2006 Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports


Chat Wrap: Matt Eddy took your Blue Jays questions


Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.


The Blue Jays recovered from an abominable, injury-marred 2004 to win 80 games and reclaim third place in the American League East in 2005. They hung around the fringes of the wild-card race late into the season, even after losing ace Roy Halladay to a broken left tibia.

Coming on the heels of a 94-loss season, an 80-82 season had to be considered progress. But Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi acknowledged his club was still a few pieces short of contending with the tantalizingly fallible Red Sox and Yankees. “If we bring the whole team back with Halladay healthy we win 85, 87 games,” Ricciardi said. “It’s our goal to be better than that.”

That’s just what Ricciardi and the Blue Jays set out to do in the offseason. They identified their biggest needs as two additional hitters and a No. 2 starter. Buoyed by its purchase of SkyDome and the stronger showing of the Canadian dollar, the club’s owner, Rogers Communications, had budgeted $210 million for the big league payroll over the next three seasons. That’s a big step up from the 2005 payroll of $45.7 million, the sixth-lowest in baseball.

Ricciardi didn’t hesitate to spend the extra money. He gave out the two biggest contracts to free-agent pitchers, doling out $55 million to A.J. Burnett and $47 million to B.J. Ryan in five-year deals. Ricciardi also moved to bolster the offense by trading past first-round picks Gabe Gross and Zach Jackson, along with David Bush, to get Lyle Overbay from the Brewers.

Ricciardi had to look outside the organization for answers because while his farm system has some depth, it offers precious little frontline talent. But in an encouraging sign, more young players contributed to the Blue Jays in 2005 than at any point in Ricciardi’s four-year tenure. Russ Adams, Aaron Hill and Alex Rios established themselves as regulars in the lineup. Gustavo Chacin made 34 starts, a club record for rookies, and finished fifth in AL rookie-of-the-year balloting. No. 1 prospect Dustin McGowan, just 14 months recovered from Tommy John surgery, was thrust into the rotation in August.

On the farm, Toronto’s six affiliates finished with an aggregate winning record for the third straight season, and two teams—high Class A Dunedin and short-season Auburn—made the playoffs. The Blue Jays have shifted their focus in four years under Ricciardi, seeking mature college players capable of climbing the ladder quickly. Toronto also has been more active on the international market of late, signing big-ticket Taiwanese pitchers Chi-Hung Cheng ($400,000) and Po-Hsuan Keng ($225,000) in November 2003, and power-hitting Dominican third baseman Leance Soto for $600,000 last spring.

The Blue Jays can’t expect to find everything they’re shopping for on the free-agent market, and they’re prepared to trade prospects as needed. It’s no longer about development with the Blue Jays. It’s time to win, and they are betting 2005 was a sign of better things to come.


 

1. DUSTIN McGOWAN, rhp      Born: March 24, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220
Drafted: HS—Ludowici, Ga., 2000 (1st round supp.)   Signed by: Chris Buckley/Joe Siers

Background: McGowan ranked as the organization’s No. 1 prospect entering 2003, and he finished that season strong by going 7-0 in Double-A. He started strong in 2004 and seemed on the verge of his first big league promotion when a torn elbow ligament halted his progress. He had Tommy John surgery in May 2004 and didn’t return to the field until June 2005. Interestingly, the Blue Jays nearly voided his first pro contract ($950,000 as a supplemental first-round pick in 2000) when they discovered he had an inflamed elbow. It’s conceivable that he may now be pitching with a healthy elbow for the first time as a pro. McGowan rehabbed vigorously from surgery, as evidenced by his relatively brief 13-month recovery period, working without a ball to refine his mechanics. His focal points were working to stay back during his delivery so his arm could catch up to his body, and getting on top of his pitches to deliver them on more of a downhill plane. McGowan pitched respectably in his first taste of the majors, going 61/3 innings in his debut to register the win, but seemed more relaxed on the mound when he moved to the bullpen in September to limit his workload. In his final appearance of the year, he struck out all four batters he faced with electric stuff.

Strengths: McGowan has overpowering frontline stuff and pitches down in the zone with explosive life. He has four major league weapons to attack hitters with, starting with a 92-94 mph four-seam fastball that he frequently dials up to 96 in relief. His fast-developing change is already his second pitch, and it’s an effective weapon against lefthanders. He maintains fastball arm speed with the pitch. McGowan’s breaking stuff is less consistent but does show promise. He gets good rotation on a downer curve, though his 86-88 mph slider has more the look of a potential out pitch. When it’s working for him, his slider features sharp two-plane break. McGowan is athletic, quiet and diligent, and he has shown the aptitude to make adjustments to his level of competition.

