent results, in a way,” he told Davidi. And the results certainly seem to indicate that something clicked.
He also spent time at multiple positions in Australia — second base, third base, left field, and centre field — which is something he continued doing in New Hampshire this season.
Speed, versatility, and now power? That could help him get to the big leagues in 2022 if he moves up to Buffalo and continues to do well — and that did not seem like an outcome that was on the horizon heading into 2021.
Adrian Hernandez (21), RHP, Double-A New Hampshire
A right-handed reliever out of Mexico, Hernandez wasn't really on anybody's radar after he had an 8.02 ERA in the Gulf Coast League in 2019, with just 15 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings, but he definitely popped in 2021. He moved from Low-A Dunedin, to High-A Vancouver, then Double-A New Hampshire over the course of the year, posting a 1.88 ERA for Vancouver and a 2.30 ERA for the Fisher Cats. Across all three levels he struck out 108 in 62 1/3 innings.
That’s not a typo!
He's got a high-spin changeup that works as an out pitch — as noted by Eric Longenhagen in a Daily Prospect Notes piece for FanGraphs back in June — and can touch the mid-90s while averaging 92-93 on his fastball. Steve Givarz of Baseball Prospectus had an even more glowing report later on that month, calling Hernandez one of the standout arms in the Low-A Southeast at the time.
“When he pitches, it has often been in the latter half of games for multiple innings at a time, heavily relying on his unique changeup,” Givarz wrote. “It is very high spin, one that would rank near the top two percent of major leaguers, with an extreme amount of horizontal movement, averaging 16 inches at times. He is comfortable throwing it to both sides, any count, any situation and has generated a ton of swings and misses. This pitch is a plus major-league offering, but the rest of the profile requires further refinement.”
He went on to say that part of that refinement would be about strike throwing, and when Hernandez moved up to High-A his walk rate did indeed come down considerably, from 15 in 18 innings in Dunedin to eight in 28 2/3 innings in Vancouver (er... Hillsboro, Oregon). His walk rate ticked back up a little at Double-A, but definitely some very encouraging signs here.
Stock holding steady
Alejandro Kirk (22), C, Toronto Blue Jays
It must be said that Kirk didn't have a great season at the plate — certainly not compared to the high hopes there were for him after the splash he made at the end of 2020. “At the plate” is key, because it seemed to this untrained eye that he continued to make strides defensively and when it comes to game calling, though those aspects of his game remain works in progress. His calling card is always going to be his bat, and in that respect it was an off year. At least on the surface.
You can barely take anything from the 25 plate appearances he had in 2020, but it's interesting how he completely destroyed right-handers during his brief cameo, striking out only once in 18 plate appearances, going 8-for-17 with a walk. He struggled against lefties in an even smaller sample in 2020, which was odd considering that he had even splits in High-A back in 2019. Odder still was the fact that in 2021 the numbers flipped. Against left-handers he produced a 163 wRC+ but against righties he was at just 79.
Partially that had to do with the .211 BABIP he produced in the split, which is something even he’s not likely to repeat. There are other encouraging things in his numbers too. For one, his impressive walk and strikeout rates held against both left- and right-handed pitchers.
More encouraging, however, were his expected stats. Of the 404 batters with at least 100 balls in play in 2021, the difference between Kirk's expected and actual wOBA was ninth worst. Statcast calculated Kirk's expected wOBA as .371 — a mark good enough to put him in a tie for 32nd among that same 404 player group. The players he tied with were J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos. Just one point ahead were Carlos Correa and José Ramírez.
Now, with Kirk's lack of speed there are going to be some potential infield singles that turn into groundouts and some extra bases lost, so he's probably never going to produce actual numbers quite as good as his quality of contact suggests, but this year his actual wOBA was .330 (ranking 139th and just a point ahead of Danny Jansen). Add in the hip injury that landed him on the 60-day IL in early May, and I think we can probably just call it a weird year for him and move on.
Josh Palacios (26), OF, Triple-A Buffalo
Palacios has never put up especially exciting numbers in the minors, but had an interesting age-22 season at High-A in 2018, then continued hitting well in Double-A in 2019, slashing .266/.371/.416 with a 13.2% walk rate and a 20.5% stirkeout rate. It looks to me like for two years he's needed a full season in Triple-A just to really see what might be there and hasn't been able to get it — first because of the pandemic, and this season because of injuries.
