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, 2008.

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Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays' pitching took a giant step forward in 2007 only to be sabotaged by a sagging offense, resulting in a five-game drop in the win column. But more vital to the organization's long-term health, Toronto had the type of draft that could shape its player-development outlook for years to come, the type of draft its farm system desperately needed.

Compensated for the loss of free agents Frank Catalanotto, Ted Lilly and Justin Speier, the Blue Jays held seven of the top 88 picks and put them to good use, selecting high-ceiling prospects at critical defensive positions, such as third baseman Kevin Ahrens (16th overall), catcher J.P. Arencibia (21st), shortstop Justin Jackson (45th) and second baseman John Tolisano (85th). All four shot to the top of Toronto's depth chart at their respective positions, as did center fielder Eric Eiland (88th), a raw talent on whom the Jays could afford to gamble with its extra picks.

Most talented of all was lefthander Brett Cecil (38th), a closer at Maryland whom Toronto will develop as a starter, as they will righthanders Trystan Magnuson (56th) and Alan Farina (third round), relievers while at Louisville and Clemson. The Blue Jays successfully developed two other college relievers, Shaun Marcum and since-traded David Bush, into major league starters.

At the big league level, Toronto pitching allowed the second fewest runs in the American League—and it wasn't all the doing of Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. Dustin McGowan announced his arrival by one-hitting the Rockies on June 24. He lost the no-hit bid in the ninth that day, but he ended up taking the second-most starts on the staff and won 12 games. Marcum and Jesse Litsch also took regular turns in the rotation and were similarly effective.

McGowan, Marcum and Litsch all were 25 or younger last season, as were bullpen stalwarts Jeremy Accardo and Casey Janssen. Acquired from the Giants for a declining Shea Hillendbrand in 2006, Accardo thrived in the closer's role after B.J. Ryan succumbed to Tommy John surgery. Janssen, who posted a 5.07 ERA as a rookie starter the year before, sliced that mark to 2.35 working in relief.

The fine work turned in by Marcum, Litsch, Janssen and second baseman Aaron Hill was especially noteworthy, as they represent the only productive players drafted and developed by the Blue Jays since general manager J.P. Ricciardi came aboard in 2002. Outfielder Travis Snider, a first-round pick in 2006, continued to crush minor league pitching, suggesting he might one day provide an emphatic counterpoint.

Toronto's offense sputtered to a disappointing 10th-place AL finish in scoring, and few young players appeared ready to provide the boost the pitching staff got. Adam Lind, the No. 1 prospect on this list a year ago, hit just .238 with 11 homers in 89 games, though he was much better during a September callup. Outside of having Lind live up to expectations, the Jays have to hope the likes of Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells can rebound in 2008.

The new talent infused via the draft will need a few years to develop, though. And the Jays signed just one player to a six-figure bonus during the international signing period, but they believe 22-year-old Cuban righthander Kenny Rodriguez can move quickly as a reliever.

1.  Travis Snider, of   Born: Feb. 2, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 5-11Wt: 245
 Drafted: HS—Everett, Wash., 2006 (1st round).Signed by: Brandon Mozley.
Travis SniderBackground: Some scouts considered Snider the best hitter in the entire 2006 draft and he has done nothing to dispel that notion since turning pro. As a high school senior, he led Jackson High in Mill Creek, Wash., to a No. 2 national ranking. After signing for $1.7 million as the 14th overall pick, Snider earned MVP honors and No. 1 prospect status in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he batted .325 with 11 homers. He might have led the league in homers had he not lost the last week of the season to wrist tendinitis. Snider nearly repeated as MVP of his circuit in 2007, when he led the low Class A Midwest League with 35 doubles, 58 extra-base hits, 93 RBIs and a .525 slugging percentage. That last figure was particularly impressive, seeing as Snider was the only MWL qualifier to slug better than .500. Snider also finished second in the batting race at .313, but MWL voters chose West Michigan outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, who led only in stolen bases, as MVP. Snider hit .405 in April, and after pitchers adjusted to him, he regrouped, batting .333 with eight of his 16 homers in the final month. After the season, the Blue Jays assigned the 19-year-old Snider to the Arizona Fall League. The only younger player in the AFL was Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, yet Snider batted .316 with four homers.

Strengths: Snider is extremely advanced for a young hitter. He has a quick, powerful swing from the left side and already can handle southpaws and offspeed pitches. He has the tools—strength, bat speed and a simple swing—necessary to hit for both average and power in the big leagues. He stays balanced throughout his swing, thanks to a sound hitting base, and shows advanced hitting instincts. When they saw the baby-faced Snider for the first time in the AFL, veteran pitchers tried to blow the ball past him. But after he connected for a few line drives to the gaps, he encouraged opponents to modify their plans of attack. His mental and competitive makeup is off the charts. Though he's already strong for a player his age, some Toronto officials think he has a chance to get even more physical. Snider is more athletic than he appears, and he has improved his reads and routes enough to project as an average defender on an outfield corner. He has enough arm for right field and topped the MWL with 16 outfield assists.

