Toronto Blue Jays: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Toronto Blue Jays: Scouting Reports




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, 2009.

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Toronto Blue Jays

Despite their strongest showing of the decade, the Blue Jays still couldn't end a playoff drought that dates to their 1993 World Series championship. In general manager J.P. Ricciardi's seventh year at the helm, Toronto had the second-best run differential in the American League and went 86-76, but its reward was a fourth-place finish in the AL East.

Though the Jays' offense again fell flat, their pitching staff led the league with a 3.49 ERA and their defense ranked among the best in the AL. That Toronto's pitching was so strong was a testament to depth, because the club lost young, homegrown righthanders Dustin McGowan (frayed labrum), Shaun Marcum (Tommy John surgery) and Casey Janssen (torn labrum) during the season. Rookie lefthanders David Purcey and Jesse Carlson stepped in and showed enough to warrant consideration for the 2009 staff.

A 2004 first-round pick, Purcey led all Triple-A hurlers with a 2.69 ERA and went 3-6, 5.54 in 12 big league starts as a fill-in for Marcum. Twice signed by the Blue Jays as a minor league free agent, Carlson cleaned up his command and gave Toronto's lefty-dominated bullpen 60 quality innings, limiting batters to a .196 average.

Already accustomed to contending with the Red Sox and Yankees, the Blue Jays were displaced from their usual third-place perch by the surprising Rays. To keep pace in an increasingly rugged division, Toronto will have to rely on its farm system. The good news is that the system is in its best shape since at least 2004, when Alex Rios, McGowan, Gabe Gross, Aaron Hill and David Bush highlighted our Jays Top 10 Prospects list.

The system's best prospect is Travis Snider, who's on the verge of claiming the left-field job for several years. He spent most of the season in Double-A as a 20-year-old, and when he debuted in the big leagues in September he became the AL's youngest player. The drafting of Snider, a prep product, with the 14th overall pick in 2006 signaled a shift in philosophy for the organization. Toronto used a strictly college-oriented approach in its first four drafts under Ricciardi but since has become more diversified. Just two years ago, our Jays top 30 featured only one player they had drafted out of high school (Snider), while this year's list has eight.

In the 2007 draft, Toronto held seven of the first 88 picks and spent four of them on high schoolers. Seven players from that draft made this top 10 list, including prepsters Justin Jackson and Kevin Ahrens.

An increased big league payroll and the addition of a Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2007 have afforded the Blue Jays the patience and the means to develop less-refined high school and international talents. The younger players they've targeted have generally been more athletic, bolstering depth at key defensive positions. Shortstops Jackson, Gustavo Pierre and Tyler Pastornicky; third baseman Ahrens; second baseman John Tolisano; and center fielders Eric Eiland, Kenny Wilson and Markus Brisker all joined the organization as teenagers in the past two years.

In those same two years, Toronto also hit on several quality college draft picks. Catcher J.P. Arencibia and lefties Brett Cecil and Brad Mills, all 2007 draftees, reached Double-A and succeeded in their first full pro seasons. First baseman David Cooper, the 16th overall choice in 2008, hit his way to high Class A in his pro debut.

After years of playing it safe on the international market, the Blue Jays signed Pierre, one of the top 16-year-old Dominican talents available, for $700,000 on the first day of the 2008 signing period.


1.  Travis Snider, of   Born: Feb. 2, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 5-11Wt: 245
Drafted: HS—Mill Creek, Wash., 2006 (1st round.). Signed by: Brandon Mozley.
Travis SniderBackground: Evan Longoria may be the best hitter taken in the 2006 draft, but Snider has done nothing to diminish his case as the best high school hitter from that same draft. After signing for $1.7 million as the 14th overall pick, Snider proceeded to earn Rookie-league Appalachian League MVP and No. 1 prospect honors in his first pro summer. He followed up by leading the the low Class A Midwest League with 35 doubles, 58 extra-base hits, 93 RBIs and a .525 slugging percentage in 2007. After hitting .316/.404/.541 as the second-youngest player in the Arizona Fall League, he was expected to begin 2008 at Double-A New Hampshire, but a spring-training right elbow injury relegated him to DH duty with high Class A Dunedin. He started slowly upon a promotion to Double-A in late April, needing 23 games to push his average to .200 while striking out in 42 percent of his at-bats. His ailing elbow negatively affected his swing path, and he developed the bad habit of pulling off the ball as he tried to yank everything to right field. Snider appeared to be fully recovered by mid-May, and in his final 93 minor league games, he batted .293/.368/.499 with 15 homers and 25 doubles. Toronto rewarded Snider with a September callup, during which he batted .301 with power as the American League's youngest player.

