Success comes with a Price: Blue Jays deal prospects for vets
Several promising players remain in Toronto's system after team's playoff run
By Mike Rosenbaum
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Toronto Blue Jays.
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays had a banner season in 2015, winning the American League East and advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 1993. That success came at a cost, though, as the team tapped into its farm system to bolster its big league lineup, ultimately trading away several high-end pitching prospects including Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffman.
Yet, the Blue Jays' farm system still boasts an impressive crop of young arms heading into 2016, many of whom should have a chance to help the club at the highest level in the coming years.
"We tend to target young, projectable pitchers because we have a good program for those types of guys, and you can see that this year with the guys we have in Minor League camp," said Blue Jays director of amateur scouting Brian Parker.
Headlining that group is right-hander Conner Greene, the club's No. 2 prospect, who broke out last year in his second full professional season, when he went 12-7 with a 3.54 ERA and a 115/39 K/BB ratio in 132 1/3 innings across three levels, finishing the year in Double-A.
Right behind Greene is 2014 second-rounder and No. 3 prospect Sean Reid-Foley. The 20-year-old right-hander reached Class A Advanced Dunedin last year in his full-season debut, finishing with 125 strikeouts in 96 innings.
"Reid-Foley looks great; he lost some weight and came to camp in really good shape this year," Parker noted. "He's working through his delivery and trying to keep everything in line, and he's done very well so far this spring."
Meanwhile, No. 4 prospect Jon Harris, the No. 29 overall pick in last year's Draft, could soon follow in the footsteps of Greene and Reid-Foley. Though he struggled late last summer in his pro debut in the Class A Short Season Northwest League, the Blue Jays expect the big right-hander to get back on track in 2016.
"With Harris, just learning the routine of pitching every day five days is important," said Parker. "Beyond that, we want him to learn to establish his fastball. He has four pitches, so the more he can establish the fastball and have success with that pitch, the more it's going to help him. Once he gets going and stretched out, he has a very bright future."
Anthony Alford, the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect and No. 42 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100, impressed officials last year with his transition to full-season ball after playing college football for the previous two-and-a-half years. Splitting the season between Class A Lansing and Dunedin, the toolsy outfielder posted an impressive .298/.398/.421 batting line with 36 extra-base hits, 91 runs scored and 27 steals. Alford has continued to impress in camp this spring, and the Blue Jays expect him to continue progressing in 2016.
"Given Anthony's background and that this will be his second full season, our goal is still just to have him play every day and get [him] as many reps as possible -- just work on everyday baseball stuff in general," Parker said. "He made such strides last year, so we want to get him back to where he was then. He has a very bright future as a legitimate two-way player, but obviously he needs more experience."
No. 8 prospectRowdy Tellez has also stood out this spring, with his strong second-half showing at Dunedin and subsequent success in the Arizona Fall League carrying over into camp.
"Rowdy has done a really great job working with our conditioning coach and getting in better shape, and he's put himself in a position to be the type of hitter we want," Parker said. "He's working on his defense just as hard, because he knows he has to be a good defender and that he can't just be a designated hitter.
"You don't find those types of hitters with the kind of power he has who can also hit as well as he does and put together good at-bats," Parker continued. "His approach is one of the attractive things about him; he can hit to the opposite field and drive it with power, too."
No. 9 prospect D.J. Davis scuffled during his 2014 full-season debut at Lansing, finishing with the fourth-worst OPS (.583) among qualified players in the Midwest League. He rebounded in a big way last season while repeating the level, hitting .282/.340/.391 with more power and an improved strikeout rate.
"He took a jump last year; he became more selective and started to drive the ball and just make more quality contact," Parker said of Davis. "He's still young (21), the same age as a college junior coming out of the Draft this year, and we think he has a chance to take another step forward this year in the Florida State League after the improvements he made last year."
As for pitchers, No. 10 prospect Justin Maese impressed club officials last summer in his pro debut after being selected in the third round of the Draft. Part of a talented Blue Jays' pitching staff in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, the projectable right-hander was 5-0 with a 1.01 ERA and walked just six hitters in 35 2/3 innings.
"Justin came out and did really well for us last year," Parker said. "He's got a great sinker and he's working on his slider. He's still a raw, athletic arm, so, for him, the key will be developing a normal pitching routine and really getting into baseball shape. He has a very bright future, and we could see him making a jump this year."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.