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The Blue Jays have a history of success when drafting high school righthanders in the first round, and McGowan is starting to fit the bill. The track record includes Steve Karsay (1990), Chris Carpenter (1993) and current Toronto ace Roy Halladay (1995). McGowan was a supplemental pick for the loss of free agent Graeme Lloyd, a trade the Jays would make every time. A standout basketball wing guard/forward as well as a shortstop and pitcher, McGowan helped Long County High to the Georgia state playoffs three years in a row and became the most decorated pitcher from south Georgia since Joey Hamilton. He struggled out of the gates in 2002 but started to right himself with a dominating 11-strikeout, five-inning outing at Savannah with hundreds of friends and family on hand to watch. When McGowan is on, he has front-of-the-rotation stuff. His fastball ranks as his top pitch and the best in the organization. It's a heavy fastball that reaches anywhere from 92-97 mph. More important for a young pitcher, McGowan became more consistent with his fastball command late in the season. A true power pitcher, his breaking ball is a power curve with 11-to-7 break, thrown from a three-quarters release point, and he showed better control of the pitch in 2002. The combination helped him lead the low Class A South Atlantic League in strikeouts. A good fielder, he has an athletic pitcher's body and his arm works well. McGowan's changeup remains a work in progress, and he has yet to dominate his level of competition. He struggled with command and consistency of his delivery early in the season, when he tended to overstride. It resulted in too many pitches up in the strike zone and a 5.43 ERA through May. As with most young pitchers, though, his biggest need is innings and experience. McGowan has stepped to the front of the Blue Jays' line of young power arms, in part because of injuries to Francisco Rosario and Tracy Thorpe, in part because of his stuff, and in part because of his experience edge compared to Brandon League. Pitching on the same staff with Rosario and Thorpe at Charleston provided a positive, competitive atmosphere for McGowan, but he'll have to make the next step to Class A Dunedin without them. His third pro year was his first in a full-season league, and the Jays figure to continue taking it slow with him.
Werth started his career as a catcher but made the transition to the outfield in 2002, even playing a game in center field for Toronto at season's end. The Blue Jays got him from the Orioles for lefty John Bale (since traded away by Baltimore) and have seen Werth mature on and off the field into one of their top prospects. Werth has exceptional athletic ability and made the transition to the outfield look easy. He instantly took to reading fly balls and took excellent routes, and has the arm, speed and range for any outfield position. As he continues to fill out his long frame, he has developed above-average power. He has shown the ability to gear up for plus fastballs. Werth's swing path tends to get long, and he has some holes that he just can't close. He makes adjustments but always will strike out frequently. His ability to make adjustments will determine whether he's a 20-homer or a 30-homer guy. Werth could either be an above-average corner outfielder or the next Eli Marrero, a super-utility player who would be best served getting 400 at-bats a year. Werth figures to get more time to fine-tune his game at Triple-A Syracuse in 2003.
Cash's tale is one of the best in baseball. An average corner infielder at Florida State, he caught the Blue Jays' attention working as an emergency catcher in the Cape Cod League in 1999. He capped his rapid rise--2002 was just his second full season behind the plate--with a short stint in Toronto. Even in a one-game trial in the Cape, Cash showed the skills defensively that have made him one of the best catching prospects in the game. He has supreme catch-and-throw skills, throwing out 43 percent of minor league basestealers in 2002. He also shook off a bruised right hand to show solid power. He projects to hit 15-25 homers annually in the majors, and was leading the Double-A Southern League in RBIs when he was promoted. Cash never has been a great hitter. Even at Florida State, his best average was .319. He can be too pull-conscious and lost command of the strike zone after his promotion to Triple-A. He needs a better two-strike approach and more patience. Cash's defensive prowess allows the Jays to move Josh Phelps to DH or first base and Jayson Werth to the outfield. Cash will start 2003 back at Syracuse but is in line for a midseason promotion.
