As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an alternate training site in the hopes of staying fresh for a potential callup or getting in much-needed development time.
The MiLB.com staff is rounding up the notable prospects in each organization’s 60-man player pool and analyzing what the new system will mean for their 2020 seasons.
The Blue Jays rebuild began blossoming at the top last season, and the well of impactful young talent hasn’t dried up just yet. With the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio already meaningful presences in the American League East, Toronto boasts a second crop of prospects on the cusp of joining them.
The organization went into Summer Camp last week with 58 of its allotted 60-man player pool accounted for. That number became 59 on Friday when Austin Martin -- the team's recently signed June first-round selection -- was added to the mix. The Vanderbilt standout inked the highest signing bonus in club history on July 2, and his plus-plus hit tool could put him on the fast track to The Show this season.
Among the group Martin will join at the Rogers Centre are 14 of Toronto’s top 30 prospects -- including the organization’s top five. While Canadian laws have restricted participants of this Summer Camp from leaving Rogers Centre property (the team hotel is attached to the ballpark), the Blue Jays hope to set up the alternate training site for their taxi squad at Sahlen Field in Buffalo -- home of their Triple-A affiliate Bisons. There also have been rumors that the club may opt to play their 30 home games in Buffalo if the current travel restrictions on Ontario can't be worked through.
Nate Pearson, RHP: It is just a matter of time until Toronto’s top prospect becomes a mainstay in the rotation. Armed with an electric 80-grade fastball that touched 104 mph during a Fall Stars Game in 2018, Pearson’s heater usually sits in the high 90s and flashes triple-digits with regularity. The towering 6-foot-6, 250-pounder -- who was limited to just 1 2/3 innings in 2018 because a line drive fractured his right forearm -- accelerated through three levels of the Blue Jays system last year and finished at the Minors’ highest level. Overall, the right-hander amassed the third best WHIP in the Minors (0.89) as well as a 2.30 ERA and 119 punchouts to 27 walks over 101 2/3 frames. MLB.com’s No. 8 overall prospect limited opponents to a .176 average in that span. The 2017 first-rounder brought that momentum into big league camp this spring, posting five hitless frames through his first three appearances and finished with a 1.29 ERA and 11 strikeouts over seven innings. In his first Summer Camp action, Pearson didn't allow a hit in a pair of frames against Toronto’s likely Opening Day lineup.
Jordan Groshans, SS: The 12th overall selection in the 2018 Draft was hitting the cover off the ball last year before his season was ended by a left foot injury. Regarded as one of the top prep hitters out of Magnolia High School in Texas, the 75th overall prospect batted .331 over 37 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before making the jump to Class A Lansing in 2019. In the Midwest League, he amassed a .337/.427/.482 slash line with eight extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in 23 games. The second-ranked Blue Jays prospect may be blocked at the Major League level at short, but his ability to play multiple positions and the organization’s belief that the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder with a plus-arm will develop above-average power make him an interesting prospect to keep an eye on as this 60-game sprint unfolds.
Simeon Woods Richardson, RHP: One of the youngest players drafted in his class when he was taken at age 17 by the Mets in the second round two years ago, Woods Richardson has displayed advanced skill and poise since his professional debut. Acquired at last season’s Trade Deadline in a deal that sent then-ace Marcus Stroman to New York, the No. 98 overall prospect was greeted by his new organization with a promotion to the Florida State League. The right-hander showed he was up to the task -- finishing the year with six sharp starts in which he posted a 2.54 ERA and an 0.88 WHIP with 29 whiffs and seven walks over 28 1/3 frames. The third-ranked Blue Jays prospect impressed again in his first action of Summer Camp, recording a groundout and a strikeout with a pair of walks.
Alek Manoah, RHP: Another big-framed hurler taken by Toronto in the first round, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound righty was the 11th overall selection last year. A two-way player out of high school, the 22-year-old turned his focus to the mound when he attended West Virginia University. Used mostly out of the bullpen through his first two college seasons, Manoah caught the attention of scouts when he led the Cape Cod League in punchouts as a starter. He spent his first professional season in Class A Short Season Vancouver, where he compiled a 2.65 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP with 27 strikeouts and five walks over 17 frames spanning six starts. The No. 4 Blue Jays prospect possesses great athleticism that allows him to keep his large frame in sync. With still a long way to go through Toronto’s system, Manoah’s presence in Summer Camp will provide experience and much-needed development.
Alejandro Kirk, C: Signed out of Mexico in 2016, the fifth-ranked Blue Jays prospect worked his way to Class A Advanced Dunedin last season after being limited to just one game in his first professional season because of a hand injury. Praised for his hitting ability and strike-zone awareness, Kirk sported a .290/.403/.465 slash line with 56 walks and 39 strikeouts over 92 total games last year. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 265 pounds, a position change isn’t likely for the backstop who is highly regarded for his blocking ability and a quick, accurate arm behind the plate. Kirk threw out 38 percent of attempted basestealers in 2019. In his first taste of Major League Spring Training, the 21-year-old went 4-for-8 with a dinger, four walks and a pair of RBIs in eight Grapefruit League games.
