TORONTO — Even though it’s been the exact opposite with the on-field product at the big-league level, Toronto Blue Jays prospect watchers have been absolutely spoiled over the last two years.
From Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s rise to the top prospect in baseball to Bo Bichette and Nate Pearson going from good prospects to top 10 in the sport, the developmental machine put in place by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins continues to chug along, despite all the graduations.
Across baseball, the Jays are starting to earn a reputation that mirrors many of the top developmental organizations like the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers: When players arrive in the Jays’ system, they tend to get better.
There’s evidence of that at every level of the minor leagues and it’s impossible to chalk up as just coincidence.
Finding a way to consistently coax improvements out of already highly regarded prospects once you get hands on them is the highest praise possible in the industry. It involves all sorts of developmental aspects, everything from swing changes and pitch usage to dieting and sport psychology.
It’s already an impressive track record, and there’s more coming.
Now that the Jays have graduated the vaunted Big Four to the big leagues in Vladdy Jr., Bichette, Pearson and Cavan Biggio, the question becomes: Who will be The Next Big Thing to emerge from the pipeline?
Over the next two days, we’ll single out six players – three bats and three arms – with the ability to become the next much-ballyhooed prospect in the baseball world and join Toronto’s burgeoning young core at the big-league level.
None of these names are secrets, but here’s why they could be stars.
Age: 21 (03/23/99) Acquired: Drafted fifth overall in 2020
Height: 6-foot-0 Weight: 170 lb.
Potential future positions: 2B, OF, 3B
Best tool: Hit
Ceiling comparison: Alex Bregman
Floor comparison: Josh Harrison
Let’s start with trying to explain the ceiling/floor comparisons because they’re sure to draw some interest.
Two things: 1) The ceiling comparison is an absolute max out if everything goes right and these players become stars. It’s never the likely outcome, but it’s a 90th percentile outcome that’s on the table. 2) The floor for any prospect is never making the major leagues, no matter how high a player was drafted or how big his signing bonus was. Sometimes things go sideways unexpectedly and it’s hard to see it coming. The floor comparison is an effort to find a similar type of player at the big-league level, but one who’s more of a role player with similar skills.
With no minor-league at-bats to take advantage of, we know less about Martin at this time post-draft than we normally would, but one thing we do know is the fifth-overall pick is already seen as one of baseball’s premier prospects.
Baseball America ran him all the way up to No. 16 in their initial post-draft top 100, while MLB Pipeline installed Martin at No. 20.
And with good reason.
There was a case for Martin to be the No. 1 overall pick and no one will be surprised five years from now if he’s proving he should have been.
With one of the best hit tools in the draft, a great idea of the strike zone and a penchant for making hard contact, Martin is a well-rounded prospect who gives the Blue Jays future options with his defensive versatility.
If there are questions, they’re very similar to Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman coming out of LSU. What position will he play and how much power will he have?
As a college shortstop in the SEC, Bregman hit 21 home runs over three seasons.
Playing in the same circuit at Vandy, Martin hit 14 homers over his three seasons, a number, of course, impacted by the pandemic and only 16 games played this year, or the totals may have been nearly identical.
The point is, Bregman, drafted second overall in 2015, went out in his first full pro season in 2016 and bashed 14 home runs in 62 games at Double-A (with a .263 isolated power mark), putting to rest any doubts about his power and quickly turning into an important player for the Astros later that year when he arrived in the big leagues.
From their size to the position to the power to the timeline, there are so many similarities.
Let’s hope minor-league games are played from the get-go next spring and Martin gets a chance to do the same.
If it doesn’t click, there seems to be a high floor, too, and Martin could be a versatile defender with gap power and the ability to hit for average.
Age: 20 (11/10/99) Acquired: Drafted 12th overall in 2018
Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 205 lb.
Potential future positions: 3B, 2B, SS
Best tool: Arm
Ceiling comparison: Kris Bryant
Floor comparison: Brandon Drury
One thing you’ll quickly notice about the three players here is they all profile well at the hot corner.
That depth-chart pileup is a good problem to have and will sort itself out eventually, but Groshans could be the cleanest fit at third base with an excellent arm, a 6-foot-3 frame with shortstop skills, and the power in the bat needed to profile there offensively.
The two comparisons thrown around by scouts are exciting because Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant, a lean, lanky type like Groshans, and Josh Donaldson are both former MVPs.
Hard to be offended by those if you’re Groshans.
This was supposed to be the summer that the 2018 first-rounder put himself on the fast track with a quick promotion from High-A to Double-A, but the pandemic has wiped out that opportunity, like so many others.
Even so, Groshans, who’s part of the 60-man player pool and currently getting some manufactured development time at the club’s alternate training site in Rochester, N.Y., could move quickly once he gets rolling.
Baseball America is already all-in on the Texas high school product, pushing him up to No. 30 overall on their latest top 100, thanks to his .309/.376/.457 slash line since entering pro ball two years ago.
A concerning foot injury ruined most of Groshans’ 2019 campaign, but that issue seems to be in the rear-view as the 20-year-old has been full-go since spring training started with no flare-ups.
Even though Groshans is still currently playing shortstop and is very athletic for his size, the Jays were working him at third base with the MLB coaching staff during summer camp in Toronto and he could easily be a plus defender there with his footwork and 60-grade arm.
If things don’t click, well, you’re watching it in Brandon Drury.
Age: 18 (11/19/01) Acquired: IFA 2018 ($3.5 million)
Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 188 lb.
Potential future positions: 3B, 2B, RF
Best tool: Power
Ceiling comparison: Jose Bautista
Floor comparison: Jurickson Profar
The Jays first laid eyes on Martinez as a 14-year-old on an academy team in the Dominican Republic and saw a young kid with pop and the ability to consistently barrel up baseballs.
After giving him $3.5 million to sign two summers ago, Martinez proved that assessment was correct when he went out as a 17-year-old in the Gulf Coast League last summer against players two-and-a-half years older than him, on average, and authored a .901 OPS.
It impressed in a couple of ways.
The exit velocities Martinez was scorching off his right-handed bat were big time, both peak and on average, while he was also able to produce numbers, posting a .275/.352/.549 slash line with eight doubles, seven homers and five triples.
That’s notable because GCL games are played in unenviable environments down in Florida, with games on the backfields starting around noon in sweltering summer heat, which can mute offensive production.
His seven homers were tied for second in the league.
Above, it says Martinez’s best tool is power, but at this point it’s really an even power/hit split and which way that leans in the future will depend on the development goals.
With good bat speed and a control of the strike zone that belies his years, Martinez is an exciting offensive package, something you’d expect when a 16-year-old is given the biggest bonus in his international signing class.
Similar to Groshans, the cleanest fit defensively looks to be third base, but the growth of his teenage frame — he won’t turn 19 until November — and where prospects settle in ahead of him will help dictate that.
When you combine the bat speed, plate discipline, infield hands and arm strength, there are Jose Bautista vibes, and any Joey Bats comparison is sure to make Blue Jays fans giddy.
There’s a ways to go before that comp and a well-manicured beard are anything more than something fun to completely dream on, but like Groshans a level ahead of him — Martinez was likely to start at Low-A Lansing had this season not been wiped out — his prospect stock could blow up if he continues to produce in full-season baseball.
That could make him The Next Big Thing.