Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects
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.
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