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The son of former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, Kyle led The Woodland (Texas) High to a national title as a senior in 2006 by going 14-0 on the mound and belting 12 homers as a shortstop. Some teams believed he had the best pure stuff in the 2006 draft, but he lasted until the 18th overall pick because his makeup worried clubs. He had separate incidents which resulted in a public-intoxication charge (later dropped) and a single-car accident in which he struck a tree. Drabek signed for $1.55 million and had a rough pro debut, then blew out his elbow early in the 2007 season. He used his rehab time to mature, improve his conditioning and refine his delivery. He broke out in 2009, pitching in the Futures Game and reaching Double-A at age 21. His name started to come up in trade rumors as Philadelphia looked for pitching help. The Phillies balked at giving him up for Roy Halladay at the 2009 trade deadline, but pulled the trigger in mid-December, sending him to Toronto along with catcher Travis d'Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor. Drabek spent 2010 at Double-A New Hampshire and won Eastern League pitcher of the year honors, leading the league with 14 wins and throwing a nine-inning no-hitter on Independence Day. The Blue Jays gave him a September callup and while he didn't earn a win in three starts, he didn't allow more than three runs in any outing. Drabek has the stuff to pitch at the front of a rotation. His curveball is his best pitch, a power offering with 12-to-6 action and low-80s velocity. It comes out of his hand at the same height as his fastball, giving it good depth and deception that produces a lot of swings and misses. He throws two- and four-seam fastballs, ranging from 90-96 mph and sitting comfortably in the low 90s. He has good life to the two-seamer, using it to induce groundouts. Toronto challenged Drabek to get better against lefthanders in 2010--they had a .924 OPS against him the year before--and he did just that. By adding a cutter that he'd throw 10-12 times per game, he held Double-A lefties to a .227/.301/.350 line. His changeup has shown depth and sink, but he's still refining his arm speed and command with the pitch. Drabek doesn't have pinpoint command, but he throws enough strikes and locates his pitches well enough. His athleticism is an asset, allowing him to repeat his delivery, field his position and hold runners. After his big league cameo, Drabek will have a chance to make Toronto's rotation out of spring training. The development of his cutter and changeup are critical as they give him an edge over lefties.
Lawrie became the highest-drafted Canadian hitter ever when the Brewers selected him 16th overall in 2008. He agreed to try catching after signing for $1.7 million, but before he made his pro debut he asked to move to second base, which he thought would provide a quicker path to Milwaukee. A member of Canada's 2008 Olympic team and 2009 World Baseball Classic club, he led the Double-A Southern League in runs (90), hits (158), triples (16) and total bases (250) last year despite being the second-youngest regular in the circuit. The Brewers had discussed using Lawrie to find some pitching help, and in December they sent him to the Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum. Lawrie has very strong hands and a quick bat, allowing him to wait on pitches and drive the ball to all fields. He's not a prolific home run hitter but piles up extra-base hits by shooting the ball into the gaps. He needs to balance his aggressiveness with more plate discipline, however. Though he stole 30 bases in 2010, he was caught 13 times and his speed is just average. Lawrie has smoothed out some of his rough edges in the field but still must work on making his hands softer, as evidenced by the 25 errors he committed in 131 games at second base last year. He has solid arm strength but may not have the first-step quickness to remain at second, where he's now blocked by Aaron Hill in Toronto. Lawrie won't have to be a Gold Glove defender because his bat will get him to the big leagues and keep him there. If he has to move to an outfield corner, he'll still provide enough offense to profile as a quality regular. He'll spend 2010 in Triple-A.
A Virginia prep product, McGuire emerged as Georgia Tech's Friday starter and the Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher of the year in 2009. He followed up by winning nine games and becoming the second Yellow Jackets pitcher ever selected in the first round in 2010, going 11th overall and signing at the Aug. 16 deadline for $2 million. McGuire combines good stuff and polish. He commands a 90-94 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and complements it with three secondary offerings that he can throw for strikes. His slider is a swing-and-miss pitch, sitting at 82-85 mph with late life. He can backdoor it against righthanders and sneak it under lefties' hands. His changeup arrives at 80-84 with some fade, and he maintains good arm speed, giving the pitch plenty of deception. His curveball has tightened up since the spring--he threw it at 78-79 during instructional league, as opposed to 70-75 during the spring--and could be an average pitch. Because he's an advanced college pitcher, McGuire should move quickly. Though he signed too late to make his pro debut in 2010, the Blue Jays probably will start him out at high Class A Dunedin. His arsenal and command eventually should land him in the middle of Toronto's rotation, and he could reach the majors before the end of 2012.