Rosario spent his first two years as a reliever in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, then struggled in 2001 in his first effort as a starter. Everything game together in 2002 until he blew out his elbow in the Arizona Fall League. Rosario harnessed his power stuff, dominating two Class A levels with a 92-97 mph fastball, two variations on a plus changeup, and a breaking ball with slurvy action that at times was a plus pitch. Rosario's smallish frame proved unable to hold up under the torque he placed on his arm. He had reconstructive surgery and bone chips removed from his elbow. Full recovery from Tommy John surgery usually takes 12-18 months, and the Jays will proceed with caution with Rosario. If healthy, he might have ranked atop this list. Toronto officials compare his situation to that of Billy Koch, who had the same procedure in 1997 and came back as a closer. When Rosario returns in 2004, his career could take the same path.
Arnold has gone 20-6, 2.28, reached Double-A and been involved in two major trades involving seven teams in less than two years. Oakland gave up three of its best prospects to Detroit to get Arnold from the Yankees. Toronto got him from the Athletics for Felipe Lopez, who had played his way out of the Jays lineup. Arnold possesses superior game sense and instinctively knows how to vary his pitching patterns to set up hitters. In addition to his effective 88-91 mph fastball, he throws two different palmballs that serve as changeups. One floats and the other dives, and Arnold will throw them at any time in the count. He's also very aggressive at pitching inside. Arnold's slider is too flat and needs refinement. When he reported to the A's, there was some concern about his conditioning. However, he hired a personal trainer at the end of the season and engaged in strenuous workouts that showed quick results. Arnold was a reliever for his first three seasons in college, and some scouts believe his delivery will lead him back to the bullpen. The Jays will continue to use him as a starter, however, and he could get his first taste of the majors in late 2003.
The Blue Jays continued their trend of taking it slow with high school pitchers, sending League to the short-season New York-Penn League in 2002 rather than full-season ball. His season almost ended before it started when he was hit in the right arm by a line drive during an exhibition game. He escaped with nothing more than a bruise. League has an electric, quick arm and one of the organization's best fastballs. He hit 97 mph at times in 2002 but pitched consistently from 94-96 mph, with natural sinking action generated by a low three-quarters release point. He also improved his changeup and showed a resilient arm, maintaining his stuff throughout the season. League has to stay on top of his slider, which tends to flatten out. He also needs to get stronger to keep his velocity deeper into games. Other refinements, such as improved fastball command and pitch efficiency, will come with experience. League should get his first shot at full-season Class A in 2003. If he improves his slider and trusts his fastball more while nibbling less, he could have a breakout year.
Rios' climb from surprise first-round pick to legitimate prospect is almost complete. He overcame a broken finger, bruised thumb and jammed wrist to rank fourth in the Florida State League in batting in 2002. Rios' swing path attracted the Jays to draft him in the first place as a low-cost, compromise choice, and he has rewarded them by becoming one of the organization's best hitters. He rarely strikes out and has an extraordinarily short swing for such a tall player. Rios runs well and has improved in center field, where he has an adequate, accurate arm and good range. Rios' power has yet to evolve in regular-season games, though he hit seven homers in spring training and showed similar pop in instructional league, once his hand and wrist had healed. He doesn't draw a lot of walks and needs to learn which pitches to lay off and which he can drive. Rios was protected on the 40-man roster this offseason, an intriguing decision given GM J.P. Ricciardi's affinity for walks and on-base percentage. Rios should move to Double-A New Haven in 2003, with improved power and patience his top priorities.
A quarterback at the same rural North Carolina high school that produced Rockies infielder Brent Butler, Adams blossomed at North Carolina and in the Cape Cod League, where he was the top prospect in the summer of 2001. He overcame a hairline fracture in his left thumb to have an All-America season for the Tar Heels in 2002. One of the organization's top athletes, Adams has solid average to plus tools across the board, with the exception of power. He plays the game instinctively, especially on the basepaths, where he uses his above-average speed well. At the plate, he has good bat speed, the ability to center the ball well and excellent plate discipline. Adams doesn't hit for much power now, but it wouldn't surprise the Jays if he ended up hitting 10-15 homers annually down the road. Though his arm may not be enough to play shortstop on artificial turf, he's going to remain at the position until he proves he can't handle it. He wore down from a long season in 2002 and needs to get stronger. Adams got off to a fast start at short-season Auburn and should return to high Class A for his first full year. He has all the makings of being a leadoff or No. 2 hitter, and if the power develops could see time at third base as well as second.
