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Top Ten Prospects: Toronto Blue Jays
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Michael Levesque
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, 2005.
It has been more than a decade since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series. Since that mini-dynasty, Toronto has seen a change in ownership and management, gone from a large-revenue to a medium-revenue franchise, and completely overhauled its organizational philosophy.
After an 86-win, third-place finish in 2003, the Blue Jays took a giant step in the wrong direction in the third year of general manager J.P. Ricciardi's tenure. With their three stars—Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells—missing significant time with injuries, they lost 94 games and finished in last place in the American League East for the first time since 1981.
"The one thing that was revealed this year is the fine line we walk," Ricciardi said. "We just don't have the resources yet in the minor leagues that can come up and replace a Carlos Delgado if he's out for 30 games. I think we're getting there, but we're not to that point."
The openings at the major league level forced the Jays to promote several prospects who figure into their long-term plans. Right fielder Alexis Rios, rated the top talent in the system entering 2004, arrived in May and showed promise by hitting .286, though his power production has yet to develop. Righthander David Bush joined the rotation shortly before the all-star break and posted a 3.69 ERA in 16 starts.
Outfielder Gabe Gross, who came within one at bat of losing his rookie status, looked overmatched at the plate at times. Shortstop Russ Adams, righty Brandon League and catcher Guillermo Quiroz were more impressive in shorter September stints.
Another youngster who earned consideration for a spot on Toronto’s 2005 major league roster is lefthander Gustavo Chacin. After going 18-2, 2.82 between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Syracuse, he was sharp in two big league starts.
"At the end of the day, our best baseball is ahead of us. It's just going to take time," Ricciardi said. "That's just the reality of the division and where we're at. Look at teams like Minnesota and Oakland. Those teams lost a lot of games for a lot of years in a row. I don't think we're going to be like that, but I do think it's going to take more time. Maybe even more time than I thought."
Ricciardi and his staff hope to make up ground on the AL East powers Boston and New York through player development. Toronto’s "Moneyball" approach has loaded the system with advanced college players, many of whom have progressed rapidly. However, the Jays lack the high-ceiling, impact-level prospects who once flourished in the system.
Farm director Dick Scott has been able to restore a winning attitude throughout the minor leagues, as the Jays' six minor league affiliates combined for a .572 winning percentage in 2004, the second-best record in baseball. In its first year as a franchise and playing in temporary digs, New Hampshire won the Eastern League championship, while high Class A Dunedin, low Class A Charleston and short-season Auburn all made trips to the postseason.
In his first year as scouting director, Canadian Jon Lalonde continued Toronto's recent trend of drafting polished college prospects early and often. The Jays addressed a void in the system by targeting lefthanders David Purcey and Zach Jackson with a pair of first-round selections.
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