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The Blue Jays had a tight signing budget in 1999, and then-scouting director Tim Wilken and his staff narrowed the team's choice in the first round to three players. Toronto could go with Ball State outfielder Larry Bigbie, Mississippi State righthander Matt Ginter or Rios, a Puerto Rican outfielder whose swing path and physical tools intrigued the organization. They also knew he'd come cheaper. Rather than spend about $1.5 million of their signing budget on one college player, the Jays decided to sign Rios for $845,000 (the only sub-$1 million bonus in the first round that year) and used the savings to sign several draft-and-follow prospects. Rios has since blossomed into a stud prospect, particulary in 2003, when he won the Eastern League batting championship and was Baseball America's Double-A player of the year. He also played in the Futures Game, hitting an opposite-field homer that showed off his best attributes. Rios has a smooth, easy swing that belies his long frame and helps him make consistent, hard contact to all fields. He had five hitting streaks of 10 games or more in 2003. His bat always has been his best tool, and his developing power has pushed him to elite-prospect status. He hit three homers in the EL playoffs and hit .348-12-37 in 40 games to win league MVP honors during winter ball in his native Puerto Rico. Credit his emerging home run power to him filling out physically and gaining strength. Jays officials also consider him an accomplished center fielder who takes good angles to the ball and has a strong arm. Rios makes such consistent, hard contact that he's never going to walk a lot. His 85 strikeouts last year were a career high, as were his 39 walks. His offensive profile looks a lot like that of Vernon Wells, which is good, but Rios isn't as good a center fielder as Wells. He's going to have to keep hitting for the kind of power he was showing in Puerto Rico if Wells' presence prompts Rios move to right field. He has had some durability issues in the past linked to nagging injuries, and he began 2003 in extended spring training while overcoming a pulled quadriceps. His strong play in winter ball, though, has quieted those concerns. Rios is a prime example of the way the Jays used to do business, a high-risk high school pick, a hitter who doesn't draw walks but who oozes tools. If the organization keeps him, it could have another Juan Gonzalez or Dave Winfield on its hands, a perennial all-star right fielder who could hit .300 with 35 homers, or win batting championships with 20-homer power. However, Rios isn't quite a finished product and looks likely to begin 2004 at Triple-A Syracuse unless he has an overwhelming spring.
Several clubs debated McGowan versus fellow Georgia prep product Adam Wainwright in the 2000 draft; Wainwright went four spots ahead of McGowan to the Braves. An inflamed elbow almost caused the Jays to void his contract after he signed for $950,000, but he has proved healthy since then. McGowan has added 30 pounds to his sturdy frame and now has No. 1 starter stuff that he maintains deep into games. He pitches at 94-95 mph with his fastball and touches 97 consistently with above-average life down in the zone. McGowan's power downer curveball and mid-80s slider, which at times is a plus put-away pitch, are average big league pitches. He has good arm speed on his changeup, though his changeup can be too firm and he could stand to vary speeds better. Otherwise, he mostly needs experience, a few more innings and consistency repeating his delivery. McGowan has better stuff than Roy Halladay, the Cy Young Award winner whom he could join in Toronto's rotation soon. He's in line for a big league promotion sometime in 2004.
Quiroz signed as a free agent with the Jays for $1.2 million after his agent, Scott Boras, took him around the high school showcase circuit. He missed time late in 2003 with a partially collapsed lung but returned for three games in the Eastern League playoffs. Quiroz' plus arm and good throwing mechanics help him post consistent sub-2.0-second times on throws to second base. He threw out 44 percent of opposing baserunners last year. Toronto officials rave about his near-flawless English and his ability to steer pitchers through tough innings. He has a power bat to go with his power arm, and like Rios he punished winter league pitching, drilling 11 homes in 44 games in Venezuela. Quiroz' swing is at times long and mechanical. He's good at making adjustments, but he doesn't project as much more than a .270 hitter. He has made strides in his concentration and keeping a steady approach through an entire season. His performance at Double-A New Haven vaulted Quiroz past Kevin Cash on the organization depth chart. He should establish himself as the Jays' starting catcher no later than 2005.
