Shortstop is the position at which the Blue Jays have a much deeper farm system that most teams. Most of the more elite talent is still filtering up from the lower end of the system but it makes for an extremely exciting future.
Not everyone on this list is going to end up at shortstop in the long term. In fact, most writers and scouts think that a couple of the Blue Jays’ brightest young infield prospects will almost certainly not end up as shortstops. That said, I don’t anticipate the Blue Jays moving any of them off the position this year and this list will reflect how I think the club is going to treat the players in 2014.
The first list will be the projected starters (although I include a couple of players who could step in and play at the major league level if necessary) while the second will be players who are likely going to serve in utility roles at whatever level they’re assigned to.
2014 Toronto Blue Jays Organizational Depth Chart (projected) — Shortstop
1. Jose Reyes – ML
2. Ryan Goins – ML
3. Munenori Kawasaki – AAA
4. Jonathan Diaz – AAA
5. Kevin Nolan – AA
6. Emilio Guerrero – A+
7. Dawel Lugo – A
8. Dickie Thon – A/SS-A
9. Franklin Barreto – R+/SS-A
10. Richard Urena – R
11. Ronniel Demorizi – R
12. Yeltsin Gudino – FR
As you can see from this list, my impression of the Blue Jays’ minor league system is that it’s very heavy on foreign-born shortstops that the Blue Jays acquired through the international free agent process. From Guerrero down through Gudino, all the players are foreign players who signed on for big bonuses except for Thon who was drafted out of Puerto Rico.
I also believe that the Blue Jays, for the most part, are going to have very little platooning or time-sharing at the shortstop position. With so many high-ceiling talents and big-money investments, I think that the club is going to want to give those players as much time to play their way out of the position and a starting role as possible.
At the top of the system, I’ve included Ryan Goins on the depth chart because, even though he’s slotted in to be the every day starter at second base, he has always been a shortstop at every level of the minor leagues and he’s probably the club’s best option there if (knock on wood) Reyes misses significant time. Kawasaki showed last year that he was prone to defensive miscues and has only average range and an average arm. I can see Diaz and Kawasaki splitting time in Buffalo at shortstop.
Kevin Nolan, the every day shortstop last season in New Hamsphire will be back there after a solid but unspectacular season with the bat. In High-A Dunedin, Emilio Guerrero, who had something of a breakout second-half of the season in Lansing, should be the go-to guy there. Having seen him play in August, I’m of the opinion that his breakout was for real and that his slow first half of the season was probably due to lingering effects of a wrist injury. Guerrero hasn’t distinguished himself in the field. He’s a very tall and lanky guy but has very athletic movements and covers a respectable amount of ground despite his tendency to make throwing errors. Some think that he’s destined for third base but with Gustavo Pierre getting most of the reps there in Dunedin this year, I doubt that move will happen this year.
In Lansing, we’re going to see the first of our big-bonus Latin American shortstops in Dawel Lugo. He is solid at shortstop with good range and a strong arm but makes the occasional mental error. He has plus power potential (that I could see in-game) and elite contact ability although he isn’t nearly patient enough at the plate and that could result in a slightly below-par season for him in full-season Lansing with much better pitching that he’s seen in Bluefield and Vancouver. That said, 2014 will be his Age-19 season and he’s still very young. Like Guerrero, some writers think that Lugo will move over to third eventually but because of his age and his ability to get the job done at short so far, 2014 will not be the year that Lugo moves.
I’ve mentioned Dickie Thon before (in the column about second base) and he’s a natural shortstop who doesn’t necessarily need to change positions due to stick around but he might have to because of the depth of the shortstop position in the low minors for the Blue Jays.
Scouts think that diminutive (5’9″) shortstop Franklin Barreto is one of the most mature young hitters that the Blue Jays have but the young Venezuelan (who hasn’t even turned 18 yet) is doubtful to remain at shortstop in the long term. Scouts just don’t like his footwork on the infield but he too will likely be given at least one more year to see how he improves in the field before they move him. For Barreto, a move might be in store to the outfield as scouts think that the has the speed to play center field. Barreto’s bat was outstanding in the GCL but he struggled with the pitching in his call up to Bluefield. I can see him starting in Bluefield and moving up to Vancouver if he tears the Appy League apart in the same way that he did to the GCL.
The last two names on the list are probably a little less familiar. Urena is another young Dominican who is actually one day older than Barreto (they’ll be 18 at the end of February) and started the season in the Dominican Summer League and finished up in Dunedin. Chris King, who saw him in August, told me that he thinks Urena has the best chance of staying at shortstop of the three young Latin Americans (Lugo, Barreto and Urena). He’s shown a good stick but the at bats in North America have been limited. Finally, Gudino was the Blue Jays’ big Latin American signing in 2013, coming out of Venezuela, and he hasn’t played any professional games yet. He’ll be in the Dominican Summer League.
1. Maicer Izturis – ML
2. Steven Tolleson – AAA
3. Andy Burns – AA
4. Shane Opitz – AA/A+
5. Peter Mooney – A+
6. Jason Leblebijian – A+
7. Jorge Flores – A/A+
8. Christian Vasquez – SS-A
9. David Harris – SS-A
10. Angel Rojas – R+/SS-A
11. Trey Pascazi – R
12. Andrew Florides – R
13. Edwin Fuentes – R
14. Jean Almanzar – FR/R
15. Juan Fuente – FR/R
As you can see on this list, the Blue Jays have a lot of utility men in the organization who can play shortstop. With Maicer Izturis at the top of the list, I would probably only use him at shortstop in case of extreme emergency. The way I could see things shaking down is that Izturis would only play shortstop for an extended period of time if all three of Reyes, Goins and Kawasaki are (knock on wood) injured at the same time. Tolleson is more of a super-utility type of player (in the mold of Mike McCoy) who can play shortstop and has done it for extended periods of time but probably isn’t the guy you want manning that position daily at the major league level.
Some might be surprised to see Mooney’s name on this list rather than the “starting shortstop” list. With higher-upside shortstops bubbling up from the bottom of the system, I think Mooney might return to Dunedin and share some of the work with Emilio Guerrero but Guerrero’s bat has a much higher ceiling. Mooney may be called upon as a late-inning defensive replacement or when defense is key since Guerrero has struggled defensively over his career but I can’t see him as clear starter. I see a similar fate for Shane Opitz who has shown more with the bat than Mooney but who also hasn’t shown the same kind of upside as Guerrero. Opitz has the advantage of being able to play other positions and played every infield position in 2013.
Leblebijian and Flores have shown flashes of quality with the bat and are both, from all reports, excellent teammates and role players. Both will likely head wherever they are needed by the organization and will be able to fill multiple defensive roles and be able to contribute with the bat as well. Vasquez hasn’t shown much with the bat and Harris has shown glimpses of excellence but he’ll need to be much more consistent to earn a starting role anywhere on the diamond.
Of the players lower in the system, none have really separated themselves from the pack although Fuente put up outstanding numbers in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 and will probably be given the biggest opportunity to get more playing time.
As you can see, there’s a large group of young shortstops in the Blue Jays’ system from A-ball down that all bear watching this coming season.
Don’t forget about The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, available March 31 as an ebook at Smashwords.com, Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers for $7.99. Come back in early March for pre-order information.
All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away 2013 and may not be used without permission.