Though his fastball was 97 mph in high school, Gose developed shoulder problems and didn't show much of a desire to pitch in pro ball. The Phillies refused to part with him when the Blue Jays shopped Roy Halladay in 2009. Toronto finally got him a year later, as Philadelphia included Gose in a package to get Roy Oswalt from the Astros, who immediately flipped him to the Jays for Brett Wallace. One of the fastest prospects in baseball, Gose led the minors with 76 steals in 2009 but wasn't as successful in high Class A. He's still working on reading pitchers and getting good jumps, and he got caught a minor league-high 32 times in 77 attempts. His center-field defense and arm strength give him two more plus tools, but his bat still needs to come around. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts and put the ball in play more consistently. He could develop average power, though he'll be better off putting the ball in the gaps and wreaking havoc on the bases. If Gose becomes just an average hitter, his speed and defense could make him a force. His bat is still a work in progress, so a return to high Class A is possible.
The 37th overall pick in 2007, d'Arnaud moved from the Phillies to the Blue Jays along with Kyle Drabek and outfield prospect Michael Taylor in the Roy Halladay trade in December 2009. In his first season in the Toronto system, d'Arnaud missed most of May with back problems that led to him getting shut down at the end of July. His older brother Chase is one of the Pirates' better position prospects. D'Arnaud has the tools to do it all at catcher. He has a quick bat and does a good job of using the whole field. His swing usually stays compact, and he should hit for a solid average with 15-20 homers per season. Defensively, he has a plus arm and threw out 30 percent of basestealers in high Class A in 2010. He sometimes rushes his throws, which affects his accuracy. He has quick feet and the athleticism and agility to stay behind the plate. He's a below-average runner, typical for a catcher. J.P. Arencibia may have had a more spectacular 2010 season, but d'Arnaud has better all-around skills. A winter of rest should resolve his back problems, though his missed time may dictate a return to high Class A to start 2011 with an opportunity to be promoted during the season.
The fourth trade acquisition among the first five players on this list, Stewart came to the Blue Jays along with Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Roenicke in a mid-2009 deal that sent Scott Rolen to the Reds. Cincinnati broke him into pro ball as a reliever in 2008, started him at the beginning of 2009 and shifted him back to the bullpen shortly before the trade in an effort to keep his innings down. Toronto kept him in the rotation to finish 2009. Stewart returned to the rotation in 2010, and he pitched well in Double-A. Stewart works with two plus pitches in his fastball and slider. His fastball sits in the low 90s and routinely reaches 95-96 mph, featuring above-average sink. His mid-80s slider has depth and misses bats. The slider sits in the mid-80s and is a good swing-and-miss pitch with depth. He commands both pitches well. Stewart also developed some feel for a changeup last season, and it has the potential to become an average offering. With a third effective pitch to go with his durability, Stewart could become a mid-rotation starter. Stewart is in the mix to win a big league rotation spot in 2011. If he can't cut it as a starter, he has the stuff and makeup to become a set-up man or a closer.
Wojciechowski benefited from a stint with Team USA in 2009, working off his fastball more often at the urging of pitching coach Mike Kennedy (Elon). His velocity increased, and he ranked second in NCAA Division I in strikeouts with 155 in 126 innings last spring. He also became the highest draft pick in the history of The Citadel, going 41st overall and signing for $815,400. The Blue Jays limited him to 12 innings in his debut to keep his workload down. After throwing his fastball more frequently and refining his mechanics, Wojciechowski now pitches at 92-94 mph and touches 96. He maintains his velocity into the late innings and controls his heater well. Before his velocity spiked, he was known for his big, durable frame and his slider. It's a hard-breaking pitch that grades out as above-average. Wojciechowski had little use for a changeup in college, but he has made some strides with it since turning pro. He has similar stuff to Zach Stewart and likewise could develop into a quality starter if he can refine his changeup. Stewart is a little more polished, but Wojciechowski has a slightly higher ceiling as a potential No. 2 starter. Even without the changeup, he could be a mid-rotation innings eater. He should start 2011 in high Class A.
