2019-20 MLB International Reviews: Toronto Blue Jays

In 2015, the Blue Jays put all their bonus pool money into one player. They’re elated with the results, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ascended to become the No. 1 prospect in baseball before graduating to the big leagues as a 20-year-old. In 2018, the Blue Jays spent the majority of their pool space on Orelvis Martinez, a Dominican shortstop who got $3.51 million, and the early returns have been strong, with Martinez ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

This year, the Blue Jays spread their money around more, coming away with a balanced class with a blend of upside and depth. Toronto’s top bonus in 2019 went to Rikelvin de Castro, a 16-year-old Dominican shortstop who got $1.2 million. A loose, wiry athlete at 6 feet, 150 pounds, de Castro quickly draws attention for the way he moves at shortstop. He’s a fast-twitch, high-energy defender with clean actions, showing smooth hands, quick footwork and a nose for the ball. He’s a potential plus glove at shortstop, with average speed and arm strength that could tick up as he gets stronger, especially his arm given his arm speed. De Castro has a simple, compact stroke from the right side and makes consistent contact, showing good rhythm and timing in the box. It’s an approach geared to hit line drives to all fields line-drive approach with occasional gap shots. He should grow into more extra-base thump once he gets stronger, though power doesn’t project to be a big part of his game. De Castro trained with Angel Perez.

One of the most promising players the Blue Jays added in 2019 is
Estiven Machado, a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop who trained with Carlos Rios. Machado has a promising blend of explosive athleticism, tools and advanced game skills for his age with the ability to play a premium position. At 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, Machado has a direct, compact swing from both sides of the plate and a good approach, leading to a high contact rate. It’s an efficient stroke with fast bat speed, showing gap power now with the bat speed and strength projection to potentially develop average pop. He’s around an average runner now, and while speed is a tricky tool to project up, that could end up happening with Machado given his explosiveness and running gait. Machado is a notch behind de Castro as a defender, but he also projects to stick at shortstop. He has a quick first step and moves his feet well, with the range for the position and secure hands as well. His arm is a slightly above-average tool that’s tickling plus and should be there consistently in the near future.

Victor Mesia
, a 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher the Blue Jays signed on July 2, has been an arrow-up player over the past year. He’s 5-foot-10, 175 pounds with power and explosiveness to his actions. Mesia has performed well in games since signing, with a compact swing from the right side of the plate. He has fast bat speed, a knack for the barrel and makes hard contact with an all-fields approach. He shows flashes of above-average raw power right now, giving him a chance to hit and hit for power at a high clip for a catcher. Mesia has strong legs, is athletic for a catcher and projects to stay behind the plate, with a strong arm that tickles plus now and projects to be there consistently soon. He’s represented by Steward Salazar.

Another key Venezuelan signing from Toronto’s 2019 class was center fielder Robert Robertis, who trained with Alexi Quiroz. Robertis is 6 feet, 170 pounds (turned 17 on Nov. 29) and moves well in the outfield. With 55 speed on the 20-80 scale, Robertis isn’t a burner, but he glides around the outfield with advanced instincts for his age, reading the ball well off the bat, getting a quick first step and taking good routes, although his arm is below-average. As a hitter, Robertis generally performed well in games as an amateur in Venezuela, showing a solid feel for the strike zone. He keeps his hands inside the ball well, but he has a big leg kick from the left side, which can cause inconsistency when his timing is off and could be something he needs to simplify down the road. When everything is in sync, Robertis drives the ball well to left-center and flashes occasional pull power, so he has a chance to become a center fielder with patience and around average power in the future.

Third baseman Peniel Brito, who signed for $600,000, was one of the more physical hitters in the 2019 class, looking larger than his listed 6-foot-2, 190 pounds with a thick lower half. Brito is a 16-year-old, righthanded hitter who stands out for his strength, bat speed and offensive upside, albeit from an unconventional look. As an amateur, Brito set up crouched down with an extremely wide base. It’s still a wide setup, but since signing, he has narrowed his stance some and isn’t as bent over as he was before. It still looks a little awkward, but Brito has consistently performed well, both in games as an amateur and since signing between Tricky League and Dominican instructs.

