Ben Badler: Hi everyone. We’re in the final stages of the Prospect Handbook process. I appreciate all you guys for subscribing to Baseball America and sending in all the questions already in the queue. Let’s get started.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): Thanks for chatting, Ben. Are you optimistic about Pentecost being able to stick behind the dish if his shoulder cooperates? If not, is a move to 1B in his future? Finally, will he be in the Handbook? Ben Badler: He is in the Prospect Handbook and does have the skills to catch. But can he handle that role as a starter? The medical history makes me very wary of that. He has the arm, the receiving and blocking skills, but the Blue Jays wouldn’t let him catch on consecutive days this year. It’s a high-risk profile, and I think given what he’s been through, he will probably have to split time between catching, 1B and DH, but the offensive output doesn’t really fit anywhere except at catcher.
Paul (Chicago): What will Bo Bichette’s long term position be?
Ben Badler: I think he has a chance to play shortstop. Some of it may depend on who else is in the organization, where if you add another shortstop who’s clearly a plus defender, that makes it more likely to move Bichette to second or third. Even though he doesn’t look the traditional part of a wiry shortstop with slick actions, I think Bichette has the components to be able to stay at shortstop with more work. Just in recent years, people (myself included) have been too quick to think players like Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts and Addison Russell would have to move off shortstop. If Bichette does go to 2B or 3B, his bat still gives him star potential (and his defense would be potentially above-average at those spots), but I see a player who has the ingredients to stay at shortstop for now with a chance to play there in the big leagues.
Frank (Indianapolis, IN): How many of these guys are likely to make the BA 100?
Ben Badler: I think three, with Pearson at least putting himself in the Top 100 conversation as well.
Roger H. (Oklahoma City, OK): Vlad’s 80 Hit and 70 Power tools have somewhat surprised me mainly because I have never seen an 80 Hit nor one combined with a 70 Power. For historical references who are some former prospects that have had those type of tools before?
Ben Badler: It’s aggressive, but he’s clearly a special talent and those top five prospects in baseball are the ones you should be aggressive with because their track record is so good. It’s where you find players like Harper, Trout, Stanton, Mauer, Teixiera, Chipper Jones and back in the day Vlad Sr. ranked. There’s risk—Delmon Young, Jesus Montero, etc. were all in that top five overall prospect list group once—but Vladdy Jr has such a special combination of hitting, patience and power and has so many scouts convicted in his offensive ability that his career could easily end up in the echelon of that first group of superstars.
Paul (Buffalo, NY): Jon Harris – prospect or suspect?
Ben Badler: Still technically a prospect, but the stuff looked fairly vanilla this year.
Forgetfulelk (Toronto, Canada): How likely can Nate Pearson sharpen his secondaries to plus pitches, specifically his slider and curveball? Will that elevate his projection to a front-line starter?
Ben Badler: I think he’s already shown signs of it since getting to the Blue Jays. His velocity increased as the calendar year progressed, and with that he’s throwing all of his pitches with more power, which helps his slider and gives hitters less time to react to that pitch. Arrows are pointing up on him.
Scott (Victoria, BC): Does your Christmas stocking currently weigh more than Kevin Vicuna? Dude needs to eat some turkey.
Ben Badler: That’s always one of the tricky parts of projecting kids signed at 16 who are skinny, strength-away guys. Sometimes the strength comes later and a player takes off, other times it never comes and the player hits his ceiling in the minors. The defense is slick at shortstop and his bat control is solid, but he’s going to have to focus on strength to keep it going at higher levels.
Johnny (Alabama): Does Vlad Jr. force the Blue Jays’ hand and get called up by mid-2019?
Ben Badler: I think he’s going to be so good in 2018 that you’re going to hear clamoring for him to be up by the end of this upcoming season. But unless the Blue Jays are pushing for a playoff spot, I think very early 2019 is more likely.
Mike (Brampton Ontario): Will Vlad jr stick at Third base if not what will his eventual position be ?
