International Reviews: Toronto Blue Jays
See also: 2014 Blue Jays International Review
See also: 2013 Blue Jays International Review
See also: 2012 Blue Jays International Review
Top signing: OF/3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Dominican Republic, $3.9 million.
Total players signed: 17.
The Blue Jays have had a productive Latin American program for several years, going back to when Marco Paddy (now with the White Sox) was in charge and most recently under Ismael Cruz. This past year was the final July 2 the team went through under Cruz, who in November left to lead the Dodgers’ scouting in Latin America. Sandy Rosario, a highly respected scout based in the Dominican Republic who was instrumental in several key signings over the years, is now in charge.
Toronto’s 2015-16 signing period was all about one player: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who ranked as the No. 1 prospect for July 2 last year and trained with his uncle, former big leaguer Wilton Guerrero. The Blue Jays traded righthander Chase DeJong and second baseman Tim Locastro to the Dodgers for three slot values worth $1,071,300, bringing their bonus pool up to $3,395,400. They then signed Guerrero for $3.9 million, putting them 14.86 percent over their bonus pool. Teams that go more than 15 percent above their pool are limited to signings of no more than $300,000 for two years, so that trade allowed the Blue Jays to narrowly avoid the maximum two-year penalty. However, teams that go 10-15 percent over their pool, like the Blue Jays did, are subject to a one-year ban on signing pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 for the following signing period, so the Blue Jays will be in the penalty box for the upcoming 2016-17 signing period.
They will also have to pay a $504,600 pool overage tax to the commissioner’s office. While Guerrero’s father was a five-tool player who had an 80 arm and once stole 40 bases in a season, Vladdy Jr.’s skills are all concentrated on what he does in the batter’s box, with the best combination of hitting ability and power in the class. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Guerrero has excellent bat speed and hand-eye coordination, taking a compact, powerful and repeatable swing with the bat control to routinely barrel the ball. He sometimes swings out of his shoes, but it’s a controlled aggression and he’s able to maintain good plate coverage, squaring up good velocity as well as breaking pitches with a good hitting approach for a 17-year-old.
Guerrero has a strong, physical frame, showing plus power now and he could easily have 70 power, making him a potential middle-of-the-order bat. Guerrero signed as an outfielder, so when the Blue Jays decided to experiment moving Guerrero to third base during U.S. instructional league last fall, the reaction from other organizations was . . . really!? Guerrero already has a thick, heavy body type with limited speed and 40-45 arm, so he figured to be limited to left field at best. But despite mostly showcasing as an outfielder (he did spend some time in the infield before signing as well), Guerrero told the Blue Jays he prefers to play third base, and they saw enough from him there to keep him there for now. His footwork isn’t bad for someone his size and Blue Jays coaches were impressed that his arm played better in the infield than it did in the outfield. The Blue Jays didn’t tinker with his throwing motion, but he naturally threw with a shorter stroke from a different arm angle when he got to the infield and started to show average arm strength from third base. Guerrero might still end up back in left field or at first base, but that’s fine if he turns into the offensive force that the Blue Jays and several scouts from other organizations predict he can become. He’s expected to start the year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
To avoid paying any further penalties, Guerrero was the only player the Blue Jays signed last year from July 2 on, other than $10,000-and-under bonuses, which are exempt from the bonus pools. One of those $10,000 exemption signings, 17-year-old Venezuelan outfielder McGregory Contreras, is a sleeper who showed good hitting and running ability when he signed on July 2, but his tools have ticked up since then. His speed and arm strength are both above-average to play center field and he has impressed the Blue Jays with his ability to hit and show power from the right side from his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame.
Another other player in that exemption group of noteworthiness was 16-year-old Venezuelan righthander Maximo Castillo, who was a high-profile pitcher coming into the year after he pitched for the Venezuelan 15U World Cup team in 2014. Castillo had an agreement with the Yankees, but that deal fell through because of an issue with his elbow during his physical. The Blue Jays were able to sign him for $10,000 in September. Castillo has a heavy frame (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) and has struggled with his control at times, showing a fastball that was 86-89 mph last spring but has been up to 93 with an inconsistent breaking ball.
They also signed 20-year-old Dominican righthander Orlando Pascual (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) under the exemptions in August, when he was touching 93 mph, but after signing his velocity jumped and he’s been up to 96-97. Right at the end of the 2014-15 signing period in June, the Blue Jays gave out two low six-figure deals. Dominican righthander Wilton Mueses, 20, signed for $135,000 and pitched in a six Dominican Summer League games out of the bullpen. The Blue Jays saw him throwing 88-91 mph but he had arm problems after he signed and had to shut it down the rest of the season.
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Toronto also signed 18-year-old Dominican shortstop Ronald Concepcion for $120,000. Concepcion projects to stick at shortstop, where he’s light on his feet with a good glove and average speed. At 6 feet, 170 pounds, he’s a righthanded hitter with gap power.