2004 Toronto Blue Jays Preview - Part Three

Friday, March 26 2004 @ 10:41 AM EST

Contributed by: Coach

Our 20,000-word "synopsis" concludes at last. Part One reflected on 2003, examined the front office and followed up on Craig's "Tosca in a Box" from last spring. Part Two counted down the 25-man roster, from most replaceable to most important player. So much for the past and the present; today is all about the future, which the late, great Dan Quisenberry assured us is much like the present, only longer.

For anyone not familiar with the Toronto organization, Syracuse is the AAA club, last year's AA affiliate was New Haven (it's now Manchester), the High-A team is Dunedin, Low-A is Charleston, and short-season Auburn is rated "above" Pulaski. For more on the fledgling Jays, see our depth chart and farm system links.

Though I do have personal favourites among these outstanding youngsters, when it comes to the minor leagues, I happily defer to our resident expert, Jordan Furlong. Take it away, "Gideon."


Iíve discovered something while compiling this list: I donít like ranking human beings. Iíve only ever made unranked lists of Blue Jays prospects before now; Iíd never actually ordered them in a hierarchy, and I can tell you that itís not a thrilling experience. Albums, movies, tourist destinations, volcanic eruptions: Iím happy to rank things in order of their excellence, ambience, and/or destructive capacity. But I get a little uncomfortable when I could be perceived as saying, "This person is better than that person."

This is an important point, and not just for the purposes of this article. Iím already more than a little cautious when making comments about Jays prospects, largely because those prospects, or their families, or coaches, or friends, or whomever, could be among the 2,500 or so people who visit Batterís Box every day and who know the player a hell of a lot better than I do. Yeah, itís tempting to be clever or witty in these articles, to dash off throwaway lines about how this reliever couldnít pitch a tent and this fielder couldnít catch a cold. But thatís thoughtless, arrogant, and more than a little cruel, and I donít like minor-league reviewers who do that. Even when I restrict my comments to a judgment of these playersí progress, their status, and their possible future as big-leaguers, I know that Iím treading on peopleís feelings and mucking around in their lives. For me, this is a hobby; for them, itís a career at worst and a dream at best.

So I wanted to begin this article by reiterating that this is my opinion and nothing more: itís not a value judgment or anything like that. If Player A is ranked higher or lower than Player B, thatís one guyís opinion, and let me tell you, a lot of these rankings are so affected by X-factors as to be considered almost arbitrary. Every person on this list, including the honourably mentioned, is a superb athlete with amazing skills: whether I put a 20 or a 40 in front of their name, based on the information available to me and my best efforts to analyze it, does nothing to change that. And rest assured, my opinion has zero effect on anyone in a position to make decisions regarding these players. Iím happy to receive questions about, or to take heat for, anything contained herein: I only ask that readers donít ascribe to me any motives or attitudes behind this article other than a sincere desire to provide Batterís Box readers with an update on and analysis of this organizationís best prospects.

Are we all cool with that? Excellent. Letís get started.

1. Alexis Rios, CF, 23
2003 New Haven
514 AB, .352/.401/.521, 86 R, 32 2B, 11 2B, 11 HR, 82 RBI, 39 BB, 85 K, 11 SB, 3 CS

What else is there to say? The consensus top prospect in Torontoís system evokes comparisons to Dave Winfield and Juan Gonzalez from even the more cautious minor-league prognosticators out there. All that was missing from Riosís game in 2003 at AA was home-run power: he took care of that in short order, cracking more homers in the short Puerto Rico League season than he did all year at New Haven. If he was rushed to the majors today, Rios would flash extra-base power and defensive gems, but would be overmatched by big-league pitching: one full year of Triple-A should remedy that and make him ready for a full-time role as the Blue Jaysí right fielder in 2005.

2. Dustin McGowan, RHP, 22
2003 New Haven
7-0, 3.17, 14 GS, 76 IP, 78 H, 19 BB, 72 K, 1 HR, 22.2% KBF
2003 Dunedin
5-6, 2.85, 14 GS, 75 IP, 62 H, 25 BB, 66 K, 1 HR, 21.0% KBF

If not for Rios, McGowan would top this and every other Jays prospect list. Owner of a mid-90s fastball and a power curve, McGowan spent 2003 adding a change-up to his repertoire and honing his command of all three offerings. As a result, heís almost major-league ready today: all he needs is repetition to help him find his groove. The occasional pounding at Triple-A wouldnít go astray either, to help graphically illustrate for a young player that even the best have bad days, and that they can get over them. The Jays want to start him at Manchester and bring him to Syracuse early this year, but I canít see any way of keeping McGowan out of a Toronto uniform before September.