Auburn's starting quarterback as a freshman in 1998, Gross has made the decision to leave football behind look smart. He grinded out a productive 2003 season, which ended with him starting in right field for the ill-fated U.S. Olympic qualifying team. Gross is a good athlete with solid average or above-average tools across the board. He has at least average power, runs well for his size and his arm fits well in right field. He commands the strike zone well and is learning to be aggressive in hitter's counts. Gross struggled in 2002 because he couldn't get his hands in good position for his swing, but he seems to have made that adjustment. His football background means he has less experience than a typical college draftee, so his home run production hasn't approached his ceiling yet. He struggles with southpaws (.248 with four homers in 129 at-bats last year). Gross could resemble Paul O'Neill, a corner outfielder who hits for a good average and 15-20 homers, or he could become a 30-homer threat. He should start 2004 back in Triple-A.
Rosario was putting the finishing touches on a breakout 2002 season when he felt a pop in his elbow while in the Arizona Fall League. He required Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2003 season. However, Toronto officials were impressed with his recent showing in instructional league. Before his injury, Rosario threw his fastball from 92-97 mph with exceptional command. While his control wasn't pinpoint after his layoff, club officials were encouraged. He hasn't thrown many changeups since his return, but the ones he has flashed were above-average. Rosario will need time to recover from his elbow reconstruction, as many pitchers struggle to regain their touch and feel in their first season after the surgery. His slurvy breaking ball was his third-best pitch before he got hurt and still needs tightening. Rosario would have been the Jays' No. 1 prospect last year if not for the surgery. He can put himself in position for that honor again if he has a healthy, strong 2004. He'll start at high Class A Dunedin and move to Double-A once the Eastern League's weather improves.
Hill was drafted in the seventh round out of high school by the Angels, and soon after the draft got a full scholarship offer from Louisiana State. He had a stellar college career, earning Southeastern Conference player-of-the-year honors in 2003. Hill has average to plus tools and the skills to match. His strong throwing arm helps him make plays from the hole at shortstop. He keeps his swing short, and has shown average power (with more to come) and running ability. His fine plate discipline and off-the-charts makeup sealed the deal for the Blue Jays. Hill doesn't quite have Russ Adams' range at shortstop, and probably doesn't have enough to cover ground at the position on artificial turf. He'll have to use his tremendous instincts and learn to position himself perfectly to make up for his lack of quickness. Some scouts see Hill becoming an offensive second baseman a la Bret Boone if he fully realizes his power potential. At worst, he should be a solid big leaguer at either second or third. Hill should reach Double-A at some point in 2004.
A high school catcher, Bush converted to pitching at Wake Forest. He quickly established himself as one of college baseball's top closers. After not signing as a Devil Rays fourth-round pick in 2001, he overcame blood clots in his left leg to have a big senior season. He made a successful conversion to starting in 2003, his first full pro season. Bush competes hard and pounds the strike zone with four pitches. He repeats his delivery well and has the best command of any pitcher in the organization. Bush throws an 88-92 mph fastball with average life and a solid curve with depth. He also has shown a good feel for his changeup and has developed a decent slider. Bush doesn't have a knockout pitch. At times, he catches too much of the plate and his average stuff gets hit hard. Bush looks like a good bet to be a solid third starter. If that doesn't work, he has the mentality and command to go back to the bullpen, where his stuff would pick up a notch. He should begin 2004 in Triple-A but could earn a trip to Toronto during the season.
Perkins isn't as athletic or polished as other recent British Columbia exports such as Athletics righty Rich Harden, his former Little League and high school teammate. However, Perkins broke out in 2003 by ranking among the minor league leaders in ERA (2.24) and opponent average (.179). Perkins has a big frame and big stuff. His fastball ranks right with those of McGowan, Brandon League and reliever Adam Peterson for pure velocity. He throws it in the 92-95 mph range and touches some 96s and 97s. His power slider sits at 87-89 and scrapes the low 90s. When he's on, minor league hitters don't touch him. Perkins isn't a graceful athlete. That makes it harder for him to repeat his delivery, the root of his control troubles. He has progressed making his delivery less mechanical and more fluid, but it doesn't come easy to him. His changeup is just fair. Perkins has as much upside as any starter the Jays have besides McGowan and Rosario. If he harnesses his control, he'll be a middle-of-the-rotation power starter who eats innings.
