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Toronto Blue Jays:
1999 Top 10

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Toronto Blue Jays Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By David Rawnsley

1. Vernon Wells, OF
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 210
Drafted: HS--Arlington, Texas, 1997 (1st round)  Signed by: Jim Hughes

Top Prospects of the 90s

1990 John Olerud, 1b
1991 Mark Whiten, of
1992 Derek Bell, of
1993 Carlos Delgado, c
1994 Alex Gonzalez, ss
1995 Shawn Green, of
1996 Shannon Stewart, of
1997 Roy Halladay, rhp
1998 Roy Halladay, rhp
1999 Roy Halladay, rhp

Background: To say Wells had an incredible and unprecedented run since the end of 1998 would not be stretching the truth. He has appeared on 10 rosters during that time: Sydney in the Australian League, Blue Jays spring training, Class A Dunedin, Florida State League all-star game, the U.S. team for the Futures Game, Double-A Knoxville, Triple-A Syracuse, Toronto, instructional league and Peoria in the Arizona Fall League. Wells was voted the No. 1 prospect in the FSL, the Southern League and the International League, an unprecedented honor. Wells’ big league debut included a four-hit game, and he led the AFL in extra-base hits to cap off his run. Wells’ father played professional football, and Wells himself could have had his choice of nationally ranked football schools out of high school.

Strengths: Baseball executives love to say the sport is losing athletes like Wells to football and basketball. He has a rare combination of speed, power, balance and athletic presence. He has a short, compact swing that should guarantee a high average at all times. Wells’ speed is above-average but he has a strong, loping stride that gives him deceptive quickness both on the bases and in center field. His instincts are strong in center field, and he has an accurate throwing arm with above-average strength. Wells’ makeup has served him well in handling his rapid advancement.

Weaknesses: Wells hasn’t learned to loft the ball for consistent home run power, and any 400-foot drives he hits are more a matter of overpowering the ball with pure bat speed and physical strength. The Blue Jays would like to see him continue to become more aggressive on the bases and in tracking balls in center.

The Future: Scouts say Wells still has plenty of room to improve. The Blue Jays have tried to keep their expectations realistic, pointing to his age and still-evolving feel for the game. Although he started in the big leagues much of September, Wells probably will start 2000 in Triple-A while the Blue Jays give Jose Cruz Jr. one more shot at becoming a regular center fielder.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Dunedin (A)        .343  265  43  91  16   2  11   43  26  34  13
Knoxville (AA)     .340  106  18  36   6   2   3   17  12  15   6
Syracuse (AAA)     .310  129  20  40   8   1   4   21  10  22   5
Toronto            .261   88   8  23   5   0   1    8   4  18   1

2. Felipe Lopez, SS
Age: 19  B-T: B-R  Ht: 6-0  Wt: 175
Drafted: HS--Altamonte Springs, Fla., 1998 (1st round)  Signed by: Tony Arias

Background: Lopez had a trying upbringing. His mother died when he was three, and his stepmother died when he was 11. His uncle, Brewers minor leaguer Roberto Lopez, assumed a strong role in his life and his baseball career, sitting out a year of play to help Felipe when he was a high school senior.

Strengths: Lopez is a potential five-tool talent. His silky smooth hands and strong arm remind scouts of Omar Vizquel, but Lopez projects at least average power at the plate. He has excellent speed, especially down the first-base line.

Weaknesses: Lopez has not learned how to play within himself, especially on offense. His pitch recognition is weak, leading to too many strikeouts. He especially needs more discipline from the left side. Lopez needs better baserunning skills to take advantage of his speed.

The Future: Lopez has the highest ceiling of Toronto’s many middle-infield prospects. The organization’s depth means he will be brought along slowly.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Hagerstown (A)     .277  537  87 149  27   4  14   80  61 157  21

3. Cesar Izturis, SS
Age: 20  B-T: B-R  Ht: 5-9  Wt: 155
Signed: Venezuela, 1996  Signed by: Emilio Carrasquel/Mike Russell

Background: Izturis compares favorably to countryman Vizquel, in fact better than Lopez does. Despite being one of the younger players in the league, Izturis was the Florida State League’s No. 5 prospect. Izturis played 45 games at second base and 84 at shortstop for Class A Dunedin.