The 21st overall pick in 2007, Arencibia has hit 82 homers in three full pro seasons since signing for $1,327,500. LASIK surgery improved his night vision and helped him raise his Triple-A numbers from .236/.284/.444 in 2009 to .301/.359/.626 last season, earning him Pacific Coast League MVP honors. Called to Toronto in August, he became the first player in modern baseball history to collect four hits and two homers in his big league debut. Afterward, he went 1-for-30 with 11 strikeouts. Arencibia's carrying tool is his power to all fields, which is at least above-average and draws 70 grades on the 20-80 scale from some scouts. He overswings at times and isn't terribly disciplined at the plate, so he may not hit for a high average. His defense also is in question. He has solid arm strength but threw out just 23 percent of PCL basestealers. His receiving and blocking skills are improving, though just average at best, and he can get lackadaisical at times. He has below-average speed but isn't terrible for a catcher. John Buck made his first all-star team in 2010, but he departed as a free agent to the Marlins, leaving Arencibia as the favorite to win the catching job out of spring training in 2011.
Signed out of Venezuela as a 17-year-old, Perez has been named MVP of his team in each of his first three pro seasons. He ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2010, adding to the system's impressive depth behind the plate. Perez doesn't possess loud tools, but his fundamentals and instincts help him play above his pure physical ability. His arm is a tick above-average, and he enhances that with quick feet that allow him to get into a good throwing position. He caught 36 percent of NYP basestealers. He has soft hands, though he's still working on his receiving and blocking skills after committing 13 passed balls in 44 games. At the plate, Perez has a quiet lower half and consistently puts the bat on the ball. He has gap power now and could develop average power to the pull side. He draws his share of walks and holds a career .412 on-base percentage in 167 games. He has average speed, surprising for a catcher, and the Blue Jays insist he has the best baserunning instincts in their system. With J.P. Arencibia at the major league doorstep and Travis d'Arnaud showing plenty of potential, the Blue Jays have no problem taking it slow with Perez. He'll make his full-season league debut with low Class A Lansing at age 20.
Sanchez projected as a possible first-round pick after starring on the showcase circuit in the summer of 2009, and the Blue Jays were delighted to get him with the No. 34 overall choice in June. After signing for $775,000, he pitched well in 10 pro starts, though Toronto kept him on a tight pitch limit that prevented him from earning his first pro victory. Scouts love Sanchez's prototypical, projectable frame. He has long, loose limbs with wiry strength and plenty of room to add more. There's plenty of reason to think that he'll add more velocity as he fills out, and it already has started to happen. His fastball worked at 89-92 mph in the spring, sat in the low 90s during his pro debut and touched 95 during instructional league. Sanchez is able to spin a breaking ball and flashes a plus curveball. His changeup is a work in progress right now, as he throws it a little too hard, but he has shown some feel for the pitch. A wandering arm slot affected his command in high school and pro ball, so repeating his delivery will be important. Sanchez created a lot of buzz at instructs, and the Jays are excited about his potential as a frontline starter. He'll likely begin his first full pro season in low Class A.
The Blue Jays signed just two of their first five 2009 draft picks, first-rounder Chad Jenkins and Marisnick, who agreed to a $1 million bonus at the signing deadline. One of the best athletes available in the 2009 draft, he made his pro debut last season. After he performed well in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Toronto gave him a taste of his 2011 assignment by jumping him to low Class A. Marisnick has five-tool potential, though concerns about his bat dropped him to the third round and continue to linger. He has improved his timing at the plate and the ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact. However, he can get too aggressive at times, and the Jays are working with him to stay tall and drive through the ball. Marisnick has a long, wiry frame with plenty of strength and raw power. His speed, range and arm are all above-average. Should he have to move from center field, he also profiles well in right. Marisnick looked overmatched at Lansing, and he'll probably spend the entire 2011 season there. His development will require patience, but the payoff could be worth it.