Adams is a quintessential "baseball player," a description that shortchanges his athletic ability. He went from solid college player to first-round pick with an all-star performance in the Cape Cod League in 2001, and he rose quickly to Double-A in his first full pro season. Adams is an above-average runner, has good range on either side of the bag and shows a knack for making consistent contact. He commands the strike zone well, then takes advantage of his good on-base percentage by being an efficient basestealer. He has good hands and quick feet defensively. Adams made 45 errors in 2003 between the regular season and Arizona Fall League. His throwing arm is below-average, and the extra depth needed to play shortstop on artificial turf could expose this shortcoming even more, making a move to second base probable. Neither Adams nor the organization has given up on him at shortstop, and his work ethic, instincts and hands may yet carry the day. He'll return to Double-A at Toronto's new New Hampshire affiliate.
League and Hawaiian prep rival Bronson Sardinha (now with the Yankees) both committed to Pepperdine, but League's power arm proved too tempting for the Blue Jays. League remains one of the hardest throwers in the minor leagues, regularly delivering his fastball in the high 90s, sitting at 93-96 and at times touching triple digits. He throws from a low three-quarters arm slot that gives his hard heater wicked sinking action. His sweeping 87-88 mph slider is at times a plus pitch. He has the makings of a decent changeup. League's stuff usually produces more strikeouts, even for a sinker-slider pitcher. He doesn't command his breaking ball as well as he needs to. He sometimes over-rotates in his delivery and drags his arm, which keeps him from staying on top of his slider. League made progress working on his delivery with Dunedin pitching coach Rick Langford. His upside as a starter remains huge, and his fastball makes relieving a legitimate option if starting doesn't work out. He'll rejoin Dunedin's rotation at the outset in 2004.
Banks helped Florida International reach a super-regional in 2001 and missed part of 2002 with a strained ligament in his throwing elbow. He broke out early in 2003, quickly establishing himself as the best player in a weak Florida college draft class. He went in the second round, becoming the highest drafted player in school history (18 rounds ahead of Mike Lowell) after shrugging off a blister to lead the Sun Belt Conference with 114 strikeouts in 105 innings. Primarily a reliever in his first two years of college, Banks added an effective slider to his repertoire last season, becoming a three-pitch pitcher. He sits at 89-93 mph with his fastball and touches 94, and commands it well enough to both sides of the plate to earn a 60 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. He then attacks hitters with a plus splitter and his slider, another above-average pitch at times. Besides just having good stuff, Banks has a plan on the mound and a good feel for the game. Banks' ability to pound the strike zone with quality stuff should allow him to move quickly through the system if he stays healthy. He could earn a spot in high Class A with a strong spring training.
Peterson has as much opportunity as any Jays prospect to jump to Toronto in 2004 and make an impact. His makeup and stuff scream "closer," and Toronto lacks an established player in that role, even after the acquisitions of Kerry Ligtenberg and Justin Speier. Peterson was a 13th-round pick of the Phillies out of high school in Wisconsin and an eighth-round pick of the Yankees in 2001 out of Wichita State but didn't sign either time. He missed most of 2001 with a back injury and returned to Wichita State, going 9-3, 3.55 as a junior. After signing with the Jays, he moved to the bullpen. That change and a slight lowering of his arm angle jumped his 91-92 mph fastball with good life into a 96-97 mph heater with excellent movement down in the strike zone. His health and the consistency of his slider will determine his success. Peterson tends to get around on his breaking ball too much, costing him command, though he made progress with it in instructional league. At times, it's a filthy pitch with big tilt. He also has a playable changeup, which he won't use much out of the bullpen. Peterson could get some save chances in Toronto sooner than later.
