The Batters Box top 30 prospects returns tomorrow after a break in 2020. The 2021 minor league season was a different one from when we last rated propects. It started late, it finished later, the minor leagues were reorganized and the number of affiliates reduced.
Before the season there was a lot of discussion around the impact of the reduced number of affiliates. In 2019 the Jays had four full season teams and four short season teams. In 2021 there were four full season teams and two short season teams (Florida and the Dominican complex teams). That left fewer opportunities for players particularly around the A ball level. It also meant that some players who in 2019 would go to Vancouver or Bluefield now would have to go to Dunedin or stay in the FCL. It was a sink or swim for the prospects at that level.
There was also the uncertainty around how much repetitions did players get in 2020. Some players spent time at the minor league complex, others had no official reps in 2020. Some scouts suggested that players were rusty to start 2021 and that play was often poor in the first few months of the season. Those comments faded as we got into summer. But when we look at prospects performance in 2021, we might have to forgive slow starts from players who might have had to sit out 2020.
The major objective of the minor leagues was achieved in 2021 as the system produced help for the major league team. Alek Manoah was outstanding. Santiago Espinal, Reece McGuire and Alejandro Kirk were valuable pieces of the roster. Josh Palacios, Kevin Smith, Riley Adams, Otto Lopez, Ty Tice, Nick Allgeyer, Kirby Snead, Tayler Saucedo and Bryan Baker all were introduced to major league baseball.
In addition to Manoah, Kirk and Espinal graduating from the top 30 list, Nate Pearson, Thomas Hatch and Anthony Kay graduated due to time spent on the major league roster, most of it on the IL unfortunately.
The Blue Jays traded seven players off the 2019 top 30 prospects list, and that doesn't include Austin Martin who was drafted in 2020. The traded players were Simeon Woods Richardson, Kendall Williams, Yennsy Diaz, Griffin Conine, Riley Adams, Josh Winkowski and Hector Perez. In addition Patrick Murphy and TJ Zeuch were lost on waiver claims. Between the trades and graduations there is plenty of room for some new blood on the 2021 list.
As I looked over the top 30 list for 2021 I had a couple of general observations. First, there will probably be a lack of pitching support for the major leagues in 2022 from the system. Most of the top rated pitchers on the top 30 are those from the 2021 draft. You can see why the Jays selected so many pitchers in this years draft. Also the Jays have traded Simeon Woods Richardson, Josh Winkowski and Kendall Williams in the last two years.
Luckily, or with good foresight, the Jays have four starters locked up for the next few years. Ryu, Berrios, Gausman and Manoah provide a strong core. Who could the Jays count on to be a fifth starter or a backup for injuries? You do have the previously mentioned trio of Pearson, Hatch and Kay. Ross Stripling could return to a starters role. But they all have questions over how effective they can be in the major leagues. There are two AAA pitchers on the 40 man roster, Bowden Francis and Zack Logue. Both are 25 years old and there is some uncertainty as to whether they can be successful in the major leagues. The Jays signed several free agents last season to pitch at AAA and AA as their system didn't have enough depth to fill those spots internally. They will likely have to do the same in 2022.
It will take a few years for the system to provide pitching help. The pitchers drafted in 2020 and 2021 are working their way up but it will be 2023 or more likely 2024 before they can be counted on.
The other thing I noted was the volume of injuries in 2021. I already mentioned Pearson, Hatch and Kay all who were injured in 2021. But think of the Jays top prospects. Gabriel Moreno missed a lot of time, Orelvis Martinez and Jordan Groshans couldn't finish the season. Leo Jimenez also missed a lot of time. One of the Jays top international prospects, Estivan Machado, had one at bat. Joey Murray pitched two thirds of an inning, Eric Pardinho pitched two innings, CJ Van Eyk had Tommy John surgery after the season, as he told our own Niall O'Donoghue. At the higher levels both Josh Palacios and Chavez Young missed time.
Injuries are part of the game but the Jays seemed to have more than their fair share in 2021.
Between the trades, graduations and injuries the Jays system has lost some of its luster. Once you get past the first few top prospects there are questions and concerns over most of the list. This is normal in the prospect world but it seems more pronounced for the Jays system this year.
Over the next three days we will reveal the top 30. And then on Friday we will review some of those who just missed. There was a lot of very close decisions at the bottom of the list and we will see that on Friday.