Top 30 Prospects Update

Wednesday, June 01 2005 @ 11:30 AM EDT

Contributed by: Gerry

The minor league season is approximately one third complete. The half way point will come soon after the draft, a busy time for minor league followers, so this is a good time to have a quick look at how the Jays top prospects are doing. The starting point was Baseball America's top 30 list, Russ Adams and Gustavo Chacin have been excluded, leaving 28 prospects to review. Da Box's Jordan, Mike Green, Rob and yours truly have combined to deliver our report cards on the Jays top prospects.

There is one question to ask. Has the player improved, stayed at the same level, or regressed, in their prospect status? There are three possible answers, Improve, Flat, or Regress. On with the show...


#2 Aaron Hill

Gerry: Hill has been moved up aggressively by the Jays and he has hit at every level. His 2005 numbers continue the hitting trend, but this year Hill has not walked much Hill's K numbers are also low meaning he is finding pitches to hit. Hill is somewhat like Shea Hillenbrand, he likes a lot of the pitches he sees and is such a good hitter he can hit many of them. Hill is now in a major league fill-in role and is doing well on his first trip through the league. Improve

Jordan: Hill's up a little sooner than I would have expected, but as he's been showing since he arrived, his bat was never in question. In retrospect, Hill was a better choice to promote than John-Ford Griffin -- it gives Hill a chance to learn a new position (albeit on a crash course). Naturally, the hot start will soon end and we'll see pitchers busting him inside and feeding him junk to see what he does. I think he'll react well. And I don't think he's going to see Syracuse again.

Rob: I have to say, Hill's performance in Toronto doesn't change my opinion of him. He's walking less and hitting the ball with more power than he did last year in New Hampshire -- a classic case of Shane Spencer Syndrome if there ever was one. In fact, Hill could hit .200 this year and I wouldn't be overly worried. His bat is somewhat projectable; it's his defense I want to see in action. His value to this team would skyrocket if he could play a passable (read: better than Chris Woodward) shortstop. I agree with Jordan that Hill's Syracuse days are done, but I also thought the same about Dave Bush last October.

Mike: Adams' defensive play has convinced me that Hill's future is as a third baseman. Subjectively, I think he's going to be a star. He really has not improved over the past year, but has simply carried on his fine double A performance at higher levels. I made him the Jay #1 prospect (far ahead of League) at the end of last year, so it's not an insult to say that his status is flat.

#3 Guillermo Quiroz

Gerry: Quiroz has not played this year. His latest injuries are troublesome as he now carries the "injury prone" tag. Quiroz will need a strong twelve injury-free months to get his reputation back. Regress

Jordan: Famed umpire Ron Luciano once said: "One injury is an accident. Two injuries is a shame. Three injuries is a message." The "injury-prone" tag might not be inaccurate. I have great respect for GQ and his resiliency -- a collapsed lung is scary and nasty -- but it's possible to be both tough and injury-prone. Quiroz is still young, but you have to think he's becoming more Plan B than Plan A for the Jays right now.

Rob: Pure disappointment here. Quiroz looked like a star (especially defensively) in my limited exposure to him last August and again with Toronto in September.

Mike: The recurring lung problems are disheartening, but I haven't written off Quiroz. He hit well in the spring, and I really don't question his ability. He is only 23 years old. Catchers commonly have different career paths from other position players, and I still expect to see Quiroz in a major league uniform in 2006. Still, you'd have to say regress.

#11 Gabe Gross

Gerry: The AAA season has been very disappointing for Gross. At age 25 Gross should be hitting the cover off the ball at AAA, instead his average and power have been off. You could say that April was a write off as he was depressed about being back in AAA, but there are no excuses for May. If Gross does not start hitting soon the Jays may leave him out of their plans for 2006. Regress

Jordan: I have to say, I think Gross is out of the Jays' plans already. JP appears to make quick assessments of young players, and when Gross hit .200 last fall and JP signed Frank Catalanotto to a two-year contract shortly thereafter, the message couldn't have been clearer. I think Gross is going to be dealt as part of a package for an outfielder between now and the end of the season. If the Jays do give up on him, I think he's going to make them regret it.