After the three-team trade that took him from the Yankees to the Athletics, Griffin played two games in Double-A before being sidelined by a hand injury for the rest of the season. Then the A's traded him to the Blue Jays over the winter, as he continued to follow Jason Arnold from organization to organization. Griffin is a prolific hitter, having batted .400 in each of his three seasons at Florida State, where Seminoles coach Mike Martin called him the best hitter in the program's storied history. Griffin generates tremendous bat speed and has the makings of an outstanding hitter. While he has just 13 homers in 151 pro games, scouts say he has longball strength and will increase his power production as he matures. Griffin had surgery on his throwing arm after his sophomore year at Florida State and has not regained his arm strength. He has worked diligently, but it remains below-average. He could be limited to left field, moved to first base or even stuck as a DH. Griffin will return to Double-A, where he played just 20 games in 2002. He should be among the first players to reach the majors from the 2001 draft.
Chulk got a tryout with NCAA Division II St. Thomas thanks to a recommendation from his future brother-in-law, the team's center fielder. It took 10 pitches in a bullpen session for coach Manny Mantrana to give Chulk a scholarship. The Blue Jays gambled Chulk had the four-pitch repertoire to move into the rotation while jumping to Double-A in 2002, and he rewarded that hunch by becoming the Southern League's pitcher of the year. Chulk's best pitch is a 91-94 mph sinker, and he does a good job of keeping it down in the zone. His slider, curveball and changeup are all solid offerings that he commands well. His competitiveness is a major asset, and Chulk showed he can pitch effectively without his best stuff. He's an above-average athlete who does little things (fielding, holding runners) well. Chulk doesn't have a strikeout pitch or the stuff to get by when he can't find the strike zone. He must refine his changeup to better combat lefthanders, who batted .272 against him. Chulk profiles as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. He also has the resilient arm and command potential to be an effective middle reliever. He'll return to Triple-A in 2003.
Gross' father Lee was an all-conference center at Auburn, and Gabe briefly followed in his dad's football footsteps, earning six starts as a freshman quarterback. His success at baseball, though, convinced him to give up the gridiron for his last two seasons with the Tigers. His first full year as a pro, 2002, brought his first failure on the diamond. Gross still has the plus tools to be a prototype right fielder. He has lefthanded power, a strong throwing arm and athleticism, and he's an above-average defender. He recovered from a slow start, hitting .282-8-35 in the last three months. Gross had a rough start in 2002, hitting .141 in April. He had trouble getting his hands started and through the zone, blocking off his own swing and leaving him unable to catch up to good fastballs. Shannon Stewart and Vernon Wells worked through similar woes during their minor league careers. Gross has the work ethic and ability to work though his swing problem and did so in the second half, as well as in the Arizona Fall League. He should spend his second full season repeating and conquering Double-A.
Quiroz signed for $1.2 million, one of the largest bonuses ever for a Venezuelan player. He entered the 2002 season a career .205 hitter, but progressed enough to get an emergency Triple-A promotion when Kevin Cash hurt his hand. Quiroz has excellent athletic ability and agility behind the plate, and his catch-and-throw skills nearly match those of Cash. He has become fluent in English and handles pitching staffs well. Quiroz finally started to answer offensive concerns by showing better concentration and strike-zone judgment at the plate, unleashing his above-average power. His offensive approach is similar (though less potent) than Josh Phelps'. Quiroz' power comes with lots of strikeouts. He has a long, sweepy swing that constantly needs adjusting. He's never going to win a batting title and still needs to learn the strike zone better. With Phelps, Cash and Jayson Werth ahead of him, the Jays can afford to be patient with Quiroz. He'll move up to Double-A and could continue his offensive improvement as pitchers throw more strikes.
