It was a mixed year for the farm affiliates. While Auburn and Dunedin continued their run of playoff appearances, Lansing, Pulaski, New Hampshire and Syracuse were less impressive outfits. At all levels of the system, there is good pitching of all types, from fireballers Francisco Rosario and David Purcey to control artists Zach Jackson, Josh Banks and Casey Janssen. With the last three top picks having been left-handed pitchers and with the development of Gustavo Chacin and Davis Romero, the big club figures to be stocked with southpaws for years to come.
The bats in the system are not quite so impressive. Adam Lind put in a fine season in Dunedin and does seem bound for the Show. Chip Cannon started out in Lansing, tore through Dunedin in a month, and struggled a bit in New Hampshire as the season ended. Curtis Thigpen looks like a hitter in search of a position. Ryan Patterson made a fine debut in Auburn. Ryan Roberts continued his march up the system with fine performances in Dunedin and New Hampshire, and may surprise us. Third basemen Rob Cosby and Eric Arnold put in very fine surprise seasons in New Hampshire and Dunedin respectively. If two or three of these prospects end up as regular major leaguers, that would be a good result. Some balancing of the system as between pitchers and position players would be a fine plan.
On with the show!
30. Paul Phillips, RHP
Born January 26, 1984. Selected in the 9th round of the 2005 amateur draft.
This year's #30 prospect is a reliever who finished with a saves total in the low teens and an ERA under 3.00, while pitching for a team that went to the league championship. No, it's not Jordan De Jong, but Paul Phillips, a ninth-round pick who had a very good season in relief for the Auburn Doubledays.
One thing you will see repeated throughout this list for the short-season players is not to take the numbers all that seriously. That said, Phillips did have a solid all-around season, and I don't recall hearing about any problems with his recovery from labrum surgery. We'll see how he does next year. (RP)
29. Cory Patton, OF
Born June 18, 1982. Selected in the 6th round of the 2004 amateur draft.
I'll give Patton credit: he can rake. The question is, can he do it at a higher level than the New-York Penn League? This year was his first pro season at age 23, and he struggled with Lansing before going down to Auburn and smacking 14 home runs.
He’ll turn 24 in 2006 and he has yet to play full-season ball. The Jays need players who can hit the little white ball very, very far, but Patton's age and lack of experience work against him. To borrow a line from a fellow minor-league reporter, Patton will have to "out-cannon Cannon." (RP)
28. Yuber Rodriquez, OF
Born July 20, 1983. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2000.
It was a surprise to me when Rodriquez was placed at #12 on Baseball America's Top 30 Blue Jays Prospects list at the beginning of the year. I don't think he'll be in the top 15 this year, to say the least. It's only the Midwest League and it's a two-level jump for him, but he showed almost nothing in 375 AB for Lansing. I'll be honest with you -- I expected to see some gaudy stolen-base numbers or something aside from a poor BA/OBP/SLG line, but 13 steals in 21 tries is suboptimal.
Yuber (you just know he's going to be called Y-Rod if he makes it to the bigs; it's inevitable) still has tremendous upside, but upside only gets you so far. Slugging under .300 with a poor K/BB ratio won't get you anywhere. (RP)
27. Joey Metropoulos, 1B
Born October 7, 1983. Selected in the 9th round of the 2004 amateur draft.
Considering he was coming off a broken leg, not much was expected from Metropolous, but he proved his doubters wrong in two ways. First, he raised his batting average to almost .300 without losing much power. Second, he played in the field much more than I thought he would. He sat out half the game as the DH only once or twice a week, if I recall correctly.
Of course, it’s his second time through the league, but it's not like something suddenly clicked and turned him into a productive hitter -- that 2004 line isn't bad at all. Also, he will only be 22 next year. Nothing would raise his prospect stock better than a good year in Dunedin in a tough hitter's park, and I think he can do it. (RP)
26. Lee Gronkiewicz, RHP
Born August 21, 1978. Selected from the Cleveland Indians in the 2004 minor league Rule 5 draft.
The goal for Game Over Gronk is to be the next in the Jason Frasor line, to overcome the stigma of being older than most prospects and of being too short (5’10”) to succeed as a big-league reliever. Unlike Frasor, Gronkiewicz is not a hard thrower, relying instead on a superior curve. That hasn’t stopped him from posting excellent K rates and undersized ERAs, as seen in the table above.
Gronkiewicz has never started a game in his pro career, and has been a closer almost exclusively. As flawed a stat as the Save is, collecting 123 of them in a five-year minor league career is impressive, and so much familiarity with pressure will help Lee make the adjustments needed to be successful in the majors. (JG)
25. Robert Ray, RHP
Born January 21, 1984. Selected in the 7th round of the 2005 amateur draft.
The Blue Jays thought this pitcher with Cape League experience had a good chance to succeed as a starter, and so far they’ve been right. You can see the numbers above, and they're all good. In only his third pro start and fifth professional game, he tossed six shutout innings, allowing only one hit for a very nice Low A-Ball Game Score of 73. Oh, and let's not forget that combined no-hitter with Adrian Martin, in which he spun the first five innings.
