Top 30 Blue Jays Prospects: #10- #1

Wednesday, September 28 2005 @ 10:00 AM EDT

Contributed by: Jordan

Yesterday's and Monday's articles were just the warm-up acts. And tomorrow, weíll have some rising and falling prospects who didnít make our top 30. Today, it's the main attraction: the Top 10 Prospects in the entire Blue Jay farm system, according to your minor-league correspondents. Read Ďem all, and then tell us what you think of our Top 30: anyone we missed? Anybody too high or too low on the list? Who do you think should be #1?

10. Francisco Rosario, RHP
Born September 28, 1980. Signed as an amateur free agent in 1999.


Rosario makes the Top 10 on the basis that his ceiling is very high. His 2005 numbers would not justify the ranking, but we were mindful of the fact that it often takes two years or more for pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery to regain form. Prior to his TJ surgery after the 2002 season, he was a top pitching prospect with everything included. He had a 95+ mph fastball, good off-speed stuff, good control and the numbers to match. Since the surgery, the fastball is back, but he has fully regained neither his off-speed stuff nor his control. In 2005, his strikeout rate took a discouraging tumble and he was sent to the bullpen in Syracuse. This might end up working out well; Rosario potentially has the stuff to be a closer, and the reduced innings load couldnít hurt. (MG)

9. Shaun Marcum, RHP
Born December 14, 1981. Selected in the 3rd round of the 2003 amateur draft.


Shaun Marcum was a third-round selection by the Blue Jays in 2003. Marcum is a control pitcher with a fastball that usually hangs around 88 mph. Although he doesnít blow hitters away, his off-speed pitches and his command make up for it -- Marcum's walk rates have always been very low. In addition to his fastball, Marcum throws a change-up, a slider, and a curveball. As befits someone with a below-average heater, Marcum says his change-up is his best pitch (though others, including Dick Scott, suggest his slider is better).

Marcum began 2005 in AA and dominated hitters in eight starts, posting an ERA of 2.53. He went on to make 18 starts for Syracuse, with mixed results: a 4.28 ERA in June jumped to 8.28 in July, but dropped to 3.40 in August/September. His Triple-A WHIP was 1.25 and his K/9 rate was 7.81 -- both figures 12% better than league average -- and his WHIP dropped below 1.00 in August. His walk rate was a minuscule 1.56 in AAA, more than 100% better than league average. His problem was the home run ball: 17 round-trippers in 103.2 innings, the second-highest rate on the team (behind only Jason Arnold). The home runs and the overall repertoire is what generate the comparisons with Josh Towers, who gave up 16 homers last year in 116 big-league innings. Marcum, however, has been able to sustain a high strikeout rate, something Towers never did. Even though he has spent September in Toronto, Marcum should return to Syracuse for 2006; command-and-control types generally take a little longer to hit their stride. (GM)

8. Josh Banks, RHP
Born July 18, 1982. Selected in the 2nd round of the 2003 amateur draft.


About halfway through the season, I was concerned about Josh Banks. Even though he was in the midst of assembling a stunning BB/K ratio, he was getting hit hard and often, and appeared to be treading water at Double-A when he should have been attacking Triple-A hitters like Shaun Marcum was. But in the second half, Banks turned things around, as these numbers attest:

Apr 1-Jun 30  7-6, 4.33, 16 GS, 87 IP, 91 H, 8 BB, 81 K, 13 HR, 23.0% KBF

Jul 1-Sep 30  1-6, 3.24, 11 GS, 75 IP, 68 H, 3 BB, 64 K,  5 HR, 21.8% KBF
Forget the W-L record -- that says more about the Fisher Cats' awful offence. Notice instead the drop in hits allowed per IP, and the significant drop in home runs allowed. Notice also that his strikeout rate declined in the second half. I don't think that's a coincidence. In the first half, Banks was around the plate too much -- he was getting his K's, but he was also getting rocked. From July onwards, he evidently made some adjustments, because hitters were no longer getting good wood on his pitches. And he didn't have to sacrifice his remarkable control to accomplish this -- in fact, his command actually improved. Banks may well have learned the difference between throwing strikes and throwing hittable pitches. If he continues to master this key difference, he'll be in Toronto this time next year. He is definitely back among the organization's elite pitching prospects. (JF)