Forgoing an NBA career looks like the right decision for Hendrickson. He was a two-time first-team all-Pacific-10 Conference selection in basketball at Washington State, leading the Cougars to an NCAA tournament berth in 1994 as a power forward. He played parts of four seasons in the NBA with four teams, most recently the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2000. He was on non-guaranteed 10-day contracts and finally decided to give baseball a full-time shot. Drafted six different times in baseball by five organizations, Hendrickson signed with the Blue Jays in 1998. He made the most progress in 2002, when he finished the year in the major leagues and went 3-0, 2.45 for Toronto, making four effective starts to end the season. Hendrickson has more projection left than the average 28-year-old, given his inexperience and size. He has worked hard to stay tall in his delivery and has bumped his fastball velocity to 92-93 mph. He has developed a solid cut fastball and changeup, and is working on keeping good tilt on his 76-80 mph power curveball, which can be a plus pitch. As expected from an NBA veteran, Hendrickson wasn't phased by the big league atmosphere. His confidence and athleticism may have been the deciding factors in helping him persevere to this point, and he'll compete for a spot in the 2003 big league rotation.
A catcher in high school, Bush was converted to the mound at Wake Forest and emerged as one of the nation's top closers at the end of his freshman year, when he put on a dominating performance at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Bush ranked as one of the top seniors available for the 2002 draft after failing to come to terms as a 2001 fourth-round pick of the Devil Rays. His senior season almost ended before it started, as he was diagnosed with blood clots in his left leg in November 2001. Surgery and blood thinners took care of the problem, and though Bush got off to a slow start, he earned All-America honors. Having regained his strength and conditioning, Bush got off to a fast start in pro ball and joined Russ Adams in getting promoted to high Class A in their first pro summers. Bush could reach the major leagues by 2004 as a middle reliever or closer. He has a polished approach and throws strikes with a mid-to-high 80s power slider and a 91-92 mph fastball that can touch 94. His fastball command and changeup (still in its nascent stages) have some Jays officials believing Bush deserves a shot as a starter before consigning him to the bullpen. That decision will determine where he begins 2003.
Rich had always shown the ability to hit. An offensive catalyst at Auburn as a second baseman and center fielder, he had a productive college career that included a pair of .300 summers in the Cape Cod League, including a .341 mark in 1999. That's what puzzled the Blue Jays about Rich's first 11⁄2 seasons as a pro. He had just a .272 career average going into 2002, though he had shown good plate discipline. A wrist injury short-circuited his 2001 season, and a healthy Rich showed the Blue Jays what he could do in 2002. He won the Florida State League batting championship while walking more than he struck out, and he held his own after a promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Rich recognizes what pitches he can hit and has decent gap power, with an offensive package that resembles Ray Durham's. However, his defense is also Durhamesque. Rich has hard hands and actions and heavy feet for the middle infield, and he won't ever be more than adequate at second base. Improved maturity and a better work ethic have helped him improve defensively, but he may never be cut out for artificial turf. Fortunately for him, he plays in an organization that values bat-first prospects. He'll return to Double-A to start 2003.
The Blue Jays have been pleased with the progress of the first of their Puerto Rican first-round picks, protecting Alexis Rios on their 40-man roster this offseason. They'll face that decision with Negron after the 2003 season. Always grouped with Rios because of their common heritage and draft status, Negron is a completely different player. He made great improvements in maturity and in his approach in 2002. As one Toronto official put it, he tucked away his macho pride and focused on the smaller parts of the game. Negron is one of the faster players in the system and plays an excellent center field with a plus arm. He's getting stronger and making better use of his pull power, but he needs to tone down his swing, use the whole field and take better advantage of his speed. Negron will face a challenge in high Class A in 2003, and he's still young for that level. If he shows he can make consistent hard contact, he should follow Rios' path to the 40-man roster.
A supreme athlete, Pleiness finally has picked a sport. He went to Central Michigan on a football scholarship as a tight end, but after redshirting as a freshman in the fall, joined the baseball team and showed promise on the diamond. He ditched football but took up basketball, a sport in which he set Mason County (Mich.) Central High's single-season scoring record and led his team to the state finals. (He also graduated with honors at Mason County.) Pleiness earned a basketball scholarship after leading the Mid-American Conference in free-throw percentage (88.4) in 2000-01, and in his last two seasons he averaged 11 points a game. He was much more dominant in baseball, though, striking out 100 in 68 innings last year to rank second (behind No. 1 overall pick Bryan Bullington) in the MAC. His 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings led Division I. Pleiness has used his athletic, long frame to become a hard-throwing pitcher. He also has a fresh arm and still is filling out physically. He maintains the velocity on his 88-92 mph fastball well and has an above-average curveball (his out pitch), as well as the makings of a solid changeup. Pleiness still has work to do on smoothing out his delivery, which can get away from him at times, but made excellent progress during instructional league.
