Farm Report: May

Sunday, June 01 2003 @ 10:19 AM EDT

Contributed by: Jordan

Itís a new month, so it must be time for a system-wide update on the Blue Jaysí most noteworthy prospects. Most of these guys were assessed in my end-of-April report -- thereíve been a couple of additions and subtractions since then, but most of the cast remains the same. Stats are current to May 30. Comments and questions, as always, are welcome, though I'm away till June 5 and won't be able to respond till then; criticisms will be forwarded to Ontario Agriculture Minister Helen Johns (no relation to Doug).

Syracuse Skychiefs
International League (AAA)

Jimmy Alvarez, MI, 24
100 AB, 17 R, .260/.330/.410, 2 HR, 11 BB, 22 K, 5 SB, 1 CS

Jimmy still projects as a utility infielder who can get on base pretty regularly and crack the occasional extra-base hit. Thatís useful, if not exciting, unless Tomas Perez gets your heart pumping. Iím waiting for his walk totals to reassert themselves; if they donít, then Alvarez has probably hit his ceiling.

Jason Arnold, RHP, 24
1-1, 4.29, 4 G, 4 GS, 21 IP, 25 H, 10 BB, 20 K, 21% KBF
New Haven
3-1, 1.53, 6 G, 6 GS, 35 IP, 18 H, 11 B, 33 K, 24% KBF

Jason Arnold was dominant at AA before getting promoted to Syracuse a few weeks back. Since then, heís had two sterling starts, one decent one, and one dogís breakfast. For some reason, I have a feeling thatís going to be his major-league pattern as well. Arnold does not overpower: his fastball is very good but not great, and his supporting repertoire is solid but not spectacular. Heís a smart pitcher who relies on location and pitch selection to succeed. Once every four or five outings, thatís going to fail him and heís going to get shelled. Thatís the definition of a #2 starter, which is what heíll be someday. April 2005 at the absolute latest.

Brian Bowles, RHP, 26
0-1, 0.95, 9 saves, 19 IP, 15 H, 12 BB, 16 K

I personally doubt that Brian Bowles will be anything but bullpen filler. He walks too many batters and gives up too many hits for a closer. Heíll be 27 in August and heís not going to convert those walks into outs at this stage. The Jays would be better off using the closerís spot at AAA to evaluate actual short-relief prospects; with any luck, a year from now, they will be.

Kevin Cash, C, 25
125 AB, 11 R, .240/.284/.352, 8 2B, 2 HR, 7 BB, 31 K

Hereís something to think about: Kevin Cashís Major-League Equivalent Average is a robust .196; Guillermo Quirozís, a level below him, is .262. While the Jaysí front office is no doubt chuffed with Guillermoís performance, the same likely cannot be said for Cash. Kevin displayed power and strike-zone discipline superior to this at Double-A, and the decline is more than can be accounted for by the jump to the International League. Iím going to assume this is a slump until proven otherwise. Cash has the defensive tools to hold down a major-league job with a 700 OPS; nobody has the defensive tools to hold down a job in JP Ricciardiís American League with a 600 OPS.

Vinny Chulk, RHP, 24
2-2, 5.28, 6 G, 6 GS, 30 IP, 34 H, 13 BB, 20 K, 14% KBF

Vinny finished 2002 as the Tennessee Smokiesí Pitcher of the Year: 13-5, 2.96, 152 IP, 133 H, 53 BB, 108 K, 17% KBF. Trading him then, assuming anyone had shown any interest, wouldíve been an excellent example of ďdealing high.Ē Donít expect him to bring much in return henceforth, or much to a big-league bullpen near you.

Mike Smith, RHP, 25
4-1, 4.10, 10 G, 8 GS, 52 IP, 47 H, 22 B, 31 K, 14% KBF

Heís improved his performance markedly since the end of April, and I still think he can be a useful contributor to a big league bullpen, but the arguments for and against that position have already been presented succinctly elsewhere.

Corey Thurman, RHP, 24
2-1, 2.93, 7 G, 7 GS, 30 IP, 27 H, 14 BB, 26 K, 19% KBF

In a previous post, I described Jason Arnold as the pitching prospect closest to the big leagues. That was incorrect, of course: Corey Thurman will be in a Toronto uniform before the year is out, and he will likely pitch fairly effectively. Coreyís a #3 starter in the making: heíll give you innings, keep you in most ballgames, throw a gem every so often and rarely get blown out of the water. But it will probably be 2005 before we see that kind of performance; heís a work in progress, but itís nearing completion.

