Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By John Manuel
1. Vernon Wells, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSArlington, Texas, 1997 (1st round). Signed by: Jim Hughes.
Background: When Wells was drafted fifth overall in 1997, some chided the Blue Jays for basing their first-round choice on signability more than talent. Wells, who had agreed to a predraft deal, started his career in fine fashion in the short-season New York-Penn League and had a solid first full season in 1998 with Class A Hagerstown. But nothing to prepare the baseball world for 1999. Wells batted a combined .334-18-81 between Class A Dunedin, Double-A Knoxville and Triple-A Syracuse and was named the No. 1 prospect in the Florida State, Southern and International leaguesa Baseball America first. He finished with a solid month in Toronto, raising expectations for the son of the former NFL wide receiver of the same name. But he received just two big league at-bats in 2000 and struggled with the bat in Triple-A.
Strengths: Wells has the best tools in the system, and his five-tool package is among the best in the minor leagues. Hes a true center fielder with an accurate, above-average arm and excellent range, and he has good instincts for the position. Offensively, his speed and instincts make him an above-average basestealer, and he has plus power to all fields. Wells was caught stealing just four times, and he hit .272-12-35 with a .545 slugging percentage in his final 209 Triple-A at-bats.
Weaknesses: Wells had never struggled before, but he was hitting .220 with four homers on July 1. Rumors abounded about his dissatisfaction with being sent back to Triple-A, and that his frustration was affecting his play. Blue Jays officials refute that contention vigorously, saying Wells took the news well. They attribute part of his poor showing to bad luck. They also agreed Wells struggles probably will be good for him.
The Future: Wells was the player other teams asked for in deals during the season, but the Blue Jays wisely held onto their No. 1 prospect. Toronto center fielder Jose Cruz Jr. doesnt field as well as Wells, and his offensive performance shouldnt be enough to block Wells for another year. If Cruz makes it through the winter with the organization, its up to Wells to have a big spring to force his way onto the big league club.
2. Felipe Lopez, ss
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Drafted: HSAltamonte Springs, Fla., 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Tony Arias.
Background: A Puerto Rican, Lopez moved to Florida with his father in 1990. He survived the deaths of his mother and stepmother, as well as an abusive relationship with his father, to become one of the states top prospects for the 1998 draft. He signed too late that year to make an immediate impact but has risen quickly through the system.
Strengths: Only Wells has better tools among Jays prospectsand Lopez has five-tool ability. He has range to spare, a plus arm and true shortstop actions. Lopez has average power and excellent speed, though it hasnt translated into high stolen-base totals yet.
Weaknesses: Lopez jumped over high Class A Dunedin in 2000, which helps explain his mediocre numbers and inability to make consistent contact. Club officials have questioned his concentration, saying he took bad at-bats to the field with him, and are concerned he hasnt learned the nuances of baserunning yet.
The Future: Lopez remains a key figure in the clubs long-range plans and should return to Double-A Tennessee in 2001. The Blue Jays wouldnt have rushed him if they didnt think it was good for him.
3. Cesar Izturis, ss
Age: 21. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 155. Signed: Venezuela, 1996. Signed by: Emilio Carrasquel/Mike Russell.
Background: Izturis brother Maicer has experienced injury problems but remains one of the Indians better prospects. Cesar skipped Double-A in 2000 and was the youngest player in the Triple-A International League.
Strengths: Izturis build, actions and range, as well as Venezuelan descent, invite comparisons to perennial Gold Glover Omar Vizquel. Managers ranked him as having the ILs best infield arm. Jays officials were pleased with the way he handled his offensive struggles in 2000, keeping his head up and remaining confident in his abilities.
Weaknesses: Izturis got the bat knocked out of his hands consistently by more experienced pitchers. He didnt help matters by chasing pitches out of the strike zone, whether he was ahead or behind in the count. He also needs to work on keeping the ball on the ground.
The Future: Organization officials pushed Izturis knowing incumbent shortstop Alex Gonzalez could leave as a free agent. They were hoping Izturis would have proven more ready for a 2001 shot at the big leagues, but they are confident he could handle the position and the pressure in Toronto if need be. If not, hell return to Syracuse.
4. Joe Lawrence, c
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSLake Charles, La., 1996 (1st round). Signed by: Alvin Rittman.
Background: An all-state football player in high school, Lawrence is one of three shortstops the Blue Jays have selected in the first round in the last seven drafts. Only Lopez has stayed at the position. Lawrence worked at catcher in instructional league in 1998, played third in 99 and had that season cut short by an ankle injury. He moved to catcher to stay in 2000.
Strengths: Lawrence took to his new duties quickly and easily, making great strides during the season in calling games and throwing out runners. He has the best plate discipline in the system and the speed to make pitchers pay for it. Rather than getting slower as a catcher, he improved his times to first base and gets down the line in 4.1 seconds.
Weaknesses: Lawrence has yet to develop more than gap power. He got tired during the last month of the season, but the club expects him to stay strong as he gets used to the grind of catching.
The Future: With Darrin Fletcher signed for three more years, the Blue Jays can be patient with his successor. Lawrence could earn a spot with Triple-A Syracuse with a good spring.
5. Bob File, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Philadelphia Textile, 1998 (19th round). Signed by: Ben McLure.
Background: The Blue Jays dont hesitate to convert players with strong arms to the mound, and File is their best success story. He pitched just six innings in college, where he led NCAA Division II in batting in 1998. He hit .542-19-68 as a third baseman.
Strengths: Files arm strength initially attracted Jays scouts, and his fastball is now the best in the system. He consistently throws it 92-95 mph with good downward movement and excellent command. Files slurvy breaking ball is effective against righthanders. Despite his inexperience on the mound, he sets up hitters, holds runners well and fields the position like an extra infielder.
