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

While Blue Jays fans spent much of the season wondering when or where Roy Halladay would get traded, 2009 actually marked the end of another long run in Toronto.

J.P. Ricciardi took over as general manager after the 2001 season and talked about taking down the Red Sox and Yankees. But the best he could muster was an 87-75 record and second-place finish in 2006—the only time the Blue Jays have finished better than third since winning the World Series in 1992-93. Toronto sank back below .500 in 2009, finishing 75-87 for the second-worst record of Ricciardi's tenure.

Toronto has been unable to build around one of baseball's best and most durable pitchers during his peak years. Ricciardi certainly tried, but his administration didn't develop enough premium talent. His drafts leaned heavily on low-ceiling college players, and his Jays didn't take a high school player in the first round until 2006 (outfielder Travis Snider). They returned to the college route in the first round the last two years, with their 2009 effort torpedoed by a failure to sign three of their first four picks.

Ricciardi's regime did provide building blocks such as Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Ricky Romero, but it wasn't enough. He tried to fill holes with free agents, with some modest successes (A.J. Burnett, though he opted out of the last two seasons of his five-year, $55 million deal) and some expensive mistakes (B.J. Ryan, who was released last July with roughly $15 million remaining on a five-year, $47 million contract).

Ricciardi also overpaid to keep two of the organization's best development success stories in Toronto. He signed Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126 million contract extension after the 2006 season, then locked up Alex Rios with a seven-year, $69.8 million deal in April 2008. Both players sank under the weight of those contracts, though the Jays were able to shed Rios' salary when the White Sox claimed him on waivers last summer.

Blue Jays interim president Paul Beeston fired Ricciardi on the last day of the season and tapped vice president of baseball operations Alex Anthopolous to replace him. Beeston later decided to drop the "interim" from his title and assume control of the franchise again. He was the Jays' first employee when the franchise was born in 1976.

Beeston and Anthopolous seem intent on relying on player development to get the Jays out of mediocrity. In addition to a huge shuffle in the baseball department, Anthopolous has nearly doubled the size of the team's scouting staff.

The Jays recognize that they need to sign and develop their own premium talent, particularly now that their corporate ownership (Rogers Communications) has become more focused on the bottom line in recent years. Toronto won 86 games in 2008 with a payroll of $98.3 million, and still finished nine games out of the playoffs while losing $15 million. Going forward, their payrolls will be in the $70 million range.

As teams like the Rays and Rockies have shown recently, it's still possible to win at those prices if you develop your own talent and get production out of players when they're young and cheap. That's Anthopolous' mission after Ricciardi failed at it.

1.  Zach Stewart, rhp   Born: Sept. 28, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 205
 Drafted: Texas Tech, 2008 (3rd round)Signed by: Jerry Flowers (Reds)
Zach StewartBackground: Zach Stewart's baseball career has taken several twists and turns. He made stops at Angelo State (Texas) and North Central Texas CC before transferring to Texas Tech for his junior season in 2008. The Red Raiders' pitching staff fell apart as the season wore on, and Stewart went from being their closer to their Friday-night starter. He generated some first-round buzz early in the spring, but his role changes caused his performance to suffer somewhat. The Reds drafted him in the third round, signed him for $450,000 and returned him to the bullpen for his pro debut. Though Stewart was electric as a reliever, Cincinnati moved him back to the rotation at the start of the 2009 season, in part to make him use his secondary pitches. He dominated hitters in high Class A and Double-A before the Reds shifted him to their Triple-A bullpen to keep his innings down. Soon thereafter, they traded him, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Roenicke for Scott Rolen as the Blue Jays gladly shed some payroll. Toronto kept Stewart in relief in August, again in an attempt to manage his workload.

Strengths: Stewart's bread and butter is his hard sinker, which sits at 92-94 mph and touches 95. He also offers a sharp 82-85 mph slider that generates more swings and misses than his fastball, which induces plenty of weak groundouts. He has given up just three homers in 138 pro innings. After rarely using his changeup as a reliever, he developed more trust in the pitch last season. He also improved the life on his changeup, imparting more sink after it had cutting action in the past. A compact athlete with a strong build, Stewart has the durability to remain in the rotation if the Jays desire. He did a better job of maintain the quality of his stuff as a starter last year than he had in college. He also has the makeup to handle the pressure of closing games. He throws strikes and stays on top of the ball well from a three-quarters arm slot.

