Tao of Stieb: Under-the-radar Blue Jays prospects worth following

Jon Paul Morosi explains why Steve Pearce could be moved at the MLB trade deadline because of his versatility and contract.

It’s been some time since the Blue Jays had a minor leaguer who could reasonably be considered the top prospect in baseball, so to have two players rocket up the mid-season lists like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette is momentous.

The remainder of the Blue Jays’ mid-season lists are primarily comprised of players who have shifted up or down from the most recent iterations, as well as some 2017 draft picks who have already reported to minor-league affiliates. But beyond those names, there are a few players whose stock should be rising based on their 2017 seasons.

Here are a few of the names to watch in the closing months of the minor league schedule…

Edward Olivares, OF, Lansing Lugnuts
With so much emphasis on Bo and Vlad Jr., the exemplary season of this 21-year-old from Venezuela has been lost for much of this year, but there is a reasonable argument for Olivares as a candidate for the Howard Webster Award as MVP for the affiliate.

Olivares leads all Jays minor leaguers in home runs with 16 and runs with 73, and is second to Bichette in RBI (56) and total bases (192). He also stands fifth in the system in stolen bases with 18.

Olivares is described as “lanky” and “toolsy”, with a fluid swing that benefits from getting good extension of those long limbs. Emily Waldon, who covers the Midwest League for 2080 Baseball and the Athletic Detroit, says that Olivares has “a ton of projection”, and is “a lot of fun to watch.”

“I think if he could add a little more muscle, he only becomes more dangerous,” Waldon says.

Olivares has mostly split his time between centre and right field, with the early sense that he could stick up the middle, making him that much more valuable in the long run.

This season has been somewhat of a coming out party for Olivares, who hadn’t previously played above Bluefield. As a result, his 2017 performance is likely the first opportunity many have had to notice him and he has not yet featured on top prospect lists.

Yennsy Diaz, RHP, Lansing Lugnuts
Ask around, and Diaz’s name is one of the first to come up amongst the ranks of emerging pitchers in the Jays’ system.

Ranked the Jays’ No. 25 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Diaz struggled with control last season in Bluefield, posting a 5.79 ERA in 56 innings, with 48 strikeouts and 27 walks. This season, he dropped the ERA to 3.83 in nine starts, and has raised his strikeout rate from 7.7 K/9 up to 10.2, though his walk rate has also bumped from 4.3 BB/9 to 5.1.

Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler calls Diaz’s fastball “overpowering” in the mid-to-high 90’s, “with the hint that his curve and change could be good down the road.”

Patrick Murphy, RHP, Lansing Lugnuts
Murphy is the other name that immediately gets mentioned among those watching the low minors. A smart pitcher with a fastball in the 93 m.p.h. range, the 22 year-old Murphy has a 2.87 ERA in 59.2 innings at Lansing.

Goldberg-Strassler compliments Murphy’s curveball, but notes that he has been cursed with poor health. “If he stays healthy, he’s a potential major-leaguer,” he says.

Ryan Noda, 1B/OF, Bluefield Blue Jays
A 2017 draft pick out of the University of Cincinnati, Noda has immediately posted gaudy, Bichette-ian numbers in the Appalachian League, with a 1.267 OPS, five homers, 38 runs scored and 81 total bases in 33 games thus far.

Just before this year’s draft, Noda made news with his college team when he hit a home run out of their ballpark and onto a neighbouring rooftop.

Others of note:
• RHP Jackson McClelland (1.62 ERA, 11 saves between Lansing and Dunedin) touches 97 m.p.h. with his fastball.
• In New Hampshire, 26 year-old Dominican Carlos Ramirez is converting from the outfield to pitching full-time, and has a 0.93 ERA with a 12.1 K/9 in his first season focusing on the new role.
• At 17, 6-1 RHP Felipe Castaneda from Mexico is in the process of moving from the Gulf Coast League to Bluefield, and is said to have an “advanced feel” with a much better change-up than one would expect for a player of his age.

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