He did make his big league this year, getting 42 plate appearances over 13 games in which he looked overmatched. His numbers in Buffalo weren't great either, though that was a similarly small sample. A fourth outfielder could possibly be there, but having turned 26 in late July, he might fall short of big league calibre. We don't know yet because he's still in a holding pattern.
Jordan Groshans (21), SS/3B, Double-A New Hampshire
Groshans didn't exactly produce eye-popping numbers in Double-A this season, slashing .291/.367/.450 with just seven homers in 75 games. But he bested both the strikeout rate and ISO he produced in his breakout 23-game spell at Low-A Lansing in 2019 (which was cut short by a foot injury) while still walking a healthy 10.8% of the time.
It's also worth remembering here that New Hampshire was an aggressive assignment for the 21-year old, as he had just those 23 games at Low-A and none at High-A when he got there. That fact was noted by Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus when he reported on him in August and said that he wasn't disappointed by the look at him he had. “He’s not super twitchy or loud on offense or defense, but he’s just a good hitter with sneaky game pop,” Paternostro wrote. Though he also said “he feels more like a Top 101 than a Top 50 guy.”
Especially encouraging was the way he ended his season, hitting two of his seven homers over his final 11 games and slashing .405/.444/.643 over that span. He didn’t have the breakout some thought might be there, but I don’t think his stock dropped either.
Joey Murray (25), RHP, Florida Complex League
In 2019, Murray pitched his way from Lansing to Dunedin to New Hampshire, striking out 169 batters in 137 1/3 innings across the three levels thanks to his low-90s, high spin “invisiball.” He was part of the Jays' group at the alternate site in Rochester in 2020, where he was reportedly throwing harder than before. This year, however, he was only able to face five batters in the Complex League due to injury, walking two, striking out one, and giving up a home run.
Murray was probably going to ultimately end up a reliever anyway, so it's not like his ability to start has potentially been wiped out by these developments. He'll be Rule 5 eligible this winter and may yet end up on the Jays' 40-man, because it's not inconceivable that a team would take a crack at sticking him in their big league bullpen to see what happens. He's still something, in other words. He just needs to get healthy.
Leo Jimenez (20), SS/2B, Low-A Dunedin
It's not exactly easy to know what to make of Jimenez. He briefly played for Low-A Lansing at the end of 2019, but then ended up in Low-A (now in Dunedin) again in 2021. There were reports that he'd added strength in early 2020, but it didn't seem to show up this season, as he hit just one home run for Dunedin and produced a slugging percentage of just .381. What was impressive about his year, however, was that he was an on-base machine, producing a ridiculous .517 OBP on the back of a 21.1% walk rate. Granted, that was in a league that, as discussed above, had inflated walk rates all over the place thanks to its robot umpires. Still, Jimenez's rate still ranked fourth in the league, and his OBP was 27 points better than the player who ranked second (of 83 batters with at least 200 PA) and 110 points better than teammate PK Morris, who ranked seventh. His .315 batting average was second among the group, too.
He's been playing in the Arizona Fall League this month, and while those numbers are untrustworthy because of the varying levels of competition, he's still doing the thing — minus the batting average. In a tiny sample in the desert he's slashed .125/.462/.125, which obviously isn't great, but it's also worth noting he's one of just 11 players under 21 to have played on either side of the ball this year (by my count).
Does this make him anything? I have no idea.
CJ Van Eyk (23), RHP, High-A Vancouver
John Trupin of Baseball Prospectus saw Van Eyk in May and caught one of his good days, as the 2020 second-rounder struck out nine while walking just one. “He should see Double-A this summer,” Trupin suggested, but ultimately that didn't happen. There are things to like about Van Eyk, who sits 92-93, has a starter's arsenal, and racked up 100 strikeouts over 80 1/3 innings, but he also walked 39 batters over that span and ended up with a 5.83 ERA for the year.
Brendan Gawlowski of FanGraphs saw him on multiple occasions this season, leading to him to say in a late August report that “depending on when you catch him, Van Eyk can look like a future rotation piece or a guy who won’t get out of Double-A.”
