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Evan Longoria may be the best hitter taken in the 2006 draft, but Snider has done nothing to diminish his case as the best high school hitter from that same draft. After signing for $1.7 million as the 14th overall pick, Snider proceeded to earn Rookie-level Appalachian League MVP and No. 1 prospect honors in his first pro summer. He followed up by leading the low Class A Midwest League with 35 doubles, 58 extra-base hits, 93 RBIs and a .525 slugging percentage in 2007. After hitting .316/.404/.541 as the second-youngest player in the Arizona Fall League, he was expected to begin 2008 at Double-A New Hampshire, but a spring-training right elbow injury relegated him to DH duty with high Class A Dunedin. He started slowly upon a promotion to Double-A in late April, striking out in 42 percent of his at-bats. His ailing elbow negatively affected his swing path, and he developed the bad habit of pulling off the ball as he tried to yank everything to right field. Snider appeared to be fully recovered by mid-May, and in his final 93 minor league games, he batted .293/.368/.499 with 15 homers and 25 doubles. Toronto rewarded Snider with a September callup, during which he batted .301 as the American League's youngest player. With strength, bat speed and a simple lefthanded swing, Snider projects to hit for average and plus power to all fields in the big leagues. Despite his lofty strikeout totals, he has exceptional control of the bat barrel, showing a knack for hitting balls in any part of the zone with authority. His sound hitting base enhances his balance, and he already uses the opposite field when pitchers try to work him on the outer half . Snider is more athletic than his 5-foot-11, 245-pound frame suggests, and his arm is strong enough for right field. He always puts forth consistent effort on defense. A natural leader, he receives high marks for his competitive makeup. Because lefthanders threw him a steady diet of offspeed pitches--even in hitter's counts--Snider struggled versus southpaws in the high minors, hitting a mere .233/.295/.310 in 116 Double-A and Triple-A at-bats. Showing a more patient approach could help him overcome this shortcoming, as he showed a tendency toward free swinging as he moved up the ladder. It's not a long-term concern if he refines his approach to the point where he's confident hitting with two strikes. Physically mature with a muscular build and a thick lower half, Snider has below-average running speed and always will need to make conditioning a priority. His outfield range is average at best. The Matt Stairs trade in August opened a spot for Snider, who took advantage of his opportunity. He figures into the club's 2009 plans, though he may begin the year with the Jays' new Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate. Either way, it shouldn't be long before he takes his place as a middle-of-the-order threat and team leader for Toronto.
The 21st overall pick in 2007, Arencibia signed for $1,327,500 and struggled in his pro debut, in part because he was hit by a pitch on his left wrist. Healthy in 2008, he tied Minor League Player of the Year Matt Wieters for the most homers by a minor league catcher (27) and ranked 10th in the minors with 105 RBIs. Arencibia has impressive power to all fields--especially to center and left field--and rarely gets cheated at the plate. An agile and fundamentally sound receiver who calls a good game, he's bilingual and a natural leader. He threw out 34 percent of basestealers in 2008, and evaluators rave about his easy, accurate and strong throwing arm. He also improved his blocking skills, dramatically reducing his rate of passed balls. Despite batting .298 in his first full pro season, Arencibia projects as an average hitter at best at the big league level. He likes to swing at the first pitch he can handle, leading to few deep counts and even fewer walks, so the Blue Jays challenged him to see more pitches during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. Arencibia's long swing and tendency to uppercut also will cut into his average. As with most catchers, he's a below-average runner. A potential first-division regular, Arencibia is Toronto's catcher of the future. He could be big leagueready by the second half of 2009.
Cecil served primarily as a reliever in three years at Maryland, but the Blue Jays made him a starter after drafting him 38th overall in 2007. He ranked as the short-season New York-Penn League's No. 1 prospect and pitched Auburn to the league title in his debut, then finished his first full season at Triple-A Syracuse. Cecil attacks batters with two plus pitches and has worked diligently to refine the rest of his repertoire. His two-seam fastball sits at 90-92 mph, while his hard, two-plane slider arrives at 82-84. He generates plenty of swings and misses, not to mention oodles of groundouts. He showed increased confidence in his average curveball as the season wore on. Though Cecil has the raw stuff to succeed in any role, Some observers prefer him in relief because his four-seam fastball creeps into the mid-90s in short stints. Stamina will be an issue for Cecil going forward, as he was kept on strict pitch counts in 2008, ranging from 60 in April to 90 in August. He completed six innings in just five starts all season. Because he didn't need it as a reliever, he still struggles with the consistency of his changeup, and his feel for mixing his pitches is unrefined. Toronto has worked with him on keeping his arm stroke more fluid and on hiding the ball better in his delivery. Cecil follows in the footsteps of David Bush and Shaun Marcum as college closers that the Blue Jays have turned into effective starters. He'll open 2009 back in Triple-A and projects as a No. 3 starter.
