Matt Eddy took your Blue Jays questions
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, 2006.
The Blue Jays recovered from an abominable, injury-marred 2004 to win
80 games and reclaim third place in the American League East in 2005.
They hung around the fringes of the wild-card race late into the season,
even after losing ace Roy Halladay to a broken left tibia.
Coming on the heels of a 94-loss season, an 80-82 season had to be
considered progress. But Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi acknowledged
his club was still a few pieces short of contending with the tantalizingly
fallible Red Sox and Yankees. “If we bring the whole team back
with Halladay healthy we win 85, 87 games,” Ricciardi said. “It’s
our goal to be better than that.”
That’s just what Ricciardi and the Blue Jays set out to do in
the offseason. They identified their biggest needs as two additional
hitters and a No. 2 starter. Buoyed by its purchase of SkyDome and the
stronger showing of the Canadian dollar, the club’s owner, Rogers
Communications, had budgeted $210 million for the big league payroll
over the next three seasons. That’s a big step up from the 2005
payroll of $45.7 million, the sixth-lowest in baseball.
Ricciardi didn’t hesitate to spend the extra money. He gave out
the two biggest contracts to free-agent pitchers, doling out $55 million
to A.J. Burnett and $47 million to B.J. Ryan in five-year deals. Ricciardi
also moved to bolster the offense by trading past first-round picks
Gabe Gross and Zach Jackson, along with David Bush, to get Lyle Overbay
from the Brewers.
Ricciardi had to look outside the organization for answers because
while his farm system has some depth, it offers precious little frontline
talent. But in an encouraging sign, more young players contributed to
the Blue Jays in 2005 than at any point in Ricciardi’s four-year
tenure. Russ Adams, Aaron Hill and Alex Rios established themselves
as regulars in the lineup. Gustavo Chacin made 34 starts, a club record
for rookies, and finished fifth in AL rookie-of-the-year balloting.
No. 1 prospect Dustin McGowan, just 14 months recovered from Tommy John
surgery, was thrust into the rotation in August.
On the farm, Toronto’s six affiliates finished with an aggregate
winning record for the third straight season, and two teams—high
Class A Dunedin and short-season Auburn—made the playoffs. The
Blue Jays have shifted their focus in four years under Ricciardi, seeking
mature college players capable of climbing the ladder quickly. Toronto
also has been more active on the international market of late, signing
big-ticket Taiwanese pitchers Chi-Hung Cheng ($400,000) and Po-Hsuan
Keng ($225,000) in November 2003, and power-hitting Dominican third
baseman Leance Soto for $600,000 last spring.
The Blue Jays can’t expect to find everything they’re shopping
for on the free-agent market, and they’re prepared to trade prospects
as needed. It’s no longer about development with the Blue Jays.
It’s time to win, and they are betting 2005 was a sign of better
things to come.
HS—Ludowici, Ga., 2000 (1st round supp.) Signed
by: Chris Buckley/Joe Siers
Background: McGowan ranked as the organization’s
No. 1 prospect entering 2003, and he finished that season strong by going
7-0 in Double-A. He started strong in 2004 and seemed on the verge of
his first big league promotion when a torn elbow ligament halted his progress.
He had Tommy John surgery in May 2004 and didn’t return to the field
until June 2005. Interestingly, the Blue Jays nearly voided his first
pro contract ($950,000 as a supplemental first-round pick in 2000) when
they discovered he had an inflamed elbow. It’s conceivable that
he may now be pitching with a healthy elbow for the first time as a pro.
McGowan rehabbed vigorously from surgery, as evidenced by his relatively
brief 13-month recovery period, working without a ball to refine his mechanics.
His focal points were working to stay back during his delivery so his
arm could catch up to his body, and getting on top of his pitches to deliver
them on more of a downhill plane. McGowan pitched respectably in his first
taste of the majors, going 61/3 innings in his debut to register the win,
but seemed more relaxed on the mound when he moved to the bullpen in September
to limit his workload. In his final appearance of the year, he struck
out all four batters he faced with electric stuff.
Strengths: McGowan has overpowering frontline stuff and pitches
down in the zone with explosive life. He has four major league weapons
to attack hitters with, starting with a 92-94 mph four-seam fastball
that he frequently dials up to 96 in relief. His fast-developing change
is already his second pitch, and it’s an effective weapon against
lefthanders. He maintains fastball arm speed with the pitch. McGowan’s
breaking stuff is less consistent but does show promise. He gets good
rotation on a downer curve, though his 86-88 mph slider has more the
look of a potential out pitch. When it’s working for him, his
slider features sharp two-plane break. McGowan is athletic, quiet and
diligent, and he has shown the aptitude to make adjustments to his level
Weaknesses: Like many young power pitchers, McGowan struggles
to command his fastball, and sometimes his heater lacks movement. Big
league hitters weren’t as prone to chasing his breaking stuff
out of the strike zone as minor leaguers were, so he’ll need to
get ahead in the count with his fastball. He’s also seeking more
consistency with his breaking pitches. The Blue Jays believe his curve
and slider will be better than average once he learns to command them
in the strike zone.