3. Guillermo Quiroz, C, 22
2003 New Haven
369 AB, .282/.372/.518, 63 R, 27 2B, 0 3B, 20 HR, 79 RBI, 45 BB, 83 K

One of the top three catching prospects in all of baseball, Quiroz is a slugger whose best attributes are actually defensive. He has a mortar attached to his shoulder, gunning down more than 40% of baserunners from year to year; moreover, he handles his pitchers well (his English is excellent) and he shows quickness and smarts behind the dish. Offensively, his bat is loaded with home-run power, though holes in his swing will keep his average mired in the .250 range for a while yet. He needs a full season at Triple-A, and the Blue Jays are fine at catcher in 2004 anyway. Starting in 2005, Quiroz should be the full-time backstop in Toronto: the glove will arrive immediately, the bat a little later.

4. David Bush, RHP, 24
2003 New Haven
7-3, 2.78, 14 GS, 81 IP, 73 H, 19 BB, 73 K, 4 HR, 21.9% KBF
2003 Dunedin
7-3, 2.81, 14 GS, 77 IP, 64 H, 9 BB, 75 K, 6 HR, 24.1% KBF

From high school catcher to college closer to minor-league starter to elite prospect in less than two full professional seasons, David Bush looks like the best prospect in the system outside the Big Three. He doesnít have McGowanís heat, as his fastball instead hovers in the 90-mph range, to go along with a solid curve, slider and change. But Bushís command is unmatched: this guy could fire a golf ball through a donut hole from 50 paces. His career totals thus far (194 IP, 37 BB, 196 K) demonstrate that rare and valuable combination of strikeout power and finesse command. Because his raw stuff isnít as good, Bushís ceiling isnít as high: he profiles as a solid mid-rotation starter, but he should still be in Toronto around the same time as McGowan.

5. Gabe Gross, RF, 24
2003 Syracuse
182 AB, 22 R, .264/.380/.456, 16 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 31 BB, 56 K
2003 New Haven
310 AB, 52 R, .319/.423/.481, 23 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 52 BB, 53 K

There are only two things Gross needs to do to be a full-time major-league outfielder: add power and get comfortable against left-handers. The first is in progress, as Gross started whacking homers in a successful but brief stint with the US Olympic team in Arizona last fall. The second will take longer, as it does for almost all young left-handed hitters, but the Blue Jays will happily break him in slowly if need be. After a .319/.423/.481 line at New Haven and .264/.380/.456 production at Syracuse, Gross is rapidly approaching the end of his minor-league career. With the power expected soon, Toronto should have a young Trot Nixon or Paul OíNeill on its hands by April 2005.

6. Francisco Rosario, SP, 23
2003 Injured

Rosario could be third on this list; he could be 13th. As it is, this is his first appearance on any of my prospect lists Ė not because Iíd forgotten him and his fabulous breakout 2002 campaign, but because I saw little point rating a pitcher who has undergone serious arm surgery. But Rosario has come roaring back: from all accounts, his sizzling mid-90s fastball is intact and he hasnít lost the feel on his two changeups. If anything, heís come back bigger and stronger after his rehabilitation, better able to take the strain of pitching. Like all pitchers whose stuff has survived surgery, what Rosario really needs to regain is his command, which was not his strongest point to begin with. If he finds his strike-zone control in Manchester or Syracuse this summer, you could be looking at Torontoís version of Dontrelle Willis; as it stands, the likelier scenario is for a solid comeback campaign in the high minors and a Toronto debut in 2005.