A teammate of Marlins prospect Cameron Maybin in high school, Jackson went 45th overall in the 2007 draft as one of the top shortstops available. He didn't light up the Midwest League in his debut like Maybin did, but Jackson did show a true up-the-middle profile with his wiry athleticism and pure infield actions. Jackson has well above-average range, hands and arm strength at shortstop and the polish not usually associated with such a young player. He consistently fields the ball on the right hop and provides accurate feeds to the second baseman on double plays. Jackson has a simple swing and a good idea of the strike zone, and though his bat speed is just average, he has more than enough power for a middle infielder. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes, allowing him to work deep counts and draw walks. With solid-average speed, he should be able to leg out plenty of doubles and triples and kick in 15-20 stolen bases annually. Jackson's 154 strikeouts were fifth-most among low Class A batters. Some MWL scouts criticized Jackson for getting lackadaisical in the field at times and for holding the ball too long in order to show off his arm. Jackson has no peers among shortstops in the system. He'll begin 2009 in high Class A and needs at least a couple more years of seasoning.
The 17th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Cooper was the first first-rounder to sign, agreeing to a $1.5 million bonus on June 11. Widely regarded as one of the top bats available, he delivered on that promise in his pro debut, finishing in high Class A and batting .333/.399/.502 with 29 doubles in 69 games. A sweet-swinging lefthanded batter, Cooper has tremendous barrel awareness and excellent hand-eye coordination. Factor in his line-drive, all-fields approach and his ability to keep his bat in the hitting zone for a long time, and he should produce high batting averages. As he learns to incorporate his lower half in his swing, he could develop average power and hit 18-20 homers per season. Though he's a natural in the batter's box, Cooper's other tools pale in comparison with his hitting acumen. A below-average athlete and poor runner, he offers limited range and slow reactions at first base. Some evaluators have him pegged as a future DH because he has shown little desire to improve his defensive game. Cooper's bat should be able to carry him to the big leagues. If things go smoothly, he could be established as Toronto's first baseman by 2010. He and Travis Snider figure to form the core of future Blue Jays offenses.
Ahrens began switch-hitting and hitting for power during his junior year in high school, putting him on the path to go 16th overall in the 2007 draft and receive a $1.44 million bonus. He batted just .230/.339/.321 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his debut and struggled in the tough Midwest League in 2008. Though the results have been underwhelming thus far, Ahrens has an easy swing from both sides of the plate and the patience to wait for his pitch. His all-fields approach is advanced for a young hitter and he figures to hit for a decent average with 20-homer power down the line. His lefty swing has improved to the point where he did more damage from that side in 2008 than from his natural right side. A converted shortstop, he has soft hands, good range to both sides and a plus-plus arm. Some MWL observers regarded Ahrens' bat speed as no more than average, though no obvious mechanical flaw handicaps his upside. While he showed the ability to work counts, he also took a lot of first-pitch fastballs for strikes. Like Justin Jackson, Ahrens tailed off in the second half while adjusting to the physical and mental grind of playing every day for five months. He's a below-average runner but not bad underway. It may take him time to develop, but Ahrens' potential as a hitter and defender place him squarely at the top of the organization's third-base depth chart. He'll move up to high Class A and play alongside Jackson again in 2009.
The Blue Jays first drafted Mills in the 22nd round in 2006, but he turned them down so he could complete his civil-engineering degree. Toronto took him 18 rounds higher in 2007 and watched him advance to Double-A in his first full season while ranking fifth in the minors in ERA (1.95) and eighth in strikeouts (159). Despite his strikeout total, Mills doesn't overpower batters in the traditional sense. Instead he relies on a deceptive, herkyjerky delivery and offspeed stuff to put batters away. His well above-average changeup is a true swing-and-miss pitch because his arm speed fools hitters. They also struggle with his average 12-to-6 curveball. He gets high marks for his mound presence and ability to make adjustments. Mills tends to work up in the zone because of his high three-quarters arm slot, which could be a problem against better hitters at the upper levels. Aside from his fastball velocity--he sits at 88-89 mph and touches 91--that's the chief criticism of the lefthander. Success came easily to Mills in 2008, but pitchers who rely on deception usually find it more difficult to fool big league hitters. Evaluators who have seen him pitch believe his stuff will play in the middle or back of a big league rotation.