The 1999 draft was a heady one for the state of Washington, with eight players--lefthander Ty Howington; righthanders Gerik Baxter, Jeff Heaverlo and Jason Stumm; catcher Ryan Doumit; infielder Jason Repko; and outfielders Jason Cooper and B.J. Garbe--drafted in the first two rounds. Because of injuries, ineffectiveness and Baxter's death in a car crash, Hanson might turn out to be better than any of them. Hanson missed 2001 after injuring his knee in a spring-training collision with Alvin Morrow (now on the practice squad of the NFL's Cleveland Browns) and had postseason surgery in 2002 to clean up scar tissue. His stuff, however, is undeniable. Hanson has a quick, strong arm and runs his fastball up to 95 mph. He pitches in the 92-94 range with explosive movement at times. His curveball is a power offering, thrown in the mid-80s, and has helped him average nearly a strikeout per inning as pro. If Hanson stays healthy, he has a chance to move up to low Class A with other members of Auburn's talented staff, such as Brandon League, David Bush and Sandy Nin.
Godwin's background, which includes turning down the Yankees as their first-round pick in 1997, has been well-documented. Originally a two-sport athlete at North Carolina, he dropped football (where his highlight was a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Stanford) to concentrate on baseball. Drafted again as a supplemental first-rounder by the Rangers in 2000, he never signed after a physical revealed a pre-existing right knee injury. Instead of returning for his senior season at North Carolina, Godwin finished his degree in the fall (he was on a full academic scholarship) and sat out the spring, rehabbing his knee after reconstructive surgery. After signing with the Jays, he had an explosive debut, but tempered hopes with an injury-plagued followup in 2002. Shoulder and hamstring injuries kept him in extended spring training for most of April, and his season ended June 28 when he broke his hand sliding headfirst into home. Godwin made improvements, steadily strengthening his arm--though it's still below-average, making a move to left field necessary--and gaining better control of the strike zone. He still has excellent bat speed and some power potential. His speed and hitting ability lead to comparisons to former Braves first baseman Gerald Perry. But Godwin must stay healthy and show what he can do over a full season.
A former Central Florida football recruit likened to Daunte Culpepper because of his size and arm strength, Thorpe played in the 2002 South Atlantic League all-star game, teaming with Francisco Rosario and Dustin McGowan to give Charleston three dynamic power pitchers. He was named the organization's man of the year for his off-field contributions while with Charleston. He became heavily involved in a school program in Charleston, reading to school children at schools and libraries, taking kids to the mall or out to lunch, and meeting with them before and after games at the ballpark. In short, Thorpe was having a breakthrough 2002 season. But it all came crashing down in June, when Thorpe injured his shoulder. He had surgery in August to repair two tears in his labrum and may not pitch in 2003. His upside was evident before the injury, though. Thorpe was touching 98 mph with his fastball and regularly gassing hitters with a 93-97 heater that was just wild enough to be effective. He also was starting to throw more consistent strikes with his curveball and changeup, and had toyed with a split-finger fastball. Thorpe was pursuing his rehabilitation program aggressively and hoped to be healthy enough to start soft tossing again in spring training.
Like GM J.P. Ricciardi, Smith is a Massachusetts native. He played in Boston's Yawkey Baseball League as a youngster, and his sister is the daughter-in-law of former Red Sox president John Harrington. Smith played both ways at Richmond, often sharing time in the outfield with his twin brother Rich. He homered in his first college at-bat but soon settled on pitching and reached the big leagues within two years of signing with Toronto. However, his limitations started to show in the big leagues. Smith has one speed: fast. He throws a 92-95 mph fastball and a power slider in the high 80s, enough to handle Triple-A in his first try but not enough to get by as a starter in the big leagues. He has yet to master a changeup or anything else offspeed, and his lack of height keeps him from getting good leverage on his fastball. His power repertoire and competitiveness help him profile as a setup man. The Jays will give him at least one more look as a starter before moving him to the bullpen.