Rob: Ah, what might have been. If Gross was able to play the outfield last May, he certainly would have gotten the call over the then-struggling-with-AAA-pitching Alex Rios and...well, who knows? I didn't think it was possible for Gross to put up worse numbers in Syracuse in 2005 than his MLB line in 2004, but there you go.

Mike: The mark of Gross' collegiate and minor league career has been inconsistency, periods or seasons of greatness followed by periods of ineptitude. This year has continued the pattern in spades, as Gross shone bright in spring training with 8 homers and then was not given much of a shot at the start of the season. I agree with Jordan that he's likely to be traded shortly, and that you'd have to say that he's regressed.

#12 Yuber Rodriguez

Gerry: Rodriguez was a "tools" selection at number 12, with the caveat that he needed to work on his plate discipline. The tool Rodriguez needs to work on now is hitting for average, as he has flirted with .200 all season. Yuber is still young, 21 years old, but he needs his skills to "click-in". He still has time but the slow start is not a good sign. Regress

Jordan: At this point, Rodriguez most resembles Miguel Negron, a young and raw defensive wizard with explosive but latent offensive potential. Negron hasn't developed as well as Alex Rios did (and Rios hasn't exactly burst onto the big-league scene himself). There's a school of thought that says you can't teach pitch selection and plate discipline: either a player has it or he doesn't. Certainly, the Jays haven't turned too many toolsy prospects into all-around offensive performers. I'm in the Skeptics' Section on Rodriguez.

Rob: Y-Rod will start hitting for some power soon enough. Other than that, there's no way to take a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .187 batting average in a positive way. Miguel Negron is a very good comparison, though Negron never came close to a .500 slugging average.

#15 Curtis Thigpen

Gerry: Thigpen just turned 22 and was a second round selection last year. Thigpen is at Lansing and would have been expected to jump to Dunedin mid season but he is just short of putting up enough numbers to force his way there. A few times this year it looked like he had a chance to get to a .300 BA, but each time he fell back to the .270's or .280's. It can be tough on a catcher to work on his offense but thats often what separates the good from the average. Flat

Jordan: Thigpen's bat has been coming around lately, but nothing I've heard indicates he's going to be a major-league-calibre catcher. The Jays have to hope he develops into another Aaron Hill, a valuable multi-position player with a solid bat. One of the drawbacks to drafting in the middle-to-late parts of each round and concentrating on college players is that the hitters you find most often look like this: jacks of all trades, not All-Stars.

Rob: He just needs to find his power stroke and Thigpen will be fine offensively. If he can't play shortstop, centre field or catcher, he better be able to fake it at second or third; there are a number of corner infielders and outfielders ahead of him in this organization.

Mike: Thigpen has struggled defensively in Lansing, but he continues to hit. Good organizations place players in a position to succeed. I would advise moving Thigpen to a defensive position that he could handle easily, even if that was leftfield. Flat is charitable.

#17 Adam Lind

Gerry: Lind started hot and was hitting close to .400 after a couple of weeks. But then the pitchers adjusted and his average slipped under .300, but recently he has moved it back over .300 again. These numbers are good for the pitching heavy FSL, a good start to Lind's second season. Improve

Jordan: There are so few legitimate hitting prospects in the Jays' system that it would be easy to get over-excited about Lind's potential. Certainly, his cold May following on a hot April threw a wet blanket on the enthusiasm (stoked by me, among others) that he could see New Hampshire by mid-season. For all that, though, Lind is a legitimate hitting prospect, and I think he'll add home run power in the next 12 months. He's on the rise.

Rob: Very nice start from Lind. If he keeps this up, he'll see New Hampshire when the organization makes its annual June callups. Though, seeing how the Fisher Cats are hitting, maybe he won't want to travel to Manchester any time soon.

Mike: Lind will hit. The issue with him is also defensive position. He's stretched in left field, but will be fine at first base. There you go: Thigpen to left, Lind to first, Clint Johnson to New Hampshire where they really need a bat or four. Skipping a level and continuing to hit at a young age as Lind has done merits an improve.

