Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By John Manuel
1. Josh Phelps, c
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HSRathdrum, Idaho, 1996 (10th round). Signed by:Ron Tostenson.
Background:Born in Anchorage and signed out of a rural Idaho high school, Phelps has the history and look of a raw, physical prospect from the Pacific Northwest. He has had to make up for his lack of experience by repeating levels, but in each case he has answered the challenge. His lack of plate discipline caught up with him in his first year at Double-A Tennessee, where he hit .228-9-28 with 66 strikeouts in 184 at-bats in 2000, earning a demotion. In his second try, Phelps won the Southern Leagues MVP award, leading the league in home runs and doubles, ranking second in RBIs and slugging percentage (.562), and third in on-base percentage (.406).
Strengths:Phelps isnt the biggest Blue Jay, but hes the strongest, with a body the organization compares to former all-star catchers such as Jody Davis and Carlton Fisk. His raw power is the best in the system, and hes an intelligent hitter who has learned how to use it. He projects to hit 30-35 homers a season in the big leagues. Phelps has worked hard to shorten a swing than can get long, and hes strong enough to overpower pitches that catch too much of the plate. Defensively, the Blue Jays say his receiving and throwing rate with his power potential.
Weaknesses:With his swing, Phelps will never be a contact hitter and has struck out more than 100 times in each of his last three seasons. Injuries have slowed his development, especially defensively, and he threw out just 18 percent of basestealers last year. In 2000, an inflamed elbow limited him to DH much of the season, and last season he labored with a torn meniscus in his right knee that required offseason surgery. Club officials say Phelps footwork is the root of his problem and hope health and a full year behind the plate will be the remedy.
The Future:Phelps is expected to be healthy for spring training, and a lights-out spring could help him land a platoon job with veteran Darrin Fletcher in Toronto. Considering the defensive work Phelps needs, a full year in Triple-A Syracuse seems more reasonable. With Torontos catching glut, his future could be as a DH/first baseman if his defense doesnt improve.
2. Gabe Gross, of
Age: 22. B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Auburn, 2001 (1st round). Signed by:Ellis Dungan.
Background:Gross began his college career following his fathers footsteps as an Auburn football player. After passing for 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman, Gross left quarterbacking behind to focus on baseball. A first-team All-American as a sophomore, his numbers dived in a depleted Auburn lineup in 2001.
Strengths:While Gross slumped as a junior, the Blue Jays believed in him and he looked strong during the summer and in the Arizona Fall League. A natural hitter, he has good balance, an easy stroke and good power in a package that reminds the organization of Shawn Green. Gross athleticism and plus arm make him a prototypical right fielder.
Weaknesses:Gross showed good patience in his pro debut but chased too many pitches off the plate in college. His speed is just OK and he needs to improve his baserunning skills.
The Future:Gross is on the fast track to join a crowded Blue Jays outfield. He played some first and third base in college, which could help him move faster if the Blue Jays are forced to move Carlos Delgados large contract. Hell start 2002 in Double-A.
3. Jayson Werth, c/1b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HSChatham, Ill., 1997 (1st round). Signed by:Fred Peterson (Orioles).
Background:Werths athletic bloodlines include a grandfather (Ducky Schofield), uncle (Dick Schofield) and stepfather (Dennis Werth) who played in the big leagues. His mother Kim competed in U.S. Olympic trials in the long jump and 100 meters. The Blue Jays stole him from the Orioles in a winter 2000 trade for situational lefthander John Bale.
Strengths:Werths athletic ability surpasses the average catcher. Hes as close to a five-tool player as the position produces. Hes a plus runner and has the bat speed and leverage to hit for power, which he finally provided in 2001. His soft hands, steady receiving and strong arm make him an above-average defender.
Weaknesses:Werths work ethic slipped with the Orioles, and the Blue Jays credit Tennessee coach Hector Torres with whipping him into shape. His swing can get long, leading to strikeouts.