7. Russ Adams, SS, 23
2003 New Haven
271 AB, .277/.349/.387, 42 R, 19 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 30 BB, 37 K, 8 SB, 1 CS
2003 Dunedin
258 AB, .279/.380/.388, 50 R, 9 2B, 5 3B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 38 BB, 27 K, 9 SB, 2 CS

Adams is followed on this list by the shortstop who followed him as number-one draft pick in 2003, Aaron Hill, and these two players are inextricably linked. Adams is the more natural shortstop, fluid and athletic and seemingly born with the instincts to play the position. Many scouts doubt his arm strength, especially on turf, but the Blue Jays think that concern is overrated. Offensively, Adams will hit .280+, walk 70+ times and steal 30+ bases a season wherever he plays; all heís missing is power, which will show up eventually but only in 10-15 HR quantities. He has ďleadoff manĒ written all over him, and I continue to predict that thatís the role heíll be playing in Toronto on Opening Day 2005.

8. Aaron Hill, SS, 22
2003 Dunedin
119 AB, .286/.343/.345, 26 R, 7 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 11 BB, 10 K, 1 SB, 0 CS
2003 Auburn
122 AB, .361/.446/.492, 22 R, 4 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 16 BB, 20 K, 1 SB, 1 CS

Yin to Adamsí yang, Aaron Hill is more fearsome offensively: one of the best collegiate hitters in the US in his final year, Hill has a whippet-quick bat and solid plate coverage. His power is emerging rapidly, and heíll be slamming 15-20 HRs a season within a year or two. Although his arm is stronger than Adamsís, Hill probably doesnít possess the dexterity or range to handle shortstop in the bigs: third or second base is a likelier destination. The two names Iíve heard most often mentioned for major-league comps for Hill are Jeff Kent and Bret Boone Ė exciting, to be sure, but those are both maximum upsides: Rich Aurilia is equally possible. Depending on how much power he develops over the next couple of years, Hill will either be a very useful part in the Blue Jaysí offensive machine, or one of its most valuable cogs.

9. Jason Arnold, SP, 24
2003 Syracuse
4-8, 4.33, 21 G, 20 GS, 120 IP, 121 H, 46 BB, 82 K, 16 HR, 15.7% KBF
2003 New Haven
3-1, 0.75, 6 G, 6 GS, 35 IP, 18 H, 11 BB, 33 K, 2 HR, 24.1% KBF

Arnoldís high placement on this list, relative to his disappointing second half of 2003, is predicated not just on his solid minor-league record, but also on his early spring-training showing. One should always distrust ST stats, of course, especially early in March, but the positive vibes on Arnold have nothing to do with his ERA and everything to do with his rediscovered effectiveness. By dropping his arm slot from over-the-top to a ĺ angle Ė much like Roy Halladay before him Ė Arnold has added speed and downward movement to his fastball and consistency to his changeup. JP Ricciardi, one of the best talent hounds in the business, has always thought highly of Arnold; with these adjustments, itís possible we may all soon see why.

10. Adam Peterson, RHP, 24
2003 New Haven
2-2, 9 Sv, 4.88, 24 G, 0 GS, 24 IP, 24 H, 7 BB, 24 K, 1 HR, 22.8% KBF
2003 Dunedin
1-0, 1 Sv, 0.71, 9 G, 0 GS, 12 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 13 K, 1 HR, 29.5% KBF
2003 Charleston
2-4, 1 Sv, 2.19, 10 G, 0 GS, 24 IP, 15 H, 13 BB, 19 K, 1 HR, 19.1% KBF

Some people will look at this list and scratch their heads that Arnold and Peterson are ranked ahead of Brandon League and Vince Perkins. I assure you I have no doubts about the ceilings of these latter two pitchers, which are as high as any hurlers in the Jaysí organization. This is just part of my own slight P bias: Performance and Proximity over Potential and Possibility. Arnold and Peterson have both had high-minors success and should both pitch for the Blue Jays sometime this season; if League and Perkins reach AA Manchester before September, it will be good news (more on them below). But Peterson has no shortage of tools himself: his diving mid-to-high-90s fastball is complemented by a slider thatís coming on strong and a nascent changeup. Mastering either of his two off-speed offerings will ensure that Peterson is part of the Toronto bullpen from this year forward. His weak spot is a lack of experience Ė he has only 93 professional innings under his belt Ė so it may take him most of the year in Syracuse before heís ready for prime time. But heís close.