#18 Robinzon Diaz

Gerry: Diaz was another slow starter but has picked it up recently. Diaz is another youngster, 21 years old, and as such he is hitting well for the FSL. Diaz still does not walk or strikeout much but he gets the bat on the ball. If he continues to improve Diaz could really move up the rankings. Improve

Jordan: Diaz is funny in that, for a catcher, he's not associated with any of the traditional catching skills: power, defensive prowess, and plate discipline. Instead, Diaz sprays the ball all over the place and runs surprisingly well. For that reason, I'm not convinced Diaz's future is behind the plate. But he's still remarkably young and is holding his own in a tough circuit. There's real potential here.

#20 Raul Tablado

Gerry: After a breakout 2004, Tablado has had trouble adjusting to AA. Tablado, Negron, Vito and Davenport, will have to get their batting averages up to the .280 range to be considered as moving ahead, for now he is not. Regress

Jordan: How do you like a 2/29 BB/K ratio in 90+ at-bats? That's what Tablado accomplished in May. There are falling stars, and there are meteors. Right now, Tablado is a meteor, and if he doesn't pull out of this nosedive soon, he's going to leave quite a crater.

Rob: It must be really, really cold in New Hampshire these days. Either that or the new ballpark is a modern-day Colt Stadium.

#23 Miguel Negron

Gerry: See Tablado. Regress

Jordan: Sometimes I look at Negron and think of DeWayne Wise, a toolsy guy who plays a fabulous outfield and has only a passing acquaintance with being a baserunner. If Negron doesn't pick up the pace, he could still be a defensive replacement for a big-league ballclub that needs an 8th-inning glove. That's not terrible, but it's not what you hope for from a first-rounder, even a bargain pick. Negron made slight progress last month, so there's still some hope.

#25 John-Ford Griffin

Gerry: Although Griffin had a poor 2004 his numbers improved as the year went along. In the last two months Griffin hit .275 and slugged almost .500. In 2005 Griffin is producing similar numbers, and although he is still not a sure fire major leaguer he has progressed to where he should make it, whereas last year he looked to have topped out. Improve

Jordan: Is Griffin wearing Brian Roberts' contact lenses? Something has turned this young man around, and not a moment too soon. Aaron Hill turned out to be a terrific replacement for Corey Koskie, but Griffin would have been a fine choice as well. I now no longer doubt he'll have a role in the big leagues, even if only as a platoon first baseman or dangerous pinch-hitter, and maybe more. Tempting as it is to write off a prospect as a failure, one of the lessons Griffin has for us is: never rule out anyone who still wears a uniform.

Rob: Griffin looks more like the player who hit over .400 twice in college and less like the player who hit .248 in Double-A. This is good, and I think it's for real.

Mike: Griffin struggled mightily against lefties in 2004. He has done a little better this year. He is ready for a major league platoon role any time, and I agree that he has improved.

#26 Eric Crozier

Gerry: Crozier is now gone from the Jays system, but while he was here he was but a shadow of his 2004 self. 2004 proved that Crozier could perform well at AAA so 2005's production is a sign that his swing is out of synch. Regress

Jordan: It's tough to judge Crozier on his own merits because of the baggage he arrived with, "traded for Josh Phelps." As Gerry notes, the man can hit, but for some reason he just fell apart at Syracuse. Maybe Griffin stole his mojo. That the Yankees took a gamble on him says a lot about the Yankees' system right now. That the original trade is considered a saw-off says a lot about the fall of Josh Phelps.

Rob: That trade worked out well for both sides, eh? Josh Phelps is having a decent year in St. Petersburg, for what it's worth. He's hitting great against righties and bad against lefties, which is either a lesson in sample size or an example of the uselessness of platoon splits.

#27 Ron Davenport

Gerry: See Tablado. Regress

Jordan: There were reasons to doubt that Davenport's breakout in Dunedin last year was legit -- it was his third trip through the Florida State League. Still, he impressed Dick Scott last year, and that's not easy. I think he'll pick it up in the second half for the offence-starved Fisher Cats.

#28 John Hattig

Gerry: Hattig was on the DL for the first six weeks of the season and needs more at-bats before we can see how he adapts to AAA pitching. Flat

Jordan: Incomplete.

