On MLB Radio the other day, Will Lingo and John Manuel from Baseball America spoke with Blue Jays Scouting Director Dick Scott about the Toronto farm system. Ever your humble journalistic servant, I took notes and present here, for your reading pleasure, a synopsis of Scott's comments. All quotations are as close to accurate as deciphering my handwriting will allow; consider them paraphrases and judge me with mercy, as I haven't done this for a while.
--> Scott remarked early on that he doesn't consider the promotion of top draft choices to the majors to be that great an accomplishment, or anything an organization should be particularly proud of. "We always say [in the scouting department] that our mark will not be getting the #1 and #2 picks to the big leagues, but getting the 15th, the 20th, the 40th round guys there."
He thinks this is important for the development of all the young players in the system: if they see that even low-level draft choices have an opportunity from day one, that there are no favourites played based on your signing bonus, then everyone's happier and more productive. It's worth noting that the members of the Jays' current double-play combo were selected in the 43rd (Hudson) and 54th (Woodward) rounds of their respective drafts. I'm thinking that that does not go unnoticed in Charleston and Auburn.
--> He was asked (by either Lingo or Manuel -- I couldn't tell who was whom) about the team's four "catching" prospects (Phelps, Werth, Cash and Quiroz). "They can all hit," Scott allowed, adding that "Werth is an exceptional athlete, he took to the outfield naturally. He could play centrefield in a pinch. He has a high ceiling, [and he has power], but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts." Scott sees Werth as a "full-time left fielder, maybe playing some right field." He expects Cash to be in the majors by the middle or end of this season: "He needs to get at-bats in Triple-A." As for Quiroz, he agreed with the hosts that he's awfully young and that he still has time to unlock his potential. He didn't talk about Phelps much, but I guess there's really not much need for him to.
--> On the subject of the two new acquisitions from Oakland, Scott waxed quite enthusiastic about Jason Arnold. "He'll probably start at Triple-A," he confirmed. "I've heard lots of good things about him --- he's a great competitor, he's got great stuff, a real knack for pitching." John-Ford Griffin, he said, would probably start at AA. "We'd been hoping to get these guys sooner," he said. "Bringing in two guys like that is a real boost to your [farm] system."
--> "Does Gabe Gross still fit into the team's long-term plans?" the hosts asked. "Gabe Gross will fit very nicely into our long-term plans," Scott replied. "It's a huge jump to Double-A ... he had a good second half, he was swinging the bat really well. His power will develop ... he's got a great strike zone, he's very athletic, and he plays a great defensive right field. He loves to play the game," he concluded. "He's a real grinder."
Either Lingo or Manuel mentioned how the AA New Haven outfield could be quite something to see: Griffin in left, Alexis Rios in center and Gross in right. He also said something interesting: he suggested that Griffin's approach, which is to be a little more aggressive at the plate, might actually rub off on Gross, who might be taking too many good pitches that he could be driving. Scott agreed that this could well be the case. Something to file away....
--> This brought the conversation around to Rios, the '99 first-round draft pick chosen from a Puerto Rican high school because Interbrew didn't want to pay first-round draft money. Scott was pretty high on Rios. "He's still growing into his body... He's a contact hitter, and he's a big guy. He shows lots of power in batting practice -- I've seen him hit some balls a long way," but it hasn't shown up in games yet. "He's learning that he doesn't need to swing at first-pitch fastballs," said Scott. "It will take him a little while, to learn that [completely]."
The news was less good about fellow bargain-baby Miguel Negron. "We've basically had to break down his swing and change his entire approach at the plate," Scott noted. Negron has pop in his bat, but when he cracks a home run, he makes the classic young player mistake of getting overexcited and going up to the plate looking to jack another one. "He needs to learn to hit," Scott said, rather bluntly. For what it's worth, he added that both Rios and Negron can play centerfield.
--> They were running short on time when they got to their last question, the 2002 draft (BA said the Jays had the best draft of any team last June). Scott spoke very highly of Russ Adams, and was pretty excited about all the young pitching they collected. I'll be posting an in-depth look at the Jays' A-Ball prospects in a week or so, if you're interested.
So there you have it -- nothing earth-shattering, though it's interesting that Arnold will start at AAA. I'm becoming more convinced that if he holds up well at Syracuse, Arnold could be in a Toronto uniform by September, either for a visit or for a permanent locker assignment. Keep in mind, of course, that Scott will be positive by nature about his team's prospects, and that you're not likely to hear him diss his own youngsters on the radio. But it was entertaining all the same: he's a smart, well-spoken guy, and he clearly has a plan for this farm system and likes the players he's collecting to implement it.