11. Brandon League, RHP, 21
2003 Dunedin
4-3, 4.75, 13 G, 12 GS, 66 IP, 76 H, 20 BB, 34 K, 3 HR, 11.4% KBF
2003 Charleston
2-3, 1.91, 12 G, 12 GS, 70 IP, 58 H, 18 BB, 61 K, 1 HR, 22.0% KBF

Leagueís fastball is the organizationís best: a sizzling, twisting, high-90s heater that has cracked 100 on more than one occasion and is thrown from a low ĺ angle that gives it terrific movement. Unfortunately, he doesnít yet have too much else that he can rely on: he packages a low-90s slider, but he hasnít yet grasped control of it. Like Perkins, League dominated low-A batters, and was 18 months younger than his Canadian teammate to boot. But he was knocked around upon promotion to the Florida State League. His strikeout totals are remarkably low for someone with such amazing stuff. But League is young Ė he just turned 21 in spring training Ė and his upside is tremendous. If and when he masters that slider or another breaking ball, heís going to rocket through this system.

12. Josh Banks, RHP, 21
2003 Auburn
7-2, 2.43, 15 GS, 66 IP, 58 H, 10 BB, 81 K, 1 HR, 30.6% KBF

David Bush Jr. The parallels between the two are remarkable: both were second-round draft picks who might have been first-rounders had injury histories perhaps not played a role (blood clots for Bush, blisters and an elbow ligament for Banks). Both have fastballs that hover around 90, complemented by above-average breaking pitches (a curve for Bush, a slider for Banks) and two other offerings. Both have excellent control, though itís no insult to Banks to say Bushís is superior. Both are intelligent pitchers who share with Jason Arnold excellent makeup and mound smarts. Banks might be somewhat ahead of Bush at the same stage: heís 2 Ĺ years younger and has been a starter for longer, plus he has slightly more power in his repertoire. Expect a strong performance at Dunedin, with perhaps a mid- or late-season promotion to Manchester. Like Bush, heís on the express train.

13. Vince Perkins, RHP, 22
2003 Dunedin
7-6, 2.45, 18 G, 17 GS, 84 IP, 58 H, 53 BB, 69 K, 1 HR, 19.6% KBF
3-1, 1.83, 8 GS, 8 GS, 44 IP, 19 H, 22 BB, 60 K, 1 HR, 35.7% KBF

In truth, thereís very little separating #7 Russ Adams from #13 Vince Perkins: this group of seven prospects represent a tier below the Big Six and above the rest of the farm system. Perkins, like League, has a blistering fastball, though his seems to top out in the 97 mph range, along with a power slider thatís well ahead of Leagueís. His issue is overall command. Even when he was utterly dominant in the Sally League, Perkins was still walking a batter every two innings; when he got to Dunedin, that worsened considerably (53 BB in 84 IP) and his Kís dropped; significantly, though, the batters still couldnít touch him (just 77 hits allowed in 128 frames). Perkinsí raw stuff is tremendous; his greater problem lies in his mechanics. At 6í 5Ē, 220 lbs, Perkins has some trouble throwing smoothly and consistently. If he masters his delivery and starts putting those pitches where he wants them, youíll see his name in the top five next year.

14. John-Ford Griffin, LF, 24
2003 New Haven
373 AB, .279/.361/.461, 48 R, 23 2B, 3 3B, 13 HR, 75 RBI, 49 BB, 85 K

At this point, we hit The Best of the Rest, and these capsules are going to be become a little smaller. Griffin has been hurt by the injury bug, most recently the fractured foot that cut his 2003 season short. His bat is his ticket to the majors: itís smooth, quick and itís adding power. Unfortunately, Griffin doesnít appear to be a great a defender and hasnít much speed, which means he projects as a major-league first baseman or DH, perhaps a left fielder. If heís sliding down the defensive spectrum, his hitting has to compensate, and that means the power has to come soon. Heíll be 25 in May, so itís make or break time. For the record, I think heíll make it.

15. Tyrell Godwin, OF, 24
2003 New Haven
123 AB, .309/.328/.431, 38 R, 6 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 3 BB, 27 K, 6 SB, 1 CS
2003 Dunedin
322 AB, .273/.348/.332, 52 R, 16 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 33 RBI, 29 BB, 39 K, 20 SB, 7 CS

He finally stayed healthy for a full season, which was Item One on his agenda. Item Two was to add some more power, though, and that oneís still on the to-do list. Godwinís fast, he can hit .300 and heís a fine defender, but his walk totals, never his strongest suit, fell off the face of the earth after his promotion to AA (3/27 BB/K rate in 123 AB). Heíll probably never be a walk machine, so he needs to develop some extra-base power in order to have Doug Glanvilleís career.