Thames started to soar up draft boards as a redshirt junior at Pepperdine in 2008 when he batted .407 with 13 homers, but he tore a quadriceps muscle late in the spring. The injury allowed the Blue Jays to get him in the seventh round, but it also meant they had to wait two years to really see what they had in him. Surgery delayed his pro debut until 2009, and he played in just 52 games while dealing with more quad problems. Thames headed into last offseason knowing he needed to find a way to stay healthy. He dialed back on weightlifting and started doing yoga to add flexibility. His efforts came to fruition in 2010, as he played in 130 games, led Toronto farmhands with 104 RBIs and showed the best lefthanded power in the system. Thames has excellent bat speed and plus power. He can get too aggressive, chase pitches and pile up strikeouts, but he also draws his share of walks. With average speed and arm strength, he has the tools to be an average defender in left field, but his defense still needs polish. Thames could put up huge numbers in 2011 at the hitter's haven that is Triple-A Las Vegas, and he could find himself in Toronto late in the season.
Hechavarria defected from Cuba in July 2009 and finalized a $10 million major league contract with the Blue Jays nine months later, getting a franchise-record $4 million bonus. He couldn't reach the Mendoza Line after Toronto sent him to high Class A, but he performed significantly better after a promotion to Double-A at the end of June. The Blue Jays credit the in-season improvement to Hechavarria adapting to culture in the United States and taking well to instruction from Fisher Cats manager Luis Rivera. Hechavarria is a live-bodied player with quick-twitch athleticism. He stands out more now as a defender, though he also has potential at the plate. His best tool is his strong, accurate arm, and he also has good actions and soft hands at shortstop. Hechavarria has bat speed and makes consistent contact but lacks upper-body strength and doesn't do much damage. He can get stronger but won't have much more than gap power. His primary concern is to get on base, and he walked just 17 times in 440 plate appearances during his pro debut. He's an above-average runner who can use his speed to beat out hits and steal a few bases. Toronto is pleased at how well he adjusted to professional baseball and a new culture. Hechavarria may need some more time in Double-A but also could see his first big league action in 2011.
The overall 2010 draft class was thin in high school lefthanders. A strong spring put Murphy at the head of the class along with Phillies first-rounder Jesse Biddle, and the Blue Jays took Murphy in the second round and signed him for $800,000 at the deadline. He offers a nice combination of quality stuff and rare polish for a prep pitcher. Murphy's fastball ranges from 87-93 mph, but he sits at 89-91 and has the potential to add a little more velocity in the future. He can manipulate his fastball as he sees fit, running it to either side of the plate or sinking it down in the zone. He maintains good arm speed on his above-average changeup, which runs in the low 80s and has some fade. He also shows the ability to spin a curveball, and he'll change its shape depending on whether he's facing lefties and righties. A potential middle-of-the-rotation starter, Murphy signed too late to make his pro debut. Nevertheless, his advanced feel could allow him to start 2011 in low Class A.
Kyle Heckathorn was supposed to be the main attraction at Kennesaw State in 2009, but scouts who came to see him were more intrigued by Jenkins, his teammate. While Heckathorn went in the supplemental first round to the Brewers, Jenkins became the No. 20 overall pick and signed for $1.359 million. He reached high Class A during a 2010 pro debut that was solid if not spectacular--which also is an apt description of his stuff. Jenkins works with a very heavy fastball that ranges from 88-94 mph. He'll throw his two-seamer in on righthanders and use a four-seamer with riding life up in the zone. His slider was inconsistent last year but has shown the makings of being a plus pitch in the past, sitting in the mid-80s with late tilt. He also has good feel for a changeup. Though he has a thick frame and some effort in his delivery, he repeats it well and throws strikes. A possible No. 3 starter, he could open 2011 in Double-A.
