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When Wells was drafted fifth overall in 1997, some chided the Blue Jays for basing their first-round choice on signability more than talent. Wells, who had agreed to a predraft deal, started his career in fine fashion in the short-season New York-Penn League and had a solid first full season in 1998 with Class A Hagerstown. But he did nothing to prepare the baseball world for 1999. Wells batted a combined .334-18-81 between Class A Dunedin, Double-A Knoxville and Triple-A Syracuse and was named the No. 1 prospect in the Florida State, Southern and International leagues--a Baseball America first. He finished with a solid month in Toronto, raising expectations for the son of the former NFL wide receiver of the same name. But he received just two big league at-bats in 2000 and struggled with the bat in Triple-A. Wells has the best tools in the system, and his five-tool package is among the best in the minor leagues. He's a true center fielder with an accurate, above-average arm and excellent range, and he has good instincts for the position. Offensively, his speed and instincts make him an above-average basestealer, and he has plus power to all fields. Wells was caught stealing just four times, and he hit .272-12-35 with a .545 slugging percentage in his final 209 Triple-A at-bats. Wells had never struggled before, but he was hitting .220 with four homers on July 1. Rumors abounded about his dissatisfaction with being sent back to Triple-A, and that his frustration was affecting his play. Blue Jays officials refute that contention, saying Wells took the news well. They attribute part of his poor showing to bad luck. They also agreed his struggles probably will be good for him. Wells was the player other teams asked for in deals during the season, but the Blue Jays wisely held on to their No. 1 prospect. Toronto center fielder Jose Cruz Jr. doesn't field as well as Wells, and his offensive performance shouldn't be enough to block Wells for another year. If Cruz makes it through the winter with the organization, it's up to Wells to have a big spring to force his way onto the big league club.
A Puerto Rican native, Lopez moved to Florida with his father in 1990. He survived the deaths of his mother and stepmother, as well as an abusive relationship with his father, to become one of the state's top prospects for the 1998 draft. He signed too late that year to make an immediate impact but has risen quickly through the system. Only Wells has better tools among Jays prospects--and Lopez has five-tool ability. He has range to spare, a plus arm and true shortstop actions. He has average power and excellent speed, though it hasn't translated into high stolen-base totals yet. Lopez jumped over high Class A in 2000, which helps explain his mediocre numbers and inability to make consistent contact. Club officials have questioned his concentration, saying he took bad at-bats to the field with him, and are concerned he hasn't learned the nuances of baserunning yet. Lopez remains a key figure in the club's long-range plans and should return to Double-A in 2001. The Blue Jays wouldn't have rushed him if they didn't think it was good for him.
Izturis' brother Maicer has experienced injury problems but remains one of the Indians' better prospects. Cesar skipped Double-A in 2000 and was the youngest player in the Triple-A International League. His build, actions and range, as well as Venezuelan descent, invite comparisons to perennial Gold Glover Omar Vizquel. Managers ranked him as having the IL's best infield arm. Jays officials were pleased with the way he handled his offensive struggles in 2000, keeping his head up and remaining confident in his abilities. Izturis got the bat knocked out of his hands consistently by more experienced pitchers. He didn't help matters by chasing pitches out of the strike zone, whether he was ahead or behind in the count. He also needs to work on keeping the ball on the ground. Organization officials pushed Izturis hoping he would have proven more ready for a 2001 shot at the big leagues, but they are confident he could handle the position and the pressure in Toronto if need be. If not, he'll return to Syracuse.
An all-state football player in Louisiana, Lawrence is one of three shortstops the Blue Jays have selected in the first round in the last seven drafts. Only Lopez has stayed at the position. Lawrence worked at catcher in instructional league in 1998, played third in '99 and had that season cut short by an ankle injury. He moved to catcher to stay in 2000. Lawrence took to his new duties quickly and easily, making great strides during the season in calling games and throwing out runners. He has the best plate discipline in the system and the speed to make pitchers pay for it. Rather than getting slower as a catcher, he improved his times to first base and gets down the line in 4.1 seconds. Lawrence has yet to develop more than gap power. He got tired during the last month of the 2000 season, but the club expects him to stay strong as he gets used to the grind of catching. With Darrin Fletcher signed for three more years, the Blue Jays can be patient with his successor. Lawrence could earn a spot in Triple-A with a good spring.