Ben Badler: I think he has the ability to stay there. With him it’s different than Bo, because Vladdy is already grown taller and he’s about 6-2, 6-3, 235 pounds now and he’s only 18 years old. As players get older, they don’t tend to get smaller, so with him, body type and what it means for his future mobility is the main risk for him staying at third base. But he also has such freakish offensive ability that he’s going to be MLB-ready by the time he’s 20, so he could get there so quickly that he’ll still have enough agility to play third base early in his career. At some point, I think he will find his way to either a corner OF spot or first base, but if he hits like I expect him to, he’s still a potential superstar wherever he plays.
Scott (Toronto): Gurriel’s performance in the minors and the AFL falls well short of that of a number of other Jays prospects ranked lower than him. He’s now 24. Why was he ranked this high on your list, and what is his best-case scenario going forward?
Ben Badler: We use performance data to help us gauge a player’s true talent level right now and project that talent level going forward. In Gurriel’s case, though, I don’t think it’s indicative of his true talent level given the context of his last year (or two, really). He spent basically all of 2016 away from competitive baseball. Then this year, he missed essentially two and a half months to start the season due to injury. With Cuban players in particular, I think that first year is a tough transition—we saw it with Yoan Moncada when he struggled early on, and even with Yuli when people were questioning the early returns on him. I think all of that context is important to keep in mind with Lourdes. I can understand why his ranking might look out of place given his numbers in 2017, but having seen Gurriel play a lot, I don’t think his 2017 performance is an accurate reflection of his talent or his potential.
Zach (Niagara Falls, Ontario): Is the Blue Jays prospect system strong enough to have a quick rebuild à la Yankees?
Ben Badler: The top of the system is, and that Yankees model is one I think the Blue Jays should follow. They don’t need to do a complete teardown and tank job, but they have a great core about to hit the upper levels in Vladdy Jr. and Bo, Alford is coming, and they have the trade chips at the major league level to reload and add more elite, upper-level prospects who can help them quickly.
Jalen (Kingston): Are there any player comparisons that come to mind for Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette?
Ben Badler: There’s one already in Vladdy’s report. Bichette has a lot of similarities to Josh Donaldson. You can probably see why I’m so excited about these two.
BJ (ottawa): Does the talk about trading a legacy player and potential future star like Bichette make any sense to you? As a Jays fan it has been very frustrating to see pundits and other fans put his name out as trade bait for players who I feel won’t put up as much production as Bo has the potential to. When you factor in the low cost of his first few years it becomes almost nonsensical to me to talk about trading him and I would love to hear your expert thoughts. Thanks!
Ben Badler: Bichette for me is one of the top five prospects in baseball. I’m probably the high man on Bichette on the BA staff, for what that’s worth, but he’s the type of player the Blue Jays should be building around, not trading away. I think their front office is on that same page.
Gerry (Toronto): How much did Edward Olivares stock rise this season? Are there flaws in his game or is he a 5 tool player?
Ben Badler: It definitely went up. Good combination of speed and hard contact from a center fielder with plus speed, plus arm, plus bat speed. It’s a high-risk approach because he’s not a selective hitter and he’s very pull-oriented, so that’s probably only going to get tested once he hits the upper levels, but he has some of the best raw tools in the system and the performance he put together with it at least in Low-A was encouraging.
Eric (Dallas, TX): Is Reid-Foley’s future likely to be in the pen, in your estimation?
Ben Badler: I think bullpen is the most likely option. I know a lot of scouts who think so too. That said, I would keep developing him as a starter and see if it clicks, because the stuff is still there. It’s a power fastball and the secondaries work, but it just depends on the night whether his curveball, slider or changeup are going to be on that outing or if they’re going to flatten out on him. Having consistency throughout the season with his secondary pitches and of course improving his fastball command are going to be key for him next year.
Grant (NYC): Is Conner Greene likely to shift to the pen if his walk rate doesn’t improve?
Ben Badler: I think so, although like I said with Reid-Foley, I would keep developing him as a starter for now. He’s an excellent athlete with a fastball that can hit 101 mph, but there isn’t a lot of movement or deception so hitters still square that fastball up better than the pure velocity would normally suggest. There’s a lot of work to do with his command and improvement of the secondary stuff too. I also remember when Dellin Betances was a 24-year-old starter in Triple-A who was getting shelled and walked almost a batter per inning, then moved to the bullpen and the light bulb went on. I’m not predicting that same transformation for Greene, but I do think there’s a chance things could click for him in a relief role.