Strengths: Izturis has exceptional baseball instincts. He’s a plus runner with the quickness to play short on artificial turf. He combines soft hands and good lower-body balance with a strong throwing arm. Izturis is a slap hitter from both sides but can drive the ball into the gaps occasionally. Advanced for his age, he is an excellent bunter and hit-and-run artist.

Weaknesses: Izturis doesn’t have a high ceiling offensively and will have to continue to hone his skills, especially in learning how to use his good hand-eye coordination to draw more walks.

The Future: Izturis already speaks fluent English and is considered a leader by the organization, which will help his advancement.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Dunedin (A)        .308  536  77 165  28  12   3   77  22  58  32

4. Michael Young, 2B/SS
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 175
Drafted: UC Santa Barbara, 1997 (5th round)  Signed by: Bill Moore

Background: Young was primarily an outfielder in college and didn’t become a full-time middle infielder until he joined the Blue Jays. Young alternated between second base and shortstop at Dunedin and played short in the California Fall League.

Strengths: Young has two above-average tools in his arm strength and speed. His actions are best suited to second base, where his arm gives him a powerful weapon. Young has a short, quick swing and can drive the ball to right-center field with authority. He handles the bat well and has good plate discipline.

Weaknesses: The organization has persuaded Young to become more aggressive on the bases because he has the physical ability to steal more bases. Young’s actions in the middle infield can be long but are improving.

The Future: Multitalented middle infielders are too valuable, so Young will stay in the infield. If he continues to improve, Young could rack up 50 stolen bases and 50 extra-base hits at Double-A Knoxville in 2000.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Dunedin (A)        .313  495  86 155  36   3   2   83  61  78  30

5. Josh Phelps, C
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 195
Drafted: HS--Rathdrum, Idaho, 1996 (10th round)  Signed by: Ron Tostenson

Background: Phelps put together an all-star season at Dunedin, finishing second in the FSL in batting average and first in slugging (.562). A strained right elbow limited him to just 27 games behind the plate, though he did catch in the Arizona Fall League. He hit .213-2-4 in 47 at-bats.

Strengths: Phelps has enormous raw power and the quickness to catch quality fastballs. Before ’99, the Blue Jays considered him more of a blue-collar catch-and-throw prospect, a testament to his defense. He has plenty of quickness behind the plate despite his size and strength.

Weaknesses: Phelps’ swing can get long, especially when he grows impatient on offspeed pitches off the plate. Phelps’ background has left him behind many of his peers in experience.

The Future: Blue Jays officials say Phelps’ elbow injury freed him to concentrate on his offense without the demands of catching. Phelps now must show he can handle both sides of the game simultaneously.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Dunedin (A)        .328  406  72 133  27   4  20   88  28 104   6

6. Gary Glover, RHP
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-5  Wt: 180
Drafted: HS--De Land, Fla., 1994 (15th round)  Signed by: Chris Buckley

Background: Glover spent five years struggling to develop his stuff before making his big league debut to cap a breakthrough season. His minor league record prior to last year was 19-47.

Strengths: Glover is a strong, broad-shouldered athlete who has an intimidating presence on the mound. He uses his 94-96 mph fastball aggressively, riding it inside on righthanded hitters. Glover has excellent command of the fastball for a power pitcher and made progress controlling his offspeed pitches.

Weaknesses: Glover will flash a big league curveball, but it isn’t a consistent pitch for him. His changeup is still a work in progress. He will need to continue to work on both pitches if he wants to remain a starter.

The Future: With his impressive 4-2, 2.70 effort in the AFL, Glover showed the Blue Jays he is almost ready. He should start the 2000 season in Triple-A.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Knoxville (AA)     8  2  3.56  13  13   1   0   86  70  27  77
Syracuse (AAA)     4  6  5.19  14  14   0   0   76  93  35  57
Toronto            0  0  0.00   1   0   0   0    1   0   1   0

7. Brent Abernathy, 2B
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-1  Wt: 185
Drafted: HS--Atlanta, 1996 (2nd round)  Signed by: Ellis Dungan/Tim Wilken

Background: Rated the second-best pure hitter among high school players in the ’96 draft, Abernathy has fulfilled that prophecy as a pro. He led the Southern League in at-bats, hits and runs last year.

Strengths: Abernathy’s physical tools are average across the board, but he has exceptional instincts and a strong desire to succeed. Abernathy’s power surged in ’99, more than tripling his career home run total. An average runner, he has a quick first step and excellent baserunning instincts.