Strengths: With strength, bat speed and a simple lefthanded swing, Snider projects to hit for average and plus power to all fields in the big leagues. Despite his lofty strikeout totals, he has exceptional control of the bat barrel, showing a knack for hitting balls in any part of the zone with authority. His sound hitting base enhances his balance, and he already uses the opposite field when pitchers try to work him on the outer half, a positive sign for a young hitter. In fact, he smashed his first big league homer slightly left of center field. Snider is more athletic than his 5-foot-11, 245-pound frame suggests, and his arm is strong enough for right field (though he'll probably play left with Vernon Wells and Alex Rios in Toronto). He always puts forth consistent effort on defense. A natural leader, he receives uniformly high marks for his competitive makeup.

Weaknesses: Because lefthanders threw him a steady diet of offspeed pitches—even in hitter's counts—Snider struggled versus southpaws in the high minors, hitting a mere .233/.295/.310 in a limited sample of 116 Double-A and Triple-A at-bats. Showing a more patient approach could help him overcome this shortcoming, as he showed a tendency toward free swinging as he moved up the ladder. It's not a long-term concern if he refines his approach to the point where he's confident hitting with two strikes. Physically mature with a muscular build and a thick lower half, Snider has below-average running speed and always will need to make conditioning a priority. His outfield range is average at best.

The Future: Toronto's trade of Matt Stairs to the Phillies at the end of August cleared a spot for another outfielder, and the Blue Jays decided to give Snider a taste of the big leagues. He figures into the club's 2009 plans, though he may begin the year with the Jays' new Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate. Either way, it shouldn't be long before he takes his place as a middle-of-the-order threat and team leader for Toronto.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Dunedin (HiA)
.279
.333
.557
61
15
17
5
0
4
7
5
22
1
New Hampshire (AA) .262
.357
.461
362
65
95
21
0
17
67
52
116
1
Syracuse (AAA) .344
.388
.525
61
8
21
5
0
2
17
4
15
1
Toronto .301
.338
.466
73
9
22
6
0
2
13
5
23
0
 
2.  J.P. Arencibia, c  Born: Jan. 5, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-1 Wt: 215
Drafted: Tennessee, 2007 (1st round). Signed by: Matt Briggs.
J.P. ArencibiaBackground: The 21st overall pick in 2007, Arencibia signed for $1,327,500 and struggled in his pro debut, in part because he was hit by a pitch on his left wrist. Healthy in 2008, he tied Minor League Player of the Year Matt Wieters for the most homers by a minor league catcher (27) and ranked 10th in the minors with 105 RBIs.

Strengths: Arencibia has impressive power to all fields—especially to center and left field—and rarely gets cheated at the plate. An agile and fundamentally sound receiver who calls a good game, he's bilingual and a natural leader. He threw out 34 percent of basestealers in 2008, and evaluators rave about his easy, accurate and strong throwing arm. He also improved his blocking skills, dramatically reducing his rate of passed balls.

Weaknesses: Despite batting .298 in his first full pro season, Arencibia projects as an average hitter at best at the big league level. He likes to swing at the first pitch he can handle, leading to few deep counts and even fewer walks, so the Blue Jays challenged him to see more pitches during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Arencibia's long swing and tendency to upper cut also will cut into his average. As with most catchers, he's a below-average runner.