Weaknesses: Stewart must continue to refine his secondary pitches if he's going to be an effective big league starter. His slider can make hitters look silly but still needs more consistency, as does his changeup. His slider has the potential to go from average to plus, while his changeup has the makings of a solid-average pitch. He can get too competitive on the mound, resulting in him overthrowing and losing his ability to locate his pitches. His command isn't as advanced as his control.

The Future: In his first full pro season, Stewart wasn't fazed switching organizations and roles. Another change is in store for him in 2010, when he'll open the season in the Triple-A Las Vegas rotation. He should make his big league debut later in the year. The Blue Jays haven't determined their final plan for Stewart. If he gets the most out of his secondary pitches, he has the upside of a frontline starter. He also could be a force as a setup man or closer.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Sarasota (Hi A) 1 1 2.13 7 7 1 0 42 47 1 8 32 .283
Carolina (AA) 3 0 1.46 7 7 0 0 37 29 1 10 31 .218
Louisville (AAA) 0 0 0.73 9 0 0 2 12 11 0 8 16 .234
Las Vegas (AAA) 0 0 3.38 11 0 0 0 13 18 1 6 14 .327
2.  J.P. Arencibia, c   Born: Jan. 5, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 215
 Drafted: Tennessee, 2007 (1st round).Signed by: Matt Briggs
J.P. ArencibiaBackground: The No. 2 college catching prospect behind Matt Wieters in 2007, Arencibia signed for $1,327,500 as the 21st overall pick. After struggling in his pro debut, in part because a pitch hit him on his left wrist, he has hit 27 and 21 homers in his two full seasons.

Strengths: Arencibia's ability to hit for power is his most attractive asset. He also has made strides behind the plate, boosting his overall value. He has a slightly above-average arm and has worked hard to shore up his once-shaky receiving skills. His game-calling has impoved as well.

Weaknesses: Scouts question how much Arencibia will hit in the major leagues because his swing is long and his bat speed is ordinary. His overly aggressive approach caught up to him in Triple-A. He still needs more polish defensively, as he threw out just 25 percent of basestealers and committed 14 passed balls in 2009. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner.

The Future: Even if he never hits for a high average, Areniciba could provide 20-25 homers on an annual basis and solid defense. With only John Buck, Raul Chavez and Ramon Castro standing in his way, he'll take over in Toronto as soon as he's ready. Arencibia will return to Las Vegas to begin 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Las Vegas (AAA) .236 .284 .444 466 67 110 32 1 21 75 26 114 0
3.  Chad Jenkins, rhp   Born: Dec. 22, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 235
 Drafted: Kennesaw State, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Matt Briggs
Chad JenkinsBackground: As scouts flocked north of Atlanta to see Kennesaw State righthander Kyle Heckathorn last spring, they took notice of another weekend starter in Jenkins. He threw 41 consecutive scoreless innings and surprassed Heckathorn as a prospect, becoming the highest draft pick in school history when the Blue Jays selected him 20th overall. He signed late for $1.359 million and reported to instructional league.

Strengths: Jenkins draws comparisons to Joe Blanton because he's a physical workhorse, and he has better stuff. His fastball sits comfortably at 91-94 mph and touches 96, and its plus life allows him to pile up strikeouts and groundouts. With 83-84 mph velocity and late three-quarters tilt, his slider has the potential to be an above-average pitch. He maintains good arm speed on a changeup that has some fade. He commands all three of his pitches.

Weaknesses: Jenkins has toned up his body, but it's still soft and he'll have to maintain his conditioning. Both his slider and changeup need more work, but have the chance to improve by a full grade. He's still learning to incorporate his changeup more often after he didn't need it much in college.

The Future: With his stuff, command and makeup, Jenkins should move quickly through the minors. His road to being a solid No. 3 starter should begin in high Class A Dunedin this season.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
4.  David Cooper, 1b   Born: Feb. 12, 1987.B-T: L-LHt: 6-0Wt: 200
 Drafted: California, 2008 (1st round)Signed by: Chris Becerra
David CooperBackground: The first first-rounder from the 2008 draft to sign, Cooper agreed to a slightly below-slot $1.5 million bonus as the 17th overall pick. He hit .333/.399/.502 in his pro debut, but found the going much tougher at Double-A New Hampshire in his first full season.

Strengths: Cooper has the sweet swing and hand-eye coordination to hit for a high average. He made adjustments over the course of the 2009 season, shortening his swing and tinkering with some mechanics, allowing him to finish strong. He has solid gap power and is a doubles machine, with 61 in 197 pro games.