Weaknesses: Like many young power pitchers, McGowan struggles to command his fastball, and sometimes his heater lacks movement. Big league hitters weren’t as prone to chasing his breaking stuff out of the strike zone as minor leaguers were, so he’ll need to get ahead in the count with his fastball. He’s also seeking more consistency with his breaking pitches. The Blue Jays believe his curve and slider will be better than average once he learns to command them in the strike zone.

The Future: McGowan showed a lot of growth in 2005, but he still has much improvement in front of him. He’ll need to refine his fastball command if he’s to become the front-of-the-rotation starter the Blue Jays envision. He’ll compete for a rotation spot in spring training, but would benefit from a few months pitching at Triple-A Syracuse.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Dunedin (Hi A) 0 1 4.29 5 5 0 0 21 21 2 5 20 .253
New Hampshire (AA) 0 2 3.34 6 6 0 0 35 35 6 10 33 .263
Toronto 1 3 6.35 13 7 0 0 45 49 7 17 34 .277

 

2. RICKY ROMERO, lhp        Born: November 6, 1984 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195
Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: Demerius Pittman

Background: A second-team All-American as a junior, Romero was the first pitcher selected in the 2005 draft. The Blue Jays took him sixth overall and signed him for a club-record $2.4 million. He was one of Cal State Fullerton’s two aces on its 2004 national championship team.


Strengths:
Romero is poised on the mound and attacks hitters with command of three above-average pitches. He moves his fastball in and out and usually throws it at 90-92 mph. He gets late action in the zone with his two-seamer. His power downer curve is sometimes his second pitch, while other times it’s his changeup, which he uses to combat righthanders.
Weaknesses:
Romero doesn’t have dominant stuff. While his delivery is efficient now, the Jays are working to get his fastball on a more downward plane. After a heavy amateur workload, Toronto limited him to a strict 50-60 pitch count during his debut.
The Future:
Romero likely will return to high Class A Dunedin to start 2006; with a strong spring, he could start in Double-A. He should move quickly and is a safe bet to reach his ceiling as a No. 3 starter.
2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Auburn (SS) 0 0 0.00 1 1 0 0 2 2 0 1 2 .250
Dunedin (Hi A) 1 0 3.82 8 8 0 0 31 36 2 7 22 .283

 

3. DAVID PURCEY, lhp    Born: April 22, 1982 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt: 240
Drafted: Oklahoma, 2004 (1st round)  Signed by: Ty Nichols

Background: After turning down lucrative offers to turn pro with the Mariners (out of high school) and the Yankees (as a draft-eligible sophomore), Purcey signed with the Blue Jays for $1.6 million as the 16th overall pick in 2004. He started his first full season in high Class A and reached Double-A by the end of July.


Strengths:
Purcey’s 91-93 mph fastball tops out at 95 and explodes on batters as it arrives at the plate. He also generates awkward swings and misses with his plus 12-to-6 curveball, one of the best in the system. He has the makings of a quality changeup and has good arm speed with the pitch, but it’s not as advanced as his other offerings.
Weaknesses:
Command has been by far Purcey’s biggest stumbling block, in part because he has difficulty repeating his release point. The Blue Jays are also working with him to improve his pitch efficiency and stamina by not maxing out on every pitch.
The Future:
Purcey is a physical pitcher with power stuff. He won’t reach his potential as a No. 2 starter if he doesn’t consistently throw strikes. He almost certainly will begin 2006 back in Double-A.

 

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Dunedin (Hi A) 5 4 3.63 21 21 0 0 94 80 8 56 116 .229
New Hampshire (AA) 4 3 2.93 8 8 1 9 43 32 2 25 45 .205

 

4. ADAM LIND, of/1b        Born: June 17, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195
Drafted: South Alabama, 2004 (3rd round)   Signed by: Joel Grampietro

Background: One year after Lind signed with the Blue Jays as a draft-eligible sophomore, he has become the best hitting prospect in the organization. He led the high Class A Florida State League in doubles and extra-base hits while ranking second in batting average and hits.