One of the best players in Penn State history, Fagan excelled as a third baseman/closer and led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA super-regional round in 2000. He led the Big 10 Conference in RBIs that year as a senior after setting Penn State's single-season saves record as a sophomore with seven. The Blue Jays drafted him for his bat and he has delivered, improving at every level. Fagan has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone, showing an ability to lay off pitcher's pitches and working counts to his advantage, waiting for a fastball to crush. His 102 walks led the organization and surely grabbed the attention of Ricciardi, an on-base fanatic. An avid weight trainer, Fagan has gotten bulkier and stronger since signing and his power is now considered average. His swing, work ethic and versatility-- he has played both corner spots and will see time in left field in spring training--have some in the organization comparing him to Greg Colbrunn. Fagan, who threw in the low 90s as a college closer, has lost some arm strength and flexibility as he has gotten thicker, and he doesn't have the arm or range to be an everyday third baseman anymore. He'll move up to Triple-A, where he'll again have to prove himself because of his average tools.
Maureau was a seventh-round pick out of high school by the Diamondbacks after a decorated prep career in which he set the Colorado career strikeout record. He continued to be a strikeout pitcher at Wichita State, where he struck out 253 in 221 career innings. Maureau did it with a fastball in the 88-90 mph range, good changeup and one of the best curveballs in college baseball. He brought the same package to the Blue Jays and had a dominant debut as a reliever for Auburn, missing bats consistently and showing excellent command of all three pitches. The biggest questions surrounding Maureau are his future role and his durability. His slight build led even the Shockers to use him out of the bullpen quite a bit as a junior, and he excelled in that role in the Cape Cod League in 2001. Maureau's ability to throw his plus curve, which has excellent depth and bite, for consistent strikes and his lack of durability make him a perfect candidate to be a lefthanded reliever, and he could move quickly in that role. As a lefty with three plus pitches, though, expect Maureau to at least get a chance in a starting role, perhaps in high Class A in his first full pro season.
Known as Antonio Nin when he led the Dominican Summer League in victories and ranked fourth in strikeouts in 2001, Nin had a successful U.S. debut in 2002. His stuff was almost pedestrian by Auburn's staff standards, but like Brandon League, Dave Bush, Chad Pleiness, Adam Peterson, Vince Perkins and latecomer Juan Perez, Nin runs his fastball into the 90s. He sits in the 93-95 mph range and has an effective power slider. He generates explosive drive toward the plate thanks to strong legs and a thick torso. Nin was aggressive with his power stuff and also showed the makings of a decent changeup. Considering his age and it was his first year in the States, Nin maintained his composure well and made good adjustments. The biggest questions for him now concern experience, command of his fastball and changeup, and his ability to stay on top of his pitches. At his size, Nin always will have to work hard to keep his fastball from flattening out.
Part of the reason that teams like the Athletics and now the Blue Jays draft college players is because they have more of a track record than high school players. Perry has a track record for success and for hitting for power that includes a productive career at Georgia Tech, where he helped the Yellow Jackets reach the 2002 College World Series. He also put together an impressive résumé with wood bats, batting .287 and leading the Cape Cod League with eight home runs in 2001. Perry struggled with a bad ankle sprain during the 2002 college season, which contributed to him falling to the sixth round, but had one of the best minor league debuts among drafted players. He tore up the Rookie-level Pioneer League and held his own after a promotion to high Class A, thanks to a short, strong swing and good plate discipline. Perry's bat would play even more if he can handle left field, where he spent some time in college. He has a decent arm and may have the range for the position, though his ankle injury limited him to three games in the outfield after he signed. Perry should start 2003 back at Dunedin.