His command is inconsistent, and Gawloski notes that this has been a problem since his college days. His FG colleague Tess Taruskin saw Van Eyk in May and noted that “On a handful of his pitches, his balance in his lower half faltered, which resulted in a somewhat inconsistent landing spot for his left foot. In a few instances, his foot landed an inch or two too far over toward third base, causing Van Eyk to have to throw across his body, lower his head, and tumble toward first base after delivery.”
Maybe all that means he should be in the “stock down” category, but there's still a lot to like there and plenty of innings ahead to try to get his mechanics in order — albeit not as many as for some, because as a guy selected out of college he's already turned 23.
Trent Palmer (22), RHP, Low-A Dunedin
Palmer was a third-round pick out of Jacksonville University in 2020. He made his pro debut in Low-A this year, which maybe isn't a great sign for a guy out of college, but he had a decent year and looked like he may have put something together in the second half of the season.
Palmer doesn't show up on the Baseball America top 30 for the Jays, and just sneaks onto the one from MLB Pipeline at number 30, where they note his intangibles and his “unique build” in the Jays' system as a big framed right-hander who at 6'1" isn't as tall as some of the other guys the Jays have coveted. They also point out the control problems that plagued him at the start of the season. We can see that in his numbers, as his he had a 22.4% walk rate over the first two months of his season. However, that the rate went down to 10.7% over the final two months of the year, while his strikeout rate also rose from 25.0% to 36.0%.
Given his age and the level I don't think it's too much to get excited about yet, but there could be something there if the control holds, and one would guess he'll get a chance to keep on starting next season, presumably at Vancouver.
Dasan Brown (22), OF, Low-A Dunedin
Brown is very much a long-term prospect, and also a Canadian from Oakville, Ontario, and for those reasons I've declined to put him in the stock down category despite putting together some disappointing numbers in Low-A. He slashed .212/.310/.323 over 226 plate appearances, but I think the expectations were always going to be that he'd struggle against advanced pitching. He's also the type of prospect — a dynamic athlete who has the tools to be a big league defender at a premium position but still needs many reps to find his footing and develop his abilities as a hitter — who was probably hurt the most by the lost minor league year of 2020.
The likelihood that he'll turn into an everyday big leaguer is low, but the potential impact that he'd have if he could ever get there is very high. In that sense, little has changed for him over the course of the year, bad numbers or no. It was good that he was actually on the field.
Nate Pearson (25), RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Pearson still has frontline starter stuff, topping 100 mph with his fastball multiple times as a reliever during his last outings of the season. But the main knock on him throughout his pro career so far has been his inability to stay healthy, and logging just 45 2/3 innings between Buffalo and Toronto in 2021 did little to quell those concerns — especially considering how important this year was to his development after managing just 18 big league innings during the shortened 2020 season.
The Jays say that they're going to go into 2022 hoping that he'll be able to start games for them. In his end-of-season presser GM Ross Atkins said that Pearson was feeling great and might not require surgery to repair a sports hernia — the elusive injury that dogged him throughout the season. And it's not like him ultimately becoming a wicked power reliever would be the absolute worst outcome in the world. But it's far from ideal, and the fact that he was unable to answer those questions about his health this year certainly brought it closer to reality.
Miguel Hiraldo (21), SS, Low-A Dunedin
Hiraldo hit seven home runs in just 256 plate appearances for Bluefield in 2019, so it's a bit surprising to see only seven to his credit after a full season (453 PA) for Dunedin this year. The Low-A Southeast is a bit of a pitcher-friendly league — for example, only 29 of 83 batters with at least 200 PA there this year produced a slugging percentage above .400 — but it's not impossible to hit for power there, as Hiraldo's younger teammate Orelvis Martinez showed.
His increased walk rate of 11.3% is encouraging I guess, but his strikeout rate was the highest of his pro career and it's not exactly like he showed a lot of improvement as the season wore on — at least not in terms of peripherals. Over his final 22 games (88 PA) he slashed a better-looking .275/.330/.413, but his walk rate dropped to 6.8% and his strikeout rate was 30.7%.
Adam Kloffenstein (21), RHP, High-A Vancouver
Kloffenstein was drafted as pitcher with a reputation for strike-throwing and a projectable frame that could help him stay a starter as he progressed, particularly if the velocity were to come. That last bit seems to have happened, as he made a brief appearance for the Jays in the spring that seemed to confirm, according to Tess Taruskin of FanGraphs, reports from 2020 that his fastball now sits in the 93-94 range. Unfortunately, the command seemed to go sideways on him in 2021.