The Future: A potential first-division regular, Arencibia is Toronto's catcher of the future. He could be big league-ready by the second half of 2009.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Dunedin (Hi A) .315 .344 .560 248 38 78 22 0 13 62 11 46 0
New Hampshire (AA) .282 .302 .496 262 32 74 14 0 14 43 7 55 0
 
3. Brett Cecil, lhp  Born: July 2, 1986B-T: R-LHt: 6-3 Wt: 220
Drafted: Maryland, 2007 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Tom Burns.
Brett CecilBackground: Cecil served primarily as a reliever in three years at Maryland, but the Blue Jays made him a starter after drafting him 38th overall in 2007. He ranked as the short-season New York-Penn League's No. 1 prospect and pitched Auburn to the league title in his debut, then finished his first full season at Triple-A Syracuse.

Strengths: Cecil attacks batters with two plus pitches and has worked diligently to refine the rest of his repertoire. His two-seam fastball sits at 90-92 mph, while his hard, two-plane slider arrives at 82-84. He generates plenty of swings and misses, not to mention oodles of groundouts. He showed increased confidence in his average curveball as the season wore on. Though Cecil has the raw stuff to succeed in any role, Some observers prefer him in relief because his four-seam fastball creeps into the mid-90s in short stints.

Weaknesses: Stamina will be an issue for Cecil going forward, as he was kept on strict pitch counts in 2008, ranging from 60 in April to 90 in August. He completed six innings in just five starts all season. Because he didn't need it as a reliever, he still struggles with the consistency of his changeup, and his feel for mixing his pitches is unrefined. Toronto has worked with him on keeping his arm stroke more fluid and on hiding the ball better in his delivery.

The Future: Cecil follows in the footsteps of David Bush and Shaun Marcum as college closers that the Blue Jays have turned into effective starters. He'll open 2009 back in Triple-A and projects as a No. 3 starter.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Dunedin (Hi A) 0 0 1.74 4 4 0 0 10 6 1 2 11 .167
New Hampshire (AA) 6 2 2.55 18 18 0 0 78 66 4 23 87 .227
Syracuse (AAA) 2 3 4.11 6 6 0 0 31 28 1 16 31 .237
 
4.  Justin Jackson, ss  Born: Dec. 11, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 186
 Drafted: HS—Asheville, N.C., 2007 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Marc Tramuta.
Justin JacksonBackground: A teammate of Marlins prospect Cameron Maybin in high school, Jackson went 45th overall in the 2007 draft as one of the top shortstops available. He didn't light up the Midwest League in his debut like Maybin did, but Jackson did show a true up-the-middle profile with his wiry athleticism and pure infield actions.

Strengths: Jackson has well above-average range, hands and arm strength at shortstop and the polish not usually associated with such a young player. He consistently fields the ball on the right hop and provides accurate feeds to the second baseman on double plays. Jackson has a simple swing and a good idea of the strike zone, and though his bat speed is just average, he has more than enough power for a middle infielder. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes, allowing him to work deep counts and draw walks. With solid-average speed, he should be able to leg out plenty of doubles and triples and kick in 15-20 stolen bases annually.

Weaknesses: Jackson's 154 strikeouts were fifth-most among low Class A batters. Some MWL scouts criticized Jackson for getting lackadaisical in the field at times and for holding the ball too long in order to show off his arm.

The Future: Jackson has no peers among shortstops in the system. He'll begin 2009 in high Class A and needs at least a couple more years of seasoning.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Auburn (SS) .238 .340 .368 454 74 108 26 6 7 47 62 154 17
 
5.  David Cooper, 1b Born: Feb. 12, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-0Wt: 175
Drafted: California, 2008 (1st round). Signed by: Chris Becerra.
David CooperBackground: The 17th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Cooper was the first first-rounder to sign, agreeing to a $1.5 million bonus on June 11. Widely regarded as one of the top bats available, he delivered on that promise in his pro debut, finishing in high Class A and batting .333/.399/.502 with 29 doubles in 69 games.

Strengths: A sweet-swinging lefthanded batter, Cooper has tremendous barrel awareness and excellent hand-eye coordination. Factor in his line-drive, all-fields approach and his ability to keep his bat in the hitting zone for a long time, and he should produce high batting averages. As he learns to incorporate his lower half in his swing, he could develop average power and hit 18-20 homers per season.

