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I apologize for the headline in advance. As mentioned yesterday, former Rule-5 acquisition Corey Thurman is headed down to Syracuse for the 2003 season, there to work on both his mechanics and his curveball. Richard Griffin paints a picture of a disappointed young man, which I'm sure he is, but I would have to disagree that Thurman's road back is a long one.

When JP looks to the future, he sees an everyday lineup that's pretty settled for the next few years. Barring injury, he's set at catcher (Cash), first (Phelps), third (Hinske) and center (Wells) for the next four years. He has four good young candidates (Hudson, Woodward, Adams, Rich) for the middle infield and two excellent nominees (Werth, Griffin) for the corner outfield spots. DHs are not hard to come by, so the starting nine can reasonably be forecast through the middle part of the decade. Bullpens are even easier to assemble, and the Jays have some great relief prospects on the way in a hurry, so the relief corps also seems secure.

Not so the starting rotation.

Of the five men who'll open the season for Toronto, only Roy Halladay is a certain keeper. Cory Lidle will almost certainly become too expensive after this year, Pete Walker is living on borrowed time, and Tanyon Sturtze is the stopgap's stopgap. Only Mark Hendrickson shows keeper potential, but as promising as the returns have been thus far, it's still really too soon to tell if he has a chance of becoming the next Chuck Finley. Ditto for Justin Miller, headed for Syracuse but still destined for Toronto sometime this year. Both of their upsides at this point are as reliable back-rotation stalwarts, perhaps more.

So who will populate the championship-calibre Jays rotation of 2005? Well, Jason Arnold debuts at Syracuse this season, and most reports peg his permanent arrival in Toronto no later than next summer. Arnold is a legitimate front-of-the-rotation prospect, good tools and great makeup, and he looks to be safely projectable into a #2 or #3 slot on this team. But Corey Thurman is not far behind Arnold at all.

Corey has the arsenal to be an outstanding starting pitcher, with four solid pitches potentially at his disposal; even as a raw Rule-5er, he allowed fewer hits than IP last season. Remember that he was in AA in 2001, in the Royals' system, no less. His 2002 in Toronto represented a slight advance in terms of performance and a great stride in experience, but despite good usage by Carlos Tosca, Thurman and his learning curve did slow down at the back of the Jays' bullpen. He arrives in Syracuse this month as a young veteran, eager to acquire the remaining skills and discipline to allow him to return to the majors. I wouldn't be shocked to see him back in Toronto by the All-Star Break; but I will lay even money that he'll be a regular in the Blue Jays' 2004 starting rotation. He's awfully close to that same #2 or #3 slot.

After Halladay, Arnold and Thurman (again, hoping for no injuries or unusual setbacks), who will toe the rubber for Toronto in '04 and beyond? Well, Miller and Hendrickson are both enigmas, but at least one of them could reasonably be forecast to fill the fifth spot. The organization has solid starting prospects in the low minors, but they're too far away to project or count on for the big-league rotation at this point. So that leaves the free-agent route, and my guess is that by the fall or winter of 2004, JP will be ready to spend some of his hard-saved cash on a front-end stud starter, the kind of guy who can help anchor a young veteran rotation such as this.

Corey Thurman is probably disappointed, but also realistic and positive: he knows he's not quite ready to be a big-league starter, and he has the arm and the personality to take those final difficult steps to become one. His will not be a long road to Toronto: the path is laid out for him and the club has kept his locker warm. He won't be here till he's ready; but when he's ready, and Jason Arnold with him, look out.
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Coach - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 02:57 PM EST (#92478) #
Griffin, typically out of touch, makes it sound like Thurman is back in A ball, a lifetime from the Show. He could have helped in the well-stocked Jays bullpen right now, but the only reason he got sent down was because J.P. and his advisors believe Corey's going to be even more valuable in the rotation. The kid was the best starter in the hitting-dominated Texas League in 2001, and the question about his return to Toronto is when, not if.

Pardon the hijack, but this hardly deserves its own thread: after a 10-day hiatus during which I seriously considered giving up the gig, I just posted a new ESPN fantasy column. As usual, it's nothing that hasn't been covered here in more detail already.

Another tangent: Mike Wilner's starting to do a nice job on the radio. Today, Shannon Stewart's 3-for-3 with a SB, Phelps has gone deep again, and the Cat's in RF, batting second (with Hinske sixth) for the second game in a row. Not a great day for Sturtze (4 ER on 9 H in 5 IP) but what were we expecting? A .500 record and 200 IP would be a big improvement over Esteban Loaiza at a fraction of the cost. It's now 6-6; the Jays took the lead on a long Wells RBI single in the fifth, but Jeff Tam is getting hit pretty hard and Tom Wilson, no Roberto Clemente, has taken over in RF.