Weaknesses: Snider is physically mature with a muscular build that served him well as a high school running back until he broke his leg as a junior. But that frame—he already plays at a weight in the neighborhood of 245 pounds—means he'll have to stress conditioning as he matures, especially with regard to his heavy lower half. He will accumulate some strikeouts, but they don't cost him much in the way of production. He has below-average speed but isn't a bad runner once he gets underway.

Snider has exceeded expectations thus far, and those expectations were high to begin with. He could move more quickly now that he has been exposed to the AFL and has put the MWL, the toughest hitting environment he'll encounter, behind him. Ticketed for high Class A Dunedin in 2008, he'll eventually bat in the middle of Toronto's order and has a big league ETA of 2010.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Lansing (Lo A)
.313 .377 .525 457 72 143 35 7 16 93 49 129 3
2.  Brett Cecil, lhp   Born: July 2, 1986. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220.
Drafted: Maryland, 2007 (1st round supplemental).  Signed by: Tom Burns.
Brett CecilBackground: Cecil worked primarily out of the bullpen in three years at Maryland, where his body, arm action and stuff improved significantly during his college career. After the Blue Jays drafted him 38th overall in June and signed him for $810,000, he shifted to a starting role and ranked as the short-season New York-Penn League's top prospect.

Strengths: Cecil has four key ingredients working for him—a 90-92 mph fastball that features sink and tops out at 94, a plus slider, command to both sides of the plate and poise. His knockout 85-87 mph slider was one of the draft's best breaking balls, and he can get the pitch in on righthanders. Turning pro improved Cecil's aggressive nature, seeing as he no longer had to contend with a small home park or metal-bat home runs.

Weaknesses: Auburn pitching coach Tony Caceres helped Cecil with his changeup grip, and while the pitch is still developing, it's a swing-and-miss offering against righties at times. He also has a fringy curveball that he'll use as a show-me pitch. As he gets acclimated to starting, he'll have to prove he can hold his velocity after it tended to drop off quickly in the NY-P, where he was limited to a 55-pitch maximum in the regular season.

The Future: Toronto was elated that Cecil fell into the supplemental first round. His frontline stuff and bulldog demeanor should make him at least a No. 3 starter. He'll begin his first full season in high Class A.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Auburn (SS) 1 0 1.27 14 13 0 0 50 36 1 11 56 .197
3.  Kevin Ahrens, 3b/ss   Born: April 26, 1989. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190.
Drafted: HS—Houston, 2007 (1st round).  Signed by: Andy Beene.
Kevin AhrensBackground: The best position player in Texas in another strong draft year in the Lone Star State, Ahrens added power and the ability to bat lefthanded after his junior season, and he kept hitting from both sides of the plate as a senior. The Blue Jays selected Ahrens with the 16th overall pick in June and signed him for $1.44 million.

Strengths: With hand speed, a feel for his swing from both sides of the plate and a firm grasp of the strike zone, Ahrens projects to hit for average and power. A natural righthander, he has more power and better pitch recognition from that side. Drafted as a shortstop, he moved to third base in mid-July, as scouts had predicted. He showed solid hands, good lateral movement and a plus arm. Charging in on balls and making throws on the run posed little challenge.

Weaknesses: Ahrens may have put too much pressure on himself while debuting in a lineup full of fellow high draft picks. His bat isn't as quick from the left side as it is from the right, but he'll have plenty of time to hone that and adjust to hitting with wood as he moves up the ladder. He's a below-average runner, but not a baseclogger.

The Future: Toronto now has opted for a high school talent—Travis Snider and Ahrens—with its first pick in consecutive drafts. Ahrens continues to draw Chipper Jones comparisons and has huge upside at the hot corner.i
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Blue Jays (R) .230 .339 .321 165 19 38 6 0 3 21 25 47 3
4.  J.P. Arencibia, c   Born: Jan. 5, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 210.
Drafted: Tennessee, 2007 (1st round).  Signed by: Matt Briggs.
J.P. ArencibiaBackground: Arenicibia tied Alex Rodriguez' career record with 17 homers at Miami's Westminster Christian High, and he led USA Baseball's college national team with nine homers in the summer of 2006. A strained muscle in his back contributed to a lackluster junior season at Tennessee, but he still went 21st overall in the 2007 draft and signed for $1,327,500.

Strengths: Power long has been Arencibia's calling card. He's an aggressive hitter with juice to all fields. He has decent mobility and a strong arm, which he employed to throw out 34 percent of basestealers in his debut. He blocks balls well and made progress calling games. He's a natural leader who's also fluent in Spanish.

