Blue Jays farm system short on good early-season stories as top prospects struggle
The Blue Jays' major-league roster has performed approximately to expectations so far in 2023, but the same can't be said for the team's top prospects.
If it weren't for the Tampa Bay Rays' absurdly strong start putting the Toronto Blue Jays in a deep hole in the AL East, Toronto's early-season results would look solid.
The team's .568 winning percentage mirrors what it produced last year, and it's enjoying generally good health.
While there are plenty of positives for the Blue Jays to draw from approximately the first quarter of their season, things are less rosy on the minor-league side.
Toronto's affiliates are doing fine when it comes to wins and losses, but the development of the team's top prospects has been mostly disappointing in the early going.
Here's a check-in on the state of the players who either MLB Pipeline or FanGraphs identified as a top-10 Blue Jays prospect prior to 2023:
*All stats accurate as of May 10
2023 stats: 4.97 ERA in 12.2 IP with 23 Ks and 7 BBs
Outlook: The concern with Tiedemann right now is his health, not his on-field performance. He's been inconsistent in four starts at Double-A, but his raw stuff and massive strikeout rate suggest the southpaw is just fine from a developmental standpoint.
Tiedemann is week-to-week with left biceps inflammation, though, which could affect the shape of his 2023 campaign and hurt his ability to build up his workload.
While an elbow or shoulder injury would be more ominous for Tiedemann and the Blue Jays, this is an unfortunate development for the team's top prospect.
No. 1 #BlueJays prospect Ricky Tiedemann left tonight's start with an apparent injury to his throwing arm: pic.twitter.com/TULRUFiXyw
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) May 4, 2023
2023 stats: 4.50 ERA in 7.0 IP with 10 Ks and 4 BB
Outlook: Barriera's pro career is two outings old, so it'd be hasty to call him a disappointment or an overwhelming success.
His first start was absolutely electric, and his second appearance involved him allowing four runs in three innings. This is firmly a 'TBD' situation.
2023 stats: .237/.333/.329 in 87 PA (73 wRC+) with 1 HR and 1 SB
Outlook: Barger got a lot of attention in the lead-up to 2023 thanks to a 2022 season that saw him surge up prospect lists as he hit .308/.378/.555 across three levels with 26 home runs.
The defensively-versatile slugger was widely tabbed as a threat to steal the Blue Jays' second base job at some point during the year — or announce himself the heir to Matt Chapman's position at third base.
Either of those outcomes remain on the table, but it would take a major bounce back for the 23-year-old. Right now he's showing all the contact issues that have plagued him throughout his pro career (31.0 K%) with none of the power that's compensated for those whiffs (.092 ISO).
The thump will probably come back at some point, but it will probably take a significant reduction in his strikeouts for him to project as an average offensive player at the MLB level.
FanGraphs' projection system ZiPS has him down for a .234/.293/.390 slash line if he made the majors tomorrow — good for an 89 wRC+. Before the 2023 campaign began, those numbers sat at .244/.330/.427 and 106. That's a significant difference based on his early-season struggles.
2023 stats: 5.54 ERA in 13.0 IP with 16 Ks and 11 BB
Outlook: As recently as midway through 2022, Zulueta looked like a guy who might be ready to help the Blue Jays out of the bullpen down the stretch with his high-90s heat but his production has disappointed since then.
An extensive injury history has prevented him from accumulating a lengthy pro track record, but we now have a sample of 33 innings from him at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. In those frames he's walked 29 hitters.
His enticing swing-and-miss stuff makes him easy to dream on, but until he shows an ability to consistently throw strikes he won't be able to earn a call to the big leagues.
2023 stats: 3.64 ERA in 29.1 IP with 30 Ks and 12 BBs
Outlook: The Dutch right-hander might be having the best season of any Blue Jays prospect on this list.
Robberse struggled to generate whiffs (6.93 K/9) in his first taste of Double-A last season, but his velocity has improved slightly this year and he's striking out more than a batter per inning for the first time since his Low-A stint in 2021.
We 👀 you Sem! 🔥
Robberse strikes out two hitters in the second and is through two scoreless!
Mid 2nd | New Hampshire 0, Harrisburg 0 pic.twitter.com/CLcp7JtvP7
— New Hampshire Fisher Cats (@FisherCats) May 6, 2023
Although he's young for his level, Robberse seems to have a good feel for pitching that helps mitigate his lack of overwhelming stuff. He may not have the highest ceiling, but his development is on track and he's performing well.
2023 stats: .238/.364/.254 (87 wRC+) in 77 PA with 0 HR and 1 SB
Outlook: Because Kasevich isn't a loud tools guy, he's the sort of player who needs to produce standout statistics to advance — and he hasn't done that yet.
He's not young for his level, either, so the Blue Jays probably expected more than what they've seen from him at High-A.
Kasevich is an all-contact, no-power, hitter who's produced a single extra-base hit so far this year.
That profile can work, but it requires a truly minuscule strikeout rate and above-average ability to convert batted balls into hits. Even though Kasevich has more walks (22) than Ks (20) early in his pro career he's still posted an OPS of just .658.