JR (Mass): Did Kevin Smith get any consideration for the Top 10? Do you think he sticks at SS?
Ben Badler: Not for the top 10 but he’s definitely in the Prospect Handbook and a true shortstop. He shined on defense at Maryland and again once he got into pro ball. There’s power in there too, but he’s going to have to cut down on the swing-and-miss to tap into in more in games.
Ryan (Abingdon, MD): What can you tell us about int signee Miguel Hiraldo? Did he make the top 30 before his professional debut?
Ben Badler: He’s in there. One of the better bats available out of the Dominican Republic in 2017. Strong kid, short swing and a lot of hard, quality contact. Blue Jays have him at shortstop now but I would be surprised if he stays there much longer. He and Leonardo Jimenez have been promising signs from the 2017 international class so far, in addition to the obvious one in Eric Pardinho.
Nathan (Toronto): Are you able to explain ranking Eric Pardinho so high when he’s only 16 years old and has yet to play professional baseball? Is the Blue Jays system that top heavy, or do you project Pardinho that highly?
Ben Badler: A little bit of both. I do think the Blue Jays system drops off pretty quickly after the top handful of prospects, but Pardinho is exciting. I think that’s pretty evident from our updated scouting report on his stuff and the delivery/pitchability from a 16-year-old. That said, I loved Anderson Espinoza too, he hit his high-end velocity projection with an easy delivery and advanced feel to pitch for his age, and he’s going to miss two seasons now. There’s a ton that can go sideways with 16-year-old arms, but the combination of upside and relative polish for his age is pretty exciting.
Scott (Victoria, BC): Did Mc Gregory Contreras get any consideration for the Top 10? Do you think he is advanced enough to make the jump to full season ball next season?
Ben Badler: Not top 10, but he’s in the Prospect Handbook with some sneaky breakout potential and he will be in Low-A next year. He skipped a level this year and handled it well, showed good bat speed and has a lot of 50 or 50-ish tools on his card.
Mike (London, Ont.): Yeltsin Gudino was a top-30 prospect last year and his bat finally started to show some signs of life in 2017. On one-hand, his OPS was a career high. On the other, it’s still rather putrid (.648). Do scouts and managers think he’ll hit enough to carve out a useful big-league career?
Ben Badler: He needs to get stronger, and so far it doesn’t look like it’s coming for him.
Alex (Bay Area): Do you expect Vlad Jr. and Bichette to move together through the Blue Jays system? Do you expect them to both start at HiA with the possibility of moving up to AA after the minor league all star break?
Ben Badler: I do. That doesn’t mean the Blue Jays view them as inseparable players, but aside from injuries, I don’t see anything in either one of their games that’s going to give them trouble in Double-A. I don’t think the Blue Jays are 100 percent committed to starting them in Double-A yet, but I don’t see any reason to send them back to the FSL.
Bo (Myrtle Beach): From an offensive profile how does Bo Bichette stack up to other middle infield talents like Tatis, Rodgers, Adames, Torres, Hiura, Lewis, Gordon, etc. Are we talking about an elite bat and just quibbling/speculating over the future position on the diamond?
Ben Badler: I’d take Bichette’s hit and power combo over any of those players. Gleyber and Willy Adames have less risk because they’re basically MLB ready right now and some of the other players have louder tools outside the batter’s box, but Bichette’s offensive ability is top notch.
Richard (Phoenix): Thoughts on Ryan Noda? Impressive numbers for someone whose draft stock fell, albeit in the Appalachian League.
Ben Badler: Outside of their first-rounders and Eric Pardinho, Noda is the player beneath their full-season clubs I’m most excited for next year. Like you said, his draft stock fell, but he rebounded in a big way in the Appy League with great patience and plus power. If you look at the track record of late-round position player success stories (who weren’t over-slot bonus guys), you don’t find a lot of players who were tooled-up, athletic, premium position players, because those tools tend to push them up the board. It’s more players in Noda’s mold as corner bats with concerns on whether they’re just mistake hitters who will be able to keep doing it against more advanced pitching. Noda has those questions too, but I’m optimistic about his offensive game working at higher levels.
Jay (NYC): Where did Zeuch rank? What’s his upside?