16. Jesse Harper, RHP, 23
2003 Dunedin
13-4, 2.54, 26 G, 24 GS, 131 IP, 112 H, 31 BB, 100 K, 4 HR, 18.8% KBF

I described Harper in one of my monthly farm reports last year as being just this side of intriguing, and I stand by that. His raw tools arenít in the same class as any of the other pitchers in the top 30: a fastball that touches 90, supported by a slider, change-up and split-finger. But hitters canít figure him out, his command is very good and he records just enough strikeouts to keep batters honest. A high-school draft pick, Harper is generally believed to be able to add another couple of mph to his fastball. I have a good feeling about this guy.

17. Vito Chiaravalloti, 1B, 23
2003 Auburn
228 AB, .351/.469/.605, 47 R, 29 2B, 1 3B, 12 HR, 67 RBI, 47 BB, 48 K

Okay, granted heís not very Proximate, but you canít argue with the Performance. Chiaravalottiís Triple Crown season at Auburn was impressive, and his combination of batting average, power and patience is beguiling. Herewith, the caveats: he was old for the league, short-season low-A ball is the farthest thing from an acid test, and heís not gifted defensively. If he can rip up the Florida State League at even a fraction of what he did to the NY-Penn League, however, heíll be on his way. Very intriguing until proven otherwise.

18. Kurt Isenberg, LHP, 22
2003 Auburn
7-2, 1.63, 13 GS, 60 IP, 40 H, 19 BB, 57 K, 1 HR, 23.3% KBF

With Dave Gassnerís trade to Minnesota (good luck, Dave, from one of your Toronto rooters!), there is now no doubt that Isenberg is the best left-handed pitching prospect in the organization. If that sounds like faint praise considering his ranking, itís not meant to be: heís still learning the art of pitching, and his 90-mph heater has some more mph to come. His change-up is above average and his curve is progressing nicely. The NY-Penn League was no match for him: watch his performance at Dunedin to see how fast heíll come.

19. Jamie Vermilyea, RHP, 22
2003 Dunedin
0-2, 2 Sv, 2.49, 9 G, 0 GS, 21 IP, 21 H, 2 BB, 25 K, 1 HR, 29.0% KBF
2003 Auburn
5-1, 0 Sv, 2.37, 9 G, 2 GS, 30 IP, 22 H, 5 BB, 53 K, 0 HR, 44.5% KBF

Yes, I believe. Vermilyea pitched like a first-rounder, not a ninth-rounder, at Auburn and Dunedin last season, posting simply ridiculous numbers. His fastball is not overwhelming, rarely breaking 90 mph, but like Brandon Leagueís, it comes from a low ĺ angle with tremendous movement, and itís complemented by a very good slider and a more than acceptable split-finger. He barely broke a sweat in the Florida State League; if he stays in the bullpen, he could be in Toronto as early as next summer.

20. Jorge Sequea, 2B, 23
2003 Syracuse
271 AB, .255/.341/.373, 15 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 30 BB, 45 K, 7 SB, 5 CS
2003 New Haven
111 AB, .342/.400/.459, 7 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 11 BB, 21 K, 0 SB, 4 CS

Itís amazing what you can find in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. This former Tiger farmhand tore up the Eastern League before a mid-season promotion to Syracuse, where he showed solid extra-base power and maintained a decent batting eye. He projects as a utility infielder in the majors, but his defence is best at second base. If Dave Berg gets hurt and Howie Clark canít answer the call, Sequea could begin a profitable career as a backup infielder as soon as this season.

21. Davis Romero, LHP, 21
2003 Auburn
4-1, 2.38, 30 G, 0 GS, 41 IP, 31 H, 8 BB, 53 K

Check out this four-year line: 176 IP, 130 H, 48 BB, 259 K. And Romero just turned 21 on Sunday. Heís been pitching in rookie leagues most of his brief career, but even in short-season ball, no oneís touching him. Watch him very closely.