Late bloomer or bust? That's the question surrounding Romero, whom the Blue Jays selected sixth overall in 2005 and signed for a club-record $2.4 million. He has spent the bulk of the past three seasons in Double-A and been passed by several lefties in the system. Romero may not be ace he was in college, but his stuff still will play in the big leagues if he throws more strikes with it. He pitches at 91-92 mph and touches 94, but he struggles to command his fastball for strikes. His power curveball usually arrives in the high 70s and features sharp downward break, while his power changeup has enough separation and sink to fool batters. Romero is best suited by pitching to spots and keeping batters off balance instead of trying to overpower them. He had some success in Triple-A when he emphasized his high-80s two-seamer, a slower version of his curve and a fringy slider, though he still needs to cut down on his walks. He sometimes telegraphs his breaking pitches by altering his arm slot. Romero still needs to show more consistency to reach his ceiling as a No. 3 or 4 starter. Placed on the 40-man roster this offseason, he'll return to Triple-A to begin 2009.
In the last three drafts, the Blue Jays have selected four college senior pitchers in the first five rounds (Brandon Magee, Brad Mills, Rzepczynski and Andrew Liebel), believing they could move quickly while simultaneously providing value. Rzepczynski helped pitch Auburn to a league championship in his debut and had a strong 2008 despite missing April with a fracture in his pitching hand. Rzepczynski pounds the bottom of the strike zone with all four of his pitches, as evidenced by his 3.0 groundout/airout ratio in 2008. His sinker sits at 88-90 mph and touches 92 with tremendous tailing life, while his solid-average slider resides at 82-83 and gives him a weapon to the other side of the plate. His sinking changeup grades as an average pitch. Though he got plenty of swings and misses in low Class A, Rzepczynski lacks a true out pitch. His curveball is a tick behind his slider, but he might not need it to be more than a show-me pitch. He's 23 and has yet to pitch above low Class A, so he needs to stay healthy and get going. The Blue Jays will have a better idea of what they have in Rzepczynski if he earns a fast promotion to Double-A in 2009. He's got the stuff to pitch at the back of a big league rotation or as a middle reliever.
A Cape Cod League all-star in 2006, Emaus fell to the 11th round of the 2007 draft after an ankle injury slowed him as a junior. He earned an Opening Day assignment to high Class A in 2008 and went on to surprise the Blue Jays with all facets of his game. He ranked sixth in the Florida State League with 49 extra-base hits. A gap hitter with a sturdy build and a short stroke to the ball, Emaus grinds out at-bats and already shows average hitting and power tools. His strong knowledge of the strike zone and his willingness to use all fields should help him refine his offensive potential. He has a strong arm. After playing mostly third base in his debut, Emaus shifted to second base, where he played as a college junior, and proved to be steady on double-play feeds and pivots, but a bit fringy overall in terms of range. He has slightly below-average speed, though he's a smart baserunner who stole 12 bases in 16 attempts in the FSL. Emaus has drawn comparisons with Ty Wigginton for his build, solid righthanded bat and ability to cover second and third base. After the season he headed to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he played all over the infield while batting .333/.447/.494, and he will advance to Double-A in 2009.
Born in Auckland, Campbell became only the second New Zealander ever drafted, following catcher Andy Skeels, whom the Padres selected out of Arkansas in the seventh round in 1987. Campbell, who played both soccer and baseball in high school, led Gonzaga with a .388 average as a senior in 2006, showing the same tremendous command of the strike zone that has been an earmark of his pro career. He's a solid-average hitter geared to use all fields, and he rarely chases pitches outside the strike zone. After seamlessly skipping over high Class A to jump to Double-A in 2008, Campbell ranked sixth in the Eastern League in on-base percentage (.398, boosting his career OBP to .395) and 10th in batting (.302). He put up those numbers despite a late-July hand injury that knocked him out for two weeks and affected him after he returned. Campbell has a repeatable lefthanded swing and above-average hand-eye coordination, though he has limited potential as a power hitter and projects to peak at 8-10 homers annually in the majors. He hasn't had a lot of success against lefthanders and Double-A southpaws limited him to a .194 average, albeit with a characteristic 13 walks in 107 plate appearances. A no better than average runner, Campbell has worked hard to smooth out his defensive play at second base, particularly in turning double plays, but he remains below-average at the position. He throws well enough to handle third base. Campbell is ready for Triple-A and could factor in the Blue Jays' plans next season if they need a lefthanded-hitting, offensive-oriented option at second or third base.