Jayson Werth, C/RF, 24
39 AB, 5 R, .231/.279/.359, 0 HR, 3 BB, 11 K

You know, I canít help but think that Jayson Werth has no future in Toronto. He wasnít brought in by the current administration, and while thatís hardly a fatal blow (see Rios, Alexis), it means they have nothing invested in him. His brief sojourn in Toronto earlier this year, when he clearly wasnít ready, had the feel of a showcase about it. More than one team would be keenly interested in a catcher-outfielder with speed and power; with Rios and Griffin in the wings, will Werth be the odd man out? Anyway, heís struggling with the bat, but heís been injured, been rehabbing, and is now on his third squad in two months. Heíll definitely come around, but the poor manís Eli Marrero may flourish somewhere else.

Tony Zuniga, 3B, 28
162 AB, 23 R, .290/.366/.525, 11 2B, 9 HR, 19 BB, 26 K

You might have briefly wondered, when Eric Hinske underwent surgery, why this AAA hitting machine wasnít called up to replace him. Thatís because Tony Zuniga is very good at what he does: heís a 28-year-old Triple-A slugger with a limited repertoire and nothing close to full-time major-league skills. Signed away from the Giants in the off-season as a six-year free agent, Zuniga couldnít offer the positional versatility and skill set of Howie Clark. Heís leading the Skychiefs in RBI and undoubtedly having a good time doing it. There are worse jobs.

New Haven Ravens
Eastern League (AA)

Shawn Fagan, 1B, 25
58 AB, 7 R, .207/.230/.259, 0 HR, 2 BB, 22 K
New Haven
93 AB, 17 R, .333/.404/.484, 2 HR, 19 BB, 23 K

Shawn Fagan has a good shot at being the next Glenn Burnham. After a fine season at AA Knoxville last year (over 100 walks and 36 extra-base hits), he started 2003 at AAA Syracuse while Burnham was DLíed. It didnít work out, and heís been trying to get back on track since his demotion back down to AA. Heís the kind of guy who makes you wish career minor-leaguers could command better salaries, because theyíre the grist of the minor-league mill and they get paid about as well as the waiters at The Keg.

Dave Gassner, LHP, 24
3-2, 3.70, 12 G, 7 GS, 48 IP, 54 H, 15 BB, 35 K, 16% KBF

I know I shouldnít keep bringing up Dave Gassner, but gosh darn it all, I like him. He doesnít even strike out 17% of the batters he faces, and he hasnít been keeping the runners off base terribly well, but I keep thinking heís going to be a useful part of a major-league team someday. Consider him my windmill, and forgive the tilting.

John-Ford Griffin, LF/DH, 23
179 AB, 22 R, .268/.342/.475, 11 2B, 8 HR, 20 BB, 48 K

Griffin was scuffling (sorry, I couldnít resist) at the end of May with a .234 average, but his walks and power even then showed heíd turn that around, and he has. The rising SLG is also pleasantly surprising, as there was residual doubt that Griffin had anything more than doubles power in him. But Iíll tell you what, heís still striking out too often, more than once every four ABs. That has to change if he wants to follow his roommate to Syracuse later this season:

Gabe Gross, RF, 23
174 AB, 29 R, .293/.404/.477, 14 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 29 BB, 26 K

Remember when Gabe was hitting .100-something this time last year at Tennessee? Me neither. Thereís nothing missing from Gabe Grossís offensive game right now: average, plate discipline, developing power. Heís not running much, but why bother? The New Haven offence hardly needs the steals, he certainly wonít be stealing in Toronto, and why risk the injury? He could be promoted to AAA at any time. ETA Skydome: June 2005, no later.

Simon Pond, 3B, 26
186 AB, 36 R, .366/.471/.559, 16 2B, 6 HR, 34 BB, 26 K

Yeah, I saw this coming. I also saw SARS, the mad cow scare, and the existence of a show called Canadian Idol. Simon Pond is 26. Last year, a level below at Dunedin, he went .284/.357/.479. Unless the New Haven A&P is stocking up on spinach, I have no explanation for this. I also have no expectation it will continue. Simonís OPS has dropped from 1.138 on April 30 to 1.030 on May; it will drop further. If he finishes 2003 with a 1.000 OPS, I will send an audition tape of myself singing They Might Be Giants tunes to Blogging Idol.