Weaknesses: It remains to be seen whether Cooper will develop the home run power teams traditionally want from their first basemen. He had trouble driving the ball against lefthanders last season, slugging just .326 against them. He's a bat-only player who has poor speed and subpar athleticism. He put more effort into improving his defense in 2009, but he's still a below-average first baseman.

The Future: Despite his struggles, Cooper remains the best hitting prospect in the system. The Jays will slow him down by sending him back to Double-A at the start of the year and give him the chance to earn a midseason promotion to Triple-A. He could be ready to take over in Toronto when Lyle Overbay's contract expires after the 2010 season.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
New Hampshire (AA) .258 .340 .389 473 62 122 32 0 10 66 59 92 0
5.  Henderson Alvarez, rhp   Born: April 18, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 190
 Signed: Venezuela, 2006Signed by: Rafael Moncada
Henderson AlvarezBackground: Signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old, Alvarez posted a 5.63 ERA in two years in Rookie ball before breaking out at low Class A Lansing in 2009. He went 9-6, 3.47 for a last-place team, leading the Midwest League in fewest walks (1.4) and homers (0.1) allowed per nine innings. Managers rated his changeup as the MWL's best.

Strengths: All three of Alvarez's pitches have a chance to be average or better. His best offering is his changeup, which has splitter action. When he's at his best, his fastball sits at 89-92 mph and touches 94. He commands his fastball and changeup very well, and complements them with a three-quarters breaking ball.

Weaknesses: Alvarez needs to polish his breaking ball into a true slider or curveball. His velocity fluctuates, as there are games where he works at 86-89 mph, and adding more strength would help. He's not overpowering, so he'll have little margin for error against more advanced hitters. He has some recoil and falls off to first base in his delivery, and he tends to rush his mechanics with runners on base.

The Future: The Blue Jays' want to be conservative with Alvarez because of his youth, and they shut him down last August because of his innings total. Projected as a No. 4 starter, he'll step up to high Class A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lansing (Lo A) 9 6 3.47 23 23 1 0 124 121 1 19 92 .251
6.  Jake Marisnick, of   Born: March 30, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Riverside, Calif., 2009 (3rd round)Signed by: Rick Ingalls
Jake MarisnickBackground: After turning in the highest score in the SPARQ physical testing at the 2008 Area Code Games, Marisnick established himself as one of the best pure athletes available in the 2009 draft. After a mediocre spring with the bat, he lasted until the third round. One of just two players to sign out of the Blue Jays' first five picks, he received a $1 million bonus at the Aug. 17 signing deadline.

Strengths: Marisnick's long frame is packed with raw strength and speed. He has the ingredients to develop above-average power. A plus runner, he can get down the line in 4.25 seconds from the right side of the plate. Currently a center fielder, he has a strong arm and makes accurate throws, so he'd be a good fit in right field if he has to move.

Weaknesses: If teams believed more in his bat, Marisnick could have been a first-round pick. A wrist cock in his load hinders his timing and prevents him from driving the ball with authority. He needs to iron out that flaw to deliver on his five-tool potential.

The Future: Marisnick gained strength between the draft and instructional league, so he could move to right field in the near future if he loses a step. For now, he'll stay in center and focus on improving at the plate. Rather than push him, Toronto will probably send him to extended spring training and have him make his pro debut at short-season Auburn in June.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed Late
7.  Josh Roenicke, rhp   Born: Aug. 4, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 195
 Drafted: UCLA, 2006 (10th round)Signed by: Rex de la Nuez (Reds)
Josh RoenickeBackground: Roenicke went to UCLA on a football scholarship as a quarterback/wide receiver before walking on to the baseball team and becoming the Bruins' closer. He also was a plus defender in center field, though his bat was short for pro ball. He signed with the Reds for $20,000 as a fifth-year senior drafted in the 10th round, and came to the Blue Jays in the Scott Rolen trade last summer.

Strengths: Roenicke made it to the big leagues quickly thanks to his power arm out of the bullpen. His fastball sits at 93-95 mph and peaks at 98 with some natural life. He also mixes in a high-80s cutter that runs and sinks. A tough competitor, he's not afraid to challenge hitters.

Weaknesses: Roenicke mostly works off his four-seam and cut fastballs. He also throws a hard slider that's inconsistent, and an adequate changeup that he rarely uses. He can fall in love with the radar gun and sometimes asks for his readings after coming off the mound. He may have tried too hard after the trade, overthrowing and battling his control.