Jeroloman entered 2006 as the top catching prospect in college baseball, but he hit just .242 for Florida as a junior and fell to the Blue Jays in the sixth round. As a pro, he has distinguished himself with his plus package of defensive tools and his patient approach at the plate. Like Scott Campbell, he's a lefty batter who rarely goes outside the strike zone--and he has the .392 career on-base percentage to prove it. His bat isn't nearly as refined as Campbell's, though, and he also has below-average power--though he began driving the ball more frequently in Double-A last season. Jeroloman handles the bat well and uses the entire field. But it's on defense that Jeroloman really shines, as he receives well and develops a good rapport with his pitchers because he's locked in on every play. Agility and soft hands enhance his blocking ability, and his pop times on throws to second base consistently register at an excellent 1.9 seconds because of strong footwork and a quick release. He nabbed 37 percent of basestealers in 2008. He's a below-average runner. For now, the Blue Jays will keep Jeroloman and J.P. Arencibia one level apart so that each can play every day. At some point, the duo figures to serve as Toronto's catching tandem, with Arencibia the projected starter.
Tolisano made the loudest initial splash of the four high schoolers the Blue Jays took in the first two rounds of the 2007 draft, swatting 10 homers in his debut to pace the Gulf Coast League. But like Justin Jackson and Kevin Ahrens, he struggled with the grind of playing every day in the Midwest League last season and faded in the second half. He hit just .173 in July and .151 in August to finish on a sour note. The Blue Jays believe that adversity was good for Tolisano, who consistently was better than his competition as an underclassman--Baseball America ranked him as the top 14-year-old player in the United States in 2003. A switch-hitter with a mechanically sound swing from both sides, Tolisano has much more hitting ability than he showed in 2008. He's short to the ball and has average bat speed, though his natural strength and the loft in his swing could lead to average power down the road. His lefthanded swing still is ahead of his righty stroke, as he tends to get out on his front side from the right side. Primarily a shortstop as an amateur, Tolisano has played second base exclusively as a pro. While he has made strides there, he still rates as below-average in terms of his hands, positioning and reads on grounders. He made clear improvements in his double-play technique, both in turning the pivot and making feeds to the shortstop. He's an average runner with more than enough arm for second base. Because of their depth at second base, the Blue Jays can afford to be patient with Tolisano. He may require more time in low Class A to get back on track.
Farina signed as a third-round pick out of Clemson after improving his velocity and his slider during his junior year by lengthening his stride and getting more extension out front. A turned ankle limited him to 11 innings in his debut, and lingering elbow soreness severely abbreviated his 2008 campaign. Farina went down at the end of May and didn't return until a few days shy of the end of the season. Toronto opted to move him back to the bullpen, where he thrived in college, abandoning plans to convert him into a starter, perhaps permanently. Though he's listed at just 5-foot-11, Farina delivers the ball from a higher three-quarters arm slot and does a good job of generating downhill plane. His four-seam fastball is just filthy, as it sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95 with plus riding action. He can elevate the fastball, too, because he generates such exceptional spin on the ball, making the pitch appear faster. Farina has two quality breaking balls at his disposal, with his two-plane slider ahead of his curveball. He doesn't have much feel for a changeup, nor will he need it in the bullpen. Farina's stuff will play in a big league bullpen, though he'll need to throw more strikes. If healthy, he could reach Double-A in 2009 and be ready for the big leagues not long thereafter.
Ray's dominant turn in the 2004 Cape Cod League piqued the interest of the Blue Jays, who took Ray in the seventh round of the 2005 draft despite his inconsistent junior year at Texas A&M. After a promising pro debut, he totaled just 116 innings in 2006-07 as he battled shoulder woes that resulted in labrum surgery. With health restored, Ray made 29 starts in 2008, logging 167 innings and reaching Double-A. Increased emphasis on attacking hitters with his 89-92 mph sinker propelled him to a breakout season. He also did a much better job of throwing strikes with his average slider, which batters struggle to differentiate from his fastball, in part because he works both sides of the plate. He'll also flash an average curveball from time to time. Additionally, Ray made strides with an average splitter that he uses as a changeup. He has two variations of the pitch, one that cuts and one that fades. His arm action isn't textbook, but it works for him. As the top righthanded starting pitching prospect in the system, Ray could surface in Toronto in 2009 if he continues to progress in the minors. He was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason.
