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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3b|
|2. Anthony Alford, of|
|3. Sean Reid-Foley, rhp|
|4. Conner Greene, rhp|
|5. Richard Urena, ss|
|6. Rowdy Tellez, 1b|
|7. T.J. Zeuch, rhp|
|8. Bo Bichette, ss|
|9. Jon Harris, rhp|
|10. Justin Maese, rhp|
The first year of the Mark Shapiro era in Toronto looked a lot like the previous era.
For the first time since 1992-93, when the Blue Jays won consecutive World Series championships, the club made the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Toronto rallied late in September to earn a wild-card spot, then beat the Orioles in the Wild Card Game. The Jays won a playoff series for the second straight year, beating the Rangers before losing to the Indians in the American League Champoinship Series.
The cast of characters was familiar for Jays fans, most of the big league roster having been assembled by Alex Anthopoulos, the team's general manager from 2010-15. But Shapiro took over as team president in September 2015, and two months later Anthopoulos and the Jays split.
Shapiro hired Ross Atkins as the new GM. When Shapiro was GM of the Indians, Atkins worked under him in scouting and player development roles. The duo tweaked the big league rotation with moves such as signing free agent J.A. Happ to replace David Price. Happ won 20 of his 32 starts, helping a rotation bolstered by a breakout year from 2010 supplemental first-rounder Aaron Sanchez.
Bigger changes are coming. Longtime righthanded power plants Jose Bautista, who has averaged nearly 30 homers per year over nine seasons with Toronto, and Edwin Encarnacion, who has averaged 39 homers annually the last five years, are both pending free agents. Neither is likely to be back, and the Jays probably will try to hold payroll in the $119-137 million range it has held in the last four seasons.
A farm system that had a strong development year looks primed to provide low-cost reinforcements soon. While no Blue Jays full-season team had a winning record, most of the organization's top prospects from a year ago took a step forward in 2016, none more so than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The son of the ex-big leaguer debuted impressively in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, showing a polished hitting approach for his age and prodigious power potential.
While the Jays have talent even after last year's flurry of prospect trades, Shapiro has started overhauling scouting and player development in Toronto. He didn't renew the contract of scouting director Brian Parker, eventually replacing him with former Red Sox assistant director Steve Sanders. The Jays also fired minor league field coordinator Doug Davis and pitching coordinator Sal Fasano.
Shapiro has added to player development, bringing in a high-performance team to coordinate strength and conditioning, mental training and nutrition, as well as former Indians manager Eric Wedge as a player development advisor. Speculation dogged the Jays all season that Wedge was sizing up minor league talent so he could later manage as John Gibbons' replacement in the Toronto dugout.
That would be the most tangible sign yet that indeed these are Shapiro's Blue Jays.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3b |
Born: March 16, 1999. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2015. Signed by: Ismael Cruz/Sandy Rosario/Luciano Del Rosario.
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: Vladimir Guerrero signed with the Expos in March 1993, reached the majors in 1996 and became American League MVP with the Angels in 2004, one of his nine all-star seasons. In spring training before his first all-star campaign, in 1999, his son Vladimir Jr. was born in Montreal. He grew into a hitting prospect with some of his father's mannerisms (such as a lack of batting gloves), a strong facial resemblance and plenty more fanfare. The father signed for a $2,100 bonus, while Vladimir Jr. signed for $3.9 million. In fact, the Blue Jays traded minor leaguers Tim Locastro and Chase De Jong to the Dodgers for three international bonus slots, raising their international pool high enough just to sign the junior Guerrero. The Blue Jays first saw Guerrero take swings in their Dominican complex when he was 14 years old, after he'd already been training with his uncle Wilton, also a former major leaguer. He shifted from outfield to third base in instructional league after signing, went through his first spring training in 2016 and had a strong pro debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, finishing third in total bases while being the league's youngest player.
Scouting Report: Guerrero does just about everything evaluators want to see in a teenage hitter. He has tremendous hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills, to the point he seems to have been born to hit. His special hands allow him to manipulate the barrel and square up pitches of all types. He has excellent strike-zone judgment for a 17-year-old, walking nearly as often as he struck out and showing an ability to lay off breaking balls that will be further tested at higher levels. He has tremendous raw power and showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields at an advanced rate for his age. Guerrero covers the plate well and should be an above-average hitter with 30-plus homer potential down the line. Some club officials have compared his overall offensive profile to that of Edwin Encarnacion, though with more speed, as he's actually an average runner. Like Encarnacion, Guerrero has a chance to be a third baseman early in his career. Defense was rarely a focus of his as an amateur, and moving to third base from outfield has prompted Guerrero to work harder on all aspects of that side of the ball. He has improved his short-area quickness and arm strength the most. If he keeps working on his defense, he should have average range. Once owner of a below-average arm, he now flirts with a plus tool. His footwork has improved as well, and he made the routine play with some reliability in his debut. Guerrero has gotten his stocky body in better shape since signing, but it will always be a concern and is his biggest weakness as a prospect.
The Future: The Blue Jays' high-performance team, which focuses on mental and physical training, will continue to work with Guerrero to maintain his looseness while improving his body fitness. His potential may not match his father's, but he won't shame his dad's name as a ballplayer. He figures to reach low Class A Lansing in 2017, and he could make it hard for the Jays to keep him from getting to the big leagues by the time he's 20.
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