#29 Jason Alfaro

Gerry: Although Alfaro was picked up as a minor league free agent by the Blue Jays, Baseball America thought enough of him to include him on their list at #29. Alfaro has not hit as well as he has the last two seasons, or as well as the Jays expected. Regress

Jordan: BA and I disagreed at several points of our respective Top 30s, but one glaring difference is that I never even considered putting Alfaro on my list. Don't get me wrong, he's a fine AAA player with a tremendous arm, but I just don't see how you consider him a prospect. Then again, I left Zach Jackson off my list, so what do I know?

Rob: Don't get me wrong, I like Alfaro, but he's 27 and I don't consider him a prospect. I was an advocate of keeping him as the backup infielder out of Spring Training, which is something I wouldn't do with a player who needed the playing time, like Gross or Hill. His start to this season doesn't help matters, and neither does the fact that he entered 2005 behind four SkyChiefs on the infield depth chart and five SkyChiefs in the outfield.

Hitter's Summary

The totals are in, and they don't look pretty. Fourteen hitters and the majority have regressed. The exceptions are Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, John Ford Griffin and Robinzon Diaz who have improved, and Curtis Thigpen and John Hattig who are flat.


#1 Brandon League

Gerry: League has gone from the joy of being an opening day major leaguer, to the pain of a 6.00 ERA at AAA. League's problem is location, he has the "stuff", he just needs to know where to put it. One could argue that League has regressed, a #1 prospect should not be being hit around at AAA, but we know from 2004 that League can get control, he has lost it for a while. League is also just 22 years old, and has time to find his groove, but until he shows signs that he can find it, I will go with a regressed rating. Regressed

Jordan: Gustavo Chacin succeeded where Adam Peterson and Brandon League failed: sticking with the big-league club after jumping directly from AA. The fact that Chacin spent four years in the Eastern League, while Peterson and League spent four months there, is probably not coincidental. Unlike Peterson, at least, League doesn't appear to be imploding under the weight of his increasingly poor performances, and is holding up well for such a young player. I think he'll bounce back by season's end, though I don't see him as a starter in Toronto. I wish the organization wouldn't make things more difficult than they need to be for their most prized arms.

Mike: I think that League will be the Jay set-up man in 2006, and the closer in 2007, but for now, I'd have to say that temporarily he has regressed.

#4 Francisco Rosario

Gerry: The Jays sent Rosario to AAA to start the season, the move seemed a little aggressive as Rosario had only limited time in AA last year. Rosario has pitched well in AAA and opponents are hitting under .200 against him. Rosario needs time in AAA to improve his control, he walks a few too many and the hit batters and wild pitches add up, but May has been better than April, and if June is better than May, the Jays will have to seriously think about giving him a look. Improve

Jordan: I actually think Rosario has pitched better than his stats indicate: I think 60-70% of his innings have been superb and 20-30% have been horrific. For a guy making his Triple-A debut, that's not bad at all. He's missing bats, and it's hard to overestimate the importance of that. By the end of the year, Rosario should be converting about 2-3 walks a game into strikeouts, and that'll be his ticket to the majors.

#5 David Purcey

Gerry: Purcey has lived up to expectations, he does not allow many hits but his control is a problem, or rather his lack of control is a problem. Purcey walks too many but it is his first season and his walk rate is better in May than it was in April. It looks like Purcey is still working on it with Rick Langford and if June is better than May then Purcey could look to move up. Flat

Jordan: I think we all got a little carried away with Purcey's smashing debut, but the setbacks probably did him some good: a player's first adjustments have to come sooner or later, and it's better to get them over with at the lower levels. Jackson has zipped past him, but by the time it's all over, Purcey could be to Jackson what Johan Santana is to Ted Lilly.

#7 Dustin McGowan

Gerry: McGowan is throwing, and reportedly at similar velocities to 2004. Hopefully he pitches for Dunedin soon. Flat

Jordan: Will he still have the fastball? if not, McGowan could still be a useful pitcher, though not the star he was once projected to be. If the heater's back, though, and if he can start to command it by season's end, look out.