The Blue Jays don't hesitate to convert players with strong arms to the mound, and File is their best success story. He pitched just six innings in college, where he led NCAA Division II in batting in 1998. He hit .542-19-68 as a third baseman. File's arm strength initially attracted Jays scouts, and his fastball is now the best in the system. He consistently throws it 92-95 mph with good downward movement and excellent command. File's slurvy breaking ball is effective against righthanders. Despite his inexperience on the mound, he sets up hitters, holds runners well and fields the position like an extra infielder. Lefthanders see File's slurve pretty well and batted .274 against him in 62 at-bats in 2000. Syracuse manager Mel Queen, whose pet peeve is sloppy breaking balls, will work with File to tighten up the pitch. File also needs to throw his changeup more to fully develop it. With Billy Koch established as one of the game's top closers, File will break in with Toronto as a set-up man. He has a chance to earn the role with a strong performance in spring training.
The Brewers drafted Kegley out of a Florida high school in 1998 and retained his rights as a draft-and-follow when he went to junior college. They offered him $500,000 to sign the following spring, but he resisted and went back into the draft. The Blue Jays took him and signed him for $515,000. Kegley has the best arm in the system, throwing an explosive 92-97 mph fastball. Opponents batted just .240 against him in his first season and rarely got good swings even in fastball counts. He also throws a power slider. Kegley has problems controlling his fastball, though he impressed Jays officials during instructional league with his improvement toward a balance between throwing hard and throwing strikes. He needs innings and experience, which accounts for his low strikeout total. His changeup improved during the season, but it's still his third pitch. Kegley is the only Jays pitching prospect who projects as a possible No. 1 starter on the basis of his raw stuff. He could return to Dunedin, but a good spring may vault him to Tennessee.
Cardwell passed up a basketball scholarship from Tulsa to sign with the Blue Jays. Only Minor League Player of the Year Jon Rauch (White Sox) stands taller among pro righthanders. New York-Penn League managers named Cardwell the No. 10 prospect in the league in 2000. He was throwing 86-89 mph in high school, but with added strength and experience his fastball now touches 93 with the good downward plane that naturally comes with being so tall. He throws it comfortably at 90-91 from a three-quarters slot, which makes him tough on righthanders. He harnessed his slider, which can be devastating at times, in instructional league. Like many tall pitchers, Cardwell often loses his release point and command of his fastball. He was overmatched early in the 2000 season at Class A Hagerstown, but rebounded to post good strikeout numbers at short-season Queens. Only Kegley has a higher ceiling in the organization than Cardwell, who projects as a No. 2 starter if he can maintain consistency. He should start the 2001 season back at Hagerstown.
Coco signed as an outfielder, but the organization quickly recognized his arm strength (and inability to hit) and moved him to the mound. In 2000, his first year above Class A, he was added to the 40-man roster and made an emergency start in the big leagues. Coco has one of the best arms in the system. He has a fastball that touches 95 mph, though he usually throws it in the 90-92 range. His top pitch is his changeup, the best in the organization. He's quick to the plate and holds runners well. He has added an inch and 25 pounds to his frame since signing, helping him maintain his velocity deeper into games. Coco's breaking ball for now is a sloppy slurve that's just adequate. He'll need to refine the pitch to handle righthanders more effectively. They hit .263 against him in 2000, while lefthanders batted just .212. Coco has gained experience pitching with Escogido in the Dominican League the last two winters. That will serve him well in Triple-A in 2001.
