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Better late than never, I always say. Here’s the first installment of a week’s worth of capsule reviews of the Blue Jays’ most interesting minor-league players. Modelled on the previous monthly Farm Reports available on this site, these end-of-year reviews are longer and provide some more detail about the player and the potential value he offers the organization.
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New York Yankees (David Wells) at Boston Red Sox (John Burkett), 7:30 ET

Among the thousands of reasons to get rid of the DH, yesterday's game was a good illustration of the better ones. If Pedro Martinez had to hit on a regular basis, would he have thrown a pitch at a batter's head? Conventional wisdom has it that the chances would be reduced. If Roger Clemens had to bat, would Manny Ramirez have taken such exception to a seemingly ordinary high fastball?

Since the introduction of the DH, HBP rates have not differed greatly in the two leagues - in fact, HBP rates have roughly doubled in both leagues. My perception is that there have been more incidents of the nature we saw yesterday in the American League.

Chicago Cubs (Carlos Zambrano) at Florida Marlins (Josh Beckett) - 4 PM ET.

I expect the Cubs to wrap things up today. The Marlins will most likely be demoralized, knowing that they'll have to beat both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in Chicago to advance. Beckett's curveball was nowhere in game 1, which suggests that he may have some sort of health problem (which we will hear about after Florida is eliminated). After Clement's solid performance in Game 4, Zambrano is the only Cubs starter who hasn't pitched well in the post-season. Today will be the perfect opportunity to regain some confidence. If the Cubs win the series today, they'll be able to set up their World Series rotation in optimal fashion (Prior starting Game 1).

Part 10, finally, of a 10-part series

Just about a month ago, Da Box invited two of the more controversial figures -- from the perspective of Boxers, anyway -- in Toronto media to spend some time with us, allowing us to get to know them, to pose (and post) some questions directly, to get a little insight into the behind-the-scenes world of the baseball writers we all secretly believe we could (and should) be.

Now that a little time has passed, now that the season has ended, now that more than 300 comments have been directed to the Toronto Star's Geoff Baker and Rich Griffin in response to the series, let's review, take a look at a few of the out-takes and offer up a final word -- and an invitation.
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A tip of the cap to Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus for an outstanding interview with the Padres' GM. Kevin Towers was remarkably candid; in Part One, the former scout admits that he's still learning.

I've definitely changed my philosophy on pitchers. When I was an amateur scout, it was all about the radar gun. Now, I see that the guys that have success, they're strike throwers--you can throw away the JUGS gun. In this job, you have to continually change. If you stay one way, you become a dinosaur--you'll die.

Part Two is just as interesting. Towers calls himself a "sludge merchant," and provides more insight into the ways the Padres, and other teams like the Jays, are adapting.

The game has changed a lot in the last five, 10 years. Ownership expects instant returns. GMs are having more say in what goes into the amateur draft. It used to be that you'd delegate, put the scouting department in charge. Nowadays you're seeing more GMs in the draft room than there were 10 years ago.

Fascinating stuff.

Chicago Cubs at Florida Marlins, 7:30 PM ET (Game 4)

After a great game 3, I am really looking forward to another cleanly hard-fought baseball game in south Florida. The DH Championship series has degenrated into a brawl, but in this series the pitchers have to hit, so you're less likely to see tempers flare.

Of all the rookies to emerge this year, Dontrelle Willis is the most interesting to watch. He throws harder than a typical lefty starter, which may give the Cubs some trouble tonight. Matt Clement hasn't been sharp in the last month or so: only 2 of his last 6 starts have been Quality Starts (6 or more innings, 3 or fewer earned runs). I expect Pierre, Castillo and Lee to run on him if they get a chance.

Florida favoured to win tonight 55% to 45%

First in a three-part series.

The Batter’s Box Salute to the Postseason now turns to the LCS, which was inaugurated with the advent of divisional play in 1969, and has provided some tremendous memories over the years. Here’s one fan’s take on the 25 best LCS games in baseball history.
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New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox, 4 PM ET (Game 3)

Pedro versus Roger.

“The draft is what we work for,” says Jon Lalonde, Blue Jays Scouting Director. “We spend 364 days a year getting ready for it.”