Ben Badler: He was just off the Top 10, and really in that same tier as the players at the back of the top 10 with different risk profiles but not a lot of overall separation between them. He’s a strike-thrower with a big fastball from a steep downhill angle with heavy sink, so it’s hard for hitters to lift the ball in the air against him. The injuries were a setback this year for him, and long term, he’s going to have to come up with a better secondary pitch because he doesn’t miss many bats. I think it’s a chance for a back-end starter.
Steve (Vancouver): Any concerns about Vlad Jr’s Dominican Winter League performance?
Ben Badler: No. He’s 18 years old. It was also his first full season and he’s been playing since March. I’m surprised the Blue Jays let him play winter ball at all, but I think part of it was them wanting him to experience that atmosphere and both compete against and be teammates with players who are 10+ years older than him who have big league experience, since he’s going to be doing that in the near future anyway.
Brett (Stratford, On): With the lower minors filled with high risk players, who are 2 or three names to look out for.
Ben Badler: Noda and Olivares are the two guys outside of the Top 10 to watch there. If you want a super high-risk but very interesting guy to follow, keep an eye on Emerson Jimenez. He was a former Rockies shortstop who got cut this year, then signed with the Blue Jays as a shortstop. They already thought he was a good conversion candidate because of his arm strength, so when he mentioned to the Blue Jays that he could pitch too, they put him on the mound. Now he’s throwing in the mid-90s and he’s been up to 99 mph, and he was throwing strikes in the GCL. Long, long ways away and he’s strictly a reliever, but that could be a shrewd pickup for Blue Jays if the conversion project clicks.
Ryan (Abingdon, MD): I’ve read some individuals are hesitant to buy into the season Danny Jansen just had because it was soooo unexpected. What was the consensus you found when talking to scouts?
Ben Badler: The Jansen questions in the queue are a mix of why is he so high and why is he so low? I don’t think his upside is that high but I do think he can be a steady, everyday guy whose value is in his OBP as a catcher. I think the traditional pro scouting process is going to overlook him, where if you’re a scout coming in to see him for a series or two throughout the year, you’re not going to see anything that wows you. The tools are 40s and 50s, his best asset is his strike-zone discipline and he has a knack for putting the ball in play. It’s not flashy, but the overall value from an adequate defensive catcher who gets on base at a good clip with just enough power that could potentially play up once he’s hitting MLB baseballs **gun pokes me in the back** that are definitely, totally not juiced is a solid player.
JR (Mass): Do you think Jordan Romano is a starter or reliever in the end?
Ben Badler: I think reliever. He’s really tough on righties with that fastball/slider combination. Lefties hit him hard and the lack of a reliable changeup plays into that. Put him in short stints out of the bullpen and I think the fastball/slider will play up even more.
Scott (Victoria, BC): How long before the jays convert Hagen Danner to a pitcher? Struggled to hit in his debut and many scouts liked him better as a pitcher.
Ben Badler: They just gave him $1.5 million, so I don’t think they’re going to want to go that route soon. But yeah, not an encouraging debut, and you’re right that a lot of clubs liked him better on the mound.
Grant (NYC): Is Kozma a fair comp for Warmoth? Why or why not?
Ben Badler: I think there are some similarities. First-round shortstops with a lot of 50-ish tools where you’re hoping the sum of the parts and overall game awareness makes everything play up.
Greg (Cincy): Bo bichette – I recalll reading much pre-draft coverage regarding his unconventional swing mechanics (arm bar) and yet he’s a hitting machine. How could the consensus have been so wrong ?
Ben Badler: I did our Gulf Coast League Top 20 prospects list last year and I ran Bichette way up that list over a lot of first-round picks that year even though he barely played in the league. I don’t have a good answer for you because I don’t see the issue with his swing. I love his swing. It has movement, some of which he has adjusted as a pro, but that’s rhythm he uses to help generate power, along with his excellent bat speed. He has good balance and his his barrel stays on plane through the hitting zone for a long time. He shares a lot of qualities that a lot of great hitters have.
John (Windsor): Riley Adams had a strong professional debut. His power has long been seen as his strength dating back to the University of San Diego. But how do evaluators feel about his hit tool and his potential to stick at catcher?