The Future:Because hes more athletic than Josh Phelps, Werth is a more natural candidate to switch positions. But hes also a better defender. He could compete for a platoon spot this year, but likely will move to Triple-A for another time-sharing arrangement with Phelps.
4. Dustin McGowan, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSLudowici, Ga., 2000 (1st round supplemental). Signed by:Joe Siers.
Background:A bout with tendinitis as a high school senior dropped McGowan out of the first round, allowing the Blue Jays to nab him with a supplemental pick for the loss of Graeme Lloyd. Also a star basketball player in high school, McGowan had an invitation to big league camp in his contract, then stayed in extended spring as Toronto brought him along slowly.
Strengths:McGowan has a fluid, easy arm action and a good pitchers body, giving him the most electric stuff in the system. His athleticism and arm speed help generate the 92-96 mph velocity on his fastball and the command of his 78-80 mph power curveball. He also has improved his level of concentration.
Weaknesses:While McGowan finished third in the New-York Penn League in strikeouts, he also led the league in walks. Hell have to improve his command and changeup as he faces tougher competition. The Blue Jays believe his main need is just getting more pro experience.
The Future:McGowan and 2001 draftee Brandon League should front an intriguing rotation at Class A Charleston. Then Toronto will learn which of their power arms is the best in the organization.
5. Orlando Hudson, 2b/3b
Age: 24. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) JC, D/F 1997 (43rd round). Signed by:Steve Williams.
Background:Left off the 40-man roster after the 2000 season, Hudson moved from third base to second last year and blossomed. He was leading the Arizona Fall League in slugging and on-base percentage when he left to play for Team USA in the World Cup in Taiwan, where he hit .429 and led the Americans with 12 runs and seven steals in 10 games.
Strengths:Hudson sprays line drives to all parts of the park and has tremendous instincts and aptitude. Though he has below-average speed, he anticipates ground balls, reads pitchers well and is the best baserunner in the system. An outgoing personality and born leader, Hudson plays with passion.
Weaknesses:Except for his bat, Hudsons tools grade out as average or a tick below across the board. He gets the most out of what he has, but sometimes those players just arent talented enough.
The Future:No one in the system doubts Hudson will continue to achieve. If the Blue Jays find a taker for Homer Bush, Hudson will open the season as their starting second baseman. He also could figure into the third-base picture if Eric Hinske cant handle the job defensively.
6. Eric Hinske, 3b/1b
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Arkansas, 1998 (17th round). Signed by:Brian Milner (Cubs).
Background:Hinske was traded for closers twice within a year. The Cubs sent him to the Athletics for Miguel Cairo and the rights to major league Rule 5 pick Scott Chiasson during spring training. New Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, who had been with Oakland, coveted Hinske and got him and righthander Justin Miller for Billy Koch in December.
Strengths:Hinske follows the As model Ricciardi wants to bring to Toronto. He hits for good power to all fields and has a patient approach at the plate. He has decent speed and a knack for basestealing. He capped his solid 2001 by hitting .300-8-28 in the Arizona Fall League.
Weaknesses:While Hinske has soft hands, his average arm and lack of range raise doubts about his ability to be a big league defender at third base. The Cubs projected him as a first baseman, one of the reasons they traded him. He has worked to quicken his release to make up for his arm.
The Future:In Toronto in 2002, a player can have no greater ally than Ricciardi, who believes in Hinske as a third baseman and lefthanded power bat. The big league third-base job is his to lose.
7. Brandon League, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSHonolulu, 2001 (2nd round). Signed by:Dave Blume.
Background:League, who helped Team USA to a silver medal in the 2000 World Junior Championship, planned on becoming part of Pepperdines Hawaii pipeline before the Blue Jays signed him for $660,000. His high school pitching coach was former big leaguer Carlos Diaz.
Strengths:League challenges Dustin McGowan as the best arm in the system. League generates excellent sinking and running movement on his fastball from a three-quarters arm slot, as well as above-average velocity. League touched 96 mph in high school and as high as 99 in instructional league. He has shown the ability to throw his curveball, circle changeup and slider for strikes.
