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Background: Blue Jays scout Bus Campbell worked extensively with Halladay during his amateur days in Colorado, creating a relationship that resulted in Halladay using part of his signing bonus to buy Campbell a satellite television system. That was in 1995; now fast forward to 1998. Sidelined for a month with a right shoulder strain, Halladay returned to one-hit Charlotte on July 20. He spent the full season at Triple-A Syracuse, then opened a few eyes by becoming the third-youngest starter in Blue Jays history. His second start turned into a no-hit bid against the Tigers on the season's final day. The bid ended with a two-out, pinch-hit homer by Bobby Higginson. Halladay continued to prove his value with a strong effort in the Arizona Fall League. Strengths: Halladay has a prototype pitcher's body. He's tall, lanky and flexible--and has plenty of stamina. He once finished third in the Colorado state cross country finals as a senior at Arvada West High. Halladay puts minimal strain on his arm. His fastball is solidly in the mid-90s, and he has the endurance to maintain his velocity into the late innings. He has developed more downward movement on his fastball, which allows him to get more ground balls. The Blue Jays initially took away the knuckle-curve that Campbell taught him in high school, but in the middle of this season allowed him to start throwing it again. It was the pitch he used for five of his eight strikeouts in the one-hitter against Detroit. He has developed a hard-biting slider that may be his best pitch. Weaknesses: Halladay just needs a little refinement to be a legitimate big league, front-of-the-rotation pitcher. He has a tendency to open up and show the hitter his arm a little too quick. And he needs to throw his changeup more often. The Future: After nearly two full seasons at Triple-A, Halladay's future is now. He will be a member of the major league rotation on Opening Day.
Background: Koch missed the 1996 season while pitching for Team USA in the Atlanta Olympics, and sat out almost all of 1997 recovering from reconstructive surgery on the ligament in his right elbow. He has mellowed a great deal from his cockiness of 1996, when he said he wanted to wear No. 102 "because that's what I've thrown," but hasn't lost his aggressiveness on the mound. Strengths: Despite missing a year because of the elbow problems, Koch quickly established that he still had his high-90s fastball early in spring training. Once he got comfortable at Class A Dunedin, he re-established his hard-biting slider. Weaknesses: Koch's slider and changeup need refinement. He needed the innings he finally got in 1998. The Future: Koch could open the 1999 season with Triple-A Syracuse, bypassing Double-A Knoxville. With his explosive fastball and the depth of pitching in the Blue Jays system, it's not out of the question that he could wind up as a closer.
Background: Lopez didn't sign until August but still had an impressive pro debut, including a four-game sneak preview at Dunedin in the final month of the season. He followed that up with a strong effort in instructional league. Lopez is the third shortstop the Blue Jays have selected in the first round in the '90s. Unlike Kevin Witt (1994) and Joe Lawrence (1996), Lopez has the actions to be a true shortstop. Strengths: Lopez has good instincts for shortstop. He plays under control. He shows a plus arm and plus speed. He handles the bat well, though he is a better hitter from the left side, undoubtedly the result of having faced mainly righthanders in his amateur career. Weaknesses: Lopez has to work on his concentration, particularly on the bases and defensively. He had 13 errors in 23 games in his debut but not because he doesn't have the ability to make plays. He needs to improve his swing from the right side. The Future: The Blue Jays' shortstop of the future figures to open the '99 season at Dunedin.
Background: Witt's body has changed dramatically since he signed, making him too big for shortstop. The Blue Jays have worked him at third base, first base and in left field. Strengths: Witt not only has legitimate power, but he has handled lefthanders better than righthanders throughout his pro career. He has hit nearly half of his 87 pro home runs off lefthanders, including three in the final game of 1998 against Buffalo. Weaknesses: The Blue Jays have to find a position for Witt. He has enough bat to play wherever they decide to put him, but he's not going to push Carlos Delgado off first base and the Blue Jays are deep in the outfield. He needs to put in a lot of extra work at third base to smooth out his defense. The Future: Witt figures to return for a second season at Syracuse in 1999. He could force his way to the big leagues by midseason, particularly if he starts to emerge at third base.