The Future: McGowan showed a lot of growth in 2005, but he still
has much improvement in front of him. He’ll need to refine his
fastball command if he’s to become the front-of-the-rotation starter
the Blue Jays envision. He’ll compete for a rotation spot in spring
training, but would benefit from a few months pitching at Triple-A Syracuse.
Cal State Fullerton, 2005 (1st round) Signed by: Demerius
Background: A second-team All-American as a
junior, Romero was the first pitcher selected in the 2005 draft. The Blue
Jays took him sixth overall and signed him for a club-record $2.4 million.
He was one of Cal State Fullerton’s two aces on its 2004 national
Romero is poised on the mound and attacks hitters with command
of three above-average pitches. He moves his fastball in and out
and usually throws it at 90-92 mph. He gets late action in the
zone with his two-seamer. His power downer curve is sometimes
his second pitch, while other times it’s his changeup, which
he uses to combat righthanders.
Romero doesn’t have dominant stuff. While his delivery is
efficient now, the Jays are working to get his fastball on a more
downward plane. After a heavy amateur workload, Toronto limited
him to a strict 50-60 pitch count during his debut.
Romero likely will return to high Class A Dunedin to start 2006;
with a strong spring, he could start in Double-A. He should move
quickly and is a safe bet to reach his ceiling as a No. 3 starter.
2005 Club (Class)
Dunedin (Hi A)
lhp Born: April 22,
1982 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt: 240
Oklahoma, 2004 (1st round) Signed by: Ty Nichols
Background: After turning down lucrative offers
to turn pro with the Mariners (out of high school) and the Yankees (as
a draft-eligible sophomore), Purcey signed with the Blue Jays for $1.6
million as the 16th overall pick in 2004. He started his first full season
in high Class A and reached Double-A by the end of July.
Purcey’s 91-93 mph fastball tops out at 95 and explodes
on batters as it arrives at the plate. He also generates awkward
swings and misses with his plus 12-to-6 curveball, one of the
best in the system. He has the makings of a quality changeup and
has good arm speed with the pitch, but it’s not as advanced
as his other offerings.
Command has been by far Purcey’s biggest stumbling block,
in part because he has difficulty repeating his release point.
The Blue Jays are also working with him to improve his pitch efficiency
and stamina by not maxing out on every pitch.
The Future: Purcey is a physical pitcher with power stuff.
He won’t reach his potential as a No. 2 starter if he doesn’t
consistently throw strikes. He almost certainly will begin 2006
back in Double-A.
2005 Club (Class)
Dunedin (Hi A)
New Hampshire (AA)
June 17, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195
South Alabama, 2004 (3rd round) Signed by: Joel Grampietro
Background: One year after Lind signed with
the Blue Jays as a draft-eligible sophomore, he has become the best hitting
prospect in the organization. He led the high Class A Florida State League
in doubles and extra-base hits while ranking second in batting average
Lind has the quickest bat in the system, making him Toronto’s
only position prospect with star potential. Described as a natural-born
hitter by one Jays official, he uses a picture-perfect lefthanded
swing to make hard contact to all fields. He’s doesn’t
panic when he falls behind in the count, as his advanced two-strike
approach allows him to be more selective and get pitches to hit.
Lind’s desire to improve defensively has been questioned.
To his credit, he worked doggedly to improve his left-field play,
taking two rounds of batting-practice flyballs a day to hone his
jumps and routes. His arm is fringy and he’s a below-average
Lind is expected to start at Double-A to begin 2006. The Blue
Jays see him as their left fielder of the future and a middle-of-the-order
presence capable of hitting .300 with 40 doubles and 20 homers.
If his glove proves unplayable in left, he may return to first
Florida International, 2003 (2nd round) Signed by: Tony
Background: A strained elbow ligament in 2002
and recurring blisters on his pitching hand may have scared some teams
off, but the Blue Jays snagged Banks in the second round of the 2003 draft.
He has shown improvement in each of his first three pro seasons.
Banks is one of the minors’ finest control pitchers and
went eight straight starts without a walk last year. In the second
half, he began to pitch down in the zone more effectively, something
he didn’t do in his first taste of Double-A in 2004. Banks
commands both sides of the plate with a solid-average fastball
that sits at 90-91 mph and touches 93. His splitter is a major
league out pitch.
Banks made strides with his fringy curveball late in the season,
gaining the confidence to go to it when behind in the count. Less
frequently, he’ll go to his slider or changeup. He’s
still perfecting his pitch sequencing. He’s vulnerable to
homers, perhaps because he was so resistant to giving up walks.
The durable Banks finished among Eastern League leaders in innings,
strikeouts and complete games. He’s bound for Triple-A and
the Jays are excited about his future as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
UCLA, 2004 (4th round) Signed by: Billy Gasparino
Background: A two-way player at UCLA his first
three seasons, Janssen devoted full attention to pitching his senior season.
He went from a 49th-round pick by the Orioles in 2003 to a fourth-rounder
by the Jays in 2004 to one of the system’s best prospects in 2005,
when his 2.18 ERA ranked fourth in the minors.