Eiland naturally gets lumped in with Toronto's other premium high school draftees from 2007--Kevin Ahrens, Justin Jackson and John Tolisano--but he was different in one key regard: He had much less baseball experience because he was a two-sport star at Houston's Lamar High. An all-state safety, Eiland drew significant interest from college football programs and turned down a Texas A&M baseball scholarship to sign with the Blue Jays. His inexperience meant that he stayed behind in extended spring training until mid-May last year. While he hit just .233 and didn't homer in 74 games in low Class A, he showed a solid array of secondary skills. Most notably, Eiland went 23-for-24 in stolen-base attempts, as he has plus-plus speed and advanced instincts on the basepaths. He puts his speed to good use in center field, where he could develop into a Gold Glove defender. Eiland also showed an uncanny knack for the strike zone, drawing 37 walks in just 249 at-bats, which was good for a .334 on-base percentage, 12 points higher than the Midwest League average. Built like an NFL cornerback, Eiland possesses the raw strength to hit for power, but he needs to make more consistent contact and stay through the ball better to maximize his potential with the bat. Regarded as a potential four-tool center fielder as an amateur, Eiland still grades as a below-average thrower, even with a revamped arm action. It's going to take time for him to attain consistency with his swing, but his upside will buy him some patience.
Already 23, Perez has followed a glacially slow developmental path. He completed his first taste of full-season ball with Lansing in 2008--in his fifth professional season. He spent his first three years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and another in the New York-Penn League as he worked to streamline his funky delivery. At his best, Perez flashes three quality pitches. Like fellow lefty Marc Rzepczynski, he racks up high totals of strikeouts and grounders, posting a 3.08 groundout/airout ratio last year. A sturdy 6 feet and 205 pounds, Perez has a unique delivery featuring a long arm action on the back side. His arm is so quick that his timing appears to be off, and as a result, batters struggle to pick the ball up out of his hand. Perez's two-seam fastball sits at 90-91 mph with good downward plane. His curveball and changeup have plus potential, but he often loses his three-quarters arm slot and gets underneath both pitches, flattening them out. For Perez, who was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, it's all about maintaining his balance over the rubber and staying downhill in his delivery, two keys he'll work to address as he moves to high Class A in 2009. He could surface in the big leagues as a back-end starter or as a left-on-left reliever.
The Blue Jays' recent track record in signing international talent is littered with misses, from the Taiwanese duo of lefty Chi-Hung Cheng ($400,000 in 2003) and righty Po-Hsuan Keng ($225,000 in 2004)--both were released in 2008--to Dominican third baseman Lee Soto ($600,000 in 2005), who has batted a miserable .201/.248/.293 in four years of short-season ball. The jury is still out on Venezuelan third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor ($725,000 in 2006) and Cuban righthander Kenny Rodriguez ($240,000 in 2007). Regardless, the organization is excited about the prospects for a pair of 2008 acquisitions from the Dominican, Pierre and 18- year-old catcher Carlos Perez, who signed in January and hit .306/.459/.378 in the Dominican Summer League. Regarded as one of the top international talents available last summer, Pierre signed for $700,000 on July 2, the first day of the signing period. He's a plus athlete and runner with a trim waist and broad shoulders, providing room to project future strength and power. In time, Pierre could outgrow shortstop, where he has average defensive potential, but evaluators disagree on the strength of his arm. Some say it's average and that he could move to third base, while others think he has below-average arm strength and see him as an outfielder. The ball comes off Pierre's bat well, but international scouts dinged him for inconsistent hitting mechanics, which Blue Jays coaches will address in extended spring training and perhaps in the Gulf Coast League in 2009.
The fifth of five Miami players drafted in the first four rounds in June, Sobolewski signed a month after the draft for $243,000 as a draft-eligible sophomore. Previously drafted by the Astros in the 20th round of the 2006 draft as a high school shortstop, he might have commanded more had he returned to the Hurricanes for his junior year. The early returns on Sobolweski with wood bats haven't been stellar, as he batted .189 without a homer in 39 Cape Cod League games in 2007 and .256 with one homer in 35 games in his pro debut. He was slowed last summer by an injury to an ankle tendon that required surgery and caused him to miss instructional league. A physical hitter, Sobolewski bats from a wide stance and hammers fastballs--especially to his pull side--with above-average bat speed. But because his swing features minimal load, his power output remains inconsistent. His hands are fast and his swing plane is even, so he could develop into an average hitter. His most distinguished defensive tool is a strong throwing arm, and he's adept at charging slow rollers and going to his left. Sobolewski drew criticism as an amateur for dropping down on throws and slinging the ball across the infield, leading to a high error total--and he committed 11 miscues in his debut. He's a below-average runner. Sobolewski is rawer than the typical high pick from a major college program, so he may need additional time to refine his game. If he doesn't clean up his throwing at third, some observers think his arm strength would play well at catcher or right field.