22. Shaun Marcum, RHP, 22
2003 Auburn
1-0, 8 Sv, 1.32, 21 G, 0 GS, 34 IP, 15 H, 7 BB, 47 K, 1 HR, 37.9% KBF

Used as a reliever in his pro debut, Marcum threw only 34 innings at Auburn, but showed off a low-90s fastball and a tremendous slider; a two-way player in college, heís still new to the mound. He and Vermilyea could be racing to the majors.

23. Rodney Medina, OF, 22
2003 Charleston
452 AB, .283/.349/.442, 23 2B, 8 3B, 11 HR, 45 RBI, 45 BB, 44 K, 6 SB, 4 CS

Sleeper. Medina is still young, but he posted very strong numbers in maybe the toughest hittersí league in the minors. He can hit, he has excellent plate discipline, he has extra-base power thatís slowly translating into home-run power, and he can run. The Jays might consider moving him up to Manchester; if not, watch him at Dunedin.

24. Ryan Roberts, 3B, 23
2003 Auburn
248 AB, .278/.374/.440, 52 R, 10 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 35 BB, 63 K, 7 SB, 3 CS

Sleeper Part Deux. Itís not just that he ripped the cover off the ball as part of Rampaging Doubledays, showing power and patience to spare, but heís also a tremendous defensive third baseman, something the incumbent in Toronto is not. Dunedin ought to be in his immediate future.

25. Tom Mastny, RHP, 23
2003 Auburn
8-0, 2.26, 14 GS, 63 IP, 56 H, 12 BB, 68 K, 1 HR, 27.0% KBF

The winningest pitcher on the Doubledays didnít show the sort of dominance that many of his mound mates did in 2003; maybe it was small sample size, maybe itís that his stuff (low-90s fastball and big curve) isnít as dominant. We shall see.

26. Jason Waugh, OF, 24
2003 Dunedin
286 AB, .273/.344/.409, 32 R, 14 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 32 BB, 61 K 0 SB, 5 CS
2003 Charleston
139 AB, .209/.262/.295, 18 R, 7 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 10 BB, 30 K, 2 SB, 0 CS

I like him. He has power, he can draw a walk, and he just needs to hit safely with more consistency. If Rodney Medina is a sleeper, Waughís in REM. Heís just a little old, is all. Iíd sure like to see him at Manchester.

27. Justin James, RHP, 22
2003 Auburn
2-1, 3.20, 13 G, 8 GS, 39 IP, 34 H, 11 BB, 42 K, 2 HR, 26.4% KBF

Another outstanding Auburn reliever, James shows a low-90s fastball and an excellent changeup, and is working on a curve. Itís not clear whether heíll be used as a starter or a reliever; his command could use a little work.

28. Justin Maureau, LHP, 23
2003 Dunedin
3-4, 4.84, 38 G, 3 GS, 48 IP, 55 H, 28 BB, 35 K, 0 HR, 15.4% KBF

I havenít forgotten the 2002 guys. Maureau had injury problems last year and wasnít effective. Heíll get another chance to show off his outstanding southpaw curve. Donít write off any of these next three guys yet.

29. Dominic Rich, 2B, 24
2003 New Haven
390 AB, .259/.326/.349, 49 R, 22 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 46 RBI, 30 BB, 48 K, 1 SB, 4 CS

A long way to fall; Rich doesnít appear on other Jays prospects lists anymore. His outstanding 2001 season at Dunedin looks more like an outlier every day, but it did happen. Heíll be given another crack this year at Manchester, but time may be running short.

30. Chad Pleiness, RHP, 24
2003 Dunedin
7-8, 3.41, 25 G, 24 GS, 129 IP, 124 H, 60 BB, 89 K, 9 HR, 9 HB, 15 WP, 15.8% KBF

Another forgotten member of the Class of 2002. When you feel too excited about the dominant Blue Jays Draft Class of 2003, remember Maureau and Pleiness, whose questionable peripherals in a solid 2002 foreshadowed his difficulties in 2003. A huge man, he has many of the same mechanical challenges as Vince Perkins, with less powerful stuff. Heíll try again.