Background: Wells' father, Vernon Jr., played wide receiver in the NFL and Canadian Football League and is now an artist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Wells was an all-American football player, as well as a baseball player, at Arlington's Bowie High. Strengths: Wells shows all the signs of being a big-time hitter. He is strong with a quick, powerful bat and an excellent eye. He does not chase bad pitches. Wells has the speed to play center field and a strong enough arm for right. Weaknesses: Wells needs to be more aggressive, particularly on the bases. He was only 13-for-21 in stolen bases this year, far below where his abilities should take him. He still has problems with offspeed and breaking pitches, not unusual for young power hitters. The Future: Wells will start 1999 at Dunedin. Likely to eventually carry more than 210 pounds, he figures to wind up in right field, which shouldn't be a problem.
Background: Andrews bounced between starting and relieving in his first two pro seasons, but moved into the rotation in his second full season at Class A Hagerstown in 1998. He led the South Atlantic League in ERA, ranked third in strikeouts and was voted the league's most valuable pitcher. Strengths: Andrews' fastball hovers in the 89-93 mph range despite his size (closer to 5-foot-10 than the listed 6-foot). He has a power curveball and excellent command. He has walked just 103 batters while striking out 319 in 303 professional innings. Weaknesses: Andrews worked more innings this year (162) than the two previous seasons combined (141). He stays relaxed in tight situations, realizing with his repertoire and ability to throw strikes that he has an edge on hitters. The Future: Andrews will probably be invited to big league spring training and open the 1999 season at Knoxville. He has good enough stuff to project as a big league starter.
Background: A starter in his first four pro seasons, Davey was leading the Southern League with 16 saves in late July when he was returned to his previous role. He made nine starts but was back in a relief role in the Arizona Fall League. Strengths: Davey has a consistent 94-mph fastball, and scouts claim he hit 100 with a couple of pitches in a game at West Tenn this year. His fastball is especially heavy when he keeps it down in the zone. When he has command of his split-finger, which he began working with a year ago, he is unhittable. Weaknesses: Davey has a hard curveball, but it's too inconsistent to be effective right now. He is still learning the importance of concentrating on every pitch. The Future: Davey has the stuff to be a dominant closer. He should go to Syracuse in that role in 1999, but could come quickly now that he is adjusting to being a pitcher, not just a thrower.
Background: Lawrence was a two-sport star at Barbe High, a preseason all-American in football as well as Louisiana's Mr. Baseball. He blossomed offensively this year at Dunedin, adopting a crouched batting style after hitting a combined .228 in his first two pro seasons. Strengths: Lawrence has strong offensive potential. Not only did he hit for average and show power at Dunedin, he also showed outstanding plate discipline. He has good hands and a strong enough arm to play wherever the Blue Jays decide to put him. Weaknesses: Lawrence's range is questionable for a shortstop and he figures to lose another step or two as he fills out. He needs to play the game a little more under control; he has a tendency to hurry plays and make mistakes. The Future: Lawrence is in line for a position change. He worked at catcher in instructional league; third base could also be in his future. He is headed to Knoxville in 1999.
Background: Tucci starred in four sports (baseball, football, baseball and track) in high school. A first baseman-outfielder in college, he has concentrated on the outfield since signing with the Blue Jays. He was voted the best power-hitting prospect in the Florida State League this season. Strengths: Tucci is rated second only to Delgado in the organization in terms of raw power. He has plenty of arm strength to play right field and has shown solid defensive skills for either corner spot. Weaknesses: Tucci has a big swing that comes with big power. He can limit the liability, though, as he becomes more selective at the plate and gets a better feel for how pitches are trying to work him. He is a solid average runner but needs to be more attentive on the bases. The Future: Tucci could force his way to Syracuse with a strong spring, but most likely will open the 1999 season at Double-A. He can play right field, but his future is more likely in left.
Background: Evans was named Washington's player of the year in 1992 after leading Juanita High to the state championship. He has battled injuries throughout his pro career, including knee problems and rotator cuff surgery in 1997. He has played more than 120 games only once in seven pro seasons. Strengths: There's nothing that jumps out at you about Evans, except the end result. He is a blue-collar, in-your-face player. He has the arm, hands and first step needed to play third base. He also shows decent power. Weaknesses: Evans' aggressive playing style leads to plenty of injuries. If he stays healthy, he will be a solid big league player. He also must improve his plate coverage. Future: Evans figures to open the season in Toronto this time. He initially will share third base with Tony Fernandez, but if he shows he can handle big league pitching and stay healthy, the job could be his.
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