Though he was the Blue Jays' 11th pick (fifth round) in the 2010 draft, Thon received the second-highest bonus at $1.5 million. He commanded such a high price because of his all-around potential and the leverage that a Rice scholarship gave him. He has the tools to follow in his father Dickie's footsteps as an all-star shortstop one day, but he'll need time to develop because he didn't focus on baseball in Puerto Rico. He also starred in basketball, track and volleyball. Thon has shown he can handle wood bats against quality pitching at high school showcase events, and he already has some gap power. As he gets stronger, Toronto believes he can become a plus hitter with plus power. His speed and range are also above-average tools. He's a solid defender with an average arm at shortstop. He'll need to gain consistency and shorten his release on his throws. After signing late, Thon likely will see some time in extended spring training before making his pro debut in mid-2011.
After posting a 5.63 ERA in two years of Rookie ball, Alvarez had a breakthrough season in the 2009, leading the low Class A Midwest League in fewest walks (1.4) and homers (0.1) allowed per nine innings. Interestingly, his pure stuff improved last year but his performance didn't. After ranging from 86-94 mph the previous season, his fastball sat at 92-94 and touched 97 during the high Class A Florida State League all-star game in 2010. His changeup remained a plus pitch with splitter action. Yet despite possessing two plus pitches, Alvarez was more hittable and his strikeout rate declined. He may have gotten caught up in his newfound power and lost some feel for pitching. He throws too many strikes and doesn't try to get hitters to chase pitches enough when he's ahead in the count. His breaking ball lags well behind his other two pitches at this point. It's a hybrid of a curveball and a slider, though he'll show an average slider on occasion. If he can refine his breaking ball, he could become a No. 3 starter. With a good spring, Alvarez could open 2011 in Double-A.
The Blue Jays are extremely excited about Sweeney's polish and maturity, which should come as no surprise considering he already had some experience with pro ball before they signed him for $600,000 as a second-round pick in 2010. He's the younger brother of Athletics outfielder Ryan Sweeney, and scouts consider Kellen a better hitter at the same stage of their careers. He has a smooth, quick lefthanded stroke and a good idea of the strike zone. While he's patient and should draw plenty of walks, Toronto would like him to be more aggressive when he gets ahead in the count. He's strong and should develop at least average power. He has slightly above-average speed. A shortstop in high school, Sweeney moved to third base after signing. He has regained average arm strength since having Tommy John surgery in August 2009, and has soft hands and good footwork at the hot corner. He probably could handle second base as well. Sweeney signed early enough to spend a month in the Gulf Coast League last summer, laying the groundwork to begin 2011 in low Class A.
Cardona signed with the Blue Jays in early July for $2.8 million--the highest bonus ever given to a Venezuelan pitcher and the second-highest in franchise history. He had an ideal, projectable frame for a 16-year-old at 6-foot- 4 and 170 pounds. His fastball already sits at 89-91 mph and can touch 93, giving plenty of reason to think he'll sit in the mid-90s down the road. Cardona has plenty of work to do with his secondary stuff. He has shown feel for a changeup that has some sink. It's a better pitch than his curveball, which shows depth at times but lacks consistency and grades as below-average. There's some effort in his delivery as well. Though Cardona is far from a finished product, time is on his side and his upside is significant. He'll probably make his pro debut in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2011 and not come to the United States until 2012.
Some clubs considered Nicolino a top-three-rounds talent in the 2010 draft, but many were wary of his commitment to Virginia. The Blue Jays could afford to gamble because they had six extra draft picks as free-agent compensation, and his performance at the Florida state high school all-star games in late May convinced them to take him in the second round. He signed in August for $615,000. Nicolino's fastball ranged from 85-91 mph in the spring, but he got stronger over the summer and sat at 90 and topped out at 92 during instructional league. He also showed a firmer breaking ball--an overhand curveball in the low 80s that features average bite. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, as he throws it with excellent arm speed and gets some good fade. Nicolino has added 15 pounds in the last year and still has some room to fill out and get stronger. He should begin 2011 in extended spring training and make his pro debut during the summer.
