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TRACK RECORD: Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr. was one of the most dynamic players in baseball history, with a dazzling combination of power, speed, arm strength and ability to hit any pitch type. Vlad Jr., who signed with the Blue Jays for $3.9 million at age 16 in 2015, doesn’t have his dad’s athleticism, but he has the hand-eye coordination, bat speed, power and strike-zone discipline to rival any teenage hitter who has come along in years. Guerrero began his 2018 season by hitting a walkoff home run against the Cardinals in an exhibition game at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, where his father began his major league career. He then proceeded to lead the minors with a 1.073 OPS as a 19-year-old facing Double-A and Triple-A pitchers to become the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year.
SCOUTING REPORT: Guerrero looked like he belonged in the middle of a major league lineup even as a teenager. He is a potential superstar in the mold of Manny Ramirez, and it’s not out of the question that Guerrero could develop into an 80 hitter with 80 power. He has a preternatural ability to make hard contact and barrel any type of pitch in any area of the strike zone. He has a simple, powerful swing, unleashing fierce bat speed with a compact, efficient path to the ball. He rarely swings and misses and hammers the ball to all parts of the park. He also has phenomenal strike-zone discipline and rarely chases borderline pitches. As an amateur in the Dominican Republic, Guerrero was a heavyset outfielder with below-average speed and arm strength. After signing, he moved to third base, where his arm strength has improved to plus, giving him a chance to stick there—at least early in his career. Guerrero worked diligently to improve his defense in 2018—especially his footwork and his angles to the ball, but he remains a large, stocky player with a lack of first-step quickness that inhibits his range. At some point, he might have to move to first base or possibly DH. Wherever he plays, his offensive production will make him an elite player.
THE FUTURE: Guerrero will be not only the favorite to win American League Rookie of the Year in 2019—he might immediately rank among the top overall hitters in baseball. Vladimir Sr. won the AL MVP award in 2004, and Junior has the talent to be in plenty of MVP conversations himself over the next decade.
TRACK RECORD: While Dante Bichette hit 274 home runs in a 14-year major league career, his son Bo has a chance to be even better. Bichette quickly catapulted from a 2016 second-round pick to one of the best prospects in baseball. As one of the youngest players in the Double-A Eastern League in 2018, he drew praise for both his offense and defense.
SCOUTING REPORT: Bichette has explosive bat speed and a rhythmic swing that generates a lot of torque. He swings hard—sometimes losing his balance—but he’s usually in sync, on time and on plane. He shortens his aggressive leg kick to a toe tap with two strikes. He drives the ball well to the middle of the field with average raw power now, with the bat speed and strength projection to hit for above-average power. Bichette has worked diligently on his conditioning and fielding and now projects as an average shortstop. He has good body control, quick footwork and ranges well up the middle. He has a tick above-average arm, though he gets tested on balls to his right. He’s an average runner whose aggressiveness and reads helped him steal 32 bases.
THE FUTURE: Bichette is scheduled to open 2019 at Triple-A Buffalo but could be up by the all-star break.
TRACK RECORD: After a breakthrough 2017 season, Jansen took another step forward in 2018, posting a .390 on-base percentage for Triple-A Buffalo before getting called up in August.
SCOUTING REPORT: Jansen has been a high on-base threat with a sharp eye for the strike zone. He’s a disciplined hitter who recognizes pitches early, stays balanced and doesn’t chase much off the plate. He does a good job of putting himself into favorable counts and swinging at pitches he can damage with a compact swing. Jansen set a career-high with 15 home runs between Buffalo and Toronto in 2018, but he’s more of a line-drive hitter with just enough pull-side power for average home run totals. Jansen earns high praise for his leadership and ability to manage a pitching staff. He blocks balls well, but his arm is fringe-average and he could improve his footwork and release to get rid of the ball faster after throwing out just 19 percent of basestealers in 2018.
THE FUTURE: If everything clicks for Jansen, he could have a similar profile to fellow Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. He’s ready for a larger role in Toronto in 2019.
TRACK RECORD: Pardinho was the top international pitching prospect in the 2017 class when the Blue Jays signed him for $1.4 million out of Brazil. He was so advanced that the Blue Jays skipped him over two levels to debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League at 17. He picked apart older hitters to rank third in the league in strikeouts.
SCOUTING REPORT: Pardinho has outstanding command, polish and feel to change speeds for his age. With a smooth, fluid arm action and a calm, easy delivery with good extension, he repeats his mechanics consistently to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate. He has an advanced feel to mix his stuff and set up hitters, starting with a fastball that sits at 89-93 mph and tops out at 96. His out pitch when he signed was a curveball that flashes plus, and he now mixes in a swing-and-miss slider. Pardinho’s changeup was a fairly new pitch for him in 2018, but he has the arm action and enough ability to manipulate that pitch already to potentially develop it to average or better.
THE FUTURE: As difficult as it is to project a 17-yearold pitcher, Pardinho has the combination of stuff and potentially plus command to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter. Low Class A Lansing is his next step.
TRACK RECORD: The Blue Jays drafted Groshans No. 12 overall and signed him for $3.4 million. He made his mark immediately in the Rookielevel Gulf Coast League, dominating that level before a mid-August bump to Rookie-level Bluefield.