Ford made a strong debut at Rookie-level Medicine Hat in 1999 and started to pull off an encore with Class A Hagerstown last year. His season ended early, though, when he developed shoulder stiffness in late July. He was back to full health in instructional league and was throwing well again. Ford's success stems from a combination of slightly above-average stuff and a competitive streak that keeps him from giving in to hitters. Ford has an 88-92 mph fastball and a curveball that ranks as one of the best in the Jays system. His changeup has the potential to be a plus pitch. His biggest need is innings, which should give much-needed polish to his changeup. He also needs to prove he can stay healthy. Shutting him down in 2000 was a precaution, whereas an injury this season would be a red flag. A healthy Ford should report to high Class A in 2001. He has a chance to move quickly, though he projects as no better than a No. 3 starter.
Phelps ranks second among five catching prospects in the system, as Lawrence passed him last season. The Blue Jays also have hopes on Jayson Werth, whom they traded for in December; Venezuelan Guillermo Quiroz, whom they signed for $1.2 million in 1999; and Kevin Cash, a converted corner infielder signed as a nondrafted free agent. The organization doesn't expect any of the five to be ready for the major leagues for at least a year or two, so it re-signed veteran Darren Fletcher. Phelps didn't play much behind the plate in 1999 after injuring his elbow, and proved unable to handle the rigors of catching everyday and hitting tougher pitching in 2000. Never noted for his plate discipline, Phelps didn't make consistent contact at either level, though his numbers improved after he was demoted from Double-A to high Class A. While he has plenty of raw power, he may have to be brought along slowly as he learns to shorten his swing.
One of the Blue Jays' most intriguing prospects, Hendricksen isn't the typical 26-year-old just reaching Double-A. He was drafted six times by before signing with the Blue Jays, who scouted him in a semipro wood-bat league in southeastern Pennsylvania. Hendricksen led Washington State's basketball team to the NCAA tournament in 1994 and was an all-Pacific-10 Conference selection in 1995 and '96. The 31st overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft, Hendricksen has a spotty NBA career, averaging 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 114 games for Cleveland, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Sacramento. He has played in the Continental Basketball Association and has signed three 10-day NBA contracts as an injury fill-in. His baseball career was similarly spotty until 2000. He shone in his second Double-A stint and pitched well in the Arizona Fall League. While his fastball has reached 93 mph in the past, Hendrickson was throwing in the 85-90 mph range in the AFL with good movement and command. He employs both a slider and curveball, showing better break on the curve but better control of the slider. The organization is impressed with the development of his changeup as well. The bottom line with Hendricksen is commitment. The organization expected him to attempt to play in the NBA again in order to reach the service time required for an NBA pension, but hopes he will realize his ceiling is higher in baseball than it is in basketball.
Freel improved his stock as much as any player in the system in 2000, and the organization is counting on him to contribute as a utility player in the big leagues soon. The problem is that he's clearly viewed as a utilityman at best, albeit one with offensive potential. Freel is one of the fastest players in the system--his speed rates a 6 on scouts' 2-to-8 scale--and is a good basestealer. He's a contact hitter who showed more pop after spending last offseason getting stronger, setting a career high for home runs with Triple-A Syracuse. Freel also has the patience to take a walk, making his speed even more useful. Defensively, second base and center field are his best positions. One Jays official calls him a bigger, better version of Craig Grebeck, who has carved out a 10-year big league career.
Thompson, the organization's No. 8 prospect entering 2000, slipped after his first full season in Triple-A. Few players in the organization have as much power, and he also has a strong right-field arm. He has been compared to Mariners slugger Jay Buhner, but only when he makes contact--and Thompson didn't do that consistently enough in 2000. He hit 31 homers in 1999, but Jays officials believe he focused on trying to hit longballs too much in 2000. When he missed a pitch, he frequently missed badly, as he was trying to jerk everything over the fence. Pitchers fed him a steady diet of breaking balls away, and he failed to adjust until the final two weeks of the season. The Jays still hope Thompson will learn to rely on his bat speed to bring out his tremendous power. He has shown the ability to draw a walk, and his power is too good to give up on.
