The Toronto Blue Jays are trending in the right direction as an organization. In 2020’s COVID-shortened season, the big-league club finished with an above-.500 record for the first time since 2016 while also cracking their way into the expanded postseason. The team has plenty of young talent at the big league level, and a lot more to come. I recently visited Somerset, NJ to check out Toronto’s AA New Hampshire squad. It was the same night my colleague Jim Zele attended, which he covered in his At The Ballpark report earlier in the week. Below are some notes on two of the top prospects in the Jays system.
Austin Martin, SS
The 5th overall pick in the 2020 Draft, Martin possesses an impressive array of tools that aren’t hard to spot out on the diamond. He’s the type of player that checked every box for the Blue Jays went they went on the clock last June. Martin was widely expected not to fall to them at 5, so you could imagine the reaction in the draft room once he did.
Strong performance against good competition is what jumped off the page to evaluators, initially. Putting up big numbers for three years in the SEC with Vanderbilt is going to catch the eye of any evaluator, even before they go in to see him play. Martin slashed .338/.452/.414 over a full season as a freshman with the Commodores in 2018, then greatly improved upon that as a sophomore, posting a .392/.486/.604 in his sophomore spring. Not a surprise to many who followed Martin closely, he kept up his elite offensive production in the shortened 2020 season and had himself well on his way to a high first round selection. So far this season, he is batting .289 with an OBP of .402.
Martin’s best tool is his bat which is easily plus. He has plus bat speed, advanced feel for the barrel, and some plate discipline to go along with it. He is a safe bet to hit for a high average all the way through his major league career. Martin has a big league swing, a powerful upper body, with hands and instincts to adjust regardless of pitch type and location. It is a line-drive path and I envision the Jays leaving this alone. However, he is the type that would likely not have a hard time adjusting to a new swing. Martin has one of the best bats in all of minor league baseball.
Martin showed positional versatility in college, playing all over the infield and even some center field. He is the type of athlete and ballplayer that can handle essentially wherever you put him. With strong instincts and ability, he strikes me as a player that can hold his own at SS. He can be an average defender at shortstop with potential for better if moved to 2B or CF. Being moved elsewhere is the more likely scenario because he may have some issues cracking the SS position with the major league Jays, by no fault of his own. Martin’s arm was regularly solid-average to above average in my look.
It is not too hard to find some parallels in the profiles of Martin and current Jays SS Bo Bichette. Bichette’s carrying tool is his bat and more specifically his elite bat speed. Bichette also had some questions surrounding his ability to stick at SS coming up through the system. (Clearly, Bichette proved all the defense critics wrong.) Both are the type that generates most of their power from their hands. Lastly, they are both able to show off their juice in games, and not just in BP.
Martin projects as an above-average major league second baseman. He should hit over .300 with 25-ish HRs, giving him similar annual offensive production to that of Xander Bogaerts.
Moreno signed with the Blue Jays as a 16-year-old from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. He traveled stateside in 2018, posting big numbers in the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League. The Jays took notice in 2019, rewarding him with a full season in the Midwest League, where he slashed .280/.337/.485 in 307 ABs. Moreno put up impressive power numbers that season, with 17 doubles and 12 home runs, while also stealing 7 bags. This season, Moreno is batting an impressive .389 with 3 home runs for AA New Hampshire.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Moreno before I showed up at the ballpark. However, it did not take me long to notice that Martin was not the only future big leaguer on the field. Moreno displays advanced bat-to-ball skills. He really knows how to use his hands and has the ability to adjust to spin. His plate discipline is where he has some room for improvement, but he should have at least an average MLB hit tool. I didn’t get a great look at his power, but based on his swing and quality of contact, I predict he has average power.
Behind the plate, Moreno’s glove is fringy, however, his mobility and quickness helps it play up. I have some concerns about just how good he’ll be on defense, but his arm will not hold him back. It is an above-average arm when he gets his feet set.
Moreno is a safe bet to be at least a quality bench player. However, there is a well-above zero chance that he can develop into a regular in the majors. There are very few current MLB catchers with a solid-average bat and some power. It is important to take that context into account. Moreno should be just good enough to stick back there.
The Fisher Cats are certainly one of the most talented squads in the minors. I would highly recommend heading out to see them in person if you get the chance!