#8 Zach Jackson

Gerry: Jackson, like Purcey, pitched very little in 2004 after he was drafted. Jackson is living up to his billing of being a polished college pitcher. Jackson has been able to hold batters to a hit an inning, and except for two rougher starts in mid April, has been pitching very well each time out. Improve

Jordan: No pitcher drafted under JP Ricciardi has moved up this far, this fast. I still think Jackson will run into some turbulence at Triple-A, and I can see him figuring into a mid-season trade, but this is a sensational debut for a guy with a pretty interesting ceiling.

#9 Josh Banks

Gerry: Banks had been promoted to AA in mid 2004 and had struggled initially but finished well. Banks's objective for 2005 was to build on the end of the season and he has done that. Banks has pitched very well in AA and continues to allow less than a hit per inning, to walk very few, and strikeout close to a hitter an inning. Banks is still young and should see AAA later this year. Improve

Jordan: If he was even a year older, I'd be worried about Banks: a pitcher with his resume should have built on a solid April with a dominant May, and should be in Syracuse by now. I'm still not thrilled with Banks' plateauing act in May, but I also have no doubt he's big-league-bound. A few dazzling June starts would be just what the doctor ordered.

#13 Vince Perkins

Gerry: After an injury filled 2004 Perkins jumped to AA and his been right at home. His control is improving and he is not allowing many hits, a good step forward for Vince. Improve

Jordan: So much potential, so much angst. I think every organization has one of these guys, a tremendous raw talent who always seems to be just shy of breaking through. Too often, the breakthrough doesn't happen till the player is in a different organization. I would not like to see that happen with Vince Perkins, and I would like to see the Jays quit messing around and make him a closer already.

Mike: Here's where the park effect has to be taken into account. Perkins' performance when you factor out the park has been right in line with his prior performance. A good pitching performance in this environment would require more strikeouts or fewer walks. I am happy that he's back from injury, but I'd say flat.

#14 Shaun Marcum

Gerry: Marcum continues to perform, leading New Hampshire starters in ERA and holding opposing hitters to a batting average around .230. Marcum's stuff looks ordinary but he baffles the hitters and doesn't walk many to hurt himself. Improve

Jordan: I agree with the spectrum Mike suggests below, that Marcum fits in somewhere between Dave Bush and Josh Towers, though I think he'll be on the upper end. He does appear to be improving every year, and he's learning more about pitching with every start. If Bush's challenges in Toronto this year tell us anything, though, it's that control pitchers have to find a way to make major-league hitters swing and miss. Bush is still learning that, and Banks and Marcum will face that hurdle as well in due course. That's why, although pinpoint-command guys are always great to have, you can't beat missability, and that's why you try to hang on to arms like League, Rosario, Perkins and Purcey for as long as you can. None of that is to say Marcum won't be a valuable big-leaguer, because he will be, probably in the bullpen.

Mike: Marcum fits nicely in the Bush/Banks/Towers line of pitchers. He's got a nasty slider and an uninspired fastball, but there have been questions in the past about his endurance. He seems to have built up his lower body strength since 2004, and he has maintained his effectiveness later in the game better this year than last. His future may indeed be in the rotation, rather than in the bullpen as I had thought. We will see how he does in Syracuse, but I agree that he's improved.

#16 Ismael Ramirez

Gerry: Ramirez has spent some time on the DL this year and when he has pitched the results have been mixed, some very good starts and some not so good. Ramirez is probably more of a work in process than the other AA starters Flat

Jordan: I think Ramirez profiles best as a long reliever at this point. He's had some injury issues already this season, but the astonishing command he displayed his last two years has been a little less astonishing thus far at Double-A. There's still time.

Mike: Again, the park disguises a disappointing start from Ramirez. He has gone from one of the best pitchers in the FSL last year to a below average pitcher in the EL this year. I'd say that he's regressed.

#19 Chi-Hung Cheng

Gerry: Cheng will turn 20 next month. Cheng's 2005 is somewhat like 2004, he allows few hits and walks too many. Cheng still needs to develop his fastball and use it more to offset his tremendous curveball. Overall for his age at A ball, he is pitching very well. Improve

Jordan: It's impossible not to get excited about a 20-year-old left-hander with that many strikeouts. The glass-half-empty view of Cheng is that he's getting by with advanced breaking stuff at low levels and his command is off. The glass-half-full view is that he already has advanced breaking stuff, and that his fastball figures to add more mph as he matures. I can't think of a more intriguing arm in the low minors than this one.