In the span of three years, Werth went from the Orioles' 1997 first-round pick to commanding only a journeyman lefthander in a December trade with Baltimore. Because he's tall and rangy and has athletic tools, Werth has been compared to a young Dale Murphy, the patron saint of catching prospects. But at 21, Murphy was leading the Triple-A International League in RBIs and playing in the big leagues, while Werth was struggling mightily in Double-A. If he plays to his ceiling, Werth would be an athletic, offensive catcher. He runs well, is mobile behind the plate and has good discipline at the plate. The downside is that he's a career .266 hitter who has yet to develop power or make consistent contact. He is average defensively. His arm isn't particularly strong, and he threw out just 20 percent of basestealers last season. Werth has much improvement to make before becoming the fourth member of his family to reach the majors, joining grandfather Ducky Schofield, uncle Dick Schofield and stepfather Dennis Werth.
In the past, the Blue Jays had success with Rule 5 picks such as George Bell and Kelly Gruber. While it's hard to project that kind of career for Wise, the Jays were intrigued enough by his tools to keep Wise on the major league roster for the entire 2000 season. He aided the cause with what the organization says was a legitimate toe injury that allowed him to be stashed on the disabled list for three months. When healthy, Wise is close to a five-tool player, though his power and arm are just average. He has 15-20 home run power, runs well and is a legitimate center fielder, though not on the level of Vernon Wells. Because the Reds organization lacked a high Class A affiliate, 2000 was his first season above the low Class A Midwest League. The injury (and being a Rule 5 player) further limited his experience, so he's expected to start the 2001 season in Double-A. The organization will get a better read on his talent this year.
Lyon signed as a draft-and-follow just prior to the 2000 draft, where he projected as a fourth- to eighth-round pick and ranked as the No. 2 prospect in Utah. He overmatched hitters during the spring at Dixie Junior College, and his numbers for his first pro season raised eyebrows. Lyons has above-average command of four pitches, including an 89-91 mph fastball. He also throws a changeup, slider and curveball, and he knows when and where to use them well for his age and stage of development. Lyon didn't give up a walk in his final 28 innings of the season before being shut down because he was close to 200 innings for the year, including juco time. Some teams were scared off after Lyon broke his right arm in a snowboarding accident. Lyon had a pin inserted into his arm to stabilize it and has had no problems.
Rios and fellow Puerto Rican outfielder Miguel Negron stick out in the last two drafts as the only first-round picks who didn't sign for $1 million. Club vice president Tim Wilken, who drafted both players as scouting director, says the perceived drop in Puerto Rican talent the last 10 years, usually attributed to the implementation of the draft there, is about to end. He contends talent in any area is cyclical, and that Rios and Negron are the beginning of an upward spike in Puerto Rico. Rios, long and lean, has the higher ceiling, with the potential to become a power-hitting right fielder with a plus arm. He has added almost 20 pounds since being drafted and started to drive the ball with Queens. He has good bat speed and is shortening his long swing. The Blue Jays may have to be patient with Rios, but they believe he eventually will prove worthy of a first-round pick.
Drafted with a second-round pick after Alex Rios, Snyder too has grown and added about 20 pounds since the 1999 draft. That's one reason he moved across the diamond to first base last year after he played 38 games at third in his debut for Medicine Hat. Snyder struggled with the bat in 1999 and again at the start of 2000 when he was pushed to Hagerstown, but experienced his first success at Queens. Snyder is all about power. He has as much as anyone in the system and has (at times) the compact lefthanded swing to use it. Snyder has struck out a lot early in his career, but also has proven willing to draw a walk, a good sign in a young power hitter. As he continues to adjust to wood bats and his bigger body, Snyder should show more of his raw power.
Woodward's ceiling isn't as high as other shortstops in the system, including Felipe Lopez and Cesar Izturis, as well as the younger Raul Tablado and Manuel Mayorson. But he could be a useful utilityman, and the Blue Jays are encouraged by what they've seen of him in 51 big league games. He wasn't overwhelmed and showed the ability to play all three infield positions other than first base. Where Woodward really impressed the organization, though, was with the bat at Syracuse last season. He slugged .545 in his short time there, and while the Jays don't expect that to continue in the big leagues, they also expect Woodward to be a useful, inexpensive reserve. He'd be more effective on grass, because his modest range is more of a liability on the fast artificial surface of SkyDome.