Ben Badler: That’s a pretty accurate, succinct synopsis of Adams. He’s a big dude with big power and a very strong arm who’s going to have to answer questions about his blocking/receiving/mobility behind the plate and his pure hitting ability. He showed some positive strides behind the plate in pro ball, but a lot of work to do for him on both ends.
Ben (California): Thanks for doing this chat. Was Riley Adams close to making the list? And is Harold Ramirez likely to be anything more than organizational depth at this point?
Ben Badler: Just talked about Adams in the previous answer, but Ramirez is an interesting guy. Doesn’t fit any real conventional profile, from the way he’s built to the skills themselves. He does make a lot of contact and he does hit the ball hard, but he doesn’t hit for any power because his approach is so geared toward hitting the ball the other way and without much loft in his swing. I do think there’s untapped potential in there if Ramirez can change his swing plane and learns how to pull pitches for power instead of trying to send them to right field, but you’re talking about a fairly significant swing change (if not overhaul) for a 23-year-old, which isn’t easy to pull off.
Waltharius (Japan): How does Guerrero’s defense (or lack thereof) as indicated in the tool grade affect where he stands among other prospects like Acuna, Jimenez, Torres, Robles, and Tatis?
Ben Badler: Those of you have been reading me for a while know how much I love well-rounded players who add value at the plate, with their defense and especially at a premium position. The fact that I still think Vladdy Jr is the best prospect of that group should tell you how much I love his bat.
Richard (Phoenix): Any hope left for DJ Davis and Reggie Pruitt as prospects?
Ben Badler: Long shots at this point. Pruitt is a talented defender who makes highlight-reel catches, but the bat is still pretty raw.
MJ (Valpo): Is Urena ready to be the starting SS to open 2018? I’m kind of excited to see what he can bring–a little pop, a little speed, racks up the 2Bs for sure! Can he project to a future AS???
Ben Badler: Not yet. He still has a lot to prove offensive and especially with his plate discipline after the year he just had in Double-A. What’s working in his favor is that he’s still just 21 and was already in Double-A (and a little bit of MLB time), and he’s even younger than Logan Warmoth, just for perspective. He’s still in the top 10 because he’s hit at every level up through High-A and there is reason to think he can rebound, but there are also scouts who think he may have just hit a wall in Double-A, so 2018 is going to be a big test for him.
Gerry (Toronto): No question…just thank you for answering so many questions.
Ben Badler: Thanks Gerry. We love all the support you guys have been giving us at Baseball America this year. It’s much appreciated!
Brett (Stratford On): Who could you see making the biggest jump this year and leap into the top 10 after next year
Ben Badler: I mentioned Noda and Olivares earlier. One other guy I think could sneak his way up there at some point is Kevin Smith. I normally put more weight on the bat, but he is such a good defender at shortstop and he drives the ball for power when he does connect. There’s definitely risk of him topping out in Double-A, but if he can just get his strikeouts to a manageable level, a plus defender at shortstop who can hit for some power is a valuable player.
Roy-Z (Great Lakes): Pardinho seems to be ranked very high without playing any pro ball. Why so optimistic?
Ben Badler: When Pardinho signed, one of the risk factors with him was how much harder he was going to throw. It was already a good fastball for his age, up to 94 mph at the time, but he’s not very big and even more than that, he was already filled out more than a lot of kids his age. But, like I wrote in the report, he’s already answered that with a jump in his stuff, and he’s still 16, with very high consensus among scouts on his breaking ball, delivery, arm action and strike-throwing ability. 16-year-old pitching is about as risky as it gets (well, teams reaching agreements with 14-year-old pitchers is …. that’s another story), but the combination of present stuff and so many arrows pointing in the right direction on Pardinho is exciting.
Craig (Ontario): Do you think the ceiling for Lourdes Gurriel is similar to his brothers output?
Ben Badler: I think he’s a very different player and built diferently than his brother. They’re both talented, but Yuli is at a different level and he’s more skilled than Lourdes at just about everything. He’s a special player and everyone’s really only getting to see him now at the tail end of his career in Houston.
Benibats (Woodstock, ON): Do you think we will see any of the jays pitching prospects reach the MLB this year? Who in your opinion has the best chance?