Cash remains one of the best defensive backstops in the minors. The former corner infielder has natural actions and tools to thrive behind the plate: plus arm, good footwork, soft hands and leadership ability. He rivals Guillermo Quiroz as the organization's best defensive catcher, and he led Triple-A International League regulars by throwing out 50 percent of basestealers last year. However, Quiroz has passed him on the organization's depth chart because of the gains he made at the plate in 2003, progress Cash didn't match. His plate discipline and home run power slipped. His aggressive approach, which had served him well earlier in his career, was further exposed in a 34-game big league trial, when he failed to post even a .400 on-base plus slugging percentage. Pitchers realized they didn't have to throw him strikes to get him out, so they didn't. The Blue Jays say Cash pressured himself too much and was focused on learning to work with Toronto's pitchers. Cash projects as a .260 hitter with 10-15 homers at best, and he'll need to get stronger and improve his conditioning to avoid tiring late in the season, when his bat tends to slow.
Added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, Hanson has the stuff to rival all the pitchers ranked ahead of him but doesn't have the tools of the likes of Dustin McGowan, Francisco Rosario, Vince Perkins or Brandon League. Besides being just 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Hanson has an injury history, having had knee surgery twice to repair damage stemming from a spring-training collision in 2001 with Alvin Morrow (now Toronto's area scout in Southern California). Hanson also has a quick arm and big-time stuff. His fastball sits in the 89-93 mph range, and he can run it up to 94 or 95 on occasion. One such occasion was an Aug. 12 start at low Class A Charleston. He struck out 14 in a complete-game seven-hitter, and his last pitch registered 95. Hanson also throws a hard power slider in the mid- to upper 80s and a curveball with surprising depth coming from a short righthander. He was dominant down the stretch, giving up just two earned runs in his last 50 innings, showing his small frame can handle a full season. His protection on the 40-man roster means he'll be pushed to Double-A in 2004, as the Jays want to see just what they have.
Griffin added to his offensive reputation in 2003, though a stress fracture in his foot ended his season in late July. It's the second straight year Griffin saw truncated by an injury, as a hand problem cost him the last two months of 2002. Florida State coach Mike Martin calls Griffin the best hitter his program ever has produced, and he projects to have an above-average big league bat. He has a smooth lefthanded swing that grew shorter, allowing him to take advantage of his bat speed and hit for better power than he had previously shown. He matched his previous career home run total with 13. Some in the organization envision him as a .300 hitter with 20 homers, while others say he's more of a .270 hitter with 30- or even 40-homer pop. But Griffin doesn't do much else well. He's not a good runner, basestealer or fielder, ill-suited even for left field because of his lack of speed and poor arm. If the power projections don't play out, Griffin would be a Jeremy Giambi clone, a solid hitter without a position. And Toronto already has Josh Phelps as a young, power-hitting DH. Griffin needs to reverse his downward defensive trend when he heads to Triple-A.
Arnold remains a bone of contention within the organization. Some Jays officials say he's one of their best prospects, while others never have considered him more than a back-of-the- rotation starter or set-up man. He hit his first speed bump as a pro in 2003, and his adjustment will determine which camp is correct. Arnold's fastball, which reached 94 mph as a college closer, sits in the 87-90 range as a pro starter, and it's fairly straight. He dominated Double-A to start the season, but Triple-A hitters learned to lay off his plus changeup, a palmball, and didn't respect his below-average slider. They sat on the fastball and punished it regularly, and Arnold didn't adapt. He must stay tall in his delivery, maintaining a release point that allows him to throw downhill with leverage to keep his fastball down in the strike zone. He clearly doesn't have the arm of the Jays' elite prospects, but has excellent makeup. Arnold is active in charity work and is a reporter's best friend in the locker room. Toronto officials on both sides of the argument want him to succeed.
After ranking second on this list a year ago, Werth's worth has slipped as the likes of Reed Johnson, Gabe Gross and Alexis Rios have passed him. Injuries played a part, as Werth got a late start to the season after straining his wrist in spring training. It forced him to the disabled list and a rehab assignment in high Class A, and he was playing catch-up all year. He no longer plays catcher, which also diminished his value. He played solely in the outfield in 2003, and one Jays official termed him an emergency catcher only. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi considers Werth too tall at 6-foot-6 to be a catcher. He has made a nice transition to full-time outfield, however. Werth runs well enough to play center field and has a plus arm in right. Offense is the bigger question. Werth swings and misses too much to be an everyday hitter at this point. His size has created a swing that's too long and has too many holes, sabotaging his plus power. If he makes adjustments, he could be an average corner outfielder, and his versatility makes him a valuable reserve. That's likely to be his role in 2004 in Toronto, and Werth could be trade bait for a National League team that covets his flexibility.
