Blue Jays Prospects 2-10
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSChatham, Ill, 1997 (1st round). Signed by: Fred Peterson (Orioles).
Background: Werth started his career as a catcher but made the transition to the outfield in 2002, even playing a game in center field for Toronto at seasons end. The Blue Jays got him from the Orioles for lefty John Bale (since released) and have seen Werth mature into one of their top prospects.
Strengths: Werth has exceptional athletic ability and made the transition to the outfield look easy. He took to reading fly balls and took excellent routes, and has the arm, speed and range for any outfield position. As he continues to fill out his long frame, he has developed above-average power. He can gear up for plus fastballs.
Weaknesses: Werths swing path tends to get long, and he has some holes that he just cant close. He makes adjustments but always will strike out frequently. His ability to make adjustments will determine whether hes a 20-homer or a 30-homer guy.
The Future: Werth could either be an above-average corner outfielder or the next Eli Marrero, a super-utility player who would be best served getting 400 at-bats a year. Werth figures to get more time to fine-tune his game at Triple-A Syracuse in 2003.
3. Kevin Cash, c
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Signed: NDFA, Florida State, 1999. Signed by: Tim Wilken.
Background: Cashs tale is one of the best in baseball. An average corner infielder at Florida State, he caught the Blue Jays attention as an emergency catcher in the Cape Cod League in 1999. He capped his rapid risejust his second full season as a catcherwith a stint in Toronto.
Strengths: Even in the Cape, Cash showed the defensive tools that have made him one of the best catching prospects in the game. He has supreme catch-and-throw skills, throwing out 43 percent of minor league basestealers in 2002. He also shook off a bruised right hand to show solid power. He projects to hit 15-25 homers annually in the majors, and was leading the Double-A Southern League in RBIs when he was promoted.
Weaknesses: Cash never has been a great hitter. He can be too pull-conscious and lost command of the strike zone after his promotion to Triple-A. He needs a better two-strike approach and more patience.
The Future: Cashs defense allowed the Jays to move Josh Phelps to DH or first base and Jayson Werth to the outfield. Cash will start 2003 back at Syracuse but is in line for a midseason promotion.
4. Francisco Rosario, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999. Signed by: Tony Arias.
Background: Rosario spent his first two professional seasons as a reliever in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, then struggled in 2001 with Rookie-level Medicine Hat as a starter. Everything came together for him in 2002 until he blew out his elbow in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Rosario has power stuff, dominating two Class A levels with a 92-97 mph fastball, two variations on a plus changeup, and a breaking ball with slurvy action that at times was a plus pitch. Opponents batted just .180 against him, including .151 as his confidence swelled in the high Class A Florida State League.
Weaknesses: Rosarios smallish frame proved unable to hold up under the torque he placed on his arm and raises long-term questions. He had Tommy John surgery and bone chips removed from his elbow.
The Future: Full recovery from Tommy John surgery usually takes 12-18 months, and the Jays will proceed with caution with Rosario. Toronto officials compare his situation to that of Billy Koch, who had the same procedure in 1997 and came back as a closer. When Rosario returns in 2004, his career could take the same path.
5. Brandon League, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSHonolulu, 2001 (2nd round). Signed by: Dave Blume.
Background: The Blue Jays continued their trend of taking it slow with high school pitchers, sending League to the short-season New York-Penn League in 2002 rather than full-season ball. His season almost ended before it started when he was hit in the right arm by a line drive during an exhibition game. He escaped with nothing more than a bruise.
Strengths: League has an electric, quick arm and one of the organizations best fastballs. He hit 97 mph at times in 2002 but pitched consistently from 94-96 mph, with natural sinking action generated by a low three-quarters release point. He also improved his changeup and showed a resilient arm, maintaining his stuff throughout the season.
Weaknesses: League has to stay on top of his slider, which tends to flatten out. He also needs to get stronger to keep his velocity deeper into games. Other refinements, such as improved fastball command and pitch efficiency, will come with experience.
The Future: League should get his first shot at full-season Class A in 2003. If he improves his slider and trusts his fastball more while nibbling less, he could have a breakout year.
6. Alexis Rios, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 202. Drafted: HSGuaynabo, P.R, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Jorge Rivera.
Background: Rios climb from surprise first-round pick to legitimate prospect is almost complete. He overcame a broken finger, bruised thumb and jammed wrist to rank fourth in the Florida State League in batting in 2002.
Strengths: Rios swing path attracted the Jays to draft him in the first place as a low-cost, compromise choice, and he has rewarded them by becoming one of the organizations best hitters. He rarely strikes out and has a short swing for such a tall player. Rios runs well and has improved in center field, where he has an adequate, accurate arm and good range.
Weaknesses: Rios power has yet to emerge in regular season games, though he hit seven homers in spring training and showed similar pop in instructional league, once his hand and wrist had healed. He doesnt draw a lot of walks and needs to learn which pitches to lay off and which he can drive.
The Future: Rios has to be protected on the 40-man roster this offseason, an intriguing decision given GM J.P. Ricciardis affinity for walks and on-base percentage. Rios should move to Double-A New Haven in 2003, with improved power and patience his top priorities.
7. Russ Adams, ss/2b
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 178. Drafted: North Carolina, 2002 (1st Round). Signed by: Charles Aliano.