Ben Badler: Ryan Borucki is the best bet. I think he can help them as a back-end starter this year. I’m optimistic about Pearson and Pardinho, but they’re not in the 2018 picture, and the problem is so many of their upper-level arms like Reid-Foley, Greene and Harris scuffled this year, while injuries held Zeuch back. I’d have a hard time betting on anyone from that group beyond Borucki being a significant contributor to the 2018 pitching staff.
Michael Smith (Lake Louise albera): Hi Ben is Orelvis Martinez considered this year’s number one July 1st international free agent ?
Ben Badler: Don’t want to put out a number yet until I go through the full and more thorough ranking process, but he’s definitely one of the top names for the 2018 class.
Blaine (Winnipeg): If u were the jays would u deal Donaldson this winter. And if so what kind of return should they expect.
Ben Badler: Yes. I think they could quickly re-load the farm system with elite prospects in the upper levels in the minors who can help them contend in 2019 and beyond. I don’t know that it would be popular, but that’s the move I would make to get the team closer to a championship contender.
Scott (Toronto): Does Alford have the ability to be average or better defensively in center field in the majors, or do you see him as a likely corner outfielder?
Ben Badler: Definitely. He’s a good athlete, runs well, gets good breaks off the bat. I think he starts in Triple-A but should be in position to help them at some point in 2018.
Erik (Saskatoon): What happened to Tellez last year, and does he have any bounceback potential this year?
Ben Badler: I think he may have hit a wall. I can’t overlook the track record of his production at every level up through Double-A, but I was skeptical going into the year and the Triple-A struggles in 2017 were pretty alarming, especially for the position. If it’s a case of a guy getting to Triple-A, being on the cusp of the big leagues and just starting to press, that wouldn’t be the first or last time it happens, but it’s hard to find many positive indicators from his 2017 season.
Joey B (Colorado): When do you think Vladdy Jr. will make his debut. I’d expect them to start him at AA, if not just give him a short warm up at A+. His .iso walk and strikeout rate were great at A+
Ben Badler: My bet would be early 2019, just long enough to massage his service time for an extra year of team control.
Tyler Storm (Buffalo, NY): Can a projected “50 across the board” prospect like Logan Warmoth truly succeed in the Majors as a solid regular? Seems like in order to get into the show, you need to have at least a plus or above average tool to stand out.
Ben Badler: If it’s true 50s on everything, that can be a solid regular. The risk I think often comes in conventional thinking that those players are “safe” picks, when if it turns out the hitting is a 40 (or worse) and the power stays at a 40-45, that’s not an everyday player, and it might not even be a big leaguer.
Greg Moore (Fort Erie, ON): Is the lack of OBP by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. troubling? Would that severely limit his chances to prove himself as a player in the majors?
Ben Badler: It is. The performance overall wasn’t good. But getting back to what I talked about earlier on Gurriel, I think a lot of that is context. He has shown a good approach and a sense for the strike zone in the past. How much of his struggles were him just getting back to playing games after a year-plus layoff and missing the first chunk of the season? It’s certainly possible he’s just getting exposed against better pitching than he’s ever faced before, but in looking at the bigger picture, I’m optimistic with him that his timing and pitch recognition will come back once he’s getting regular playing time again.
Bill (Delaware): Is Vlad Jr/Bichette the best duo atop a top 10 list? How do they stack up to the Red’s Senzel/Greene, ChiSox Eloy/Kopech, Padres Tatis/Gore?
Ben Badler: I’d take Vladdy and Bichette over any other 1-2 in the game.
Louis (San Diego): This might be an outrageous question, but what % would you peg Vlad Jr of having a better career than his father?
Ben Badler: His dad’s a Hall of Famer, or at least should be. I do think Vladdy Jr can be a superstar, but so much of being a Hall of Famer is about longevity, and I’m just not smart enough to predict player performance 10-20 years into the future.
Ben Badler: That said, I think we a have a pretty good track record projecting prospects at least a few years into the future, so I hope you guys pick up a copy of the 2018 Prospect Handbook or buy a few as gifts for your friends. I’ve got to get back to work on the Handbook now, but thanks so much for all the questions today and for subscribing to Baseball America. Merry Christmas and hope you all enjoy the holidays.