Harper doesn't have the stuff of the pitchers ahead of him, but he knows how to pitch and established himself as a prospect with a consistent 2003 season. He ranked second in the low Class A South Atlantic League in ERA in 2002, then earned a spot on the 40-man roster after leading Dunedin in wins, innings and strikeouts while finishing fourth in the Florida State League in ERA. Tall with a projectable frame, Harper was a 13th-round pick out of high school by the Diamondbacks and signed for a six-figure signing bonus after a year of junior college. His velocity hasn't caught up with the projections, but he has a high-80s fastball that scrapes 90-91 mph at times. He commands his fastball well and uses his height to throw with a good angle to the plate. Harper uses his heater to set hitters up for his slider, changeup and splitter. None stands out as more than average, and he seems to prefer the slider. Harper has room to get stronger, and if one or two of his pitches pick up a grade, he could be a factor in the rotation. He'll try to maintain his success this year at Double-A.
Godwin still flashes the tools that got him drafted in the first round twice, out of high school in 1997 by the Yankees, and as a North Carolina junior in 2000 by the Rangers. The one-time Tar Heels kickoff returner remains a plus runner and is putting his speed to use more on the bases, stealing 26 bases in 34 tries last year. His power, projected to be above-average while he was an amateur, has yet to show up consistently in games. Godwin chafed when the Blue Jays altered his swing to try to take advantage of his speed, and he hit for better power down the stretch in Double-A after reverting to his old approach. He also backtracked in plate discipline, after showing improvement in high Class A. Godwin's bat speed allows him to catch up to the best fastballs. His greatest improvement as a pro has come in throwing. His arm graded as a 35 on the 20-80 scouting scale when he was an amateur, and the Jays now consider it major league average, though his release needs to be quicker. He has become an average defender in center field and can play either corner as well. He needs a breakout season in Double-A to emerge from the organization's deep group of outfielders.
Teams that focus on college players in the draft frequently use performance in college as an indicator of future success. Isenberg went 8-8, 5.85 as a junior, so he wouldn't seem to fit the profile. The Jays saw through his 2003 struggles with James Madison, where he began the year as the No. 1 starter for a disappointing club. They looked at the above-average athleticism that allowed him to play both ways, saw that he struck out a batter an inning after posting a 3.43 ERA the year before, and knew he had a clean delivery with good arm action. Isenberg rewarded the Jays with a stellar pro debut, falling one-third of an inning shy of qualifying for the New York-Penn League ERA title, which he would have won by nearly half a run. His fastball sat at 89-91 mph, and club officials think there's a bit more as he focuses on pitching. He has an advanced feel for a good changeup--a trademark of pitchers at James Madison, whose coach, Spanky McFarland, has a pitching textbook--and made strides with his curveball. If his curve improves, Isenberg could evoke comparisons to Jimmy Key, whom the Jays also drafted as a two-way player back in 1982. He'll pitch in Class A this year.
Marcum began his college career at Missouri before transferring to Southwest Missouri State, which allowed him to play shortstop and pitch out of the bullpen. His steady and at times spectacular defense and 13 saves helped lead the Bears to their first-ever College World Series in 2003. Marcum's defense at shortstop was sufficient, but his bat was not. After his all-star turn in the Cape Cod League in 2002, when he was Harwich's MVP with 10 saves and a 1.48 ERA, most clubs considered him a better fit on the mound. Marcum's athleticism translates to good command of an 89-92 mph fastball and a plus slider, the organization's best. His physical skills also make him a tremendous fielder at pitcher, and he has a good pickoff move. He has shown a good feel for a curveball and changeup as well and will be used as a starter in 2004, likely in low Class A. Whether Marcum starts just to get innings and experience or whether develops into another David Bush remains to be seen.