#21 Jamie Vermilyea

Gerry: Vermilyea made it to AA in the middle of 2004 and has returned for 2005. Other than his first appearance Vermilyea has pitched well for New Hamsphire. Vermilyea's K rate has improved for 2005 and as such he gets an improved rating. Improve

Jordan: I'm really not sure why Vermilyea's not in Syracuse already; I think he's proven quite clearly that he can handle Double-A hitters and that he's ready for the next challenge. I'd like to see him get as much upper-level experience under his belt as possible, because I think he could be an effective swingman and long reliever for the Blue Jays as early as next June.

#22 Kurt Isenberg

Gerry: Isenberg struggled in 2004 but has bounced back in a major way in 2005. Hitters are not connecting as they did in 2004 and as a result Kurt's ERA is the best of the Dunedin starters. Improve

Jordan: Isenberg was probably rushed to Dunedin last year; with 20/20 hindsight, it appears that Charleston would have been a better place for his full-season debut. Now that that's behind him, he's showing off his potential. It's pretty amazing to consider that Isenberg might actually be only the fourth-best lefty (Purcey, Jackson, Cheng) in the system.

Mike: Isenberg has improved more than any other Jay prospect in 2005. He was a 4th round draft pick in 2003 and pitched well in Auburn in 2003. Isenberg had trouble at both high A and low A in 2004, but he has been excellent in all departments in 2005 at high A, and may be promoted to double A soon.

#24 Justin James

Gerry: James was bumped to a reliever's role this year and has had some up and down appearances. Overall James has conceded a hit per inning but his K/9 rate has dropped under 6. Regress

Jordan: The Jays don't tend to move a starter to the bullpen this early in his career unless (a) they're fast-tracking him to the upper levels, or (b) they're close to giving up on him. Unfortunately for James, it looks like he's closer to the second camp right now.

#30 Casey Janssen

Gerry: Janssen is arguably the most pleasant surprise of 2005. Janssen's ERA at Auburn last year was 3.48, a good number, but not a "knock your socks off" one. Janssen started 2005 hot and has not cooled down. Even after a promotion to Dunedin Janssen's ERA is almost the same at High A as it was at A. Improve

Jordan: If you wanted a deep-REM sleeper coming into this season, Janssen would've been your man. None of us saw this coming, but he was a fourth-round pick, which means the Jays saw something pretty special there. I'd be a little hesitant to promote him twice in one season, especially to Double-A, but he might be forcing the organization's hand. His breakout season thus far has been like finding a $20 bill in your pocket that you didn't realize you had.

Rob: I'll let our helpful Eye On Lansing, Lugnut Fan, have a few words: Heck, the way he is going, there may be another promotion forth coming for him and if/when he goes to New Hampshire, it will be a little cooler than Florida and he may think that he is back in Lansing. That says it all, I think. This doesn't look like a flukey two months to me at all.

Pitchers Summary

The pitchers story is the opposite of the hitters, most of the pitchers have improved. Out of a total of fourteen pitchers, nine have improved. Only a couple have moved back.


Each year about one third of a teams prospects should improve, a third should stay flat and a third should go backwards. The ones that go backwards are replaced by this years draft crop. The Blue Jays hitting ranks are starting to look a bit bare, with Aaron Hill up already there is not a lot of big time help left. Griffin, Hattig, Thigpen, and Diaz all have questions regarding their ability to be full time players at the major league level. Adam Lind has been hitting well but will he hit enough to be a major league first baseman?

The pitching ranks look healthier, although pitchers are always an unpredictable commodity. The Jays have a basket of pitching prospects, four of the five starters at AAA are major league bound (Bush/Gaudin, Rosario, League and Marcum), and three of the five at AA also (Banks, Perkins, Jackson). How these pitchers develop, and what JP trades some of them for, will be the keystone for the franchises future.