Anthony Kay, LHP: The other big piece in the deal for Stroman, Kay was selected 31st overall by the Mets in 2016 out of the University of Connecticut. Tommy John surgery delayed the southpaw’s professional debut until 2018, but he has hit the ground running since. Working his way to Triple-A Syracuse 14 months after he threw his first pitch in the Minors, Toronto's No. 10 prospect made seven starts with the Bisons before being called up to The Show on Sept. 7. In three big league appearances, Kay fanned 13 over 14 frames. The Long Island, New York, native whiffed nine in 7 1/3 Grapefruit League innings this spring and could provide bullpen depth or be used in a swing role for Toronto this season with an above-average three-pitch mix. On Friday, Kay pitched three scoreless frames, allowing a hit while whiffing three on 42 pitches in an intrasquad game.
Patrick Murphy, RHP: Another potentially interesting relief option for the Blue Jays, Murphy has been a starter since his career commenced in 2014, but the righty sports a fastball-curveball combo that can play at the Major League level right now. After missing all of the 2015 campaign and the early part of 2016 with thoracic outlet syndrome and ulnar transposition surgery, the 19th-ranked Blue Jays prospect broke out in 2018 when he earned Pitcher of The Year honors in the FSL and a late promotion to Double-A New Hampshire. The 25-year-old opened last year in the Eastern League and coasted through his first 11 starts, posting a 3.69 ERA and 9.2 K/9 IP. But that momentum quickly halted when umpires ruled Murphy’s toe-tap delivery was illegal. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder struggled to find an alternative and was erratic until he landed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue that ended his season. Murphy was still working out some kinks in his new delivery this spring over a pair of big league camp appearances, but being able to pitch in shorter stints may prove beneficial to the right-hander.
Reese McGuire, C: Toronto’s No. 20 prospect will most likely break Summer Camp with the Blue Jays and be Danny Jansen’s backup in The Show. McGuire made his Major League debut in 2018, and in 14 games, he hit .290 with a pair of dingers and four RBIs. He opened last season with Triple-A Buffalo but was recalled to Toronto on July 27 and stuck in the bigs for 30 games. In his second stint with the Blue Jays, the 25-year-old batted .299/.346/.526 with five taters, seven doubles and 11 RBIs while catching five of 19 attempted basestealers. Praised for his ability to call a game and manage a pitching staff, McGuire shouldn't have prospect status much longer.
Anthony Alford, OF: The 25-year-old played parts of the past three seasons in The Show, but his career has been beset by injuries since 2016, when he suffered a knee injury and a concussion. The following year, the 21st-ranked Blue Jays prospect made the jump from the Eastern League for his Major League debut but suffered a broken hamate bone in his fourth big league game that sidelined him the rest of the season. Alford’s 2018 campaign was delayed by hamstring issues, but he did work his way back to Toronto for 13 games. Last year, the 2012 third-round selection began the season on the temporary inactive list and spent two stints on the injured list. But the Mississippi product still returned to the bigs for 16 games and collected five hits -- including a homer -- worked a walk and scored three times. He’ll be in the mix for the fourth outfielder position as Summer Camp plays out.
Santiago Espinal, 2B: A 10th-round pick of the Red Sox in 2016, Espinal was dealt to Toronto in the Steve Pearce deal in 2018. In his first full season with the Blue Jays last year, the 25-year-old sparkled in 122 games between the Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo. He batted a combined .287 (.317 in 28 International League games) with 35 extra-base hits, 71 RBIs and 57 runs. That performance earned the No. 22 Blue Jays prospect an Organization All-Star nod as well as a spring invite to big league camp, where he continued to dazzle. The Dominican Republic native posted a .417/.462/1.000 slash line with a hat trick of dingers, a triple, three doubles, eight runs and seven RBIs over 13 Grapefruit League games. It may be as a result of injury, but Espinal certainly seems in line to make his debut in The Show this year.
Right-handers Thomas Hatch (No. 24) and Julian Merryweather (No. 25) are a pair of starters who could jump to the bigs in relief roles this season. Hatch was acquired from the Cubs last year for David Phelps and spent his second straight season in Double-A. He posted a 2.80 ERA and fanned 34 in 35 1/3 Eastern League innings after the trade, and left a good impression at big league camp this spring by limiting opponents to a .059 average in four appearances. Merryweather was part of the deal that sent Josh Donaldson to Cleveland in 2018. After undergoing Tommy John surgery before the start of the 2018 season, the 28-year-old appears to have a clean bill of health after sporting his full repertoire in the Arizona Fall League and compiling eight punchouts in six AFL frames. With a 60-grade fastball that could flash triple-digits and a plus-plus changeup, the time might be now for Merryweather.
Kevin Smith (No. 23) is an above-average defender at short and has the versatility to play three different infield positions. While his offensive numbers took a dip last season after trying to tweak his swing, the 24-year-old’s work ethic and baseball IQ make him a viable option if injuries cripple the Blue Jays. Riley Adams (No. 27) rounds out the list of top-30 Jays prospects at Summer Camp. The backstop finished last season in the Eastern League and held his own at Major League Spring Training this year, going 3-for-11 with a homer, two doubles and three RBIs in nine games. While he's probably fifth on the team’s catching depth chart, the experience and development for the 24-year-old in Summer Camp will be something to keep an eye on.
Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobTnova24.