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Top Ten Prospects: Toronto Blue Jays
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Michael Levesque
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, 2005.
Background: Though the Blue Jays now shy away from spending early picks on high school righthanders, League is the third in recent years to sit atop this list, joining Roy Halladay (1997-99) and Dustin McGowan (2003). Coming out of high school in Honolulu, League was committed to Pepperdine before the Blue Jays persuaded him to sign for $600,000. Toronto initially was cautious with him, taking a slow-track approach like they did with McGowan and not letting League make his full-season debut until his third year as a pro. Yet he still managed to reach the majors at age 21 and didn't look intimidated in his debut. He entered his first game at Yankee Stadium with two out, the bases loaded and Gary Sheffield looming at the plate. He overpowered Sheffield, getting a harmless grounder, and worked 1 1/3 scoreless innings. After working almost exclusively as a starter before 2004, League responded well with a move to the bullpen. The Jays hoped to accelerate his timetable by shifting him to relief, though he still made 10 starts before earning his September cup of coffee. He highlighted his breakthrough campaign by hitting 102 mph on the stadium radar gun at the Eastern League all-star game.
Strengths: League is one of the hardest throwers in the minors, and he has the potential to become either a frontline starter or dominant closer, depending on what Toronto wants. League features a heavy fastball that sits at 95-97 mph. The lively sink and running action on his heater make the pitch difficult for hitters to center. He generates his velocity and life with a lightning-quick arm and throws from a whip-like, lower three-quarters arm slot. Former Blue Jays pitching coach Gil Patterson says the movement on League’s fastball reminds him of Halladay’s. League works down in the zone and generated a 2.7 groundball/flyball ratio in Double-A. His 87-89 mph slider is also a plus pitch. He has developed an effective third pitch in his changeup, so scouts believe he won’t have to be limited to short-relief work.
Weaknesses: League’s work with pitching instructors Dane Johnson and Rick Adair contributed to his rise, but he still has further adjustments to make. He needs to a better job of maintaining his arm slot. He tends to over-rotate in his delivery and drag his arm, which keeps him from staying on top of his slider. Scouts did note that League’s delivery was much improved in 2004, as he looked cleaner and used less effort. For a guy with such an electric arm, he doesn't blow away as many hitters as might be expected.
The Future: After earning MVP honors in the Eastern League playoffs, League continued to open eyes with his performance in Toronto. He'll go to spring training with a good chance to make the big league club and figures to get his feet wet in the Jays' bullpen in 2005. With no established closer in Toronto, League's power repertoire could land him that role. But he also has enough stuff to project as a quality starter and could be more valuable in that role.
Background: Hill was the Southeastern Conference player of the year and the Jays' first-round pick in 2003, and the team drafted him with the idea he'd move quickly. He finished his first pro season at high Class A Dunedin and spent his first full year in Double-A. When Russ Adams bowed out of the Futures Game with a ribcage injury, Hill replaced him on the U.S. roster and claimed the MVP award.
Strengths: Hill offers average to above-average tools across the board, but what sets him apart is his ability to optimize them. He's short to the ball with an easy compact swing, makes adjustments and uses the entire field. Hill should have at least average power and possibly more as he learns how to incorporate his lower half for more leverage. He has a tremendous arm and shows good speed and instincts on the basepaths.
Weaknesses: While there's little doubt Hill profiles as an everyday big leaguer, some scouts question his quickness and footwork at shortstop. He makes up for a lack of range by making good reads on balls.
The Future: Hill should start 2005 at Triple-A Syracuse, with his major league debut on the horizon. Whether he or Russ Adams sticks at shortstop and forces the other to move has yet to be determined.
Background: Signed for $1.2 million out of Venezuela, Quiroz broke through in 2003 with a career-best 20 home runs. He missed time late in 2003 with a partially collapsed lung, and was sidelined in 2004 when he fractured his left hand. He returned to make his big league debut in September.
Strengths: Quiroz has above average catch-and-throw skills behind the plate, with plus arm strength and a quick release. At the plate he makes contact, does a good job of working the count and displays plus raw power. In 2003, Jays minor league coaches used videotape of Quiroz taking batting practice because he exemplified the organization's approach to hitting.
Weaknesses: Quiroz showed up for spring training out of shape, affecting his performance early in the season. His swing can get long at times and he may never hit for much of an average. He's a career .236 hitter in the minors. A year after catching 44 percent of basestealers, he nailed just 22 percent in 2004.
The Future: Quiroz could use some more time in Triple-A. But the Blue Jays need help behind the plate, and he's not far from sticking in Toronto.
Background: Rosario emerged as one of the Blue Jays' top pitching prospects with a dominant showing in 2002, but his ascent stalled when he blew out his elbow in the Arizona Fall League that offseason. Tommy John surgery cost him all of 2003. He returned last May before missing six weeks with an upper-arm injury unrelated to his elbow.
Strengths: Rosario has a loose, easy arm action that helps him fire explosive fastballs in the mid-90s while maintaining solid command. The ball jumps out of his hand from a three-quarters slot, and he creates good sinking life on both his fastball and above-average 82-85 mph changeup.
Weaknesses: Rosario rushes his delivery, causing his arm to drag and his pitches to flatten out at times. He needs to do a better job of staying on top of his slider for more of a downward tilt through the strike zone.
The Future: Headed for Triple-A, Rosario has the power stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He still hasn't quite regained his overpowering form and pinpoint control from 2002.
Background: Purcey was selected in the 20th round by the Mariners out of high school, but declined their $1 million offer and headed to Oklahoma. He also turned down the Yankees as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2003, going in the 17th round and starring in the Cape Cod League. Those moves paid off, as he signed for $1.6 million as the 16th overall selection last June.