The Future: Though he scuffled with Toronto, Roenicke has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. The Jays' closer of the future, he'll get the opportunity to make the big league bullpen in spring training.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Louisville (AAA) 1 0 2.57 27 0 0 12 28 30 0 6 32 .268
Cincinnati 0 0 2.70 11 0 0 0 13 13 0 4 14 .260
Toronto 0 0 7.13 13 0 0 0 18 19 2 12 19 .271
8.  Brad Mills, lhp   Born: March 5, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 5-11Wt: 185
 Drafted: Arizona, 2007 (4th round)Signed by: Dan Cholowsky
Brad MillsBackground: A 22nd-round pick by the Blue Jays in 2006, Mills returned to Arizona to complete his civil-engineering degree. He went 18 rounds higher in 2007, made it to Double-A in his first full season and reached the majors in his second. He got hammered in two big league starts, went down to Triple-A and threw eight shutout innings before spending the rest of the season on the disabled list with bruised ribs.

Strengths: Though he's far from overpowering, Mills has averaged more than a strikeout per inning as a pro via deception. His herky-jerky delivery throws hitters off, and his ability to mix his pitches keeps them off balance. He disguises his well above-average changeup with quality arm speed. He also gets outs with his solid 12-to-6 curveball. When he commands his 87-90 mph fastball, it's effective as well.

Weaknesses: Mills' below-average velocity and his tendency to pitch up in the strike zone with his high-three-quarters delivery created problems when he faced big league hitters. He's going to have to spot his fastball more precisely in the bottom of the zone to succeed in a major league rotation.

The Future: Unless he overwhelms the Jays in spring training, Mills likely will open the season back in Las Vegas. Toronto has a number of young lefthanded starter candidates, so his future with the club may lie in long relief.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Las Vegas (AAA) 2 8 4.06 14 14 1 0 84 83 6 35 72 .263
Toronto 0 1 14.09 2 2 0 0 8 14 4 6 9 .400
9.  Justin Jackson, ss   Born: Dec. 11, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 186
 Drafted: HS—Asheville, N.C., 2007 (1st round supplemental).Signed by: Marc Tramuta
Justin JacksonBackground: Two seasons after the Tigers drafted Roberson High (Asheville, N.C.) teammate Cameron Maybin 10th overall, Jackson went 45th to the Blue Jays in the 2007 draft. Signed for $675,000, he has been slow to adjust to pro ball, hitting .221/.322/.315 in three seasons. Bothered by a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in 2009, he was in an 0-for-27 slump when Toronto shut him down in late July to have surgery.

Strengths: Jackson is one of the best athletes in the system and profiles as a true shortstop. His range, hands and arm strength are better than those of most shortstops, and he's making nice progress with his reads and footwork. He draws walks and uses his solid speed to steal bases. He has some strength in his wiry frame and could fit as a No. 2 hitter if he gets going at the plate.

Weaknesses: The Jays blame his shoulder and youth for his struggles, but scouts with other organizations question Jackson's bat speed. While he's not afraid to take pitches, he often falls behind in the count and strikes out excessively. He won't ever hit for a lot of home run power, so he needs to focus on making much more contact.

The Future: Tyler Pastornicky and Ryan Goins are starting to push Jackson for the title of top shortstop prospect in the system. Toronto will give Jackson a mulligan on 2009 and hope he starts to hit when he gets another crack at high Class A this season.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Dunedin (Hi A) .213 .321 .269 249 44 53 12 1 0 17 39 87 17
10.  Carlos Perez, c   Born: Oct. 27, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 193
 Signed: Venezuela, 2008Signed by: Rafael Moncada
Carlos PerezBackground: The Jays signed Perez as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 2008 and were thrilled with his performance in his U.S. debut last season. He ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and showed the potential to be a fine all-around catcher.

Strengths: Perez stands out most with his defensive skills. He has a plus arm, consistently records pop times around 1.9 seconds and led GCL catchers by throwing out 49 percent of basestealers. He shows a good feel for hitting, as his bat stays in the zone for a long time and he better plate discipline than most teenagers. He's a good runner for a catcher and makes smart decisions on the basepaths.

Weaknesses: His receiving and blocking skills need more polish, but Perez is still young and has made notable improvements over the last year. He should develop gap power as he adjusts his contact-oriented approach and does a better job of incorporating his lower half in his swing.

The Future: Because Perez is only 19 and hasn't played above Rookie ball, the Jays will take things slow with him. He probably will get some time in extended spring training and at Auburn this season before getting his first taste of full-season ball in 2011.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Blue Jays (R) .291 .364 .433 141 17 41 11 3 1 21 16 23 2

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Photo Credits: Mike Janes (Stewart)