As the Toronto Blue Jays spend their trade deadline season as a seller their biggest priority is the acquisition of young talent.
The club has added MLB players like Ken Giles and Brandon Drury, but by-and-large they’ve looked to bring prospects aboard. Here’s a look at the incoming Blue Jays youngsters:
Draft Pedigree: International free agent
Rank on Astros’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: 23rd
Best Pitch(es): Fastball and Curveball
2018 stats: 4.67 ERA with a 11.0 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 in 27 innings across Rookie Ball and Triple-A
Summary: Paulino is a former top-100 prospect – making it as high as 51st on Baseball America’s list prior to 2017 – who’s lost some serious shine. The 24-year-old ranks 23rd on the Astros’ current top 30 list, tumbling down after being suspended 80 games last season for a positive PED test. Beyond the suspension, Paulino also has a history of elbow problems which adds another layer of risk.
The big right-hander has four pitches, giving him a starter’s profile, but he also needs to refine his command in order to be effective. That weakness was exploited in the 6’7″ Dominican’s taste of big-league action between 2016 and 2017 when he recorded a 6.25 ERA across 36 innings. He hasn’t pitched much this year and has put up a mediocre 4.67 ERA, but his 11.0 K/9 shows the stuff is still there.
Position: Starter/High-Leverage Reliever
Draft Pedigree: International free agent
Rank on Astros’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: 10th
Best Pitch: Fastball
2018 stats: 3.73 ERA with a 10.2 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 in 89.1 innings across High-A and Double-A
Summary: Perez brings mid-90s heat and a variety of secondary offerings including a curveball, slider, and splitter. Perez’s biggest issue has been his control and command. This season he’s posted a 4.8 BB/9 across two levels and that number is going to bear watching going forward.
Whether he ultimately settles in as a starter or high-leverage reliever remains to be seen, but he’s certainly an intriguing arm. The Dominican hurler is currently working at Double-A and could come quickly if the Blue Jays see him as more of a bullpen option.
Draft Pedigree: 1st round, 24th overall (2013)
Rank on Yankees’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: 20th
Best Tool(s): Power
2018 stats: .230/.307/.481 with 13 home runs in 261 PA split between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A
Summary: There was a time when McKinney was considered a top-100 prospect in baseball, but that time has come and passed. He can certainly thump the ball, and he can also play in both outfield corners, but his approach at the plate and chops as a contact hitter have come into question.
On the verge of turning 24, McKinney is in a spot where he has to show something at the major-league level soon. The Blue Jays will likely give him that opportunity, but his work at Triple-A shows that it’s far from a guarantee that he’ll make good on that chance.
Scouts still like his left-handed swing and he was always projected to be a better line-drive hitter than he’s shown recently, so maybe there’s something there. He’s not an extraordinary athlete by any means so the bet here is on the bat.
Draft Pedigree: 1st round, 35th overall (2014)
Rank on Rockies’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: 13th
Best Tool(s): Contact hitting and speed
2018 stats: .260/.340/.430 with 9 home runs and 28 steals in 420 PA split between High-A and Double-A
Summary: Wall is a converted second baseman who now plays centre and left field. Turning 23 this season, he’s a little bit old for his level, but his 2017 was essentially wiped out by a dislocated shoulder.
At his best, he could be a line-drive hitter who makes things happen on the base paths and holds his own at a premium position. That would be an exceedingly aggressive projection though. Wall has a long way to go to prove himself as an outfielder and his arm in particular has often been questioned.
He’s also at an age where he needs to show he can hit pitching in the upper minors soon. This year he raked at High-A to a tune of a .305/.382/.453 line, but at Double-A he’s only slashed .211/.296/.367 so far in 186 trips to the plate.
Wall certainly has a lot to prove, but he’s also a good athlete with strong bat-to-ball skills who can play in at least two outfield spots and has a little infield experience.
Position: First Baseman
Draft Pedigree: 6th round, 176th overall (2017)
Rank on Rockies’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: 24th
Best Tool(s): Power
2018 stats: .316/.364/.580 with 22 home runs, 75 RBI, and 16 steals in 379 PA at Single-A
Summary: One thing we know Spanberger can do is mash baseballs. In the first 151 games of his pro career he has 41 home runs and the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder is renowned for raw power. His 2018 stats are sparkling, but it’s important to note that he’s playing in a very favourable park for left-handed power with the Asheville Tourists and at 22 you’d be worried if he wasn’t producing at that level.
Concerns for Spanberg are twofold. The first is that he’s a first baseman, pure and simple, so the margin for error for him is pretty slim. He needs to produce at a well above-average clip at every level — including the major leagues — to have value. It’s not impossible, but it’s a tall task, and there’s a reason there aren’t many highly-touted first base prospects in the game. Blue Jays fans may recall Rowdy Tellez looking like a potential building block until he ran into a wall at Triple-A, where he still plys his trade. The moment he stopped putting up big numbers all excitement about him dissipated. That could easily be Spanberg’s fate.
The second issue with the young slugger is his approach at the plate. His 5.3 percent walk rate this season is far from encouraging, especially considering he’s not a contact-hitting specialist (21.6 percent strikeout rate). If he doesn’t control the strike zone better, there’s very little chance of him making it all the way to the majors, but he has time and it is a skill that can be developed with experience.
Draft Pedigree: 10th round, 296th overall (2016)
Rank on Red Sox’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: N/A
Best Tool(s): Fielding
2018 stats: .296/.352/.453 with 9 home runs and 10 steals in 387 PA split between High-A and Double-A
Summary: Espinal was not on anyone’s radar coming into 2018, but that changed a bit in the early going as the Dominican infielder put up a very tidy .313/.363/.477 line with the Salem Red Sox prior to the Blue Jays’ acquiring him for Steve Pearce.
He’s always been able to hold his own in the field, and has a fair amount of versatility. The question is about whether he can hit. This season has been encouraging, but he needs to produce in the upper minors considering his age.
The Blue Jays recently promoted Espinal to Double-A, and what he does there will determine whether he’s taken a big step forward in 2018 or his early-season success was on the fluky side. He doesn’t have big speed or big power, but has done a good job of avoiding strikeouts in his career so far – a skill that’s rarer and rarer these days.
It wouldn’t be wise to do too much dreaming on Espinal, but if he shows up as a utility man for the club in a year or two it wouldn’t be a shock either.
Draft Pedigree: 37th round pick
Rank on Phillies’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: N/A
2018 stats: 4.68 ERA with a 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 82.2 innings across Double-A and Triple-A
Summary: Waguespack is a little-known prospect, which is what you’re going to get when you’re trading a couple months of Aaron Loup’s services. He lacks draft or prospect pedigree and has been used as both a starter and reliever in the high minors.
It would be unfair to expect Waguespack to make an impact at the big-league level, he could soak up some garbage-time innings at some point – and the Blue Jays season is garbage time from here on out.
Draft Pedigree: 31st round pick
Rank on Dodgers’ MLB Pipeline prospect list: N/A
2018 stats: 2.52 ERA with a 9.9 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 52.2 innings across Double-A and Triple-A
Summary: The most exciting thing that can be said about Copping is that he’s been successful out of the bullpen in the high minors. Although he isn’t a big arm and tends to work in the low 90s, Copping has posted a 2.52 ERA across 53.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A – which is pretty solid.
The right-hander has also shown the ability to provide some length out of the pen, registering his 53.2 innings in just 35 appearances. He does not appear on the Dodgers’ top-30 prospect list from MLB Pipeline, but might not be far from a big-league ready. Whether he could stick at that level is an open question.
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