Few recent players have faced longer odds of making it to the big leagues than Richmond, whose journey included stops in the Moose Jaw, Sask., amateur ranks and with the independent Edmonton Cracker-Cats. His high school in Aldergrove, B.C., didn't offer baseball, so Richmond instead played summer ball in western Canada. After high school, he worked at various Vancouver shipyards for three years before enrolling at Missouri Valley College, an NAIA program, at age 22. He transferred to Bossier Parish (La.) CC a year later and then to Oklahoma State. An all-Big 12 Conference honorable mention selection as a senior in 2005, he went undrafted because he already was 25. Richmond ultimately signed with Edmonton of the Northern League because securing a work visa to pitch professionally in the United States posed a challenge. After he spent two years as a reliever and a third as a starter with the Cracker-Cats, the Blue Jays signed Richmond out of a Northern League tryout in November 2007, noting his ideal pitcher's build and long, loose delivery. He broke into affiliated ball in April at Double-A New Hampshire and made his big league debut on July 30, vicitimizing Evan Longoria for his first strikeout. Had he not been called up, Richmond was slated to be Team Canada's ace in the Olympics. He attacks batters with a low-90s sinker and a hard cut slider at 85-87 mph, and he's much tougher on righthanders than lefthanders. His changeup is average at times, but his curveball is a bit loopy and rates as below-average. If he can improve his changeup, he'd have a fighting chance against lefties. Richmond picks things up quickly, but he gets in trouble when he elevates his pitches because he doesn't have overpowering stuff. He threw nothing but strikes with the Blue Jays, and he shut out the Orioles for six innings in his final start of 2008 to earn his first big league victory. He could factor into the back of Toronto's rotation in 2009.
An exceptional runner and athlete, Wilson turned down a commitment to Florida to sign for $644,000 as a second-round pick last summer. He gets down the first-base line in 3.9-4.0 seconds on a full swing from the right side of the plate, and he can cut that time to 3.7 seconds on bunts. In fact, Gulf Coast League shortstops struggled to throw him out if the ball bounced more than once on the infield. Wilson uses his legs as a weapon on the basepaths, too, as he stole 25 bases in 28 attempts. His bat isn't nearly so refined, but he has a chance to develop a leadoff batter profile. He could become an above-average hitter, especially when considering infield and bunt hits, but he'll always have below-average power because he emphasizes hitting line drives and hard grounders. Wilson's pitch recognition has a long way to go, but he did finish second on his GCL team with 20 walks. No such concerns exist about his defense, as he's a plus defensive center fielder with an average arm. To get the most out of Wilson's speed and batting potential, the Blue Jays introduced him to switch-hitting during instructional league. He had toyed around with batting lefthanded in batting cages as an amateur, so Wilson was receptive to the plan, though it may dictate that he opens 2009 in extended spring training.
Liebel worked mostly as a reliever during his first two seasons at Long Beach State before emerging as a consistent starter toward the end of his junior season. He continued to pitch well as a senior in 2008, going 8-4, 2.22 in 15 starts, and represented good value as a polished college righthander with a simple, clean delivery. The Blue Jays signed him for $340,000 as a third-round pick. Liebel covers the plate with four pitches he can throw for strikes in any count, headlined by his 88-90 mph sinker. He touches 93 with his four-seam fastball. Liebel drew pre-draft comparisons to Ian Kennedy as a compact college righty with a wide repertoire. As with Kennedy, his plus changeup consistently rates ahead of his fringe-average breaking pitches, a curveball and a slider. He's mature and knows how to pitch to his strengths, which are locating his fastball and keeping hitters off balance with his changeup. Because of his command and pitchability, Liebel figures to move quickly through the system and probably will begin his first full season in high Class A. He has the makings of a No. 5 starter.