Guillermo Quiroz, C, 21
141 AB, 29 R, .312/.386/.582, 11 2B, 9 HR, 13 BB, 35 K

Well, the power surge has ended, but considering he had a .712 slugging percentage a month ago, thatís not a huge shock. The bigger surprise, to me at least, is that GQ is still getting on base: his OBP has barely budged from a month ago, though his average has dropped somewhat. I keep expecting Ivan Rodriguez to pull off his Guillermo mask and reveal himself, but it hasnít happened yet. Oh yeah, hereís a stat courtesy of Jabonso: Q has thrown out 42% of baserunners so far. Remember years ago, when the Padres had Sandy Alomar Jr. and Benito Santiago in their farm system at the same time? Keep that in mind.

Cameron Reimers, RHP, 24
3-2, 2.73, 10 G, 9 GS, 56 IP, 47 H, 16 BB, 36 K, 15% KBF

Ladies and gentlemen, this yearís Vinny Chulk. Except Reimers is the same age as Vinny and a year behind him. Considering Chulkís in no danger of cracking the major-league rotation anytime soon, Cam should probably think about that correspondence course in real estate sales.

Dominic Rich, 2B, 23
110 AB, 14 R, .209/.331/.264, 0 HR, 11 B, 14 K

Oof. Well, every party needs a pooper, and at the Great New Haven Ravens Bat-Around Slam-Fest of 2003, Dominic Rich is the guy who keeps turning the stereo down. Yes, thatís a .264 slugging percentage you see there. Rich was slowed by a groin injury in April, but since heís come off the DL, he just hasnít hit like he did last summer at Tennessee; considering Rich is repeating AA, one would hope this is just a slump. I certainly think it is, and that weíll see better production out of him this time next month.

Alexis Rios, CF, 22
164 AB, 31 R, .378/.444/.555, 13 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 17 BB, 30 K, 3 SB, 1 CS

What else is there to say? Several sharp-eyed observers (your humble correspondent not among them) said Rios was primed for a breakout, but even the most optimistic Lexie-booster couldnít have foreseen this. Heís dropping from the Asgardian heights he achieved in April (.449/.481/.653), but not as fast as I had anticipated. Rios is now being openly discussed as a factor in the mid-decade Blue Jays outfield mix, but I still want to see where he bottoms out, and then where he rebounds to. I imagine heíll spend the year in AA while the Jays front office figures out exactly what it is they have on their hands here.

Rich Thompson, LF/RF, 24
164 AB, 36 R, .311/.370/.348, 0 HR, 8 BB, 22 K, 15 SB, 3 CS

I like Rich Thompson, and not just because he presents as a really good guy. I like him because heís the kind of bright, shiny object that gets thrown into deals that bring actual major-league talent to Toronto. Rich hits .300 and steals a lot of bases, and thereís a chance he might even get to do that in the bigs someday. Iíd be more than happy to trade away the next Marvell Wynne to a GM who doesnít fully appreciate that a 718 OPS in the Eastern League is not a harbinger of greatness to come. But I do hope Rich sees the majors.

Dunedin Blue Jays
Florida State League (High-A)

Russ Adams, SS, 22
208 AB, 43 R, .288/.389/.404, 32 BB, 23 K, 2 HR, 8 SB, 2 CS

The Great Middle Infield Hope is doing just fine in Dunedin: solid average, good OBP, not bad stolen base numbers. If youíre detecting an absence of superlatives in this description, youíre right: Adams is among the league leaders only in runs scored: though heís performing more than respectably, heís not tearing up the circuit. His power has finally cracked the .400 SLG barrier, which is a nice start if nothing else. Adams is still very new to professional life, and heís doing nothing wrong, but neither is he banging down the door to New Haven. Gotta love those walks, though. Be patient and enjoy his development.

David Bush, RHP, 23
5-3, 3.38, 56 IP, 48 H, 8 BB, 47 K, 20% KBF

Letís put David Bushís 2003 in perspective. Before this season, his entire professional experience consisted of 40 innings, all in relief, more than half of them in the short-season NY-Penn League. So far in í03, heís been the best starter in a powerful High-A Dunedin rotation. Heís brought his ERA down from 4.61 at the end of April and has maintained superb control of the strike zone while whiffing one of every five batters to face him. Bush is rising with a bullet: he should be the first of this talented group (Perkins, McGowan, Pleiness, Harper, Bush) to graduate to AA. Heíll be in Toronto sooner than you think.