Weaknesses: Lefthanded batters see Files slurve pretty well and batted .274 against him in 62 at-bats in 2000. Syracuse manager Mel Queen, whose pet peeve is sloppy breaking balls, will work with File to tighten up the pitch. File also needs to throw his changeup more to fully develop it.
The Future: With Billy Koch established as one of the games top closers, File will break in with Toronto as a set-up man. He has a chance to earn the role with a strong performance in spring training.
6. Charles Kegley, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.) CC, 1999 (11th round). Signed by: Ellis Dungan.
Background: The Brewers drafted Kegley out of a Florida high school in 1998 and retained his rights as a draft-and-follow when he went to junior college. They offered him $500,000 to sign the following spring, but he resisted and went back into the draft. The Blue Jays then took him and signed him for $515,000.
Strengths: Kegley has the best arm in the system, throwing an explosive 92-97 mph fastball. Opponents batted just .240 against him in his first season and rarely got good swings even in fastball counts. He also throws a power slider.
Weaknesses: Kegley has problems controlling his fastball, though he impressed organization officials during instructional league with his improvement toward a balance between throwing hard and throwing strikes. He needs innings and experience, which accounts for his low strikeout total. His changeup improved during the season, but its still his third pitch.
The Future: Kegley is the only Jays pitching prospect who projects as a possible No. 1 starter on the basis of his raw stuff. He could return to high Class A Dunedin, but a good spring may vault him to Tennessee.
7. Brian Cardwell, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-10. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSSapulpa, Okla., 1999 (4th round). Signed by: Tim Huff.
Background: Cardwell passed up a basketball scholarship from Tulsa to sign with the Blue Jays. Only Minor League Player of the Year Jon Rauch stands taller among pro righthanders. New York-Penn League managers named Cardwell the No. 10 prospect in the league in 2000.
Strengths: Cardwell was throwing 86-89 mph in high school, but with added strength and experience his fastball now touches 93 with the good downward plane that naturally comes with being so tall. He throws it comfortably at 90-91 from a three-quarters slot, which makes him tough on righthanders. He harnessed his slider, which can be devastating at times, in instructional league.
Weaknesses: Like many tall pitchers, Cardwell often loses his release point and command of his fastball. He was overmatched early in the 2000 season at Class A Hagerstown, but rebounded to post good strikeout numbers at short-season Queens.
The Future: Only Kegley has a higher ceiling in the organization than Cardwell, who projects as a No. 2 starter if he can maintain consistency. He should start the 2001 season back at Hagerstown.
8. Pascual Coco, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994. Signed by: Epy Guerrero.
Background: Coco signed as an outfielder, but the organization quickly recognized his arm strength (and inability to hit) and moved him to the mound. In 2000, his first year above Class A, he was added to the 40-man roster and made an emergency start in the big leagues.
Strengths: Coco has one of the best arms in the system. He has a good fastball that touches 95 mph, though he usually throws it in the 90-92 range. His top pitch is his changeup, the best in the organization. Hes quick to the plate and holds runners well. He has added an inch and 25 pounds to his frame since signing, helping him maintain his velocity deeper into games.
Weaknesses: Cocos breaking ball for now is a sloppy slurve thats just adequate. Hell need to refine the pitch to handle righthanders more effectively. They hit .263 against him in 2000, while lefthanders batted just .212.
The Future: Coco has gained experience pitching with Escogido in the Dominican League the last two years. That experience will serve him well in Syracuse in 2001.
9. Jay Gibbons, 1b/of
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Cal State Los Angeles, 1998 (14th round). Signed by: Bill Moore.
Background: Stocky and strong, Gibbons looks like a beer league hitter. On the contrary, he drinks no alcohol and was a vegetarian until 2000, when he incorporated lean chicken breasts into his diet to help keep his strength up over the course of the season. He hit .397 in his first pro summer.
Strengths: Gibbons short, level, quick swing keeps him out of long slumps and helps him hold his own against lefthandershe hit .329 against them in Double-A. He has good power and plate discipline, and showed a surprisingly strong arm in his short time in the outfield. He keeps long hours in the gym as well.
Weaknesses: Gibbons lacks the agility to play anything but first base, left field or DH, which are strong positions in Toronto. Former first-round pick Kevin Witt was never able to muscle Carlos Delgado or Brad Fullmer out of the picture, and Gibbons will have to display 30-homer power to make the move to SkyDome.
The Future: As long as Gibbons continues to hit, hell be given a chance to play. Whether that happens in the Blue Jays organization is uncertain. He will spend 2001 with Syracuse.
10. Matt Ford, lhp
Age: 19. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 165. Drafted: HS--Tamarac, Fla., 1999 (3rd round). Signed By: Tony Arias.
Background: Ford made a strong debut at Rookie-level Medicine Hat in 1999 and started to pull off an encore last year with Class A Hagerstown. He had to end his season early, though, when he developed shoulder stiffness in late July. He was back to full health in instructional league and was throwing well again.
Strengths: Ford's success stems from a combination of slightly above-average stuff and a competitive streak that keeps him from giving in to hitters. Ford has an 88-92 mph fastball, his curveball is one of the best in the Jays' system and his changeup has the potential to be a plus pitch.
Weaknesses: Ford's biggest need is innings, which should give much-needed polish to his changeup. He also needs to prove he can stay healthy. Shutting him down this season was a precaution; an injury next season would be a red flag.
The Future: A healthy Ford should report to Class A Dunedin. With his polish, he has a chance to come quickly, though he profiles more as a No. 3 starter.
Rest of the Best:
11. Josh Phelps, c
Copyright 1998-2000 Baseball America. All rights reserved.|
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.