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Prospect all-star team highlights top performances in Blue Jays’ system

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TORONTO — The 2019 season will always be remembered as the year the future arrived.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the end of April.

Cavan Biggio at the end of May.

Bo Bichette at the end of July.

That much-talked-about minor-league system, which Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and president Mark Shapiro have pointed to time and again as the reason for optimism, has finally spat out the names baseball fans in Toronto have awaited.

While it didn’t translate into wins or the American League Rookie of the Year award for Guerrero like many had expected, the shift from the veteran core that went to the postseason in two straight Octobers to the baby-faced group expected to be the future is complete.

Now the hard work begins.

Creative roster building via trades and free agency will be needed for this franchise to take the next step, but the pipeline will continue to be the focus in order to make this a sustainable operation.

So what’s left?

Well, it’s not the same star-studded minor-league system it was a year ago, but the pitching depth has improved and there were a number of under-the-radar performances across the Blue Jays’ eight affiliate clubs this season that deserve attention and a spot on our annual organizational prospect all-star team.

First things first, you have to be a prospect still.

That’s why you won’t find the Bichettes, Biggios, or Guerreros of the world, as all three of those names, and a handful more, have surpassed the 130-at-bat or 50-innings-pitched thresholds this season.

Since it’s a prospect team, preference is given to the top 50 or so names in the system, but that doesn’t rule out a fringe prospect or a recent draftee who hasn’t had much time to make the impact needed to jump up outsiders’ prospect lists.

There’s a number them dotting this 25-man active roster.

In that same vein, a player’s prospect pedigree doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed a spot on this annual list of organizational all-stars (check out last year’s team here).

Jordan Groshans, by far the best bat in the system, didn’t play enough games after being shut down in May due to a left foot injury that was described as a stress issue in the navicular bone, an area at the top of the foot.

A handful of the organization’s top pitching prospects — 2019 first-rounder Alek Manoah, Brazilian bonus baby Eric Pardinho, and high-upside right-hander Adam Kloffenstein — simply didn’t haul enough innings, despite solid performances.

For the most part, players are also placed at their primary position, unless creativity is needed thanks to a lack of options.

After the roster was put together, Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim provides his take and some insight on each player’s 2019 campaign.

C - Alejandro Kirk, A/A

2019 Stats: .290/.403/.465, 7 HR, 39 XBH, 44 RBI, 56 BB, 39 K

Why he made the team: More walks than strikeouts is always a good thing, but when you pair the refined plate discipline with some pop and an improving defensive reputation you have a standout year. He’s got work to do defensively and his body type comp is the portly Willians Astudillo, so he’s no lock prospect-wise, but you can’t quibble with the 2016 signee out of Mexico’s production to this point.

Kim: “He continued to show good feel for the strike zone while learning which pitches he can do damage with. Defensively, he made positive strides with his game-calling and ability to lead a pitching staff.”

1B - Yorman Rodriguez, A-/A

2019 Stats: .360/.387/.502, 5 HR, 22 XBH, 40 RBI, 11 BB, 18 K

Why he made the team: Not to be confused with the Yorman Rodriguez that had a cup of coffee with the Cincinnati Reds a half-decade ago, the Jays’ Rodriguez is a contact machine, producing a 7.1 per cent strikeout rate across two levels this season. After pounding Northwest League pitching to the tune of a .369 average and a .915 OPS, Rodriguez also fared well in a 22-game stint at Low-A Lansing with a .344/.354/.490 slash line.

Kim: “Yorman showed a natural feel for finding the barrel and using the whole field, and we were able to take advantage of his versatility by playing him both behind the plate and at first base.”

2B - Miguel Hiraldo, Rookie/A

2019 Stats: .299/.346/.485, 7 HR, 29 XBH, 37 RBI, 14 BB, 36 K

Why he made the team: The fresh-faced Hiraldo, who was handed $750,000 to sign during the 2017 July 2 international free-agent period, spent the majority of his age-18 summer at rookie-level Bluefield, where he looked like the bat-first prospect he was expected to be. Where he plays defensively is a legit question, and the Jays tested him out by giving him 30 starts at second base (nine errors), after splitting his time between short and third in his 2018 debut. He might be an outfielder when all is said and done.

Kim: “His tireless work with manager Luis Hurtado in Bluefield paid dividends, and we were very encouraged with the positive strides he made with his pre-pitch setup and body control on defence. We saw Miguel’s power potential continue to develop as he showed the ability to make consistent hard contact versus Appy League pitching.”

3B - Orelvis Martinez, Rookie

2019 Stats: .275/.352/.549, 7 HR, 20 XBH, 32 RBI, 14 BB, 29 K

Why he made the team: Get on the Orelvis hype train while there’s still room because seats are filling up fast. You don’t hand a prospect $3.5 million to sign if you don’t believe in his tools, and Martinez quickly turned tools into production in his first year of pro baseball. The pop in the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder’s bat is legit, and his ability to barrel up the baseball isn’t something you usually see a 17-year-old do as regularly as Martinez did in the Gulf Coast League this summer. Even though he was a level above in Bluefield during his age-17 debut in 2016, Guerrero’s eight homers in 62 games are quite similar to Martinez’s seven bombs in 40 games.