Pleiness looked primed to make a big leap in 2003, his first full year as a pitcher. A three-sport athlete at Central Michigan, he went to school on a football scholarship as a tight end before starring both in basketball and baseball. He led NCAA Division I pitchers with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 2002 and missed plenty of bats in his pro debut. Pleiness' stuff didn't improve as had been expected, though, and he faltered late in 2003 because of his conditioning and lack of experience with a full season. Opponents hit .203 off him through June, then battered him for a .340 clip the rest of the season. Pleiness throws an 88-92 mph fastball, curve and changeup. He struggled with keeping his deliberate delivery consistent and lost some of the bite on his curve, his out pitch. Pleiness needs to make the necessary adjustments when he returns to high Class A to start 2004.
Chulk had his worst season as a pro in 2003 and probably will return to the relief role he inhabited earlier in his career. His first extended shot at Triple-A started poorly as Chulk, a sinker/slider pitcher, elevated his fastball and gave up six homers in his first 20 innings. He missed a month with a sore throwing elbow, then made an adjustment that worked well the rest of the season and earned him a September callup. Chulk stopped trying to muscle his average 88-91 mph fastball past hitters and stuck to spotting it down in the strike zone. He's comparable to Jason Arnold in results and track record. His fastball has better movement and his hard slider is an average pitch, but he lacks Arnold's plus changeup and needs to command his change better. He throws a slurvy curve as well. Chulk has a track record as an effective setup man in the lower minors and has a resilient arm, which could come in handy if the Jays return him to bullpen. He'll start 2004 in Triple-A.
Reimers received some of the money the Blue Jays saved when they drafted Alexis Rios in the first round in 1999 and signed him for $845,000. Toronto signed draft-and-follow righthanders Reimers, Aaron Dean and Ryan Houston to six-figure bonuses. Only Reimers, a Montana native who was one of the few prospects ever happy to play with the Jays' old Rookie-level affiliate in Medicine Hat, Alberta, remains a decent prospect. Reimers finally got the hang of Double-A in his third trip there in 2003. The Jays are under no misconceptions that the big-boned righthander, who no longer hits the occasional 94 mph on the radar gun, is a power pitcher, and neither is Reimers. He must spot his average fastball down in the zone and work for grounders with his sinker/slider approach. His changeup is just average and he doesn't have a plus pitch. Reimers profiles as a fourth or fifth starter along the lines of Jeff Suppan and will report to Triple-A--where he started and faltered in 2002.
James was one of the more intriguing arms in the 2003 draft as a sophomore-eligible just beginning to blossom. A sixth-round pick of the Red Sox in 2001, James struggled mightily as a freshman, when he tried to throw his low-90s fastball by every hitter he faced. He commands his fastball well and used it much more effectively at Missouri in 2003, helping lead the Tigers to their first regional bid since 1996. He was their Friday starter and went 7-6, 4.03, becoming the highest-drafted Missouri player since 1988 (Dave Silvestri, second round) when the Jays took him in the fifth round. James pitches in the 89-90 range most often, though he has touched 94 in the past. His hard curveball remains inconsistent, though at times it has good rotation. James's best pitch is a plus changeup that he throws with a funky grip. One Jays official says he can't describe it "because he won't show it to me." James pitches aggressively, challenging hitters with his fastball, and Toronto likes his competitiveness. He should start 2004 in low Class A but could move quickly.
Vermilyea had one of the best debuts of any 2003 draftee, on the heels of one of the best careers in New Mexico history. Vermilyea set single-season marks for starts and innings as a sophomore and junior, sandwiched around a star turn (1.63 ERA) in the Cape Cod League in 2002. He led the Mountain West Conference in strikeouts and innings (112 in 126) in 2003, then posted a 78-7 strikeout-walk ratio in pro ball. Vermilyea was a workhorse in college, but the Jays project him as an effective middle reliever. He throws a fastball in the high 80s, topping out around 89. His heater plays much better than that thanks to exceptional late life, especially down and in to righthanders, generated by a low three-quarters arm slot. Vermilyea's slider is well-above-average and one of the best in the organization, featuring late live and two-plane action. He also throws a splitter and commands all three pitches well. If the Jays start him, Vermilyea will have to be precise with his fastball's fringy velocity. As a middle reliever, he could move quickly. He'll begin this year in high Class A.
