It’s tough to see how things get better than they were in 2021. Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien were grand slam one-year signings. Vladimir Guerrero chased a triple crown. Alek Manoah dominated as a rookie. Jose Berrios pitched well down the stretch after the club swapped two top prospects to get him. And therein lies the upside. The club was able to sign Berrios to a long-term deal, and I have a hard time imagining Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson outproducing him over the next few seasons. Another plus: this organization knows what it’s doing. This system remains solid despite the recent graduations and trades with another couple potential-star-level prospects in the pipeline and several interesting upside and depth pieces behind them. All the team’s best players are young, and the ownership group is rich enough to push anytime it wants. Perhaps Kevin Gausman will adequately replicate Robbie Ray. Perhaps Teoscar Hernandez and Vladimir Guerrero will hold serve at the levels they established in 2021. And perhaps the top guy on this list will inject enough life into the lineup that they’ll rarely miss Marcus Semien.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2022 | Highest level played | ETA
1. C Gabriel Moreno | 22 | AAA | 2022
Moreno was carving a path to the big leagues when he was hit by a pitch that broke his thumb. He had slashed .373/.441/.651 with 8 HR in 32 games at AA to that point. He’s not a big dude, listed at 5’11” 160 lbs (he’s bigger than that), but Moreno generates loud contact to all fields thanks to extreme control of a quick swing powered by quick-twitch, rotational athleticism. He’s good on defense, too, which is good for his baseball value but might be a little irritating at times for our purposes, given the team’s depth at that spot and the toll catching can take on a player’s body. I suspect he’ll share the DH/Catcher role with Alejandro Kirk, but he’s a good enough hitter to play anywhere if the Jays want to try him somewhere else.
2. SS Orelvis Martinez | 20 | A+ | 2021
I’ve been watching Get Back this week. I can’t really offer an objective perspective because I grew up immersed in The Beatles’ catalog because my mom was a superfan, but I suspect pretty much everyone will find some scenes interesting. It’s fun to hear the band talking about other musicians. It’s fun to hear them praising Elvis and singing “Blue Suede Shoes,” and that’s my long and winding road back to the Blue Jays and their Elvis, who could be the king of third base in Toronto by 2023. A 6’1” 188 lb prototype ballpalyer, Martinez struggled a little in his first 27 games at High-A but popped nine home runs anyway and posted a 99 wRC+. His season-long line of 28 HR and 4 SB in 99 games with a .261/.345/.549 provides a pretty good look at what Martinez could be at peak, except that he did this as a 19-year-old who was much younger than his primary competitors, and the Blue Jays are great at developing hitters, so his rocking 2021 could also just be a hint of what’s to come from Orelvis.
3. 2B Otto Lopez | 23 | AAA | 2022
Lopez can hit well enough to hang in the majors, in terms of making contact, but the question will be whether or not the 5’10” 160 lb righty can do enough damage to hang in an everyday lineup. He hit just five home runs in 113 games across two levels last year but added 32 doubles and four triples, slashing .315/.379/.437 with 22 stolen bases in 26 attempts. You can see the appeal. He also struck out just 13.4 percent of the time in 43 games at AAA. If he gets a real shot, I see him adding power across time and doing enough in batting average and stolen bases to be a fantasy asset while he learns to access his functional thump in games.
4. SS Kevin Smith | 25 | MLB | 2021
Get ready for some Mallrats jokes! Pretty sure I got one in there somewhere last season, and I apologize for any future bits that don’t land. Gotta focus. Focus! Smith was doing just that in 2021, zeroing in on swing decisions that left him with an enticing 23.7 percent strikeout rate after punching out 32.3 at a percent clip in 2019 at AA. He also walked about twice as much: from 6.2% to 11.2% and slashed .285/.370/.561 with 21 HR and 18 SB in just 94 games. That’s a loud season for a former first-round pick taking his first licks at AAA. Felt like his success went mostly under the radar, and his MLB performance in 36 plate appearances (.094/.194/.188) certainly didn’t win any advocates, so it’s under the radar he’ll stay. I’m not saying he should top anyone’s wishlist, but I do think he’ll get a legit shot to stick this season and could be a boon even in redraft leagues.
5. 3B Jordan Groshans | 22 | AA | 2022
A 6’3” 205 lb right handed power bat, Groshans had a very good season in a lot of ways. One was that he played baseball. His 75 games at AA were the most he’s played in a single season by 26 games. Another good outcome was that he didn’t strike out much. A 19.3 percent K-rate doesn’t make him elite in that area, but combined with a 10.8 percent walk rate, the ratio advertises good plate skills for a player many have dubbed a natural hitter. The only downside to his season is seven home runs, a little less than you’d hope to see from a guy with plus raw power. It’s a trade the Jays will happily make, I think, at least for now, at least as long as it comes along with decent health and a slash line something like the .291/.367/.450 he posted in 2021.