I don't think J.P. is going to drag out the remaining roster decisions until the last minute. Tosca needs to get his final 25 prepared for next Monday, and there's no point delaying the inevitable. Sending Thurman down answered one of the questions, but there are still a couple to be determined -- Linton or Huckaby? Aven, Ryan, Colangelo or an OF from another club? I'm guessing we find out soon.
_Sean - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 03:14 PM EST (#92479) #
Gideon, I'm not sure an anticipatory apology is sufficient compensation. (Apologies for the obscure reference to contract law. It's an inevitable by-product of law school)

Seriously, I think that this move by JP is entirely sensible for the reasons you list above. I'm very impressed at the ceiling Corey Thurman has, and am quite sorry for those languishing Royals fans.
_DS - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 03:27 PM EST (#92480) #
This is why Allard Baird needs to be fired. He has no understanding of value to a 40 man roster, amongst his many other faults. I hope 4 months of Donnie Sadler was worth it.
_Chuck Van Den C - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 03:28 PM EST (#92481) #
Not only is the move to send Thurman to AAA to become a starter not a surprise, we all knew this was coming last spring when Thurman was kept on the roster as a rule 5er.

Thurman is most definitely not being punished, he's being rewarded for his potential. Even if Griffin doesn't get it, I'm assuming that Ricciardi has spelled this out quite clearly to Thurman ("Corey, just check out our existing rotation, there's a future for you here if you show us something in AAA.")
Dave Till - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 03:31 PM EST (#92482) #
I agree with the general sentiment here: I don't know whether Corey Thurman is going to be a quality pitcher, but he's definitely got a chance to be one, and that puts him ahead of a lot of the suspects currently inhabiting Royals uniforms. Why on earth did they let this guy get away?

As to whether the Jays of 2005 will be championship contenders: it all depends on how many of the Jays improve enough to be among the very best players in the league. A team that fills its lineup with good players usually winds up winning 85-90 games (which was the Jays' level of play through most of the Gillick era). A team that wins it all has players among the game's elite (e.g., the 1993 Jays, who were 1-2-3 in batting average in the AL).

Of the current Jays, Halladay is already at that level, and Delgado is close (though Delgado will likely be gone by 2005). How many other Jays will reach that level? Phelps stands a good chance, and some of the others have high ceilings but aren't far enough along to project.

If the Jays can develop four or five players that are of All-Star caliber, and can ensure that they have league-average or better players everywhere else, and are lucky, they might win it all. (Any team has to be lucky to win the World Series.) At least the Jays have a chance of becoming this good.
_M.P. Moffatt - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 03:56 PM EST (#92483) #
I'm not quite as bullish on Thurman as some of you might be, but I think he'll be a good #4 guy for years to come. He might end up being the #2 or #3 guy on the Jays in the near future, but that's probably more a function of the Jays lack of pitching talent than Thurman's talent.

Coach: Huck is not on the bubble. I'll buy you a beer if he's not on the opening day 25. Heck, I'll buy you a two-four.

_Shane - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 08:32 PM EST (#92484) #
And the Ken "Huckleberry" Huckaby wagers keep a' comin'.
_Mike H. - Monday, March 24 2003 @ 10:47 PM EST (#92485) #
I got to see Corey throw twice during Spring Training, and he looked very impressive and if his is future was in the bullpen, then he'd be going across the border at the end of spring. But it's a heck of a lot harder to develop starting pitching than bullpen pitching. So while I'd love to see Corey pitch for the Jays, it's probably best in the long run (for both the Jays and Corey) that he develops that third or fourth pitch to go along with his major league fastball, slider and change so he can be a starter instead of a reliever. I can certainly see him as a 2 or 3 in the Jays rotation of 2004, when it will really matter what the talent level is in the rotation.
Craig B - Tuesday, March 25 2003 @ 09:09 AM EST (#92486) #
Just to keep it interesting, Mike, I'll buy you a beer if he is.

I like Huckaby... so although I think he won't be going north, I'll feel like celebrating if he is.
Craig B - Wednesday, March 26 2003 @ 08:28 AM EST (#92487) #
The story in this morning's paper re Huckaby was a bridge too far for me. OK, OK, I give in, I think Mike is right, we're going to see three catchers head north. Sigh. I'll buy you a beer next time you get up to Toronto, Mike.
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