Background: A high school quarterback at the same high school that produced Rockies infielder Brent Butler, Adams blossomed at North Carolina and in the Cape Cod League, where he was the top prospect in 2001. He overcame a hairline fracture in his left thumb to have an All-America season for the Tar Heels in 2002.
Strengths: One of the organizations top athletes, Adams has solid average to plus tools across the board, with the exception of power. He plays the game instinctively, especially on the basepaths, where he uses his above-average speed well. At the plate, he has good bat speed, the ability to center the ball well and excellent plate discipline.
Weaknesses: Adams doesnt hit for much power now, but he could hit 10-15 homers annually down the road. His arm may not be enough to play shortstop on artificial turf, but hell stay there until he proves he cant handle it. He wore down in 2002 and needs to get stronger.
The Future: Adams should return to high Class A for his first full year. He has all the makings of being a leadoff or No. 2 hitter, and if the power develops could see time at third base as well as second.
8. Vinny Chulk, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: St. Thomas (Fla.), 2000 (12th round). Signed by: Tony Arias.
Background: Chulk got a tryout with NCAA Division II St. Thomas thanks to a recommendation from his future brother-in-law, the teams center fielder. It took 10 pitches for coach Manny Mantrana to give Chulk a scholarship. The Blue Jays gambled Chulk had the repertoire to move into the rotation while also jumping to Double-A in 2002, and he became the Southern Leagues pitcher of the year.
Strengths: Chulks best pitch is a 91-94 mph sinker, and he does a good job of keeping it down. His slider, curveball and changeup are all solid pitches that he commands well. His competitiveness is a major asset, and Chulk showed he can pitch effectively without his best stuff. Hes an above-average athlete who does little things well.
Weaknesses: Chulk doesnt have a strikeout pitch and doesnt have the stuff to get by when he cant find the strike zone. He must refine his changeup to combat lefthanders, who batted .272 against him.
The Future: Chulk profiles as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. He also has the resilient arm and command potential to be an effective middle reliever. Hell return to Triple-A in 2003.
9. Gabe Gross, of
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Auburn, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Ellis Dungan.
Background: Gross father Lee was an all-conference center at Auburn, and Gabe briefly followed in his dads football footsteps, earning six starts as a freshman quarterback. His success at baseball, though, persuaded him to give up the gridiron for his last two seasons with the Tigers. His first full year as a pro, 2002, brought his first failure on the diamond.
Strengths: Gross still has the plus tools to be a prototype right fielder. He has lefthanded power, a strong throwing arm and athleticism, and hes an above-average defender. He recovered from a slow start, hitting .282-8-35 in the last three months.
Weaknesses: Gross had a terrible start in 2002, hitting .141 in April. He had trouble getting his hands started and through the zone, blocking off his own swing and leaving him unable to catch up to good fastballs. Shannon Stewart and Vernon Wells worked through similar woes during their minor league careers.
The Future: Gross has the work ethic and ability to overcome his swing problem and did so in the second half, as well as in the Arizona Fall League. He should spend his second full season repeating and conquering Double-A.
10. Guillermo Quiroz, c
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 202. Signed: Venezuela, 1998. Signed by: Emilio Carrasquel.
Background: Quiroz signed for $1.2 million, one of the largest bonuses ever for a Venezuelan player. He entered the season a career .205 hitter, but progressed enough to get an emergency Triple-A promotion when Kevin Cash hurt his hand.
Strengths: Quiroz has excellent athletic ability and agility behind the plate, and his catch-and-throw skills nearly match those of Cash. He has become fluent in English and handles pitching staffs well. Quiroz finally started to answer offensive concerns by showing better concentration and strike-zone judgment at the plate, unleashing his above-average power. His offensive approach is similar to (though less potent than) Josh Phelps.
Weaknesses: Quiroz power comes with lots of strikeouts. He has a long, sweepy swing that constantly needs adjusting. Hes never going to win a batting title and still needs to learn the strike zone better.
The Future: With Phelps, Cash and Werth ahead of him, the Jays can afford to be patient with Quiroz. Hell move up to Double-A and could continue his offensive improvement as pitchers throw more strikes.
Best of the Rest
Developing a lefthander has become both a point of emphasis for the Blue Jays as well as a sore spot. The big league staff got just seven starts from lefties in 2002 after getting 18 from since-departed Chris Michalak in 2001. However, two southpaws appear close to ending that drought.
Six-foot-9 Mark Hendrickson made four September major league starts and thrived, giving up three earned runs in 26 innings. Hendrickson seems old for a prospect at 28, but he was in just his third full season in professional baseball since giving up his NBA career. He has gained arm strength as he has become acclimated to the baseball routine.
Matt Ford, who was No. 9 on the Jays prospect list two years ago, had a bounce-back year in 2002, as he matured physically and emotionally. Ford has an 88-91 mph fastball with good life down in the strike zone, and he improved the consistency of his changeup and curveball. After starting the season late due to a spring-training illness, Ford led the high Class A Florida State League with a 2.37 ERA.
Another lefty, 2002 third-round pick Justin Maureau, has the organizations top curveball and may be given the opportunity to move from the bullpen to the rotation. Fellow southpaws Diegomar Markwell and Eric Stephenson are further down the systems depth chart.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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