Corey's Heart

Monday, March 24 2003 @ 01:58 AM EST

Contributed by: Jordan

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.