Weaknesses: Abernathy’s arm strength and defensive balance limit him to second base, and players with his traits don’t always get a full shot in the big leagues. He will have to continue to use his skills to maximize his physical potential.

The Future: Scouts compare Abernathy to Pirates rookie Warren Morris, with an edge to Morris in power. Abernathy is further along the development curve than Morris at a similar age, but his biggest danger is getting lost in the organization’s wealth of tools-laden middle-infield prospects.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Knoxville (AA)     .291  577 108 168  42   1  13   62  55  47  34

8. Andy Thompson, OF
Age: 24  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 210
Drafted: HS--Sun Prairie, Wis., 1994 (23rd round)  Signed by: Chris Bourjos

Background: The Blue Jays gave Thompson a big bonus ($350,000) to keep him from attending Minnesota. Thompson has teased them with his tools since then, but he stalled at Double-A. He emerged in 1999 by doubling his career home run high.

Strengths: Thompson made two major adjustments on his own initiative. He switched from third base to the outfield. Then he opened his stance and lowered his center of gravity at the plate, enabling him to see and drive the ball more consistently. Thompson is a good athlete with average speed and plus arm strength.

Weaknesses: Thompson’s intense makeup has hindered his ability to make adjustments in the past. His approach at the plate lacks finesse; he simply overpowers the ball.

The Future: Thompson and Kevin Witt seem to be a perfect platoon combination to address the Blue Jays’ DH spot. But teams rarely use young players at DH, so Thompson will likely start 2000 at Syracuse.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Knoxville (AA)     .244  254  56  62  16   3  15   53  34  55   7
Syracuse (AAA)     .293  229  42  67  17   2  16   42  21  45   5

9. Kevin Witt, 1B/OF
Age: 24  B-T: L-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 200
Drafted: HS--Jacksonville, 1994 (1st round)  Signed by: Chris Buckley

Background: Drafted as a shortstop, Witt has bounced around the diamond defensively. He split 1999 between first base and left field, with first considered his best future position. Witt’s brother is a world-class professional tennis player.

Strengths: Witt’s forte is power. He has a strong, flexible upper body with long arms and the ability to drive the ball more than 475 feet. Witt always has hit lefthanders well and has begun to develop above-average patience.

Weaknesses: Witt doesn’t have the lower-half quickness to excel at any position defensively. A nagging hand injury prevented him from getting a full shot in Toronto late in the season.

The Future: After two full seasons in Triple-A, Witt’s time has come in Toronto. The Blue Jays re-signed late-season acquisition David Segui, which may prevent Witt from getting a fair shot immediately–though Witt probably would out-produce the veteran over 500 at-bats.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Syracuse (AAA)     .278  421  72 117  24   3  24   71  64 109   0
Toronto            .206   34   3   7   1   0   1    5   2   9   0

10. John Sneed, RHP
Age: 23  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-6  Wt: 235
Drafted: Texas A&M, 1997 (22nd round)  Signed by: Jim Hughes

Background: Sneed has a gaudy 36-6 record as a professional. He led all minor league pitchers with 210 strikeouts with Class A Hagerstown in 1998 and averaged 10.02 strikeouts per nine innings in 1999.

Strengths: Sneed’s pitching style is power and intimidation. He has long arms and legs and looks like he’s handing his mid-90s fastball right to the catcher. Sneed has good command of his fastball for a big power pitcher and isn’t afraid to challenge hitters, with consistent results so far.

Weaknesses: Sneed’s mechanics were a mess in college, where he relied on a lazy slurve. While straightening out his delivery gave Sneed his fastball back, it left him without a solid secondary pitch. Both his slider and changeup need plenty of work.

The Future: Sneed’s slow move through the system is a topic of debate in the organization. The conservative camp worries about his ability to get better hitters out with just his fastball. Sneed’s mound presence and velocity profile better as a closer.

1999 Club          W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Dunedin (A)       11  2  3.45  21  20   0   0  125 107  36 143
Knoxville (AA)     3  1  5.08   6   6   0   0   28  33  21  28

Rest of the Best:

11. Clayton Andrews, lhp
12. Matt Ford, lhp
13. Joe Lawrence, 3b
14. Luis Estrella, rhp
15. Travis Hubbel, rhp

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