31. Jayce Tingler, OF, 23
Pulaski 2003
223 AB, .287/.416/.368, 49 R, 13 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 23 RBI, 46 BB, 14 K, 6 SB, 2 CS

I wanted to rank him higher. Phenomenal bat control and strike-zone judgment, good speed, fantastic hustle, great defence and from all accounts a leader in training. If he can make it to the majors, heíll be a huge fan favourite. But he needs to show success at higher levels.

32. Carlo Cota, 2B/3B, 23
2003 Auburn
169 AB, .320/.416/.521, 31 R, 13 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 27 BB, 45 K, 3 SB, 2 CS

Cota was second only to Big Vito in the Doubledays offensive parade, showing a great batting eye and late-blooming power. Heís played both second and third, but the former seems his likelier position. Keep an eye on him.

33. Jordan DeJong, RHP, 24
2003 New Haven
4-5, 1 Sv, 3.58, 27 G, 0 GS, 27 IP, 27 H, 17 BB, 29 K, 0 HR, 23.3% KBF
2003 Dunedin
2-3, 17 Sv, 2.79, 28 G, 0 GS, 29 IP, 23 H, 18 BB, 30 K, 2 HR, 23.3% KBF

I canít believe I have him this low on the list, but DeJong stalled out mightily last year. He has four pretty good pitches, but he has to command them. Cross your fingers and hope for a rebound.

34. Chi-Hung Cheng, LHP, 18
2003 Pitched in Taiwan

The youngest player by far in the Blue Jaysí system, Cheng was signed as a free agent from Taiwan after impressing team officials with a solid breaking ball and a developing change. His fastball is only in the mid-80s yet, but that will improve with age and growth. Heís starting at Charleston, quite a leap for a teenager. Put him on long-term radar.

35. Bubbie Buzachero, RHP, 22
2003 Auburn
1-1, 13 Sv, 1.54, 30 G, 0 GS, 35 IP, 25 H, 7 BB, 47 K, 1 HR, 34.5% KBF

After struggling in his pro debut in Medicine Hat in 2002, Edward broke through with a smashing 2003 season at Auburn. His repertoire consists of a hard fastball and sharp curve, but I donít have much more info than that. Another live bullpen arm for consideration.

36. Robinson Diaz, C, 20
2003 Pulaski
182 AB, .374/.407/.522, 33 R, 20 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 44 RBI, 10 BB, 14 K

Someone else whoíd be ranked higher had he debuted elsewhere than at Pulaski. He can sure handle a bat, his power is coming on and he controls the strike zone pretty well; defensively, the strong arm is in place, the rest should follow. Outside of Quiroz, maybe the best of the Jaysí many catching prospects.

37. Juan Peralta, SS/2B, 20
2003 Auburn
288 AB, .247/.346/.333, 62 R, 14 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 43 BB, 50 K, 14 SB, 7 CS

If not for the .247 average, heíd be much higher. As it stands, the extra-base power and the amazing batting eye make Peralta a very intriguing prospect, especially at his age. If he cuts down on his Ks and raises his average, look out.

38. Nick Thomas, OF/1B, 21
2003 Pulaski
186 AB, .290/.389/.489, 36 R, 14 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 30 BB, 47 K

Vito Chiaravalotti Lite. He has the power and the patience and he can hit for average too, but heís not renowned for his glove. Heís one of the youngest position players in the system, so he has time to move up.

39. Edward Rodriguez, RHP, 19
2003 Dominican Summer League
8-1, 0.52, 11 G, 11 GS, 68 IP, 50 H, 26 BB, 66 K, 24.0% KBF

The most promising of the Jaysí prospects in the Dominican Summer League, Rodriguezís fastball is already in the low 90s and heís working on a couple of breaking pitches. Heís still growing, and heíll throw soon be throwing harder. I like ERAs that begin with zero.

40. Miguel Negron, OF, 22
2003 Charleston
109 AB, .303/.330/.422, 13 R, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 16 K, 6 SB, 2 CS

A season-ending injury might have ended his tenure in Toronto as well; the raw potential still exists, but Negron is a six-year free agent and another club might still take him on. If he stays in Toronto, hope for continued progress in harnessing his considerable talent.

Honourable Mention

I like all of these guys; I just couldnít find a way to rank them ahead of the 40 players above them. Any one of them could become an impact prospect.