The Blue Jays have gone hard after high school talent in the state of Florida in the past two drafts, taking John Tolisano (second round) in 2007 and Kenny Wilson (second), Pastornicky (fifth) and Markus Brisker (sixth) in 2008. Pastornicky signed with the Blue Jays for $175,000, passing on the opportunity to play at Florida State. He has big league bloodlines, as his father Cliff played 10 games at third base for the 1983 Royals and currently scouts for Kansas City. An athletic middle infielder, Pastornicky does a lot of things well but has no standout tool. He's a rangy if unrefined shortstop with good hands and plus arm strength, though he'll need to continue working to handle the defensive demands of the position. A heady player with a feel for the game, he has a chance to be an average hitter with line-drive power. He has good bat speed and uses the whole field, though his swing is too long at times. As he matures, he figures to add muscle to his lean frame. Pastornicky's best attribute is aboveaverage speed, as he runs the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds and already is a plus basestealer who expertly cuts the bases while in stride. He led the GCL Blue Jays with 27 stolen bases (in 32 attempts) and 21 walks. Because of his solid all-around game, Pastornicky may develop into a regular, but he also could surface as a utilityman.
Farquhar struggled as Louisiana-Lafayette's staff ace and lost velocity in 2008, his junior year, after spending his first two seasons in a swingman role. He dropped to the 10th round in the draft, not only because of his backsliding, but also because he's 5-foot-11, has effort in his delivery and is unconventional. The Blue Jays were rewarded for their $112,500 investment, though, as Farquhar thrived in the Auburn bullpen. His pitching style features two distinct arm slots, from which he can throw strikes with both a quality fastball and breaking ball. He sits at 92 mph and touches 94 from a high three-quarters slot and mixes in an average mid-70s curveball and an occasional cutter. From a below-sidearm angle, Farquhar pitches at 89-90 with incredible life, a product of his long and loose arms. From the lower angle, he also throws a sweeping 78-82 mph Frisbee slider that makes righthanders uncomfortable, and a changeup that serves as a show-me pitch. Farquhar is poised to move quickly now that he's a full-time reliever. He could begin 2009 in high Class A.
As a fifth-year senior in 2007, Magnuson would have been free to sign with any club had Louisville not made the College World Series. As it turned it turned out, the Vancouver native signed with the Blue Jays for $462,500 as the 56th overall pick. He signed late, though, and had his pro debut delayed until 2008 by elbow soreness. Magnuson's uncle Keith appeared in two Stanley Cup finals during the 1970s as part of an 11-year career in the NHL. A former walk-on at Louisville, Magnuson thrived when the Cardinals made him their closer in 2007, though Toronto drafted him with designs on developing him as a starter. Because of his limited workloads in college, Magnuson worked on strict pitch counts in 2008, seldom exceeding 65 pitches in an outing. As a result, he completed five innings in a start just four times in 24 tries and still is seeking his first pro victory. Toronto shut him down after his Aug. 11 start because of general fatigue, though he resumed throwing during instructional league. When he starts, Magnuson's fastball sits at 90-92 mph with plus downhill plane--a product of his 6-foot-8 frame--and he still flashes 93-94 mph heat in short stints. His height works against him at times, too, because he doesn't always repeat his mechanics and throw strikes. If Magnuson can harness his 84-87 mph slider, it would give him a second weapon, but it remains inconsistent. He worked on his changeup in a starting role and in regular side sessions, but he lacks feel for the pitch. Because he turns 24 this year and struggled in low Class A, the Blue Jays may be tempted to turn Magnuson loose as a reliever so he can move more quickly.
Brisker dropped basketball as a high school senior at Winter Haven (Fla.) High, the alma mater of Braves outfield prospect Jordan Schafer, so he could begin the baseball season on time. The move paid off when the Blue Jays took him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft and signed him for $125,000. To keep his options open, Brisker had committed to Daytona Beach (Fla.) CC. A physical 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds, he offers the best strength and size combination of any of Toronto's 2008 picks. He can cover 60 yards in 6.4 seconds and he can touch 94 mph off the mound, giving him well above-average foot speed and arm strength. In fact, he finished in a dead heat with fleet-footed Jays second-round pick Kenny Wilson at a Florida high school all-star game. Though he's not a traditional power hitter yet, Brisker possesses plus bat speed and projects to add at least average thump to his toolset as he gains strength and at-bats. He was the lone Jays 2008 draftee to top .300 in the Gulf Coast League. Brisker is a steady center fielder, though he may outgrow the position and move to an outfield corner. His stolen-base output also may diminish in time as he fills out. Brisker has a high ceiling but also a long road to travel to reach it. He'll be 18 for most of the 2009 season, so a return engagement in short-season ball wouldn't be viewed as a disappointment.
