Blue Jays Prospect Primer: Next-gen impact

Guerrero Jr. could step out from shadow of former All-Star father

At the age of 18, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. draws comparisons to his former All-Star father with his raw power. (Cliff Welch /

By Gerard Gilberto / | March 31, 2017 10:00 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2017 season approaching, takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Shining star: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B

With plus arm strength and raw power that projects him to be a middle-of-the-order hitter, the Blue Jays' top prospect cannot avoid comparisons to his father, former American League MVP and nine-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero.

"Just the natural ability he has and how loud that impact with the bat can be," said Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim. "The impact that Vladdy Jr. can provide on the offensive side, hitting in the middle of the lineup someday and the sheer strength that he possesses, they are similar."

One of the more quirky abilities in the elder Guerrero's game probably won't carry on to the next generation. Guerrero Jr. isn't likely to swing at -- and hit -- pitches that bounce in front of the plate, although the club doesn't doubt his ability to do so. "It's weird because everybody knows what his father was like, and [Guerrero Jr.] has good plate discipline," Kim said. "You combine discipline with approach with raw power and it's going to be exciting to watch."

As a 17-year-old in his first professional season with Rookie-level Bluefield in 2016, Guerrero hit .271/.359/.449 with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 62 games. He earned end-of-the-season All-Star honors as the Appalachian League's top third baseman and landed at No. 34 on's Top 100 prospects list.

Guerrero's bulky build could prevent him from following his father's path to the outfield and he was moved to third base prior to last season. Scouts have been skeptical when it comes to his range and speed, but he reportedly has displayed some of the arm strength that made his father a human highlight reel.

"We think he's going to be able to play third base defensively in the big leagues," Kim said. "He picks the ball up, reads the ball well off the bat. He's got a plus arm there. He's got very good instincts for having only played there for a couple years."

Major League-ready: Rowdy Tellez, 1B

Tellez was assigned to Triple-A Buffalo last week after making a legitimate push for a spot on the Jays' Opening Day roster.

Kim hesitated to project the team's fifth-ranked prospect as a 2017 Major Leaguer, but he said the 22-year-old plays at an advanced level for his age without denying that the big leagues were within reach.

"It's impressive to see the maturity that he goes about his work with," Kim said. "He's focused on improving every day. I think ultimately [Tellez] will dictate when he's ready."

Tellez, who was listed as a potential breakout prospect in our primer a year ago, unleashed the power potential the team saw when he was drafted out of high school in 2013. He tied for fourth in the Eastern League with 23 homers, ranked sixth with 81 RBIs and third -- behind the Phillies' potent duo of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens -- in all of Double-A with a .917 OPS.

"Rowdy has the type of talent that plays, really, anywhere. Any park with any team," Kim said. "You can't really have an overabundance of left-handed power bats."

Last year, former Blue Jays Minor League field coordinator Doug Davis described Tellez as, "very, very intelligent at the plate. He does a good job reading pitches and understanding what guys are trying to do to him."

In the field, Toronto is confident in the sixth-ranked first base prospect's ability to stick at the position in the Majors. "He's worked extremely hard," Kim said. "He's very committed to it and he's improved a lot."

Full-season debutant: T.J. Zeuch, RHP

The Blue Jays' No. 7 prospect followed a strong showing in the Cape Cod League by posting a 3.10 ERA and 74 strikeouts over 69 2/3 innings in his junior season at the University of Pittsburgh. Toronto took him 21st overall in last year's Draft.

Zeuch made nine starts across three levels in his first two months of pro ball, finishing the season with a pair of starts for Class A Lansing. Zeuch uses his entire 6-foot-7 frame to work off his mid- to low-90s fastball and has started to show he's comfortable using his off-speed pitches.

"His strength is his fastball. It's got very good downhill plane, he controls it well," Kim said. "His out pitch is probably his curveball. It has 12-to-6 movement with some late bite and he also has a good changeup. He sells it well, and now his secondary pitches are developing."

Kim said that as well as getting used to life inside a professional clubhouse, working out the kinks in those secondary pitches is a goal for Zeuch this season.

Back and healthy: Max Pentecost, C

More than a year removed from the labrum surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2015 season, the Jays' No. 12 prospect is ready to return to his position behind the plate. Pentecost served as designated hitter in all 74 games he played last season, leaving some scouts to ponder a possible move to the outfield or first base. The move would've been as much a compliment to the 24-year-old's athleticism as it was a concern about his surgically repaired shoulder.

"He's progressing well with his defensive work and we're definitely looking forward to seeing what the capabilities are behind the plate this year," Kim said. "He's a good athlete, so he could be the new type of virtual utility player on the defensive side, but right now his focus is on catching."

The year-long layoff didn't hurt Pentecost's production at the plate. In 288 at-bats across Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin, he batted .308 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs. "It was a simple reminder to all of us of how talented he really is and how excited we are to have him in the organization," Kim said. "He's worked extremely hard last offseason, last year during the season. He's an intelligent player and we're just excited for him."

Loudest tool: Anthony Alford, OF

It's a common refrain for teams in Spring Training to say they're focused on improving the running game in the upcoming year. If that strategy rings true for Toronto, the best baserunner in the system is Alford, its No. 3 prospect.

"Overall, in the organization as a whole, we're going to be a little more aggressive on the bases this year. Anthony is no exception," Kim said. "Speed is one of his best tools and we expect him to improve in every area, but definitely with the baserunning. We know that's an area that Anthony would like to focus on as well."

The former football player was selected as Toronto's shining star a year ago and, according to, his speed is one of only two 70-grade tools -- along with the speed of No. 27 prospect Reggie Pruitt -- among the Blue Jays' top 30 prospects. Alford's stolen base total slumped last season with Dunedin as knee and head injuries limited him to 18 thefts in 24 tries in 92 games.

"He had a successful 2016 in our minds because he improved," Kim said. "He finished it off with a solid [Arizona Fall League] season as well, so we're looking forward to that."

Alford stole eight bases and hit three homers [six shy of his 2016 regular-season total] in 23 AFL games. He played right field exclusively in 15 games this spring, but Kim said he believes the Ole Miss product can play any of the three outfield positions at the big league level.

"He's had a pretty impressive big league camp and he looks really good right now," Kim said. "He still needs to play, but at the same time he's still catching on. He's improving and getting that experience back at a pretty rapid rate right now."

Others to keep an eye on: Sean Reid-Foley, the organization's top pitching prospect, had better command of the strike zone in his second full season in 2016, issuing 38 walks while striking out 130 over 115 1/3 innings. … Richard Urena has the defensive skills and athleticism to stick at shortstop and the converted switch-hitter is starting to get a better feel with his new right-handed swing. … Shortstop Bo Bichette, the son of former All-Star Dante Bichette, put up a .427/.451/.732 slash line with four homers and 36 RBIs in 22 games for Bluefield last summer. … Outfielder Joshua Palacios climbed from Bluefield to Class A Short Season Vancouver and finished the season with Lansing. The 2016 fourth-round pick out of Auburn batted .330 in 50 games across those levels.

Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @GerardGilberto4. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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