SCOUTING REPORT: Groshans earned rave reviews from those who saw him in the GCL, where he barreled balls consistently and demonstrated an advanced hitting approach for his age. Long and lanky, he has quick bat speed and a knack for finding the sweet spot, punishing good fastballs with the adjustability in his swing to drive pitches on the outer half to right field. Groshans has plus raw power and can take the ball over the fence from right-center field over to his pull side, though he primarily sticks with a line-drive, all fields approach. In the GCL, he shared time with others at shortstops and saw time at third base. His above-average arm and defensive actions fits on the left side of the infield, but he’s more of an offensive-oriented player whose first-step quickness looks better suited for third base.
THE FUTURE: If Groshans does slide over to third base, he has the offensive upside to be an everyday regular. An assignment to low Class A Lansing is next.
TRACK RECORD: The Blue Jays used the second of their two first-round picks in 2017 to select Pearson, who quickly looked like a steal after dominating the short-season Northwest League while touching triple digits. He looked poised for a breakthrough in 2018, but a back injury prevented him from pitching until May 7, when he threw 1.2 innings before a line drive fractured his right forearm and ended his season.
SCOUTING REPORT: As a college starter, Pearson sat 92-94 mph and touched 98 regularly. With the Blue Jays, he sits mid-to-upper-90s and reaches 101 in short stints, though he has yet to have an outing of more than four innings to show he can hold velocity. He throws an explosive fastball with late life to get empty swings up and down the strike zone, with steep downhill angle from his 6-foot-6 frame. Pearson has added more power and sharpness to what was once a slurvy slider, cranking it up to the mid-to-upper-80s with late tilt. His slider is still inconsistent but flashes above-average. He mixes in an average changeup with late fade.
THE FUTURE: Pearson, who hit 100 mph in the Arizona Fall League, has the stuff to work as a mid-rotation starter if he proves he can handle a starter’s workload.
TRACK RECORD: A three-year starter at Maryland, Smith debuted with the Blue Jays in 2017 after signing that summer as a fourth-round pick. After the season, Smith called the Blue Jays to ask when was the earliest possible date he could report to their complex in Dunedin, Fla. He worked on his swing and broke through with a strong 2018 season.
SCOUTING REPORT: A student of the game, Smith spent the offseason working to shorten his swing path and increase the amount of time his barrel spends in the hitting zone. His body awareness helped him make that adjustment to be more direct to the ball, and he cut his strikeout rate from 25 percent at Rookie-level Bluefield in 2017 to 21 percent split between two Class A levels in 2018. Smith still projects as a power-over-hit offensive profile, with quick bat speed and plus raw power to drive balls out to all fields. Smith isn’t a flashy shortstop but he is a steady, reliable defender with average defense for the position. He has sure hands and an above-average, accurate arm with a quick release.
THE FUTURE: Smith raised his stock in 2018, albeit as a college player dominating Class A competition. Double-A New Hampshire will give Smith a chance to prove himself against upper-level pitchers.
TRACK RECORD: Reid-Foley struggled through a rough 2017 season, with inconsistent stuff from start to start and fastball command that would frequently escape him. He opened 2018 repeating Double-A New Hampshire and looked much improved. He reached Triple-A by May and then Toronto in August for his major league debut.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Blue Jays stressed to Reid-Foley the importance of fastball command—especially down and away—and he showed signs of improvement in that area. He has a plus fastball that sits 92-95 mph and reaches 97. The quality of his slider was more consistent in 2018. It’s a plus weapon he can bury as a chase pitch or get empty swings when he back-foots lefties. He throws an average curveball that sometimes blends with his slider. Reid-Foley switched the way he gripped his changeup in spring training, and at times it showed good action and deception with average potential. Despite unorthodox mechanics, he has been durable.
THE FUTURE: Reid-Foley has the plus stuff to potentially develop into a No. 3 or 4 starter, though he will have to continue to improve his fastball command.
TRACK RECORD: Double-A New Hampshire opened 2018 with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, two top prospects with big league bloodlines. They also had Biggio, the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who went from a long shot to a legitimate prospect.
SCOUTING REPORT: After an underwhelming first full season in 2017, Biggio went to work on the load and timing in his swing, lowering his hands in an attempt to help his bat stay on plane longer through the hitting zone. The mechanical adjustment helped him tap into his power more frequently in games, and he more than doubled his home run output from 2017. His swing still has holes—he struck out 26 percent of the time in Double-A—but he’s also a patient hitter whose 100 walks ranked third in the minors. Biggio is a smart, instinctive player and an average runner. He turns the double play quickly at second base with an average arm, but he’s still working to soften his hands and improve his footwork and range. He has spent time at third base, first base and the outfield as well.
THE FUTURE: Biggio has a chance to develop into an average regular, whether it be at second base or as an offensive-minded utility man.
TRACK RECORD: As an amateur in the Dominican Republic, Hiraldo earned praise as one of the top hitters in a strong 2017 international class. The Blue Jays signed him for $750,000 that year and he justified their belief in his bat with a strong offensive showing in the Dominican Summer League before getting a late-season taste of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
SCOUTING REPORT: Hiraldo has a knack for hitting and driving the ball with impact from a direct, compact swing. He doesn’t generate much separation with his hands to load his swing, but he has explosive hand speed that generates plus bat speed. He’s an aggressive hitter who mashes fastballs, with strong forearms and legs that he incorporates to generate average power. He’s a pull-heavy hitter who’s still improving his pitch recognition and selectivity. Blue Jays scouts were more optimistic than others when they signed Hiraldo about his ability to stick at shortstop, citing his hands and arm strength. He is built like a catcher and his range and defensive actions aren’t ideal for shortstop, though he has the defensive skill set for third base.
THE FUTURE: Hiraldo is still several years away, but he has the offensive upside to profile at third base.
- Ben Badler
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