Scouts regarded Cooper as one of the better pure hitters in the 2008 draft, which got him drafted 17th overall and a slightly below-slot $1.5 million bonus. He looked primed to live up to that reputation when he hit .333/.399/.502 and reached high Class A in his pro debut, but he has spent the last two years batting .257 in Double-A. The Blue Jays still like his offensive potential, however. They track hard-hit balls as a statistic and say he ranked among their minor league leaders, hitting into more than his share of bad luck. He still shows a knack for getting the barrel to the ball and uses the whole field. He has started to turn on balls with power without pulling off pitches, allowing him to double his home run output from 10 in 2009 to 20 last season. Cooper has below-average athleticism and speed and is still a work in progress as a first baseman. He spent time in instructional league to work on his conditioning, agility and footwork. Ticketed for Triple-A this year, he could find himself in the big leagues quickly if he progresses at the plate especially after Lyle Overbay signed with the Pirates as a free agent.
Hobson resembles his father Butch, a former big league player and manager, with his bulldog mentality, 6- foot-2 and 205-pound frame, and strong hands and forearms. Lured away from a commitment to Texas A&M with a $500,000 bonus as a sixth-round pick in 2009, he signed late that summer and made his pro debut last season. Hobson has a compact stroke and his bat stays in the hitting zone for a long time. He can go to the opposite field with authority, and he really started to sting the ball in 2010 as he learned to pull the ball more. His power hasn't quite shown up yet, but he has plenty to all fields. Because he grew up around the game, he has a good understanding of hitting mechanics and fundamentals. Though he pitched and played some outfield in high school, Hobson is a below-average runner who is limited to first base. He shows good footwork and has improved defensively since signing. He'll head to low Class A this year.
In his first three pro seasons, Sierra hit just .241/.304/.366, but he responded well to a challenging assignment to Dunedin in 2009 and had a breakout year. He finished the season in New Hampshire and figured to return there in 2010, but he never made it. He came down with a stress fracture in his leg during spring training, which combined with a strained oblique and a hand injury limited him to just 20 games, none above high Class A. When he's on the field, Sierra shows solid all-fields power that's still developing. He makes consistent contact but doesn't draw many walks. Sierra runs well for his size but won't be a basestealing threat. He has average range in right field and a powerful arm that rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. After playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic to recoup some of his lost at-bats and being added to the Blue Jays' 40-man roster, he'll finally make it back to Double-A in 2011.
Syndergaard's stock started to soar just before the 2010 draft when he starred in the Texas 4-A playoffs, pumping low-90s fastballs and striking out 39 in his final three starts. The Blue Jays were on him earlier than anyone, thanks to area scout Steve Miller. He saw Syndergaard sit at 87-90 mph in the first few innings of a game in March, but Miller stuck around and saw him finish the contest at 92-94. With its hand forced by his postseason heroics, Toronto took him in the supplemental first round and signed him for a below-slot $600,000. He pitched just 13 innings in his first pro summer before the Jays shut him down as a precaution when his elbow bothered him, but he returned for instructional league. Syndergaard is big and athletic with a good delivery for his size. His fastball now sits at 92-93 mph and touches 95. He has an effective changeup and good shape to his curveball. His breaking ball is still a work in progress and could develop into a slider. He may open 2011 in extended spring training and head to short-season Auburn in June.
The Blue Jays certainly didn't want to miss out on signing pitchers James Paxton, Jake Eliopoulos and Jake Barrett after drafting them in the first three rounds in 2009. But that failure did free up the money to spend $400,000 on Hutchison, their 15th-round pick. He signed at the Aug. 17 deadline and didn't make his pro debut until 2010, which he finished by posting a 1.52 ERA in five low Class A starts. A Stetson recruit who would have been a two-way player in college, Hutchison is athletic and very polished for a high school pitcher. He works at 88-92 mph with his fastball and should be able to gain a little more velocity as he fills out. He has a pair of promising secondary pitches in his slider, which he has tightened up and now sits in the low 80s, and a changeup that he'll throw in any count. He repeats his clean delivery well and has good command. He'll return to Lansing to start 2011.