Major-league baseball’s First-Year Player Draft, held every June, is unique among the major sports drafts. It’s the only one not televised (though there’s been some talk of it lately), and it’s the only one to go an exhausting 50 rounds. Every so often, an Orlando Hudson or Chris Woodward (43rd and 54th round, respectively) will make it to the bigs, though rarely (especially as a double-play combination).

A good draft replenishes your farm system and provides future stars; a bad one can send shock waves throughout your organization for years. The stakes are incredibly high. The first five rounds are where you often find your future stars, but Jon thinks the real make-or-break decisions come after that.
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Chicago Cubs at Florida Marlins, 8 PM ET (Game 3)

If there's a game in the playoffs where its okay to get blown out - it's a Game 2 facing Mark Prior. The Fish were a long shot going into the game and after Brad Penny got torched, there wasn't much anyone in the Florida clubhouse could have done.

Mark Redman will need the support of the crowd and the park behind him to succeed tonight - the Cubs hit lefties well (see Division Series entries with Mike Hampton starting for Atlanta for details). The Marlins offence isn't built upon the walk - a good weapon to have against the occasionally wild Wood. They'll have to make the most of their baserunners tonight.

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This just in -- Mike Wilner's guest tonight on the pre-pre-game show (7:00, FAN 590) will be Josh Phelps. The phone lines will be open. A family emergency prevents me from listening, so I hope someone can fill me in on what one of my favourite Jays has to say.

Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, 8 PM ET (Game 2)

The Yankees have scored only 18 runs in 5 post-season games, which is almost 2 runs less per game than their regular season rate. Of course you don't face the likes of Tampa Bay and Texas in the post-season so a drop off should be expected. The Red Sox have experienced a similar drop off, but have faced a more impressive assortment of pitchers in their 6 post-season games.

I'm not worried about the linedrive hitters - Jeter, Bernie and Nick Johnson. Posada and Giambi are more of a concern - hitters who depend on the walk and the deep fly. Collectively, they have 8 hits in 40 AB, with 4 doubles, 3 walks and 13 strikeouts. Derek Lowe is fairly good at preventing walks and homerunss, and it's especially difficult to hit homeruns off Pedro. With mediocre offensive players Juan Rivera (I'd love to see them start Sierra) and Aaron Boone at the bottom of the lineup, the offence doesn't look all that great when Jorge and Jason are making outs.

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Here's my end-of-season report for the 2003 Jays. Enjoy.
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Rumours are remarkable things. No one’s entirely sure where they came from (or at least, no one wants to take responsibility for starting them), and once they’ve been around long enough, they become entrenched as urban myths and eventually as generally accepted facts. If you forward that e-mail from Bill Gates, you’re sure to get a free copy of Windows XP.

It’s no different in the sports world, of course. A rumour floated around this past summer that JP Ricciardi had told a scout that if the scout chose to go to a high school game, JP wouldn’t pay his way. It was a graphic illustration of the lengths to which Ricciardi was prepared to go to enforce his strict all-college, no-high-school players rule. Very illuminating -- and completely false. It didn't happen.

Like all successful rumours, this one played off people’s expectations (and more than a few people’s political agendas) to the effect that the Blue Jays had shut down their scouting operations everywhere but collegiate America. But as Jon Lalonde, the Blue Jays’ Director of Scouting, told Batter’s Box in a recent interview, the organization still ranges widely to find the best prospects; they just do it more intelligently, is all.
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On the Blue Jays’ official MLB Website, there’s a complete list of the club’s entire front-office personnel, with Paul Godfrey and JP Ricciardi at the top and scores of names below, more than 200 in all. The list covers such diverse areas as corporate marketing, IT, player development and merchandising. A major-league ballclub’s corporate roster is surprisingly deep and multi-faceted.

Few of these divisions, however, are more important than the Scouting Department, whose 29 listed and many more uncredited members are spread throughout the world, from Canada down throughout the U.S. and into the Caribbean, down as far as Venezuela and across an ocean to Australia. The scouting team includes names like former big-leaguer Sal Butera and Canadian Amateur Baseball Ambassador Jim Fanning.

And standing on top of this list of names is the Blue Jays’ Director of Scouting: 27-year-old Jon Lalonde of Wyevale, Ontario. The story of how he got there, and how he’s contributing to the Blue Jays’ renaissance, is the raw material from which young Canadian baseball fans’ wildest dreams are woven.
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