Strengths:
Lind has the quickest bat in the system, making him Toronto’s only position prospect with star potential. Described as a natural-born hitter by one Jays official, he uses a picture-perfect lefthanded swing to make hard contact to all fields. He’s doesn’t panic when he falls behind in the count, as his advanced two-strike approach allows him to be more selective and get pitches to hit.
Weaknesses:
Lind’s desire to improve defensively has been questioned. To his credit, he worked doggedly to improve his left-field play, taking two rounds of batting-practice flyballs a day to hone his jumps and routes. His arm is fringy and he’s a below-average runner.
The Future:
Lind is expected to start at Double-A to begin 2006. The Blue Jays see him as their left fielder of the future and a middle-of-the-order presence capable of hitting .300 with 40 doubles and 20 homers. If his glove proves unplayable in left, he may return to first base.
2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Dunedin (Hi A) .313 .375 .487 495 80 155 42 4 12 84 49 77 2 1

 

5. JOSH BANKS, rhp        Born: July 18, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195
Drafted: Florida International, 2003 (2nd round)   Signed by: Tony Arias

Background: A strained elbow ligament in 2002 and recurring blisters on his pitching hand may have scared some teams off, but the Blue Jays snagged Banks in the second round of the 2003 draft. He has shown improvement in each of his first three pro seasons.


Strengths:
Banks is one of the minors’ finest control pitchers and went eight straight starts without a walk last year. In the second half, he began to pitch down in the zone more effectively, something he didn’t do in his first taste of Double-A in 2004. Banks commands both sides of the plate with a solid-average fastball that sits at 90-91 mph and touches 93. His splitter is a major league out pitch.
Weaknesses:
Banks made strides with his fringy curveball late in the season, gaining the confidence to go to it when behind in the count. Less frequently, he’ll go to his slider or changeup. He’s still perfecting his pitch sequencing. He’s vulnerable to homers, perhaps because he was so resistant to giving up walks.
The Future:
The durable Banks finished among Eastern League leaders in innings, strikeouts and complete games. He’s bound for Triple-A and the Jays are excited about his future as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Hampshire (AA) 8 12 3.83 27 27 2 0 162 159 18 11 145 .256

 

6. CASEY JANSSEN, rhp      Born: September 17, 1981 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 205
Drafted: UCLA, 2004 (4th round)    Signed by: Billy Gasparino

Background: A two-way player at UCLA his first three seasons, Janssen devoted full attention to pitching his senior season. He went from a 49th-round pick by the Orioles in 2003 to a fourth-rounder by the Jays in 2004 to one of the system’s best prospects in 2005, when his 2.18 ERA ranked fourth in the minors.


Strengths:
Janssen commands four pitches for strikes. He creates good natural cutting movement on his 89-91 mph two-seam fastball. He throws a solid-average slider with good bite, a changeup with tailing action and an average though soft curveball. He follows a gameplan when he pitches, keeps the ball on the ground and is adept at holding runners.
Weaknesses:
None of Janssen’s four pitches projects as above average, and it’s uncertain how his stuff will play against more advanced hitters who swing and miss less frequently. He wore down a bit as the season progressed, so he needs to get stronger.
The Future:
With his ability to throw strikes, Janssen looks like a future No. 4 starter in the majors. He’ll open the season in Double-A.
2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lansing (Lo A) 4 0 1.37 7 7 0 0 46 27 0 4 38 .174
Dunedin (Hi A) 6 1 2.26 10 10 0 0 60 46 2 12 51 .216
New Hampshire (AA) 3 3 2.93 9 9 0 0 43 49 3 4 47 .288

 

7. BRANDON LEAGUE, rhp       Born: March 16, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS—Honolulu, 2001 (2nd round)  Signed by: David Blume

Background: No. 1 on this list a year ago, League saw his progress stall after his callup to Toronto at the end of 2004. He made the Jays’ Opening Day roster in 2005, struggled in the majors and never got back on track in Triple-A. Switching roles from starter to reliever and back probably hasn’t helped his development.