Back in 2019, Kloffenstein had a great run of 13 starts for Vancouver, which at the time was a short-season Low-A affiliate, posting a 2.24 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 23 walks over 64 1/3 innings despite being quite young for the level. He wasn't one of the prospects who spent 2020 at the Jays' alternate site, instead pitching in the Constellation Energy League, which was an independent league in his home state of Texas that operated for just the one year in order to allow players to continue to get reps. This year he was sent back to Vancouver, which is now the Jays' High-A affiliate. At just 20 years of age he was again young for the level (3.2 years below average per Baseball Reference), but the results were certainly not the same. Kloffenstein struck out 107 batters in 101 1/3 innings, but he also walked 61, giving him a rate of 5.4 free passes issued per nine innings. He also hit seven batters and issued 17 wild pitches, which was the second highest total for any pitcher in High-A.
It wasn't all bad for Kloffenstein this year. On a September episode of Around The Nest, Vancouver play-by-play man Tyler Zickel noted that Kloffenstein's stuff is still there, and that he had numerous very strong starts this season — a fact backed up by the numbers, as 12 of Kloffenstein's 23 starts saw him allowed two earned runs or fewer — while suggesting that he sometimes had trouble getting back on track when things started to go off the rails for him.
If he can do that and get his newfound velocity under better control, maybe a breakout year will be on the cards for him at New Hampshire in 2022, but I'm not sure you feel quite as good about him today as you did two years ago — at least when scouting the stat line, which is just about all we can do with not a ton having been written about him this season.
Estiven Machado (19), SS, Florida Complex League
Machado turned 19 in October, and remains a pretty exciting prospect, so I don't know if we can really say his stock is down — especially because it's hard to get reports on guys at this low level of the minors. But Machado's season is notable for the fact that it seemingly didn't happen. The switch-hitting infielder, who was one of the better regarded prospects in the 2019 international class, suited up for the first game of the Complex League season back in late June (which was notable for also featuring John Axford as he began to make his comeback effort after signing on with the Jays following a good showing for Canada in Olympic qualifiers). Machado singled in his lone at-bat, but was then removed with a hamstring issue. It was his only at-bat of the year in an official game at any level.
Now, that doesn’t mean he didn’t get in any work the whole year, but after losing 2020 to the pandemic (Machado was a group of several Venezuelan prospects who stayed in Dunedin and managed to continue to work there at least) this season likely wasn’t what the Jays wanted to see, and now we’re talking about a whole lot of lost reps for him at an important age for development.
Eric Pardinho (20), RHP, Florida Complex League
BA's number four Jays prospect heading into 2019, and the top pitching prospect of the 2017 international class, Pardinho has just not been able to stay healthy. After being healthy enough to log just 37 2/3 innings in 2019, Pardinho required Tommy John surgery in February 2020, and then battled elbow soreness in 2021 that limited him to just three innings in the Complex League. His stock can only go up from here, I guess. Here’s hoping he can get healthy enough to get back on track, but the big thing about him was always that he was so far ahead of his peers in terms of pitchability, and now with so much lost development time that just really isn't the case anymore. Not great.
Will Robertson (23), OF, High-A Vancouver
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs was skeptical of Robertson heading into 2021, noting that the 2019 fourth-rounder saw a big power drop-off in the 2018 Cap Cod League — where he used a wood bat and faced higher calibre pitching — compared to the big numbers he put up at Creighton, a smaller school where he'd often face inferior competition and, of course, used a composite bat. “This is the type of prospect whose stock gets reinforced by strong on-paper performance and because Robertson’s first full season was wiped out due to COVID, we don’t have that,” Longenhagen wrote back in January.
Well, we now do have that, and though Robertson was limited by injury to just 56 games for High-A Vancouver this season, so we can maybe give him a bit of a break, he didn't come anywhere close to impressing. Posting just a 6.9% walk rate and a 30.2% strikeout rate wasn't great, nor was his slash line of .235/.310/.385. A better, healthier year in 2022 could put him back on track, but it's not looking good here.