Weaknesses: Arencibia's swing gets long and he tends to have too much of an uppercut. He'll need to shorten his stroke and tighten his strike zone to hit for average. His receiving skills were rudimentary at best in college. The Blue Jays have worked on his setup to help him better receive the ball to his glove side, with his elbow down instead of out. Though his arm is strong, his footwork often prevents him from getting off quicker throws.

The Future: With Curtis Thigpen and Robinzon Diaz close to being big league ready, Toronto can afford to take its time with Arencibia. He'll begin his first full season in high Class A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Auburn (SS) .254 .309 .377 228 31 58 17 1 3 25 14 56 0
5.  Ricky Romero, lhp   Born: Nov. 6, 1984. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2005 (1st round).  Signed by: Demerius Pittman.
Ricky RomeroBackground: The first pitcher selected in the 2005 draft, Romero went sixth overall and signed for a club-record $2.4 million. He missed the first month of the 2006 season with elbow stiffness and again missed time with injury in 2007, in this case shoulder soreness.

Strengths: At his best, Romero has two offspeed offerings that grade as plus pitches. His changeup, which travels about 10 mph slower than his fastball and bottoms out as it reaches the plate, is a go-to pitch versus righthanders. He also throws an 83-84 mph vulcan change, which behaves like a splitter. His weapon of choice against lefties is his 12-to-6 curveball. He has good life on his fastball, which sits at 89-91 and touches 93.

Weaknesses: For someone who was supposed to be a polished college pitcher, Romero's command has been disappointing. The Blue Jays have worked to simplify his delivery, trying to make it easier for him to get extension out over his front leg. He has much more success throwing his curve as a chase pitch than he does throwing it for strikes.

The Future: Romero has gone 5-13, 4.98 in 30 Double-A starts, and he has taken his pro struggles hard. A strong first half would give him confidence and put him back on track to become a mid-rotation starter.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Dunedin (Hi A) 0 0 3.86 1 1 0 0 5 4 0 1 2 .250
New Hampshire (AA) 3 6 4.89 18 18 1 0 88 98 9 51 80 .279
6.  Justin Jackson, ss   Born: Dec. 11, 1988. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175.
Drafted: HS—Asheville, N.C., 2007 (1st round supplemental).  Signed by: Marc Tramuta.
Justin JacksonBackground: Hailing from the same Roberson High (Asheville, N.C.) program that produced Marlins No. 1 prospect Cameron Maybin, Jackson started at shortstop for the U.S. junior national team in the fall of 2006. Jackson was the third shortstop drafted in June, going 45th overall and signing for $675,000.

Strengths: A long-armed, wiry athlete, Jackson has natural infield actions, excellent hands and a strong arm. He could become an even better defender as he becomes more efficient with his footwork, but he already fields the ball out in front. Jackson's simple swing is repeatable and he has a good approach, though his bat speed is just average. He's so physically projectable that he might hit for power down the road. Once he's underway, he has average to slightly above-average speed.

Weaknesses: Strength is the missing link to Jackson's offensive game, an area he was to address in an offseason conditioning program. High school pitchers were able to exploit holes in his swing and he'll need to use the opposite field more often against pros.

The Future: Jackson projects as exactly the type of shortstop defender the Blue Jays haven't developed since trading away the likes of Cesar Izturis, Felipe Lopez and Michael Young earlier in the decade. Jackson may take several years to develop, but he's Toronto's shortstop of the future.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Blue Jays (R) .187 .274 .241 166 20 31 1 1 2 13 20 44 7
7.  John Tolisano, 2b   Born: Oct. 7, 1988. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 179.
Drafted: HS—Estero, Fla., 2007 (2nd round).  Signed by: Joel Grampietro.
John TolisanoBackground: Tolisano has been on Baseball America's radar since 2003, when we named him the top 14-year-old player in the United States. Though he was home-schooled, Tolisano played for Estero (Fla.) High. Signed for $391,500 as a second-round pick, he led the Gulf Coast League with 10 homers in his debut.

Strengths: With strength and loft in his swing from both sides of the plate, Tolisano is short to the ball and has average bat speed and solid-average power to all fields. His swing is more fluid from the left side, and he tends to get out on his front side too much as a righty. He commands the strike zone and is more mature than most players his age, suggesting he'll get the most out of his abilities as a hitter. He's an average runner and has a strong arm for a second baseman.

Weaknesses: Tolisano's days of playing shortstop are behind him, and he still has work to do to stay at second base. His hands don't work particularly well and his footwork has a long way to go. Some scouts suggest he'll end up in right field.