Brito has excellent bat speed and doesn’t strike out much. There are unorthodox components to his swing, but he gets his swing loaded and turns the barrel well to get on plane early and stay through the hitting zone for a long time. With his strength and bat speed, he drives the ball with impact and could develop plus power. As an amateur, Brito spent some time at third base, but was mostly an outfielder. Like they did with Vlad Jr. after he signed, the Blue Jays moved Brito from the outfield to third base after signing, and Brito showed enough progress at the hot corner through Dominican instructs to continue developing there. He has a strong arm, but he will need a lot of work on his footwork and range to stay in the dirt. There’s a better chance he ends up in right field, with some risk of him getting big enough to go to first base, so monitoring his conditioning and agility will be important. Brito trained with El Niche.

Dominican outfielder Cristian Feliz, who trained in the same program as Brito, signed for $325,000. Feliz, a 17-year-old lefty, has a bigger frame (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and even more power than Brito, with a chance to be an elite power bat. Feliz has excellent bat speed and plus raw power, and with the physical projection he still has, he could develop 70 or possibly even better raw power in his prime. Feliz has a solid swing for his size, but he is a long-armed hitter who sometimes has timing issues in the box. That leads to swing-and-miss tendencies, which adds risk, but after signing he kept it in check and performed well in the Tricky League. Feliz is a corner outfielder who needs to improve his defensive instincts and mobility.

Endri Garcia is an offensive-minded infielder the Blue Jays signed out of Venezuela. At 5-foot-11, 155 pounds, Garcia is a 17-year-old with a lot of hitterish qualities from the right side of the plate. He takes an aggressive swing and has a knack for putting the ball in play, with a line drive approach and gap power. Garcia plays all over the infield, though his defense is stretched thin at shortstop, so second or third base fit him better. He’s a slightly above-average runner too, so center field might be another option as well.

Most of Toronto’s top 2019-20 signings were hitters, but they added a couple of notable Venezuelan pitchers for six-figure deals, including 16-year-old Venezuelan righthander Cesar Ayala. He throws 86-89 mph with a lot of projection arrows pointing toward the possibility of him throwing with a plus or better fastball once he get stronger, with a projectable frame (6-foot-2, 180 pounds), easy delivery and extremely loose arm action.

Another 16-year-old Venezuelan righthander the Blue Jays signed, Dahian Santos, has trended up over the past year. Santos has a lean, wiry build (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) an athletic delivery and quick arm speed. As an amateur, Santos was throwing in the mid-to-upper 80s, but after signing he threw in September and his fastball had jumped to touch 94 mph. That’s high-end velocity for his age and it’s a fastball with a lot of movement. Santos projects to be a starter with his ability to throw strikes at a high rate and feel for a three-pitch mix, including a changeup with good action and a breaking ball that can get slurvy at times, but that he shows feel to spin. He trained with Michael Alagna.

In June last year just before the close of the 2018-19 signing period, the Blue Jays signed three other notable pitchers. One was Yosver Zulueta, a 21-year-old Cuban righthander who signed for $1 million, though soon after signing he had Tommy John surgery, so he didn’t pitch in 2019 and should miss 2020 as well. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds Zulueta is athletic with a loose, quick arm and touched 98 mph in workouts before signing, mixing in a power curveball in the low-80s with three-quarters action. What Zulueta showed before signing was intriguing, but he’s very much a wild card until he gets healthy and faces pro hitters.

The Blue Jays also ventured into Europe to add a couple of notable arms. One is Sem Robberse, a promising, under-the-radar righthander from the Netherlands who signed for $125,000. Robberse pitched in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and had an ERA of 0.87 in 10.1 innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. Robberse, who turned 18 after the season, has been an arrow-up player over the past year with a plethora of projection indicators pointing up. Last summer, Robberse was a skinny 16-year-old throwing in the mid-80s. This spring before signing with the Blue Jays, Robberse pitched in Honkbal Hoofdklasse and reached 88 mph. After signing, Robberse came to the United States and hit 90 mph, then during the GCL season he was sitting at 89-92 mph and touched 93. His lively fastball has come on as he’s gotten stronger, added 20 pounds since signing to 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. There’s probably more velocity coming, with Robberse having more physical upside and clean mechanics with a free-and-easy delivery. Robberse is athletic, which helps him repeat his delivery and command his fastball, a mix of two- and four-seamers. He shows feel for a breaking ball that flashes as a 55 pitch on the 20-80 scale, with a changeup that he’s just learning.

Toronto’s other European signing, Jiorgeny Casimiri, is an 18-year-old righthander from the Netherlands who got $225,000. He pitched this summer out of the bullpen in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he had a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings with a 13-2 K-BB mark. He’s 6-foot-1, 160 pounds with a fastball that touches the low-90s, throwing strikes with feel for a slider that flashes average.

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