Weaknesses: Though he's a natural in the batter's box, Cooper's other tools pale in comparison with his hitting acumen. A below-average athlete and poor runner, he offers limited range and slow reactions at first base. Some evaluators have him pegged as a future DH because he has shown little desire to improve his defensive game.

The Future: Cooper's bat should be able to carry him to the big leagues. If things go smoothly, he could be established as Toronto's first baseman by 2010. He and Travis Snider figure to form the core of future Blue Jays offenses.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Auburn (SS) .341 .411 .553 85 10 29 10 1 2 21 10 16 0
Lansing (Lo A) .354 .415 .521 96 15 34 10 0 2 17 10 14 0
Dunedin (Hi A) .304 .373 .435 92 10 28 9 0 1 13 10 16 0
 
6.  Kevin Ahrens, 3b  Born: April 26, 1989B-T: B-RHt: 6-1Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS—Houston, 2007 (1st round). Signed by: Andy Beene.
Kevin AhrensBackground: Ahrens began switch-hitting and hitting for power during his junior year in high school, putting him on the path to go 16th overall in the 2007 draft and receive a $1.44 million bonus. He batted just .230/.339/.321 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his debut and struggled in the tough Midwest League in 2008.

Strengths: Though the results have been underwhelming thus far, Ahrens has an easy swing from both sides of the plate and the patience to wait for his pitch. His all-fields approach is advanced for a young hitter and he figures to hit for a decent average with 20-homer power down the line. His lefty swing has improved to the point where he did more damage from that side in 2008 than from his natural right side. A converted shortstop, he has soft hands, good range to both sides and a plus-plus arm.

Weaknesses: Some MWL observers regarded Ahrens' bat speed as no more than average, though no obvious mechanical flaw handicaps his upside. While he showed the ability to work counts, he also took a lot of first-pitch fastballs for strikes. Like Justin Jackson, Ahrens tailed off in the second half while adjusted to the physical and mental grind of playing every day for five months. He's a below-average runner but not bad underway.

The Future: It may take him time to develop, but Ahrens' potential as a hitter and defender place him squarely at the top of the organization's third-base depth chart. He'll move up to high Class A and play alongside Jackson again in 2009.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lansing (Lo A)
.259
.329
.367
460
54
119
25
5
5
42
45
135
5
 
7.  Brad Mills, lhp  Born: March 5, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-0Wt: 185
 Drafted: Arizona, 2007 (4th round). Signed by: Dan Cholowsky.
Brad MillsBackground: The Blue Jays first drafted Mills in the 22nd round in 2006, but he turned them down so he could complete his civil-engineering degree. Toronto took him 18 rounds higher in 2007 and watched him advance to Double-A in his first full season while ranking fifth in the minors in ERA (1.95) and eighth in strikeouts (159).

Strengths: Despite his strikeout total, Mills doesn't overpower batters in the traditional sense. Instead he relies on a deceptive, herky-jerky delivery and offspeed stuff to put batters away. His well above-average changeup is a true swing-and-miss pitch because his arm speed fools hitters. They also struggle with his average 12-to-6 curveball. He gets high marks for his mound presence and ability to make adjustments.

Weaknesses: Mills tends to work up in the zone because of his high three-quarters arm slot, which could be a problem against better hitters at the upper levels. Aside from his fastball velocity—he sits at 88-89 mph and touches 91—that's the chief criticism of the lefthander.

The Future: Success came easily to Mills in 2008, but pitchers who rely on deception usually find it more difficult to fool big league hitters. Evaluators who have seen him pitch believe his stuff will play in the middle or back of a big league rotation.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lansing (Lo A) 6 3 2.55 15 15 0 0 81 71 3 28 92 .233
Dunedin (Hi A) 4 0 1.35 6 6 0 0 33 25 2 12 35 .210
New Hampshire (AA) 3 2 1.10 6 6 0 0 33 24 2 12 32 .205
 
8.  Ricky Romero, lhp  Born: Nov. 6, 1984B-T: R-LHt: 6-1Wt: 200
 Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2005 (1st round). Signed by: Demerius Pittman.
Ricky RomeroBackground: Late bloomer or bust? That's the question surrounding Romero, whom the Blue Jays selected sixth overall in 2005 and signed for a club-record $2.4 million. He has spent the bulk of the past three seasons in Double-A and been passed by several lefties in the system.