Weaknesses:Leagues release point keeps him from staying on top of his breaking stuff consistently, so he doesnt always find the strike zone. While he has a good feel for his changeup, hell need to throw it more for it to be effective. His curve and slider sometimes blend together into a rolling slurve.
The Future:Departed assistant GM Dave Stewart liked League as a future No. 1 starter. He has plenty of time to develop and should start his first full season pitching with McGowan in low Class A.
8. Alexis Rios, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Guayanbo, P.R., 1999 (1st round). Signed by:Jorge Rivera.
Background:The Blue Jays took criticism for drafting Rios in the first round. He signed for a below-market $845,000 as Toronto bypassed college talents such as Larry Bigbie, Matt Ginter and Ryan Ludwick. While money had much to do with the pick, so did projection, and Rios is starting to make the Jays look good.
Strengths:What attracted scouts Tim Wilken and Chris Buckley to Rios was his swing, an easy, short stroke that comes naturally. He also makes consistent contact and is tough to strike out. He has an athletic body and plus speed. He has gone from scrawny to slender, and he has big hands and broad shoulders to grow into. He has the range and ballhawking abilities for center field and the arm for right.
Weaknesses:Rios still needs more experience and strength. His strike-zone judgment needs to start including some walks. Eventually, hell grow out of center field and move to a corner.
The Future:The Jays consider Rios ceiling among the highest in the organization. He and Tyrell Godwin have the best chance among Toronto farmhands to be five-tool talents down the line. Rios will keep growing at Dunedin this year.
9. Kevin Cash, c
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Signed: Florida State, 2000 (NDFA). Signed by:Tim Wilken.
Background:Wilken was in the Cape Cod League watching the Falmouth Commodores when the club ran out of catchers. A corner infielder at Florida State, Cash volunteered to go behind the plate and was a natural. He had never caught but threw out two basestealers, and Wilken signed him shortly thereafter.
Strengths:In a system bursting with catching prospects, Cash has the best catch-and-throw skills despite having the least experience. With a plus arm, excellent footwork and a quick release, Cash shuts down running games. He led the Florida State League by nailing 56 percent of basestealers in 2001. He also has power, leading Dunedin in home runs and slugging (.453), and uses the whole field offensively.
Weaknesses:Cash doesnt have the offensive ceiling of either Werth or Phelps because he doesnt have as much over-the-fence power. Hes learning the nuances of calling a game and handling a staff. His inexperience showed, with 12 errors and 18 passed balls.
The Future:The Blue Jays are overloaded with catchers, and Ricciardi has shown hes not afraid to make moves. If he remains with the organization, Cash will start 2002 in Double-A.
10. Tyrell Godwin, of
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: North Carolina, 2001 (3rd round). Signed by:Charlie Aliano.
Background:The Yankees drafted Godwin 24th overall in 1997, but he turned down a $1.9 million bonus to attend North Carolina to play baseball and football. The Rangers picked him 35th overall in 2000 and withdrew their $1.2 million bonus offer when they discovered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He signed with the Blue Jays for $480,000.
Strengths:Godwin has blazing speed (3.9 seconds to first base) and a quick bat that lashes line drives to all fields. He improved significantly in a short time, cutting down what was a violent swing. The Jays project him as a center fielder, though he worked out in right in instructional league and could wind up there.
Weaknesses:Some scouts soured on Godwins desire after he twice didnt sign as a first-round pick and didnt play baseball as a senior, instead working on rehabbing his knee. The Blue Jays say Godwin is hungry to prove 29 other teams wrong. His knee held up well in his debut, though he had lingering hamstring problem.
The Future:Godwins ceiling isnt much lower than that of Gross, but his lesser power potential is the difference. Hell start the year at Dunedin and could move quickly.
Rest of the Best:
11. Joe Lawrence, c
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