Jordan DeJong, RHP, 24
2-2, 2.19, 16 saves, 24 IP, 18 H, 15 BB, 26 K, 24% KBF

Sentimental favourite (in my world, anyway) Jordan DeJong is still doing very well, but heís been in a bit of a slump lately: some blown saves, more hits allowed, and an increasingly problematic issue with bases on balls. Itís the circle of life, Simba: you mow down the batters, so they adjust to you, and so you in turn must adjust to them. DeJong will adjust (at his age, heíd better), and the circle of life will go on. Whereís Tim Rice when you need him?

Tyrell Godwin, CF, 23
178 AB, 29 R, .298/.362/.348, 15 BB, 16 K, 0 HR, 8 SB, 3 CS

Tyrell is trying to answer two big questions: can he master the strike zone, and can he stay healthy? His 15/16 BB/K ratio in 178 ABs shows heís just missing the organizational target of a 10% walk rate, but heís certainly making contact. The power hasnít emerged at all, but this is his first season at High-A after stints at Auburn and Charleston, and it might yet arrive. The wheels arenít doing badly either, and most importantly, heís played in all but one of his teamís games this season. Tyrellís coming along nicely, but heíll be 24 in July: that clock is ticking.

Jesse Harper, RHP, 22
6-0, 3.00, 12 G, 19 GS, 57 IP, 51 H, 16 BB, 37 K, 15% KBF

A new name on this list, Jesse Harper was a 21st-round pick out of Galveston Junior College in 2000, and is a strapping 6í4Ē, 205-lb native of Clute, Texas (pop. 9,577). Last season in Charleston, Harper produced this line: 6-5, 2.16, 21 G, 14 GS, 113 IP, 98 H, 25 BB, 97 K, 21% KBF. He didn't really dominate hitters with the strikeout at Low-A, which made me doubt he could succeed at higher levels. Well, so far at High-A, heís proving me wrong: despite a severely declining K/IP ratio (.86 last year, .65 so far in Ď03), Harper keeps succeeding. He still has several more baserunners than innings, though, and his KBF isn't great, so I think the league is going to jump up and bite him eventually. But he deserves some attention at the moment.

Kurt Keene, SS, 24
New Haven
75 AB, 8 R, .320/.341/.400, 4 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 0 SB
93 AB, 14 R, .366/.400/.516, 4 BB, 11 K, 2 HR, 1 SB

Kurt Keene deserves a quick mention. He hit .261/.330/.319 in 379 AB for Dunedin last season, posting a nicely symmetrical 39/39 BB/K ratio. He played middle infield, with 75% of his games at shortstop, making 21 errors. In 2003, he actually started in New Haven and held his own there, but was sent down to Dunedin a month ago. Here, heís been ripping up the league pretty good in limited action Ė you may remember him hitting for the cycle a few weeks back Ė and playing every infield position and in the outfield. So why doesnít he deserve more of a mention? Heíll be 25 in August. Behold the life of the organization man.

Justin Maureau, LHP, 22
0-2, 4.12 ERA, 9 G, 3 GS, 19 IP, 22 H, 9 BB, 15 K, 18% KBF

The Lone Lefty, Justin Maureau really wants to prove he can be more than a LOOGY with his terrific curveball. So far, heís not making a killer case for that. He was on the DL briefly and that cut his innings down, so thereís not enough data yet to draw any conclusions. Weíll check again in July.

Dustin McGowan, RHP, 21
4-5, 3.56, 11 G, 11 GS, 55 IP, 47 H, 20 BB, 51 K, 22% KBF

One brilliant outing from McGowan will likely as not be followed up with a sandblasting, and that can be a little maddening for a long-touted prospect. Still, letís keep our perspective: his 1.36 WHIP last year in Charleston has improved to a 1.22 WHIP a level higher in í03. Although heís no longer striking out more than a hitter an inning, he still has a very good KBF. This is a young front-line starter slowly coming into his own.

Vince Perkins, RHP, 21
2-0, 0.82, 2 G, 2 GS, 11 IP, 6 H, 6 BB, 8 K
3-1, 1.83, 8 G, 8 GS, 44 IP, 19 H, 22 BB, 60 K, 35% KBF

Hello. After incinerating the South Atlantic League and pouring Kokanee all over the ashes, B.C.ís own Vince Perkins isnít finding the Florida State League too much more of a challenge. Two starts donít tell you hardly anything, of course, and Vince has some twists ahead of him in the learning curve, but he has unquestionably thrust himself into the upper echelon of A-Ball pitching prospects (which, keep in mind, some folks believe arenít prospects at all). Heís still walking a batter every two innings, and that has to stop.