Strengths: Purcey has a loose, fluid arm to go with an imposing frame. Once labeled as a one-pitch guy, he now shows the makings of three average to plus pitches. His primary weapon is a lively 90-95 mph fastball.He also throws two different variations of a 75-79 mph curveball that’s quickly becoming an above-average pitch. One is a 12-to-6 hammer, while the other is more of a slurve.His straight changeup grades as solid average.
Weaknesses: Purcey’s inconsistent mechanics need to be cleaned up to improve his pitch quality and command. He tends to get under his fastball and get on the side of his curveball, costing him movement on both pitches. He also telegraphs his changeup by slowing down his arm speed. Purcey didn't pitch well in his two previous draft years, causing some scouts to question his mental toughness.
The Future: The Jays hope to push Purcey quickly through the system. He'll begin 2005 in high Class A.
Background: Adams blazed through the Jays system, reaching Double-A in his first full season and the majors by the end of his second. He was selected to play in the Futures Game but missed it because of a ribcage injury. The day after he returned, he began a 16-game hitting streak.
Strengths: Adams employs a compact, line-drive stroke at the plate with quick hands. He profiles as a No. 2 hitter with gap power, and he has the ability to command the strike zone and make consistent contact. He hasplus speed and displays keen baserunning ability. Defensively, he has soft hands, quick feet and improved range.
Weaknesses: Adams has below-average arm strength, but compensates with good positioning, quick reactions and a quick release. He won’t ever become a home run threat, though he finds the gaps with regularity.
The Future: Playing shortstop on artificial turf will be a challenge for Adams, but Toronto likes the progress he has made in the field. He's similar offensively to the Orioles' Brian Roberts and is primed to take shortstop and the leadoff role this spring. Aaron Hill could push Adams to second base in the future.
Background: McGowan looked like he was headed for the Toronto rotation after a hot start and a promotion to Syracuse in early May. But before he had a chance to throw a pitch in Triple-A, he learned he needed Tommy John surgery. Elbow troubles coming out of high school nearly caused the Blue Jays to void his $950,000 bonus, and they proceeded with caution by limiting his workload and pitch counts early in his career.
Strengths: When healthy, McGowan brings legitimate frontline-starter stuff to the mound. His fastball sits at 94-95 mph and tops out at 97 with above-average life. He has a plus curveball with tight spin and bite, along with a sharp mid-80s slider. He maintains his fastball arm speed when he throws his changeup.
Weaknesses: The elbow injury clearly affected McGowan's command after he made significant progress in that regard the year before. He'll need to re-establish his control as well as the touch on his changeup once he returns.
The Future: McGowan has been making steady progress during his rehabilitation. The Blue Jays are optimistic he can regain his overpowering stuff and are targeting a May return. He probably won't be at full strength until 2006.
Background: After emerging in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2003, Jackson transferred from Louisville to Texas A&M and spun a seven-inning no-hitter in his first start for the Aggies. The Blue Jays targeted both David Purcey and Jackson with the No. 16 overall pick, and were thrilled that Jackson was still on the board for them at No. 32. He signed for $1.0175 million.
Strengths: Jackson has more polish than Purcey. His mechanics and easy arm action allow him to command three effective pitches. He hides his tailing 89-93 mph fastball well, and he'll cut it on occasion. He also throws a deceptive circle changeup and an improved slider with late depth. Jackson does a good job of pitching inside and locating his fastball.
Weaknesses: Jackson doesn't have a true swing-and-miss pitch. He relies more on setting hitters up, making them hit his pitch and relying on his defense to make plays.
The Future: The Blue Jays limited Jackson to 50-pitches in each of his four pro starts after he worked a staff-high 121 innings at Texas A&M during the spring. He should be a workhorse, however, and he'll join Purcey in the Dunedin rotation.
Background: Banks’ first-round aspirations were dashed when he came down with blister problems shortly before the 2003 draft. He also missed time as a Florida International sophomore with a strained elbow ligament, but neither injury has kept him from pitching like a first-round talent since signing for $650,000.
Strengths: A reliever in college before his junior season, Banks projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter. He keeps hitters off balance with a diverse five-pitch repertoire, including a 90-94 mph fastball. His 83-85 mph splitter is an out pitch, and he mixes in an 80-82 mph slider, a curveball and a changeup.
Weaknesses: After getting promoted to Double-A, Banks initially struggled because he left the ball up in the strike zone too much. He made adjustments and finished his first full season with a four-game win streak. He still has work to do with his fastball command, and his slider can become slurvy at times.
The Future: Banks will head back to Double-A to start 2005. He's on a similar path to David Bush, which could put him in Toronto around midseason.
Background: Scout Luis Feunmayo delivered Chacin to the Jays' Venezuela academy in 1998, and he was signed on the spot for $50,000. Chacin reached Double-A at age 19, but disappeared from the prospect radar when he scuffled and was demoted to the bullpen. He rebounded in 2004, leading the minors with 18 victories and being named Eastern League pitcher of the year before defeating the Yankees in his major league debut.
Strengths: Chacin always had been a fastball/changeup pitcher with a show-me curveball. His success can be attributed to the addition of a cut fastball, which helped him get righthanders out. He effectively changes speeds with his 83-89 mph cutter by varying his grip and pressure points. He also gives hitters a difficult look with a slight stutter in his delivery. His two-seam fastball ranges from 87-92 mph, and his changeup is average with good movement.
Weaknesses: Chacin’s curve is still a below-average pitch. He needs to improve it or find a pitch he can overmatch lefthanders with.
The Future: Chacin has pitched his way into the Jays' plans. He'll vie for a spot at the back of the rotation in spring training.