Part of an exceptionally deep Georgia high school class of athletic position players, Hawkins declined a Tennessee scholarship to sign for $350,000 as a third-round pick in June. When he turned pro, he had an unorthodox swing that included an arm bar and had his upper body doing most of the work. He has started to smooth out his stroke and incorporate his lower half more, which helped him finish 2010 on a strong note by batting .304 in August. He still needs to shorten his swing some more, but he has a quick bat and shows plus raw power in batting practice. A shortstop in high school, Hawkins moved to third base in pro ball and also saw time in left field at the end of his pro debut. Some amateur scouts projected him as a center fielder, and he has the above-average speed and instincts to make that happen. His average arm plays up because he gets to balls quickly and has a compact release. Because he'll need some time to develop and the Blue Jays have several young third basemen and outfielders headed to low Class A, Hawkins figures to play 2011 at Auburn.
After getting just 12 at-bats as a freshman for Oklahoma State, Knecht transferred to Connors State (Okla.) JC and intrigued scouts with his upside. He ranked among the national juco leaders in batting (.453) and homers (21), playing his way into the supplemental third round and earning a $250,000 bonus. The Blue Jays have a long history with Knecht, a native Canadian. He met Toronto scouting director Andrew Tinnish when he was 11 years old and began working with him on his hitting at age 14. The first thing evaluators notice about Knecht is his tremendous bat speed. He has raw power to all fields and hit several balls into the Rogers Centre's second deck during a predraft workout. He was able to handle short-season pitching in his pro debut, giving the Jays confidence that he'll hit for a solid average. Knecht's speed and arm are slightly above average, though he doesn't quite have the quickness or instincts to play in center field. He fits best in right field, where he saw most of his action during the summer. A broken foot sidelined Knecht with about a week left in the season, but he was able to return to action before the end of instructional league. He'll advance to low Class A in 2011.
Under former general manager J.P. Ricciardi, the Blue Jays weren't aggressive on the international market, but that changed in their first year with Alex Anthopoulos at the helm. Toronto handed a $10 million big league deal to Cuban defector Adeiny Hechavarria and spent another $3.5 million on bonuses for Venezuelans Adonis Cardona and Cenas. In a workout for international prospects, Cenas was the only hitter who wasn't overmatched by Cardona. Signed for $700,000, Cenas is precocious in his ability to get the barrel on the ball and smoke line drives. He's still growing into his power but could develop into a 20-25 home run threat. He's a fringe-average runner who will slow down as he gets bigger and stronger. Cenas has an above-average arm and should be able to remain at third base. He'll probably begin 2011 in the Dominican Summer League.
Signed for $700,000 as a 16-year-old in 2008, Pierre is a gifted defender who ranks with Adeiny Hechavarria as the best among Blue Jays farmhands. Lean and athletic, he has good actions at shortstop and a cannon for an arm. Though he has made 43 errors in 106 pro games at shortstop, those can mostly be attributed to youth and inexperience. Pierre has plus speed to go with his defensive gifts, but he's still figuring things out with the bat. He has good bat speed and has the projectable frame to develop average or better power. He's too aggressive, however, which has led to struggles when he has faced significantly older pitchers in his two years in the United States. He has made some improvements, toning down his load and leg kick and keeping his head more still at the plate. Pierre's English is getting better, allowing him to soak up more instruction. Though he'll be just 19 in 2011, he may move up to low Class A.
The Blue Jays drafted Mills in the 22nd round in 2006, but he turned them down to return to Arizona to finish his civil-engineering degree. Toronto signed him as a fourth-rounder in 2007, and he made his big league debut just two years later. He's still trying to find establish himself against top-level hitters, as his ERA has risen from 1.96 through Double-A to 4.58 in Triple-A to 7.80 in the majors. Mills depends on his feel for pitching and deception rather than pure stuff. In his brief time in Toronto, he has fallen behind in the count too often and then gotten hammered when he has been forced to come over the plate. Mills' best pitch is his changeup, which throws hitters off because he maintains good arm speed and has a herky-jerky delivery. He sets it up with a high-80s fastball that can touch 91 and an average 12-to-6 curveball. Mills will be 26 this season, and his window to crack the back of the Jays' rotation may be drawing to a close. If it closes completely, then he could be useful as a long reliever.