The Blue Jays have a reputation for loving athletic, projectable righties while eschewing shorter pitchers. While that has been true and will continue to be so, the Jays also are trying harder to find pitchers like Brandon Lyon and Hubbel who know how to pitch, no matter what size they are. Hubbel does conform to another Jays tendency: He's a converted third baseman, like Bob File. Hubbell hit just .186 without a home run before moving to the mound in 1999. His arm strength was his best tool at third, and it has translated into pure power on the mound. Hubbel's fastball rivals File's and Charles Kegley's as the system's best, ranging from 92-95 mph when his mechanics are right. Hubbel lacks command of his slurvy breaking ball and needs to develop an offspeed pitch. He lost time last season to a flu-like virus, but with a good season in high Class A in 2001, he could move into the organization's top echelon of prospects.
Woodards is another draft-and-follow who signed after his freshman year at Sacramento City College, where he moved from the outfield to the mound under coach Jerry Weinstein, now the Dodgers' farm director. While Woodards' pitching experience is somewhat limited, the Blue Jays thought enough of him to add him to their 40-man roster. He has electric stuff, with a 90-94 mph fastball and a power curveball that he throws in the 80-84 range. His excellent numbers at Dunedin last year showed that he's starting to get a feel for pitching. Because he lacks a true offspeed pitch, he'll stick to relieving, most likely as a set-up man.
The Blue Jays have a bevy of righthanded starters who are close in talent, polish and ceiling. One organization official said you could put all their names in a hat--not including Charles Kegley and Brian Cardwell--and put them in prospect order that way. Like Brandon Lyon, Dean is a young and somewhat polished pitcher who was procured through the draft-and-follow process. He fits scouts' ideal for a long, lean righthander, and he has shown more than projectability. He has experienced plenty of success in pro ball, including a dominant debut in 1999, when he was a New York-Penn League all-star. Dean's polish and maturity led the Blue Jays to give him an emergency start at Double-A last year, where he battled through six innings and gave up only one run. Dean has decent movement on his 88-92 mph fastball and should improve his velocity a tick or two with time. His sharp, true curveball is a strikeout pitch, and his developing changeup has developed nicely. Dean will start at Dunedin in 2001.
Considering the Blue Jays' recent struggles to develop frontline talent from Latin America, Chacin would figure to stand out even more in the minds of the organization's player-development staff. They jumped him to high Class A in 2000 at age 20, and he responded with a decent year. The reason Chacin doesn't rank higher is that he hasn't dominated hitters since pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 1998. His fastball is average at best, and his curveball needs work. He survives by changing speeds, but he has been more hittable each time he has moved up the ladder. Toronto isn't deep in lefthanders in the majors or minors, so Chacin will continue to get opportunities to prove himself. His next will come in Double-A.
Signed out of Le Moyne, Cassidy instantly impressed the Blue Jays with his poise and command. As his 1998 debut drew to a close, he was going to be rewarded for his efforts with an emergency late-season start in Syracuse, his hometown. The game was rained out, so Cassidy didn't get the chance to pitch in front of the home folks. In 2000, he almost earned the chance outright. Cassidy was a Florida State League all-star and combined with No. 25 prospect Scott Porter and reliever Chris Baker on a no-hitter in April. Cassidy earned a promotion to Double-A but struggled there. The Blue Jays figured it was more than just the move up, though, and doctors soon discovered why he was always tired and losing weight--he has juvenile diabetes. Cassidy responded to treatment and regained the life on his mid-80s fastball late in the season. He throws plenty of strikes with his slider and changeup as well, but he doesn't project as a frontline starter.