Strengths: Romero may not be ace he was in college, but his stuff still will play in the big leagues if he throws more strikes with it. He pitches at 91-92 mph and touches 94, but he struggles to command his fastball for strikes. His power curveball usually arrives in the high 70s and features sharp downward break, while his power changeup has enough separation and sink to fool batters.

Weaknesses: Romero is best suited by pitching to spots and keeping batters off balance instead of trying to overpower them. He had some success in Triple-A when he emphasized his high-80s two-seamer, a slower version of his curve and a fringy slider, though he still needs to cut down on his walks. He sometimes telegraphs his breaking pitches by altering his arm slot.

The Future: Romero still needs to show more consistency to reach his ceiling as a No. 3 or 4 starter. Expected to be placed on the 40-man roster this offseason, he'll return to Triple-A to begin 2009.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Hampshire (AA)
5
5
5.05
20
20
0
0
117.2
135
9
51
75
.295
Syracuse (AAA)
3
3
3.38
7
7
1
0
42.2
42
3
20
38
.263
 
9.  Marc Rzepczynski, lhp  Born: Aug. 29, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 205
Drafted: UC Riverside, 2007 (5th round). Signed by: Demerius Pittman.
Marc RzepczynskiBackground: In the last three drafts, the Blue Jays have selected four college senior pitchers in the first five rounds (Brandon Magee, Brad Mills, Rzepczynski and Andrew Liebel), believing they could move quickly while simultaneously providing value. Rzepczynski helped pitch Auburn to a league championship in his debut and had a strong 2008 despite missing April with a fracture in his pitching hand.

Strengths: Rzepczynski pounds the bottom of the strike zone with all four of his pitches, as evidenced by his 3.0 groundout/airout ratio in 2008. His sinker sits at 88-90 mph and touches 92 with tremendous tailing life, while his solid-average slider resides at 82-83 and gives him a weapon to the other side of the plate. His sinking changeup grades as an average pitch.

Weaknesses: Though he got plenty of swings and misses in low Class A, Rzepczynski lacks a true out pitch. His curveball is a tick behind his slider, but he might not need it to be more than a show-me pitch. He's 23 and has yet to pitch above low Class A, so he needs to stay healthy and get going.

The Future: The Blue Jays will have a better idea of what they have in Rzepczynski if he earns a fast promotion to Double-A in 2009. He's got the stuff to pitch at the back of a big league rotation or as a middle reliever.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lansing (LoA)
7
6
2.83
22
22
0
0
121
100
2
42
124
.230
 
10.  Brad Emaus, 2b/3b  Born: March, 28, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 200
 Drafted: Tulane, 2007 (11th round). Signed by: Matt Briggs.
Brad EmausBackground: A Cape Cod League all-star in 2006, Emaus fell to the 11th round of the 2007 draft after an ankle injury slowed him as a junior. He earned an Opening Day assignment to high Class A in 2008 and went on to surprise the Blue Jays with all facets of his game. He ranked sixth in the Florida State League with 49 extra-base hits.

Strengths: A gap hitter with a sturdy build and a short stroke to the ball, Emaus grinds out at-bats and already shows average hitting and power tools. His strong knowledge of the strike zone and his willingness to use all fields should help him refine his offensive potential. He has a strong arm.

Weaknesses: After playing mostly third base in his debut, Emaus shifted to second base, his college position, and proved to be steady on double-play feeds and pivots, but a bit fringy overall in terms of range. He has slightly below-average speed, though he's a smart baserunner who stole 12 bases in 16 attempts in the FSL.

The Future: Emaus has drawn comparisons with Ty Wigginton for his build, solid righthanded bat and ability to cover second and third base. After the season he headed to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he played all over the infield, and he will advance to Double-A in 2009.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Dunedin (HiA)
.302
.380
.463
473
87
143
34
3
12
71
60
56
12

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Photo Credits: Steve Moore (Snider)
Mike Janes (Arencibia)
Paul Gierhart (Jackson, Cooper, Ahrens)
Kevin Pataky (Romero)
Rob Cuni (Emaus)