3 under-the-radar Blue Jays prospects worth monitoring ahead of All-Star break

These Jays prospects are making a case for a call-up if their big-league affiliate needs reinforcements down the stretch.

You may have heard of the Blue Jays' top prospects, but here are a few other names that are lighting up the minor leagues right now. (Reuters)

Much of the Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect system has underperformed or landed on the injured list this season, but there have been a few bright spots down on the farm just over two months into the 2023 campaign.

A few prospects most fans typically focus on are Ricky Tiedemann and Brandon Barriera — both of whom are currently injured — followed by Orelvis Martinez, who endured a slow start before showing improved signs of plate discipline last month. And rightfully so, as all three feature relatively high ceilings.

They aren’t, however, the be-all and end-all of the franchise’s farm system. Beyond them, a trio of youngsters have flown somewhat under the radar at the double-A and triple-A levels but could potentially impact the Blue Jays’ roster in 2023.

That is, of course, if the right opportunity presents itself in the major leagues.

For an organization that lacks immediate depth beyond its 26-man roster, particularly on the pitching front, there are three prospects that Blue Jays fans may want to keep an eye on as the schedule progresses.

Hagen Danner - Relief pitcher

Season results (3 levels - A/AA/AAA): 13 games (14.1 innings), 5.65 ERA, 3.09 FIP, .246 OPP AVG, 26 strikeouts, 7 walks

Danner, a former catcher, has advanced quickly through the Blue Jays’ pipeline since debuting as a relief pitcher at high-A Vancouver in 2021. Now, just two years later, the 24-year-old righty is operating as a high-leverage bullpen arm at triple-A Buffalo.

A forearm injury ended the 6-foot-1 hurler’s spring prematurely in March, causing him to open the season on the IL before beginning a rehab assignment with single-A Dunedin near the end of April. But it wasn’t long before he proved his alignment was behind him.

The Blue Jays’ No. 22 top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, struck out five of the nine batters he faced over a pair of one-inning appearances. He was then returned to double-A New Hampshire, where he logged 3.2 innings last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Things went much smoother for Danner in his second stint, though, posting 16 punchouts across nine innings. The hard-throwing righty also surrendered just three earned runs on nine hits and two walks, performing to a 3.00 ERA and 0.43 FIP.

Those spectacular results earned him a promotion to Buffalo before the end of May, although he has been roughed up a couple of times in his three outings since, allowing a pair of home runs — his only two this season — in 3.1 innings with the Bisons.

Given Danner’s track record, his triple-A metrics should normalize as he earns additional opportunities, meaning there isn’t much cause for concern. It also helps that he possesses a tantalizing three-pitch arsenal — including a high-90s fastball, mid-80s slider and a high-70s curveball.

Considering Danner already holds a place on Toronto’s 40-man roster, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him up in the majors later this season and working his way up the depth chart, just as Nate Pearson has done recently.

Spencer Horwitz - First base, outfield

Season results (Triple-A): 50 games (228 plate appearances), .311/.434/.421, 2 home runs, 29 RBIs, 125 wRC+

From a position player standpoint, Horwitz is almost certainly on the short list of potential call-up candidates the Blue Jays are likely to turn to if a need arises in the short term.

The 25-year-old, a 24th-round selection by Toronto in 2019, is in his second campaign at triple-A after last season’s promotion saw him compile 44 games with the Bisons to round out the year. While he won’t supply much power, his contact and on-base skills are what could carry him to the next level.

Horwitz ranks just outside the top-15 in walk rate (16.7%) among qualified triple-A hitters, but possesses the 12th-highest walk-to-strikeout ratio (0.88). His .434 OBP is also tied for seventh, with his .390 BABIP tied for 14th across the International League.

Despite his strong showing, the left-handed first baseman — added to the 40-man roster last November — is currently blocked by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Brandon Belt. So, he has needed to expand his defensive skill set, taking him into left field for a third-straight season, where he has made 10 starts in 2023.

Toronto’s No. 18 ranked prospect has also briefly spent time at second base, logging 34.0 career innings since his professional debut in 2019. For the most part, however, he is considered a first base/outfield prospect.

There isn’t space for Horwitz at the moment with the Blue Jays. But if Guerrero, Belt, Whit Merrifield or Cavan Biggio suffer an injury, his name will likely be among the first they call.

Adam Kloffenstein - Starting pitcher

Season results (Double-A): 10 starts (52.0 innings), 3.12 ERA, 3.61 FIP, .230 OPP AVG, 64 strikeouts, 22 walks

Not long ago, it appeared Kloffenstein was destined for release or a positional change following three mediocre seasons heading into this current one. But suddenly, he has regained the magic that made him a third-round pick by the Blue Jays in 2018.

The 22-year-old, who won’t turn 23 until August, has arguably been the franchise’s most productive starting pitching prospect this season. And he has improved drastically in multiple areas: walks, strikeouts and home runs.

Last season, Kloffenstein struggled to a 6.07 ERA and 5.07 FIP in 19 games at double-A in 2022, producing an 11.3% walk rate. In 2023, however, he owns a 3.12 ERA and 3.61 FIP over 10 impressive outings with the Fisher Cats.

Kloffenstein — Rule-5 eligible next offseason — has lowered his walk rate (9.9%), increased his strikeout rate (28.8%, ninth-highest in the Eastern League) and is allowing fewer home runs (0.87 HR/9). Opponents are also hitting just .230 against him, .056 points lower than last season.

The lengthy 6-foot-5 hurler has been more effective at pitching deep into games, completing at least five innings in eight of his 10 starts thus far — a feat he accomplished just 10 times last season. He also tossed a seven-inning performance for just the second time in his career in April.

New Hampshire’s pitching staff consists of some of the top arms in the Blue Jays’ system, and with the way Kloffenstein has performed, he could soon be on his way to beef up a less-than-impressive triple-A staff.