In an organization dominated by high school draftees, especially on the mound, Porter stands out. He was a closer at Jacksonville, where he led the TransAmerica Athletic Conference with 11 saves in 1999 and ranked fourth among NCAA Division I pitchers with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. His 2000 season was cut short by a minor shoulder injury that required arthroscopic surgery, but Porter had time to show the Blue Jays why he had such success. He combines a low-90s fastball with a hard, sharp-biting slider that's the best breaking ball in the system. He doesn't figure to be the Blue Jays' closer of the future, with Billy Koch and Bob File ahead of him. But along with Orlando Woodards, he could give Toronto another hard-throwing set-up man in the near future.
If Phil Nevin hadn't accept a prearranged deal from the Astros, Mottola might have been the No. 1 pick in the 1992 draft. The Reds took him four choices later, and he looked like a five-tool talent. He still has that look, and for the first time Mottola played like a five-tool guy in 2000. He was named the International League MVP after a 30-30 season, as he tried to shed his label as a Quadruple-A player. Besides power and speed, he also has a strong arm, though his plate discipline leaves something to be desired. Mottola has battled injuries his whole career, and the last two seasons have been the best of his career. His problem is the Blue Jays are stacked in the outfield, meaning he has little chance to break into Toronto as a starter. The organization doubts Mottola would be comfortable coming off the bench as a 30-year-old rookie. The Blue Jays put him on the 40-man roster, though, so he might get that chance in 2001.
Lopez would be an unlikely major leaguer, but his bat just might get him there. The Brooklyn native wasn't drafted and signed in 1995 with independent Ogden. The Blue Jays signed him in June 1996 after he had finished fourth in the Pioneer League in batting, and Lopez has continued to hit. In his second full season at Syracuse, Lopez again batted better than .320, improved his home run and RBI totals, and walked more than he struck out. There's little doubt Lopez can hit, but he lacks the power to be considered a regular, and his fielding limits him to first base or DH. One member of the organization said Lopez could be a poor man's Edgar Martinez, but even he wasn't sure if any organization--let alone Toronto--would give Lopez the chance to find out.
Kingrey doesn't have prospect stuff, but he has the results--including a combined 30 saves last season--to be taken seriously. Kingrey was the ace reliever on Alabama's 1997 College World Series runner-up team and ranked second in NCAA Division I in saves in 1998. He lasted until the 10th round because he doesn't throw hard, relying instead on a funky three-quarters delivery and a dancing changeup. Kingrey once threw his changeup 80 percent of the time, daring hitters to wait on it. He usually won those challenges, though, and has had nothing but success in pro ball. He led the South Atlantic League in games and saves in 1999. In 2000, Kingrey threw his fastball more, a mid-80s pitch with good movement and command. He keeps the ball down in the strike zone, though he'll need to refine his control at the upper levels. He'll have to keep proving himself, but he hasn't faltered thus far.
Perez entered 2000 with a 5.25 ERA to show for 120 innings in Rookie ball, and ended the year as a member of the 40-man roster despite never having played in a full-season league. His meteoric rise came as his long, lean, projectable body started producing, with dominating results in the New York-Penn League. Opponents batted just .181 against him. Perez' performance in the Dominican League in the offseason further raised his profile, prompting his protection on the roster. Perez' greatest improvement came in commanding his above-average fastball. He hasn't settled on a consistent second pitch, fiddling with both a slider and a splitter. The organization likes his considerable ceiling, so if he develops either one, he could move quickly.
Johnson had a stellar college career, graduating as Southeast Missouri State's career hits leader. The Blue Jays started him in the Pioneer League, where he was older than many of the pitchers he faced, and he dominated the league, earning MVP honors while ranking among the top five in several offensive categories. More important, Johnson showed that he has average tools across the board to go with excellent instincts. The Blue Jays saw a loose, easy swing and solid power potential. While Johnson's speed rates a tick below average, he gets good jumps on balls in the outfield and runs the bases intelligently. The delighted Jays now are talking about pushing him through the system, possibly to high Class A or Double-A in 2001, depending on his spring-training performance.