Negron wasn't protected on the 40-man roster this offseason and went through the major league Rule 5 draft unclaimed, two signs that his career has stalled. He still has the tools that caused the Jays to draft him in the first round. While Negron was picked with an eye on managing the budget, he offers above-average speed and defense. He's a true center fielder who has enough arm and instincts to play all three outfield positions. For now, though, Negron profiles as no more than a fourth outfielder because his bat lags behind. Part of the problem is his approach. He's just starting to realize he's not a power hitter, and was making some progress on that front in winter ball back in his native Puerto Rico. The other part of the problem is injuries. A strained hamstring sidelined him in early June last year, and an elbow strain ended his season shortly after he returned later that month. Negron hasn't taken to the organization's plate-discipline doctrine and must do so to parlay his first-round tools into a big league career. He should get his first shot at high Class A in 2004.
The Jays have had some hits and misses with Latin American pitching prospects in the last decade, and the misses (Diegomar Markwell, Jose Pett) have often been spectacular and expensive. Rodriguez is a long way away, and the Jays won't really know what they have until he makes his U.S. debut at Auburn. But his arm strength and coordination have some organization officials comparing him to Francisco Rosario. Latin American scout Tony Arias signed Rodriguez for $325,000 in 2002 because he liked Rodriguez' size, arm action and easy 90-93 mph fastball velocity. The Jays were even more encouraged after his performance in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League last year, when he ranked third in ERA and averaged a strikeout an inning. Rodriguez, who throws a middling curveball and is learning a changeup, is still growing into his frame and has some command. He's at least four years away from being a contender for Toronto's rotation, but his upside is considerable and he's the organization's best Latin prospect outside of Alexis Rios or Guillermo Quiroz.
Previously given away by the Expos and released by the Indians, the Canadian corner infielder impressed Jays officials at a 2002 tryout camp after calling on his own to set up the workout. He showed big-time power from the left side and a blue-collar work ethic to win a spot on the 40-man roster after 2003. Pond typifies the approach employed by the "new Jays": He works counts, hits for power and doesn't play great defense. Bigger than his listed 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Pond has proven stiff at third base, doesn't run well enough to play the outfield and looks like a better fit at first base. One club official compared him physically and performance-wise to former Yankees and White Sox slugger Dan Pasqua. Whether or not Pond has enough bat for first base remains to be seen. In New Haven's deep, powerful lineup, he showed excellent patience and was a run producer, hitting stinging line drives to the gaps and over the fence. He was a bit more susceptible to Triple-A pitching, as his strikeout-walk ratio plummeted and his power numbers dipped after a promotion. Considering his defensive troubles, Pond's protection on the 40-man roster was a curious decision, but the Jays say his kind of lefthanded power is hard to find. Pond will have to prove he has enough pop to have a big league future when he returns to Triple-A in 2004.
An organization short on southpaws decided to take a chance on Leonard, and in 2004 the Jays will start to see if their gamble pays off. Leonard entered 2002 ranked as one of the top college pitchers available for that year's draft. He led the Mid-American Conference in wins in 2001 at 11-3, 3.36, then followed up by leading the Cape Cod League in ERA during a 6-0, 0.98 summer. He ranked as the Cape's No. 4 prospect (behind fellow Jays farmhands Russ Adams and David Bush) thanks to a high-80s mph fastball, a smooth yet deceptive delivery, a solid curveball and a good changeup. Leonard struggled in 2002, though, going just 2-4, 4.85 while pitching with a split fingernail and blister on the index finger of his left hand. Later in the spring, he was diagnosed with elbow damage that required Tommy John surgery that summer. His recovery from the operation has gone slower than Francisco Rosario's. The Jays didn't push Leonard to throw in instructional league, where they had hoped to see him. He threw on the side but not in games. If he comes back healthy from the surgery--and the track record with Tommy John surgery is pretty good-- Leonard could be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.