Keith Law published his top 100 prospects and his top 20 prospects by organization over the last two weeks in The Athletic.
I didn't want to ask questions about the rankings, it doesn't matter that player X is four or five spots above where Batters Box ranked him. So I asked questions that were more general. If you haven't read Keith's rankings they are substantially similar to those on Batters Box. Keith is not as high on Addison Barger, he has concerns about his ability to hit left handed pitching. He has similar concerns with Spencer Horwitz. Keith includes Manuel Beltre and Alex De Jesus in his top 20, so I asked about them, in general terms.
BB: There have been a lot of articles in the Toronto press about the new facility in Dunedin and the usefulness of the hitting and pitching labs there. They have even suggested that some players have asked to be drafted by the Jays or signed with the Jays because of the facility. How unique is the Jays facility?
KL: I can't speak to that at all, sorry. I haven't done any real research into the specifics of teams' facilities. I don't want to speak out of turn.
BB: When I look at player development I see three aspects, the draft, player development and luck. With luck I include injuries and when a low round pick turns into a player with major league value. I have several questions about this. First, the Jays drafting doesn't seem to have a theme, or a philosophy, behind it. In 2021 it was almost all pitchers. In 2022 mostly hitters and hitters with a bat first profile, generally non athletic. How would you grade the Jays drafting generally?
KL: I think they're more geared towards best player available than to a specific category of players. Last year's draft ('22) was a terrible college crop, with almost no college pitching up top, so they made a pretty clear adjustment around that. I'm not sure they'd normally go for a HS arm in the first round, but given who was on the board at that point, you could easily argue Barriera was the BPA. Anyway, I think they're drafting quite well over the last three or four years, especially if you consider their ability to convert some high picks into help for the major-league roster via trades.
BB: What do you think of the 2022 draft approach, drafting good bat to ball guys.
KL: I don't think that was their draft approach last year, though. Toman isn't necessarily that, and I don't think that's Doughty's defining characteristic. It is definitely true of Kasevich, though.
BB: In regard to player development, some teams have earned a reputation for their development (Dodgers, Guardians and Rays for example). When you think of the Jays and player development what comes to mind?
KL: No single thing comes to mind here. They're around the middle of the pack in development. They've had enough successes and failures on both sides of the ball that I wouldn't say that they're especially good or bad at developing any category of player. They do have a big group of position-player prospects from high A to the DSL who came into the org through international free agency who present them with a big player development opportunity, but also a challenge. These are talented kids who have a lot of work ahead of them to become the players we think they can become. I hope the struggles of Orelvis Martinez this year lead the Jays to reconsider pushing some of those kids.
BB: Minor league strikeout rate is often used as a statistical scouting method for pitchers. You have ranked two pitchers in your Jays top 10 that have a lower strikeout rate in Sem Robberse and Hayden Juenger. Is this where pitchability and the ability to pitch to (weak) contact is an offset to the lower strikeout numbers?
KL" Yeah, 'statistical scouting' isn't really a thing. You can and should look at strikeout rates for pitchers, but it's a supplement to scouting, not a replacement for it. Both those guys have reasons why they're in my top 10 with those lower rates. Robberse has everything you want in a mid-rotation type except for power - he lost velocity last year versus 2021, and that meant he missed fewer bats. If he returns to his 2021 velocity levels, on all his pitches, his strikeout rate will almost certainly go up, and with his command and feel for pitching that will make him that potential mid-rotation guy. Or maybe he even gains a little more velocity than that. I like guys who miss bats, but I'm willing to project on some pitchers to improve in that area, or to boost guys who show other ways to get around higher contact rates (e.g., weak contact/groundball tendencies).
BB: A number of the Jays international signings had poor 2022's. I am thinking of Luis Meza, Manual Beltre, Estivan Machado and others. They are all still young and you have Beltre in your top 20. At what age, or stage, do you start to give up on a young prospect?
KL: I don't have a hard and fast rule on this, but I like to see progress of some sort - adjustments on the field, improvements in the stat line, even progress in Trackman data. If a kid doesn't have a better year at the plate but he's hitting the ball harder, that's still progress. When players stop making progress, that's when I start to give up. And I agree that their IFA group as a whole didn't do as well last year as I'd hoped.
BB: You still have hope for Orelvis, despite his free swinging ways. Are there major league players you can think of who have gone from a swing for the fences approach and had a successful major league career?
KL: Sure, tons. Whatever you might think of Joey Gallo now, he's generated almost 15 WAR before turning 29. If Orelvis is only a .290 OBP guy with this power and good defense at third, he'd be a starter on at least a handful of teams. I don't think he's that player right now, but that's within reach - and he's only 21 this year. Start him at AA again with some real help on swing decisions and see if he makes any adjustments.
BB: Are there new technologies that help a player develop more selectivity at the plate? I would think that there are visual training systems that simulate at-bats that should help a player and grade his swing decisions.
KL: Yes, I wrote about some of that in my piece on Austin Riley back in August of 2021. There are simulators that help hitters work on pitch recognition and tracking.
I want thank Keith for answering these questions. It is a very busy time for him, as he said himself, he has published a book of sports over the last two weeks.