Jason Perry, OF/DH, 22
103 AB, 11 R, .291/.353/.437, 9 BB, 29 K, 10 2B, 1 HR

Perry struggled terribly in April, ending the month with a 640 OPS, but really turned it on in May (must have been following the Blue Jays). His power returned and he raised his batting average 78 points. But his walks have fallen well behind his strikeouts, which are still coming at the rate of more than 1 every 4 AB. He still has work to do, but a nice recovery is in progress for the organizationís sleeper positional prospect.

Chad Pleiness, RHP, 23
4-2, 2.12, 11 G, 11 GS, 59 IP, 45 H, 24 BB, 49 K, 19% KBF

Big Bad Chad is just a step behind his brethren in the Dunedin rotation. Heís reduced his hits allowed throughout a very successful May, but his strike-zone command is still a little wonky. Turn ten of those walks into strikeouts and youíve got David Bush. Of course, turn several of my personality quirks into feral attack characteristics and youíve got yourself a trial lawyer.

Charleston Alley-Cats
South Atlantic League (Low-A)

DJ Hanson, RHP, 22
2-5, 3.91, 9 G, 9 GS, 46 IP, 41 H, 21 BB, 42 K, 21% KBF

Still catching up from a raft of injuries earlier in his career, DJ has been pretty inconsistent, mixing fine performances with ugly spectacles. As usual, itís the walks that do him in. His .21 KBF is promising, at least. Still young, still worth tracking.

Brandon League, RHP, 20
2-3, 2.08, 60 IP, 49 H, 18 BB, 52 K, 21% KBF

The youngest player in Charleston is acquitting himself extremely well against older competition. Heís allowing fewer hits and striking out more hitters as the season progresses. He will not be rushed, especially since his mid-90s fastball will need good breaking complements at the next level. Brandon could end up as something special.

Miguel Negron, OF, 20
101 AB, 11 R, .317/.340/.446, 1 BB, 15 K, 1 HR, 4 SB, 2 CS

Yíall remember Miguel, right? Now that Alexis Rios has suddenly blossomed from suspect to prospect, Negron is trailing Kevin Witt comfortably in the Worst Jays First-Round Draft Pick Ever contest (admittedly, the competition is tough). Farm Director Dick Scott said of Negron that theyíve had to break down his entire approach at the plate and start from scratch. So far, not bad: heís hitting for average and power in one of the toughest pitchersí leagues around. What heís not doing, of course, is walking: one base on balls in 101 ABs. But as has been pointed out elsewhere, patience at the plate is a learnable skill. Negron is very young and has the very raw talent, so letís see what happens next. His 786 OPS leads the Alley-Cats in offence, which is why heís the only Charleston hitter listed here.

Sandy Nin, RHP, 22
3-2, 2.08, 56 IP, 50 H, 8 BB, 47 K, 21% KBF

Few pitchers in the Sally can match Ninís command of the strike zone, as heís walked just 3% of the batters heís faced (DJ Hanson has walked 11%, by contrast). Heís allowing one baserunner an inning and striking out almost a batter an inning; you canít ask for much more than that. He could be in Dunedin later this season. Gonna get crowded down there.

Adam Peterson, RHP, 24
2-4, 2.19, 24 IP, 15 H, 13 BB, 19 K, 19% KBF

Not terribly impressive, right? Well, cast your mind back to April 30, when Peterson had these numbers: 5.19 ERA, 8 IP, 9 H, 10 BB, 2 K. Between then and now, last yearís fourth-round draft pick has posted this line: 16 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 17 K, .26 KBF. Thatís a little more like it. Peterson turned 24 last month which, combined with his performance, is why heís just been promoted to Dunedin. Heíll probably continue to work out of the pen there.

Ismael Ramirez, RHP, 22
3-1, 1.99, 45 IP, 29 H, 12 BB, 27 K, 15% KBF

Heís interesting. Ramirez isnít making a lot of guys swing and miss Ė his KBF is well below the league average Ė but neither are they getting on base a heckuva lot. Ramirez has three pitches he can and does throw for strikes; nothing overpowering, but all of it effective. It would be silly to overlook these numbers, but I have a feeling heíll see a full year in Charleston before going any higher.