Arms Race: Ranking the Blue Jays Pitching Prospects

By: Dan Grant

With the Toronto Blue Jays riding high as a meth head in Guelph on the fumes of their 11 game winning streak, spirits are frenetic around Toronto these days. The Jays are Major League Baseball’s best offensive team, but the pitching staff isn’t in the same universe. Grantland’s Jonah Keri agrees.

While the pitching has been better than advertised as a whole, warts were apparent against the Red Sox last weekend, particularly from the starting rotation. Against the Mets, we’ve seen improvement – but it can’t be long before the other side of the coin rears its ugly head again.

And though things are mainly positive in Blue Jay land, you’ll still have that dedicated naysayer who likens this current trend as nothing more than an unsustainable explosion of offense masking a ultimately flawed pitching staff, akin to putting lipstick on a pig.

That naysayer is annoying. They are the worst. They are, dare I say it, a cotton-headed ninnymuggins.

But this time, they aren’t wrong.

The Jays need pitching help and they need it, like, yesterday. This is where the Blue Jays organizational philosophy should bear fruit. Since Alex Anthopoulos took over as General Manager, he has spent the majority of his high draft picks on pitching, with the hope that it would produce talent at the major league level, but also give the club marketable trade pieces. Major League Baseball’s draft is impossibly deep but if we consider just the first ten rounds and compensatory round picks, since his first draft in 2010, Anthopoulos has taken 50 pitchers out of a total of 75 picks. He’s also spent significant money on international signings, a strategy that is beginning to produce visible results.

While you hope that at least some of these guys will wind up spending time with the big club, some will have to be used as trade bait both now and in future seasons. But who to keep and who to deal?

You already know the best, now meet the rest!

You already know the best (middle), now let’s meet the rest!

Let’s get to know them first. Some names will definitely be familiar to you, others maybe not as much. I’ve ranked them here in terms of what I think their value would be as an outgoing trade piece, relative to each other. Myriad factors went into the rankings, such as age, talent, experience and of course, health. I’ve included the MLB.com rankings on the standard 20-80 Scouting Scale, just to give you an idea of what weapons/upside each player possesses. In case you don’t feel like reading that entire article, a 50 overall rating is major league average; anything above is better, anything below is worse. All ratings apply to the player currently, and can increase or decrease based on any changes, most often in the area of control.

Honourable Mentions: Jon Harris, Brady Singer and Justin Maese, Ryan Borucki/Alberto Tirado

Harris, Singer and Maese were the Jays top draft selections this year and Harris in particular seems to have a huge upside, after sliding well below his projected slot in the draft. The Jays first round selection was universally lauded by pundits and scouts and bodes well for the future of the system.

Borucki and Tirado just missed this list and probably have more potential long term value than some names on it. Borucki is a young 21, in that he has already missed significant time with Tommy John surgery. Tirado has mixed an electric fastball with inconsistent off-speed pitches and a general lack of control. Both are high upside projects, currently still in A ball. They could be included in trades, but would be more on the periphery.

10. Matt Boyd: LHP, Drafted 6th round, 175th pick (2013)

Fastball: 50 | Curveball: 45 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 45

Boyd may not have the pure stuff of many of the other prospects on this list, but he’s pitched exceptionally well over two levels so far in 2015. He’s 24, so he’s closer to being big league ready than most names on this list. He’s averaged about a K per inning and has a 1.12 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in the minors this season. I think Boyd actually might be better suited to help the Jays themselves this year, but he could also have some value on the trade market. Given his seemingly average major league upside, he’d be a piece with which the Jays would surely be willing to part with in any deal for an established player.

 9. Jairo Labourt: LHP, Signed International Free Agent (2011)

Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 40 | Overall: 45

The 21 year old Dominican lefty is an intriguing prospect with a big body; if he can improve his control, he’ll rocket towards the big leagues. He’s already shown flashes of this, as he initially struggled at Lansing in 2014, but improved greatly towards the end of the year in Vancouver. However, so far this season in Dunedin, his WHIP sits at 1.43 with 32 walks in 51 innings. That’s not horrendous but it’s not very good either. A high upside single A lefty would be a nice get for many teams on the trade market, but he’s far from a sure thing.

8. Matt Smoral: LHP, Drafted 1st round (compensatory), 50th overall (2012)

Fastball: 60 | Slider: 60 | Changeup: 40 | Control: 40 | Overall: 45

The 21 year old 6’8 behemoth has great raw stuff but has really struggled with his control. A broken foot cost him the end of 2013 and part of 2014 and he’s been knocked around so far in 2015. He still has two plus pitches in his repertoire, but more than any other player on the list, Smoral might need a lot of additional seasoning in the minor leagues, which might make him unattractive to potential suitors.

7. Sean Reid-Foley: RHP, Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall (2014)

Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 45 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 50

Reid-Foley seems like one of the most likely prospects to be dealt, in my opinion. He’s got a great amount of Major League talent and projects as a mid-rotation starter long term, with higher upside. His floor seems to be an excellent bullpen piece, as he can touch 97 on the gun and already has good control. Scouts continually talk about him having an advanced ‘feel’ for pitching, something that is rare in a 19 year old. With all the right handed pitching the Jays have ahead of him in the system, parting with Reid-Foley would constitute giving up value but wouldn’t break the bank for Toronto.