Strengths:
League has a special arm. He throws everything hard. He popped 101 mph on the radar gun in the big leagues and typically sits at 94-96 mph with diving action in the strike zone when he’s on. His hard slider clocks in at 88-91 mph. League’s changeup has sinking action and is thrown so hard (88-92 mph) it looks like a two-seam fastball.
Weaknesses:
League gets in trouble when he can’t locate his pitches. He can’t get away with pitching up in the zone because his stuff flattens out. He doesn’t consistently repeat his low three-quarters release point and is far more hittable than he should be with his stuff.
The Future:
The club still thinks League will one day close in the majors. They believe that with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and a veteran staff, they have the support system in place to facilitate his growth.
2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Toronto 1 0 6.56 20 0 0 0 36 42 8 20 17 .302
Syracuse (AAA) 4 4 5.71 19 10 0 0 63 78 7 18 35 .306

 

8. FRANCISCO ROSARIO, rhp    Born: September 28, 1980 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999   Signed by: Tony Arias

Background: Rosario was just starting to blossom in 2002 when he injured his elbow in the Arizona Fall League and required Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t fully recovered the feel for his stuff. The Blue Jays neglected to call him up in 2005 despite the need to bolster their bullpen.


Strengths:
Rosario was shifted to the bullpen in August to begin grooming him for a late-inning relief role. He throws his plus fastball at 93-96 mph. To complement his heater, he throws an above-average 86-88 mph changeup with late action and an 85-88 mph slider. All of his pitches were sharper when he worked in relief.
Weaknesses:
Despite his arm strength and velocity, Rosario has a tendency to lose life and command on his fastball. He also lacks feel for his secondary stuff, especially his slider. Some observers think he pitches as if he fears hurting his elbow again.
The Future:
Because he missed the entire 2003 season, Rosario has one option remaining, so he won’t have to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the big league team in spring training. He should open the season in the Triple-A bullpen.
2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Syracuse (AAA) 2 7 3.95 30 18 0 2 116 111 16 42 80 .258

 

9. CURTIS THIGPEN, c       Born: April 19, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190
Drafted: Texas, 2004 (2nd round)   Signed by: Andy Beene

Background: A member of three College World Series teams in three years at Texas, Thigpen saw more action at first base because the Longhorns had one of college baseball’s top defensive catchers in Taylor Teagarden. Thigpen has taken to full-time catching even better than the Blue Jays expected, throwing out 40 percent of basestealers and reaching Double-A in his first full pro season.


Strengths:
Strike-zone judgment and athleticism are Thigpen’s calling cards. He’s a line-drive hitter with a short stroke and gap power. He’s a cerebral catcher who studies ways to set up opposing hitters, and he works well with his pitchers. He’s versatile enough to play anywhere but shortstop and center field.
Weaknesses:
Thigpen is agile behind the plate and has made strides with his footwork, but still can improve his receiving skills. When his mechanics break down, his arm can rate as slightly below-average.
The Future:
The Jays see Thigpen as an everyday catcher and will give him every opportunity to succeed. His strong finish at Double-A was encouraging. He’ll likely start 2006 back with New Hampshire.
2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Lansing (Lo A) .287 .397 .413 293 41 84 18 2 5 35 54 34 5 0
New Hampshire (AA) .284 .340 .426 141 18 40 8 0 4 15 9 19 0 0

 

10. VINCE PERKINS, rhp       Born: September 27, 1981 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 220
Drafted: Lake City (Fla.) CC, D/F 2000 (18th round)    Signed by: Chris Buckley/Joe Siers

Background: Perkins was a Little League and high school teammate of Rich Harden while growing up in British Columbia. Perkins reached Double-A in 2005, though he missed time with a strained ribcage after having back and elbow injuries in 2004.


Strengths:
Perkins’ power arm rivals any in the system. The action on Perkins’ heavy 93-96 mph sinking fastball has been likened to a bowling ball, and it’s a true out pitch. He throws two average secondary pitches: a hard 86-87 mph slider and a developing changeup. He gets high marks for his mound presence and makeup.
Weaknesses:
Pitch efficiency never has been Perkins’ strong suit because he struggles with his command. Despite having a prototypical pitcher’s frame, he doesn’t have ideal mechanics. He often throws across his body and his shoulder flies open when he uses his slider. He needs to slow the pace of his delivery and repeat his motion.
The Future:
Command is often the last thing to come for power pitchers, and the Blue Jays are optimistic Perkins will figure it out. If not, he could have a bright future in the bullpen. His spring-training performance will determine if he’s ready for Triple-A.
2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Hampshire (AA) 7 7 4.03 26 24 0 0 132 124 9 51 111 .250

Photo Credits:
Banks, Perkins, Romero: Rich Abel
Rosario: Mike Janes
Janssen, McGowan, Purcey, Thigpen: Kevin Pataky
Lind: Rodger Wood

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