The Blue Jays front office is known for its ability to obscure its intentions and beliefs.
By and large, that’s good business. Transparency isn’t ideal when you’re constantly try to win negotiations with your own players and opposing teams. On Monday, however, Ross Akins couldn’t help but make it known just how highly the Blue Jays value new pitching prospect Simeon Woods Richardson.
Although Woods Richardson ranks lower than Anthony Kay - the other pitcher Toronto acquired in the Marcus Stroman deal - per MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus - it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to understand who the Blue Jays are more excited about.
On a conference call about the Stroman trade, here’s what Atkins said about Woods Richardson:
"We certainly felt here in Toronto that Simeon is one of the most exciting young pitching prospects in baseball. He is right up there."
"One of the most exciting things about young players, and Simeon was one of the youngest in his draft, when he was drafted, is how much they can improve in short periods of time."
"Our projection is that he is one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball, in the minor leagues."
“What Simeon Woods Richardson has done in his short career has really pushed him up in terms of value in our organization.”
And, here’s what he said about Anthony Kay:
"In Anthony Kay we have a higher probability, we'll see what his upside is."
"We're extremely excited about his potential to help very soon. We'd never limit what his upside is. He has a great feel for the strike zone and a great pedigree. He’s coming off a really strong couple of years of performance."
"He comes right into fold with Sean Reid-Foley, Ryan Borucki, Jacob Waguespack and Thomas Pannone and will be another piece to that equation."
To be fair to Atkins, Woods Richardson and Kay are very different types of prospects. It’s obviously easier to dream on an 18-year-old than someone six years his elder. However, when you’re calling one prospects “one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball”, even with the qualifier “in the minor leagues” and you’re comparing the other to a quartet like Reid-Foley, Borucki, Waguespack and Pannone that says something.
That comparison certainly has to do with timeline, but if Atkins saw Kay as a top-of-the-rotation or even mid-rotation guy, he would have used different language. It’s in his interest to pump Kay’s tires in the wake of a difficult PR situation for the Blue Jays, but he remained very cautious. The line “we’d never limit what his upside is” is only applied in situations where questioning his upside is warranted.
Kay’s ceiling is an open debate given his age (24) and the fact he’s only now getting his feet wet at the Triple-A level, and struggling there. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for him to be a contributor for the Blue Jays, but making the majors at an early age is one of the best predictors of success. That’s part of the reason there’s so much optimism about Vladimir Guerrero Jr., even if he hasn’t been an instant star.
Woods Richardson, on the other hand, is already putting up excellent numbers - like a 11.14 K/9 and 2.59 FIP - in full-season ball before his 19th birthday, which is a rare feat. Even though the right-hander is a ways away from the majors, it makes sense that the Blue Jays would see him as the horse they’re betting on.
Considering Stroman’s stature, both in the context of the Blue Jays and around baseball, there was a lot of pressure on the club to get at least one impact prospect in return for him.
Although they aren’t saying it explicitly, it’s pretty clear the team views Woods Richardson as the player most likely to fit that description.
More Blue Jays coverage from Yahoo Sports Canada