6. SS Manuel Beltre | 17 | DSL | 2025
If I have to pick one guy from Toronto’s group to jump up some lists this season it’ll be Manuel Beltre, a 5’9” 155 lb shortstop who often pops into my Twitter feed from team-focused accounts with access to their workouts. Beltre didn’t hit much in the DSL this year but managed a 119 wRC+ anyway because he walked at a 17.6 percent clip and struck out in just 13.9 percent of his plate appearances, producing an odd .225/.391/.346 with 2 HR and 10 SB along the way. I like the apparent plate skills but also the little videos I’ve seen of him working at this craft. I’m a sucker for good marketing, I guess. In his work, he’s always building torque and core explosiveness. It’s something Toronto is extremely good at evaluating and teaching, and I suspect Austin Martin’s lack of such when they got him up close and worked with him for a while helped make him available at the trade deadline. Beltre might be a little higher than his profile warrants at the moment, but the aircraft is boarding now. If he makes it to Low-A and plays well as an 18-year-old, hype machines around the internet will start whirring.
7. RHP Gunnar Hoglund | 22 | NCAA | 2024
Hoglund was trending toward being a top ten pick in 2021 draft but blew out his arm and needed Tommy John surgery, which did not dissuade the Blue Jays from drafting him 17th overall. This presents dynasty players a bit of buying opportunity for the patient, as Hoglund was about as pro ready as college pitchers come, featuring plus command of three plus pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) from a balanced 6’4” 220 lb frame. If he adds a little velocity after rebuilding his baseball self from the ground up, Hoglund could carve right through the minors with high K-rates and microscopic ratios. The AL East is hard to predict when it comes to young pitching. Plus command of plus off-speed stuff is essential to survival there, so there’s plenty of reasons to slow-play him on draft day, but a healthy Hoglund would have the skills to succeed even in this baseball pressure cooker.
8. 2B Samad Taylor | 23 | AA | 2023
A 5’10” 160 lb powder keg right handed hitter, Taylor offers an interesting look at one of the organization’s core competencies: teaching rotational explosion. After hitting seven home runs in 108 games in 2019 at High-A, Taylor blasted 16 in just 87 games in AA, slugging .503 after posting a .364 at his previous stop. Nonetheless, he was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, should it ever occur, partly because his 29.4 percent strikeout rate means he might pass through undrafted. I tend to doubt it. He slashed .294/.385/.504 as a 22-year-old middle infielder at AA, and somebody like Baltimore, Arizona or Colorado should be all over that. It might hurt his development to strike out something like 35-40 percent of the time in a part-time MLB role, but it might also help him a lot to work with a big league staff all season. It’s a little hard to see how they make room for him in Toronto, so I’m hoping he gets a change of scenery.
9. SS Miguel Hiraldo | 21 | A | 2023
A 5’11” 170 lb righty who can play anywhere on the field, Hiraldo had a great 2019 in the Appalachian League but took a slight step back in A ball two years later, losing 91 points on his slugging percentage and 50 points of batting average in the process. He got on base at a similar clip (.348 in 2019, .338 in 2021), so it wasn’t a lost season by any stretch, but anyone expecting Hiraldo to add some strength or in-game power during the lost season had to be a little disappointed. He did steal 29 bases in 34 attempts but isn’t a burner and likely benefited from the three-throws-over rule, which I hate with a darkness so black you can only see its outline during a December lockout.
10. SS Leo Jimenez | 20 | A | 2023
The Blue Jays have a type, especially on the international front. Otto Lopez, Manuel Beltre and Leo Jimenez are all pretty good examples as handsy middle infielders who need to add strength and torque. Jimenez is a fairly extreme version. The 5’11” 160 lb right handed hitter posted an obscene .517 on base percentage in 54 games in Low-A but slugged just .381 despite hitting .315. He walked in a whopping 21.5 percent of his plate appearances, striking out at a 14.5 percent clip and stealing just four bases in five attempts. He hit one home run and eight doubles with zero triples. So what the hell is he doing here? Good question, that. Maybe I should’ve reserved this spot for RHP Joey Murray, but he missed most of the season with an elbow sprain and threw just 0.2 innings in August after rehabbing, so we don’t know what we have there, and the other guy I considered here, Estiven Machado, has played exactly one as professional, taking one plate appearance in the complex league.
Back to Leo Jimenez of the absurd .517 OBP, he reportedly added strength heading into the season but still employs a powerless swing. He’s clearly got room to risk more rotational force. His success or failure will come down to how well he enfolds the club’s teaching and starts to really let loose on pitches he can damage. It’s not an easy thing to learn. In fact I think it’s more innate than it is teachable, or at least I’d think that if clubs like Cleveland, Los Angeles, Houston and Toronto hadn’t shown such a knack for helping guys unleash their inner swinger. If he posts another thumpless campaign in 2022, he’ll probably drop off my list, but for now I’ll put him here because he’s the kind of guy you pick up the instant you see him collecting extra base hits in bunches.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.