Amos Day, RHP
Jeremy Harper, RHP
Maikel Jova, OF
Chris Leonard, LHP
Derrick Nunley, RHP
Ismael Ramirez, RHP
Joey Reiman, C
Brian Reed, RHP
Felix Romero, RHP
Tracy Thorpe, RHP
Tim Whittaker, C
Joey Wolfe, C

Wow. Thanks, Jordan. I must point out that the above list is "only" prospects, so it doesn't include the veteran AAA talent (Vinny Chulk, Mike Smith, Chad Hermansen...) available to help out the big club in an emergency. Unlike their principal rivals, organizational depth will definitely not be a problem for the Jays in 2004, or the foreseeable future. In fact, with another draft like the last two, there may not be room for all the talent in the system, which could lead to some interesting trades.


What should Jays fans expect in 2004? Entertainment. Excitement. Maybe even a pennant race. To make the playoffs, almost everything has to go right ó in particular, Halladay, Wells, Delgado and Batista must stay healthy ó and at least one of the Beasts of the East must falter. It could happen; already, the Yankees have had a serious scare with Gary Sheffield's sore thumb, and their rotation has question marks. The Red Sox may open the season with a limping Nomar Garciaparra, an aching Byung-Hyun Kim and an absent Trot Nixon.

A fast start would be nice, for a change. I believe the Jays can take five of six from the Tigers in April, four of six against the Orioles, and split with Boston. Anything less than a 13-10 first month would be disappointing, and 15-8 isn't impossible. The schedule is generally favourable for the first half of the season, possibly excepting a mid-June week in San Diego and San Francisco, playing late at night, without the DH ó 2-4 on that trip would be acceptable, and a split would be great. Otherwise, I expect them to win a lot more series than they lose.

You'll have to wait until July 21, the third series after the break, to see the Jays take on the Yankees. Then they play nine times in less than three weeks. The middle three are in Toronto; get your tickets early for July 26, 27 and 28. There's also a critical four-game set at SkyDome August 26-29, and the Bronx Bombers visit again on the final weekend of the season, October 1-3. Those games just might have playoff implications; youneverknow.

We'll find out once and for all if Chris Woodward can be a regular big league shortstop, and if Eric Hinske can become more polished at third. We'll see if Kevin Cash can hit at this level; if everyone is patient with a slow start, he'll improve in the second half. Orlando Hudson will perform his unique acrobatics in the vicinity of second base, and will have his best season yet with the bat. The SkyDome crowds will become larger and more enthusiastic; Pat Hentgen will lead the team in spontaneous ovations, and Miguel Batista will soon be almost as popular.

At some point, the influx of impressive young talent from the minors will begin. That could be early in the season, if the injury bug bites any of the regulars. It might be at the trade deadline, with a veteran or two being moved to make room for someone tearing up AAA. Certainly, there will be some significant September callups. Will McGowan and Rios become this season's Willis and Cabrera? I can't wait to find out.

We'll learn whether Carlos Tosca's twitchy bullpen management was simply his way of playing a poor hand. I don't propose to "prove" how many runs or wins the new relief corps will be worth, nor will I attempt to measure the intangible aspects, like team confidence, that a reliable bullpen can influence. The 'pen is vastly improved; only the season will tell us if it's mightier than the swords in those Boston and New York lineups.

Roy Halladay is a perennial Cy Young contender. Sooner or later, more Torontonians will realize how lucky we are to have him for the next four years, and there will be sellouts for all Doc's starts. Whether or not it's Carlos Delgado's final season as a Blue Jay, he will be exactly the same player ó "the man" every day; an awesome offensive force when he's in that special zone. Vernon Wells will continue to evolve as a triple threat, combining offence, defence and leadership. There will be no cliques or personality clashes in one of sport's most harmonious clubhouses.

Now I'm supposed to make a prediction. Don't take my prognostications too seriously; I'm a notorious cheerleader, and was way off in 2003 (thanks, Cory) with my 89-73 guess. As much as I'd like to say 97 wins and the wild card, and as blissful as that would make me, it's too ambitious by a year, maybe two. Instead, we may have to settle for 91-71, and third place in the East for (sigh) the seventh year in a row.

I will make one guarantee ó this is the best Blue Jays team since the World Champs in 1993. Enjoy it.