Janssen commands four pitches for strikes. He creates good natural
cutting movement on his 89-91 mph two-seam fastball. He throws
a solid-average slider with good bite, a changeup with tailing
action and an average though soft curveball. He follows a gameplan
when he pitches, keeps the ball on the ground and is adept at
None of Janssen’s four pitches projects as above average,
and it’s uncertain how his stuff will play against more
advanced hitters who swing and miss less frequently. He wore down
a bit as the season progressed, so he needs to get stronger.
The Future: With his ability to throw strikes, Janssen
looks like a future No. 4 starter in the majors. He’ll open
the season in Double-A.
2005 Club (Class)
Lansing (Lo A)
Dunedin (Hi A)
New Hampshire (AA)
March 16, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190
HS—Honolulu, 2001 (2nd round) Signed by: David Blume
Background: No. 1 on this list a year ago, League
saw his progress stall after his callup to Toronto at the end of 2004.
He made the Jays’ Opening Day roster in 2005, struggled in the majors
and never got back on track in Triple-A. Switching roles from starter
to reliever and back probably hasn’t helped his development.
League has a special arm. He throws everything hard. He popped
101 mph on the radar gun in the big leagues and typically sits
at 94-96 mph with diving action in the strike zone when he’s
on. His hard slider clocks in at 88-91 mph. League’s changeup
has sinking action and is thrown so hard (88-92 mph) it looks
like a two-seam fastball.
League gets in trouble when he can’t locate his pitches.
He can’t get away with pitching up in the zone because his
stuff flattens out. He doesn’t consistently repeat his low
three-quarters release point and is far more hittable than he
should be with his stuff.
The club still thinks League will one day close in the majors.
They believe that with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and a veteran
staff, they have the support system in place to facilitate his
2005 Club (Class)
September 28, 1980 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195
Dominican Republic, 1999 Signed by: Tony Arias
Background: Rosario was just starting to blossom
in 2002 when he injured his elbow in the Arizona Fall League and required
Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t fully recovered the feel for his stuff.
The Blue Jays neglected to call him up in 2005 despite the need to bolster
Rosario was shifted to the bullpen in August to begin grooming
him for a late-inning relief role. He throws his plus fastball
at 93-96 mph. To complement his heater, he throws an above-average
86-88 mph changeup with late action and an 85-88 mph slider. All
of his pitches were sharper when he worked in relief.
Despite his arm strength and velocity, Rosario has a tendency
to lose life and command on his fastball. He also lacks feel for
his secondary stuff, especially his slider. Some observers think
he pitches as if he fears hurting his elbow again.
The Future: Because he missed the entire 2003 season, Rosario
has one option remaining, so he won’t have to clear waivers
if he doesn’t make the big league team in spring training.
He should open the season in the Triple-A bullpen.
Texas, 2004 (2nd round) Signed by: Andy Beene
Background: A member of three College World
Series teams in three years at Texas, Thigpen saw more action at first
base because the Longhorns had one of college baseball’s top defensive
catchers in Taylor Teagarden. Thigpen has taken to full-time catching
even better than the Blue Jays expected, throwing out 40 percent of basestealers
and reaching Double-A in his first full pro season.
Strike-zone judgment and athleticism are Thigpen’s calling
cards. He’s a line-drive hitter with a short stroke and
gap power. He’s a cerebral catcher who studies ways to set
up opposing hitters, and he works well with his pitchers. He’s
versatile enough to play anywhere but shortstop and center field.
Thigpen is agile behind the plate and has made strides with his
footwork, but still can improve his receiving skills. When his
mechanics break down, his arm can rate as slightly below-average.
The Future: The Jays see Thigpen as an everyday catcher
and will give him every opportunity to succeed. His strong finish
at Double-A was encouraging. He’ll likely start 2006 back
with New Hampshire.
Lake City (Fla.) CC, D/F 2000 (18th round) Signed
by: Chris Buckley/Joe Siers
Background: Perkins was a Little League and
high school teammate of Rich Harden while growing up in British Columbia.
Perkins reached Double-A in 2005, though he missed time with a strained
ribcage after having back and elbow injuries in 2004.
Strengths: Perkins’ power arm rivals any in the
system. The action on Perkins’ heavy 93-96 mph sinking fastball
has been likened to a bowling ball, and it’s a true out
pitch. He throws two average secondary pitches: a hard 86-87 mph
slider and a developing changeup. He gets high marks for his mound
presence and makeup.
Pitch efficiency never has been Perkins’ strong suit because
he struggles with his command. Despite having a prototypical pitcher’s
frame, he doesn’t have ideal mechanics. He often throws
across his body and his shoulder flies open when he uses his slider.
He needs to slow the pace of his delivery and repeat his motion.
Command is often the last thing to come for power pitchers, and
the Blue Jays are optimistic Perkins will figure it out. If not,
he could have a bright future in the bullpen. His spring-training
performance will determine if he’s ready for Triple-A.
2005 Club (Class)
New Hampshire (AA)
Banks, Perkins, Romero: Rich Abel
Rosario: Mike Janes
Janssen, McGowan, Purcey, Thigpen: Kevin Pataky
Lind: Rodger Wood