So what does the future hold for Bobby Ray? Most likely, a promotion to Lansing. The Other Joey McLaughlin had a very similar year in Auburn in 2004 and he followed it up with another solid season with the Lugnuts, so look for Ray to do the same. (RP)
24. Robinzon Diaz, C
Born September 19, 1983. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2000.
Robinzon just turned 22 last week. His stat line tells us all we need to know about him offensively. He will not walk or strike out much, and he does not have power. He is adequate defensively, and most importantly, he’s been healthy. If he weren’t a catcher, he wouldn’t really be a prospect. Right now, it looks like he’ll hit .250 without much in the way of secondary contributions. That would make him a backup catcher, or the right-handed part of a platoon. But if he turns on the power as he matures, he could end up in Manny Sanguillen territory. This sometimes happens for catchers, but not as often as it does for outfielders.
Diaz is eligible to be chosen in the Rule 5 draft if the Jays don’t add him to the 40-man roster. It is not clear whether they will. If he’s still with the organization in 2006, he’ll probably start the season in New Hampshire, and we’ll keep an eye on his doubles and homer totals for signs of developing power. (MG)
23. Miguel Negron, OF
Born August 22, 1982. Selected in the 1st round of the 2000 amateur draft.
Ted Lilly has earned from Bauxites the nickname "Ted the Tease" for showing flashes of dominance mixed in with bouts of just plain stinkerooity. His minor-league equivalent might be Maddening Miguel, who has loads of tools and occasionally puts them to use as a baseball player. His final 2005 numbers show a player with on-base difficulties, limited power and pell-mell base-stealing ability, even after six years and nearly 2,000 at-bats as a Blue Jays farmhand.
So why is he still in the organization, let alone in the Top 30? Because he has months like June (.326/.366/.537, including a three-homer game) and August/September (.281/.325/.459). Because he seems to add a new skill every year (batting average in 2003, power in 2004, base-stealing in 2005). Because he still plays a magnificent centerfield, the best in a deep organization. Essentially, because the player he could become keeps edging closer to the surface of player he is. Negron just turned 23 last month and already has a full season of Double-A experience (in a tough pitchers' park*) under his belt. The Jays will almost certainly give him another year to coax a potential impact player into the open. (JF)
*How tough a pitchers’ park is Fisher Cats Stadium? Jonny German calculated its Park Factor, using (2 * Runs/game @ home games) / (Runs/game home + Runs/game away). He came up with a PF of .890. To put that in perspective: if he’d used ESPN's method, (Runs/game @ home) / (Runs/game away), he’d have gotten .802, which would make it the most severe pitcher's park in the major leagues (Camden Yards is 29th at .848, while Petco is 30th at .816).
22. Jamie Vermilyea, RHP
Born February 10, 1982. Selected in the 9th round of the 2003 amateur draft.
Blue Jays prospect watchers remember Vermilyea as the 9th-rounder from New Mexico State who posted the staggering BB/K numbers in his 2003 debut. He hasn’t produced anything that dramatic since then, and while he’s been effective in retiring batters, his secondary numbers haven’t been particularly impressive. That all came home to roost upon his mid-summer promotion to Syracuse, when happy International League batters spent July hitting .353 off him.But Vermilyea persevered and improved through the balance of the season, albeit only to a .313 opponents’ batting averagein August/September. But he did cut his homers allowed in half and dropped his monthly ERA from 7.94 to 3.44. Vermilyea, who has a wide repertoire of average pitches thrown intelligently and located well, is still giving up too many hits, and he needs to find some way to adjust to Triple-A hitters before he’ll get a sniff of the majors. His upside remains a reliable long man out of a big-league bullpen, so when the Jays are done with Pete Walker and (hopefully) Miguel Batista in that role, he may have an opportunity. (JF)
21. Kyle Yates, RHP
Born January 8, 1983. Selected in the 13th round of the 2004 amateur draft.
Just when you thought you had a handle on all the pitching prospects in the Toronto system, 13th-rounder Kyle Yates sneaks up with a very good season to force his way into the picture. The stealth of Yates’ emergence can be attributed to his mid-round selection, his very brief pro debut, and the fact that he began 2005 both inconsistent and unlucky. It was only following his promotion from Low-A Lansing to High-A Dunedin that the curveballer (average fastball, useful changeup) began translating his great peripherals into a great ERA and thereby getting noticed.
The most encouraging thing about Kyle’s season is how he was able to slash his walk rate without compromising much in the home run and strikeout departments. If the Blue Jays’ brass believes something has really clicked for him, he’ll be a Fisher Cat on Opening Day 2006. If they’re not quite convinced yet, he start again at Dunedin and will be promoted quickly if he maintains his 2005 performance level. (JG)
The names of many of these prospects may be unfamiliar to casual minor league watchers, but not so for tomorrow's #20-11. Tune in Tuesday.