For Mayorson, the climb up the prospect charts may be an arduous one. One of Latin American coordinator Tony Arias' many signees in the organization, Mayorson predates the J.P. Ricciardi era. The new general manager figures to de-emphasize Latin American scouting because of the difficulty of establishing a track record for players and because it takes a while for prospects like Mayorson, a toolsy middle infielder, to develop. Defense always will be his calling card. He has natural shortstop actions, showing the arm and instincts for shortstop. But his supporters in the organization point out that considering his age and background, Mayorson had a solid 2002 season with the bat. He hit .163 in April but .296 thereafter. He'll never have much power and needs better plate discipline, but Mayorson also proved tough to strike out and ran the bases well, though he can improve on reading pitchers and getting jumps on stolen bases. A move up to high Class A is in order, where he may split time between second base and shortstop with first-round pick Russ Adams.
On the verge of being considered a bust, Snyder had a breakthrough season in 2002, earning South Atlantic League all-star honors. After entering the season with a career .225 average and just 16 homers in 1,002 at-bats, he led Charleston in home runs and RBIs and ranked third in the Sally League in hits. Snyder's size led to his move from third base, the position he played in high school, across the diamond to first, and he had yet to translate his raw power into games prior to last season. His improved patience at the plate helped unlock his power. A sharp player who has started to pick up the nuances of the game, Snyder simply overpowers mistakes and has become more aggressive while at the same time increasing his walk rate. He wasn't placed on the 40-man roster after the season, but that could change in 2003 if he has another productive season. Lefthanded hitters with his raw power usually get several chances, and Snyder has earned at least one more.
DeJong was out of baseball in 2001. He had struggled in his first two seasons at Cal State Fullerton and got knocked around after transferring to Tennessee in 2000. The Volunteers cut his scholarship and DeJong returned home to Southern California, returning to class at Fullerton but turning down an offer to return to the baseball team. In the fall of 2001, though, Titans assistant Dave Serrano convinced him to give baseball one last try, and DeJong did so with spectacular success. He tied for second in the Big West Conference with 11 victories last spring and got drafted in the 18th round, then overmatched hitters in his professional debut. A few mechanical adjustments pushed DeJong's fastball to 90-92 mph, and he varied his arm angles to run his fastball in on lefthanders. He also throws an overhand curve, tight slider and solid changeup, all average pitches that he can command. He repeats his delivery and competes well, giving him a chance to join the bigger names and stronger arms from the 2002 Auburn staff in Charleston's 2003 rotation.
Stephenson entered 2002 as one of the organization's better-regarded lefthanders but struggled to live up to billing on a talented Charleston rotation. His father Earl pitched in the big leagues, and it's not too late for Stephenson to do the same. He still has good stuff, starting with an 88-92 mph fastball. He's learning to command the pitch and needs to throw it more and rely less on his above-average curveball. His curve is one of the better breaking balls in the organization, but Stephenson needs to be more aggressive with the pitch and stop nibbling. That got him into trouble both in falling behind hitters and in lacking the efficiency to pitch deep into games. With more maturity, Stephenson will pitch inside more and realize that while his curve is a power pitch, his fastball is too. He could return to low Class A or earn a promotion to high Class A with a good spring-training showing.
Wesley's size and fastball made him an intriguing signing, much to the chagrin of South Carolina coaches who viewed him as their 2003 closer. His injury-plagued background helps explain why a big righthander with a dominating 96 mph fastball didn't get drafted. An accomplished auto mechanic, Wesley spent one year at Brevard (Fla.) Junior College (which no longer has a program) before joining the Gamecocks, where he overcame a knee injury to earn three saves as a sophomore. He got a medical redshirt in 2001, when he had arm problems stemming from looseness in his shoulder. His 2002 season also was affected, as he came back too soon from offseason surgery to tighten his shoulder capsule and didn't pitch from early March until mid-May. When he returned, he had lost his closer job but worked himself back into game shape and pitched critical, effective innings in regional and super-regional play. He threw in a dominating relief effort in the College World Series against Nebraska to further entice the Blue Jays. Wesley is yet another mid-90s arm if he can hold up, and Toronto plans to use him strictly in a relief role as he gets into better shape. His fastball has good life, and he also throws a curveball and good splitter. He uses his size and fastball to change planes well at the top and bottom of the strike zone.