The Future: While the Blue Jays concede that Tolisano never will be much better than an average defender at second, his bat might be enough to carry him. He'll head to low Class A, where he could continue to provide more immediate returns than Toronto's other high school draftees from 2007.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Blue Jays (R) .246 .336 .437 183 35 45 5 0 10 33 26 40 7
8.  Curtis Thipgen, c/1b   Born: April 19, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 190.
Drafted: Texas, 2004 (2nd round).  Signed by: Andy Beene.
Curtis ThipgenBackground: Thigpen was a member of three College World Series teams at Texas from 2002-04. More advanced as a catcher than the Blue Jays thought, he reached Double-A in his first full season and the major leagues in his third. `

Strengths: Thigpen commands the strike zone and handles the bat well, spraying line drives all over the field. He exhibited those skills in Toronto, as well, though his gap power wasn't as evident. He gets good backspin on the ball, hinting that the potential to hit for power is there. An agile athlete, he offers mobility, actions and soft hands behind the plate. He has average arm strength and a quick release.

Weaknesses: His biggest drawback behind the plate is inconsistent footwork, and he has been slow to improve in that regard. He threw out just 17 percent of basestealers at Triple-A Syracuse, but that number rose to 36 percent in Toronto. He may lack the build to hold up as a catcher over the course of a grueling season.

The Future: Much of Thigpen's value is tied to him staying behind the plate. But because he's athletic and light on his feet, he often takes ground balls at the infield corners, and he runs well enough to play the outfield corners. Toronto will give him every opportunity to stay behind the plate.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Syracuse (AAA) .285 .348 .391 179 20 51 10 0 3 20 17 23 1
Toronto (AL) .238 .294 .287 101 13 24 5 0 0 11 8 17 2
9.  David Purcey, lhp   Born: April 22, 1982. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 235.
Drafted: Oklahoma, 2004 (1st round).  Signed by: Ty Nichols.
David PurceyBackground: The 16th overall pick in 2004, Purcey has yet to pay off on the Blue Jays' $1.6 million investment. But after having surgery in June to remove cysts in his forearm and triceps, he threw as well in the Arizona Fall League as he had since turning pro. He had been plagued by minor maladies throughout his career, and Toronto hopes the surgery will help him turn the corner.

Strengths: Purcey is capable of dialing his fastball up to 93-95 mph, but the Blue Jays have toned him down to the low 90s to improve his location. It also prevents him from maxing out on every pitch. He gets such good spin off his fingers that his fastball has serious life down in the zone. Like his fastball, his biting curveball is a plus pitch when he commands it. He's big and works on a tough downhill plane.

Weaknesses: With inconsistent mechanics affecting his release point, Purcey often finds command elusive. As a result, he often runs up high pitch counts. His changeup is usually below average, and he uses it mostly to keep batters off his fastball.

The Future: Despite the strong AFL showing, Purcey has made minimal progress the past two seasons. He'll get another crack at Double-A in 2008, and the Blue Jays still believe he'll blossom, either as a mid-rotation starter or power lefty reliever.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Hampshire (AA) 3 5 5.37 11 11 1 0 62 67 4 16 55 .277
10.  Ryan Patterson, of   Born: May 2, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 205.
Drafted: Louisiana State, 2005 (4th round).  Signed by: Matt Briggs.
Ryan PattersonBackground: Patterson had a successful college career but wasn't drafted as a junior in 2004, nor was he signed as a free agent after winning the Cape Cod League batting title with a .327 mark that summer. Upon turning pro, Patterson led the New York-Penn (.595) and Florida State (.520) leagues in slugging in his first two seasons. His progress was halted in spring training 2007 when a pitch from Boston's Edgar Martinez shattered his right forearm. Originally slated to miss three months, Patterson returned to the field April 30.

Strengths: Patterson stays on the ball well and uses his short, powerful swing to drive the ball to all fields. Most of Patterson's home run power is pull. He provides average speed, arm strength and corner-outfield defense.

Weaknesses: Patterson likes to swing at the first pitch he can handle, and his lack of selectivity hampered him in Double-A. While his unorthodox swing works for him despite a number of moving parts, he can get off balance at times. The Blue Jays have minimized the sink in his load that he displayed in college, in an attempt to keep his eye level steady.`

The Future: Because he never admitted to lingering pain, it's difficult to know how Patterson's injury factored into his struggles. If he comes to spring training in the same shape he did last year, he could open in Triple-A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Dunedin (Hi A) .190 .261 .286 21 1 4 2 0 0 1 2 3 0
New Hampshire (AA) .267 .302 .448 446 53 119 27 0 18 68 23 102 1

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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Photo Credits:
Paul Gierhart (Snider)
Rodger Wood (Cecil, Arencibia)
Jerry Hale (Ahrens)
Steve Moore (Romero)
David Stoner (Jackson, Tolisano)