2023 stats: .244/.355/.322 (98 wRC+) in 107 PA with 0 HR and 1 SB
Outlook: The expectation for Toman as he began his pro career was that he'd demonstrate plenty of power with his hit tool coming along slowly. So far the swings and misses have been there (29.9%) but the ability to mash has been absent (.078 ISO).
It's too early to make any broad proclamations about Toman, but Toronto would certainly like to see more from a guy it gave an over-slot bonus of $2 million to out of the 2022 draft.
For now, Toman's numbers are respectable thanks to a .373 BABIP, but his prospect stock is firmly tied up in his power, which has yet to make an appearance in his brief pro career.
2023 stats: .297/.375/.313 (102 wRC+) in 72 PA with 0 HR and 1 SB
Outlook: Jimenez is the only hitter on this list who's producing at an above-average level offensively, and he's clearing that bar by a narrow margin. The middle infielder's power is negligible as he's produced seven home runs in 1,029 minor-league at-bats and he has just one extra-base hit this season.
What the Blue Jays are seeing out of Jimenez now isn't necessarily disappointing as he's holding his own at a new level, but if he can't find any more power in his bat, his margin for error for having any kind of offensive utility becomes extremely low.
All in all, Jimenez is doing OK, but a lot of air has come out of the balloon since he hit an absurd .315/.517/.381 at Low-A in 2021.
2023 stats: 8.53 ERA in 12.2 IP with 18 Ks and 5 BBs
Outlook: Macko's ugly ERA doesn't reflect his limited work thus far. He's given up a .471 BABIP despite the fact more than half of his batted balls against have come on the ground.
The strikeout and walk numbers are solid and he has yet to concede a home run, so this is a case where the Blue Jays are probably happy with what they're seeing despite the hits and runs Macko has allowed.
The southpaw has struggled to avoid allowing free passes with a 4.8 BB/9 in his minor-league career. How well he's able to harness his stuff may determine how quickly he moves.
2023 stats: .089/.169/.266 (17 wRC+) in 110 PA with 4 HR and 0 SB
Outlook: The fact Martinez is carrying a .055 BABIP around, even this early in the season, suggests that misfortune has dogged him in 2023. That said, he's still striking out plenty (24.4%), and his line-drive rate is virtually non-existent (7.3%).
Right now he's hitting everything in the air with 58.8% of his batted balls classified as flyballs. The problem is his popup rate (28.1%) dwarfs his home run rate (12.5%) on those flyballs. His natural power should even that up a bit, but popups have always been a huge problem as he constantly swings for the fences.
Martinez still has youth and raw tools on his side, but this is a tough showing for a guy repeating a level. He hasn't produced an above-average wRC+ since he posted a 149 mark at Low-A in 2021.
2023 stats: .192/.236/.250 (18 wRC+) in 110 PA with 0 HR and 1 SB
Outlook: There were times during spring training when López looked like he might crack the big-league roster as the 26th man, but the Blue Jays opted for Nathan Lukes instead.
The infielder's start at Triple-A has been nothing short of awful. While much of his value comes from defensive versatility and competence, he still needs to show something at the plate. This is his third time seeing this level of competition, and he's reaching an age where the term "prospect" may no longer apply to him.
López has already made MLB cameos in each of the last two seasons, and 2023 looked like a year where he might get a longer look. He'll need a radical turnaround with the bat to make that happen.
2023 stats: 3.86 ERA in 18.2 IP with 28 Ks and 5 BBs
Outlook: Juenger is having one of the most successful seasons of anyone on this list. The ERA isn't sterling, but that metric can be deceptive for relievers and he's attacked the zone effectively.
If the Blue Jays bullpen continues to have issues or encounter injuries, Juenger is putting himself in a position to get the call to the big leagues. He's not just a guy with solid minor-league stats either, as he features a mid-90s fastball and projects to miss some bats at the highest level.
Hayden Juenger started the season opening games to build up his arm. He’s now in the back of the bullpen, used in leverage situations. He moves the ball around, and gets plenty of whiffs on his mid 90s FB as a result. pic.twitter.com/dUJyOKfBc6
— D.M. Fox (@DMFox705) September 10, 2022
The Blue Jays called up veteran Jay Jackson when Zach Pop went down with a hamstring injury, which suggests they are in no hurry with Juenger, but he's building a case even though he's not on the 40-man roster yet.
2023 stats: .188/.274/.375 (77 wRC+) in 73 PA with 3 HR and 0 SB
Outlook: Doughty had some helium entering this season after being selected 78th overall in the 2022 draft and putting up strong offensive numbers (147 wRC+) at the Low-A level.
His production out of the gate this year has cratered and he's carrying around a concerning 34.2% strikeout rate. The infielder still has far too few pro at-bats to draw firm conclusions, and there's some power potential in his bat, but the whiffs are a concern.
The Blue Jays would like to see some tangible production from a guy who's not particularly young for his level.