Two of the youngest prospects in the Jays system are near the top of the heap

Two of the youngest players in the Jays system are near the top of the trade value heap

6. Miguel Castro: RHP, Signed as International Free Agent (2012)

Fastball: 65 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 50

Here’s a familiar name! Castro surprised everyone with a fantastic spring training and he broke camp with the big club. He has a lightning fastball but has struggled with control at times, unsurprising given that he’s only 20 years old. His excellent heater is complimented by an effective change-up; he’s just struggled to get a feel for his slider, something he’ll need if he’s going to start at the next level. Many see him as a potential elite piece at the back-end of the bullpen and I’m sure many teams will have interest in acquiring the young flamethrower. A definite potential trade chit.

5. Jeff Hoffman: RHP, Drafted 1st round, 9th overall (2014)

Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 65 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 55

Everyone knows the Hoffman story by now; potential first overall pick, had Tommy John, Jays took a risk and nabbed him at 9 because they also had the 11th pick. It appears to be paying off now, as early reports on Hoffman are sterling. Velocity is back, maturity is high and at 23, it might not be long before he’s in Toronto. There have been whispers he’ll be called up in July or August but we’ll almost definitely see him in September. I’m sure teams would love to get him but it would take a huge return for the Jays to part with Hoffman at this point; his value is just beginning to rise and he shouldn’t be dealt for a rental.

4. Roberto Osuna: RHP, Signed as International Free Agent (2011)

Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 60 | Cutter: 55 |  Control: 45+ | Overall: 50

We’ve all seen Robbie Bear up in the big leagues this season; he’s been fantastic. For all the concerns about his workload and control, he’s been one of the top right handed relievers in all of baseball. He’s come back to Earth a bit in the past couple weeks and there’s still some caution in regards to his workload, but Osuna just turned 20 in March and would be a huge get for any team looking to deal. I can’t see the Jays moving him without getting back a starter with multiple years of control in return, given that he’s contributing to the team right now and is under club control for years.

3. Marcus Stroman: RHP, Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall (2012) and Drew Hutchison: RHP, Drafted 15th Round (2009)

I mean, we all know about Stroman. If you have any questions, have a look here. The guy has the potential to be a long term stud for the organization and he could be back as early as this September if all goes well with his rehab from a torn ACL. To trade him at this point doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, given that his value is diminished because of the injury and his ceiling is so high. That is also why he doesn’t rank higher on this list.

Hutchison is rated in the same slot, only because he’s healthy and Stroman currently isn’t. He’s shown flashes of his excellent talent at times this year; look no further than his start against the Mets this week or his complete game shutout just a couple starts ago. Then you see what happens when he doesn’t command his fastball. Though he has a great deal of big league experience, Hutchison doesn’t turn 25 until August.

Neither of these guys are likely to go anywhere unless some kind of blockbuster deal is waiting in the weeds, the kind of which wouldn’t have been floated in rumours just yet. Neither guy is getting dealt for a rental.

2.  Noah Syndergaard: RHP, 1st round, 38th overall (2010) Daniel Norris, LHP, 2nd round, 74th overall (2011)

Fastball: 65 | Slider: 60 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 50 | Overall: 60

Whoops! Here is where Syndergaard would rank if he was still in the Jays system. For all the gnashing of teeth, and as good as he looked against us this week, that trade will be defensible forever. Syndergaard just cracked the majors this season, and while he throws 99 mph bullets with great accuracy, he still lacks a consistent third pitch and is likely destined to be a late inning reliever unless he can develop one.

Norris is the Jays biggest trump play. He made the team out of camp; he’s a big lefty with fantastic stuff, the kind of thing scouts cream over. He’s intelligent, hard working and nearly Major League ready. He has the potential to be the best Major Leaguer on this entire list, though Hoffman and Sanchez are safer bets. He needs to polish his delivery and improve his control, which are both easier said than done. If the Jays are going to add star help, Norris is likely going to be the centrepiece going in the other direction.

Good luck hitting that

Good luck hitting that at 98 mph

1. Aaron Sanchez: RHP, 1st round, 34th overall (2010)

Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 55

Sanchez would bring the biggest return for Toronto and for good reason. Along with Hoffman, he’s the Jays best shot at developing a true number one starter. While his control got him into trouble in early April, we saw the devastating results when he limited his walks, as the filthy movement on his fastball is basically unfair to the batter. I’d be extremely surprised if the Jays weren’t hanging up on anyone asking about Sanchez. He isn’t going anywhere.

So where does all this wild speculation and amateur scouting leave us? In my ideal world we’d be able to turn Reid-Foley and some spare parts into a middle of the rotation starter; if a bigger deal presents itself and we have move both Reid-Foley and Norris, we better get back some elite talent in return. Regardless of what happens, Toronto needs to make a move. Their winning streak has propelled them back to the forefront of the divisional race, but to seal their place in the post-season, they need help.

Some might worry about emptying the farm for a rental; others will scream that we should mortgage everything for now.

I’ll leave you with this: in 1993, the Jays acquired Rickey Henderson at the trade deadline. They gave up Steve Karsay and Jose Herrera, not much in the grand scheme of things; Karsay became a good reliever and Herrera didn’t turn into much at all. Henderson actually wasn’t great for Toronto overall, but acquiring him signalled Toronto going all in, and of course, he was on base when Joe touched ’em all.

In 1992, the Jays made a similar move, acquiring ace pitcher David Cone from the New York Mets. Cone was fantastic for Toronto and helped lead them to their first ever World Series title. The price? Future NL MVP Jeff Kent.

The point? You win some, you lose some, and you can’t predict the future. Flags fly forever.

It’s time to make a move.

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