Thigpen played on three College World Series teams from 2002-04 with Texas, where he served as Taylor Teagarden's backup. Because his catching skills were thought to be less refined, it was a surprise when Thigpen reached Double-A in his first full season and the major leagues in his third. Though he showed a keen eye at the plate and a line-drive stroke as he climbed the ladder, his bat regressed once he reached Triple-A and Toronto. In 593 at-bats for Syracuse from 2006-08, Thigpen batted just .245/.295/.341 with seven home runs and 36 doubles. That might be acceptable if he were an outstanding defensive catcher, but he's merely adequate behind the plate. His receiving skills are strong and he's quite agile, but Thigpen has consistently posted low caughtstealing percentages in the minors. Last season, he nabbed just 16 percent of basestealers. When Brian Jeroloman advanced to Syracuse at the end of July, Thigpen shifted to first base. He also played a handful of games at third base and one at second, and it's as a jack-of-all-trades that he best profiles at the big league level. Because he's so athletic, the Blue Jays have given Thigpen a pass for his poor 2008 campaign and expect him to compete for a backup catcher role until J.P. Arencibia and Jeroloman are ready.
Fuenmayor signed with the Blue Jays for $725,000 in August 2006 following an impressive workout at Rogers Centre in front of general manager J.P. Ricciardi. He didn't fare well in his 2007 pro debut as one of the Gulf Coast League's youngest regulars, hitting just .174 and striking out 68 times to pace the league. He performed much better in his repeat of the GCL in 2008, showing a vastly improved hitting approach, including a willingness to go the other way. He still struggled at times with pitch recognition, but his compact swing and solid bat speed portend at least average hitting ability. Fuenmayor may be a late bloomer in terms of power because he still has to learn to turn on pitches consistently. If he does, he could develop average power. Hitting in the GCL is tough, though, because many of the pitchers who throw hard haven't yet refined their control. Already physically mature at age 18, Fuenmayor only will slow down as he ages, and he projects as a below-average runner. He shows below-average lateral movement at third base, too, and likely faces a move to first base or to the corner outfield in the future. His arm is average. Fuenmayor impressed the Blue Jays with his work ethic in 2008 and he has an outside shot at moving up to low Class A in 2009.
Along with Balbino Fuenmayor and 19-year-old outfielder Johermyn Chavez, Alvarez stands at the forefront of young Venezuelan talent in Toronto's system. Signed in October 2006 at age 16, he has such a live arm that he makes the cut here despite compiling a career 5.63 ERA in his two pro seasons in Rookie ball. He has a chance for three plus pitches, headlined by his dancing 92-93 mph two-seam fastball. Alvarez's four-seamer touches 94 and features natural cutting action. His hard slurve clocks in at 85-87 mph and flashes plus potential, but it's just usable now because he doesn't command it. He also shows hitters a fading changeup that he's still ironing out. Batters just don't seem comfortable facing Alvarez, in part because he lacks reliable fastball command. His control is fine, though, as he has walked just 14 batters in 72 pro innings. Like many teenagers with plus arm strength, Alvarez tries to overthrow everything. He also needs to be mindful of staying on top of his pitches so that they don't flatten out. At times his mound composure breaks down as well. Alvarez has the raw arm strength to profile as either a starter or power reliever, though he's probably still not ready for full-season ball.
Collins led Worcester (Mass.) Technical High to the state's Division 2 title as a senior in 2007, going 7-0, 0.17 while also leading his league in hitting with a .472 average. To top it off, he pitched a no-hitter in the central Massachusetts title-clincher. He went undrafted that June, though, because he stands at just 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds. Collins was set to attend the CC of Rhode Island before Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who grew up in Worcester and had seen Collins pitch, set up a workout. Toronto signed Collins that July after an impressive bullpen session. He rewarded the organization's faith by converting 14 of 17 saves as Lansing's youngest pitcher, and by leading all minor league relievers by limiting opponents to a .156 average. He also ranked 10th among relievers by averaging 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Collins' arm is exceptionally quick and he fires 88-90 mph four-seam fastballs from a high three-quarters arm slot. He gets good spin on the pitch and also on his above-average curveball, which he used to great effect in changing batters' eye levels. A good athlete, he holds runners well and works quickly. Because Collins works up in the zone with his fastball, some observers wonder if his stuff will play at higher levels. He doesn't have much of a changeup. Collins has incredible mental toughness and the bulldog mentality to throw strikes out of the bullpen, but he'll have to keep proving himself at higher levels.
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