7. Ricky Romero, LHP
Born November 6, 1984. Selected in the 1st round of the 2005 amateur draft.


How does a pitcher with just 33 innings under his professional belt rank in the Top 10 prospects of an organization rich in young pitching? Simple -- by being the first pitcher selected in the 2005 amateur draft. You just donít get picked that high without being way out in that real skinny portion on the right-hand side of the baseball talent bell curve. One of the youngest collegiate players in the draft, Romero had enough polish on his tools for the Jays to challenge him almost immediately with the High-A Florida State League, something they did not do with their two older first-round pitchers last year. Ricky held his own nicely, and will start there again next year. Expectations are very high: if heís not in the Top 5 a year from now, 2006 will be considered a disappointment. (JG)

6. Guillermo Quiroz, C
Born November 29, 1981. Signed as an amateur free agent in 1998.


Can Quiroz stay healthy? This year, it was another surgical procedure for the collapsed lung that sent him to the DL for months. Last year, it was a broken wrist and the first occurrence of the lung problem. In the process, Qís defence has acquired a little rust, but there is little doubt that if he can stay healthy, he will be at least an adequate defender. He has a fine arm and is reasonably mobile.

Quiroz seems to have lost some of his ability to hit line drives; his batting average and doubles totals were off in 2004 and 2005, but he can and will hit the long ball. If heís healthy, heíll probably open 2006 in Toronto as Gregg Zaunís platoon partner. Zaun will make a fine mentor for Quiroz, and there will be little offensive pressure; it shouldnít be too difficult for Guillermo to top Ken Huckabyís numbers. It still remains to be seen whether a full-time catcher's job is in his future. I think it will be, if he stays off the 60-Day DL. That's a big if. (MG)

5. Adam Lind, OF
Born July 17, 1983. Selected in the 3rd round of the 2004 amateur draft.


The leftfielder with the sweet swing basically duplicated his 2004 Auburn campaign in Dunedin in 2005. He turned 22 in July, and the question is whether some of his doubles (42 in 495 at-bats) will turn into homers as he gets older and stronger. He is going to be, at best, passable defensively, and he's not a speed merchant, so to succeed heíll need to hit. That doesnít appear like itíll be a problem. Lind doesnít walk as much as one would like, but he also strikes out relatively infrequently, and so hits .300. Right now, I think of him as a left-handed Lou Piniella. Heíll start 2006 in New Hampshire, and if everything breaks right, he could be in Toronto the following year. (MG)

4. Zach Jackson, LHP
Born May 13, 1983. Selected in the 1st round (supplemental) of the 2004 amateur draft.


Jackson throws a 87-90 mph fastball, a cut fastball that comes in around 85 mph, a change-up and a curveball, complemented by a funky delivery. The cutter was added by the Jays last year in instructional league and has been a very good addition to Jackson's arsenal of pitches. He was assigned to Dunedin to open the season and pitched well there, save for one start in April in which he allowed 9 runs in 3.2 innings, inflating his ERA. Jackson's May ERA in 5 starts was just 0.82, earning him a promotion to AA New Hampshire. Jackson recorded a 4.00 ERA in nine starts in AA, with mixed results: he allowed just 3 earned runs in his first three starts combined, but 19 runs in his next 4. But in his final two starts, he allowed just 2 runs. By mid-July, Syracuse was short on pitchers, so the Blue Jays elected to promote Jackson -- probably earlier than they would have ideally wanted, but they obviously felt he could handle the move. Jackson made eight starts for Syracuse and posted a 5.13 ERA -- not great on initial review, but considering Jacksonís lack of pro experience, it was a very creditable performance. At Double-A, Jackson's WHIP and BB/9 were both better than league average, while his K rate was slightly below (96%). His walk rate doubled in the International League, as he was worked better by the higher-caliber hitters.

Jackson has been compared to Gustavo Chacin -- both lefties, both with a fastball around 90 mph , a cutter, and off-speed pitches. Chacin's change and curve are more advanced than Jackson's, which is to be expected at this stage of their careers. Chacin's numbers in the Eastern League last year were slightly better than Jacksonís -- but Chacin was 23 last year and had spent parts of four seasons at Double-A, while Zach turned 22 midway through the season. Jackson needs another season at AAA to understand how to use his reportoire against hitters with major-league experience. (GM)

3. Casey Janssen, RHP
Born September 17, 1981. Selected in the 4th round of the 2004 amateur draft.


Casey Janssen had one of the best seasons in the minor leagues in 2005. He started at Low-A ball, jumped to High-A after seven starts, and then to Double-A after just ten starts for Dunedin. Janssen put in another nine starts for New Hampshire before his season was cut short by an ankle injury.

Janssen started the year with a bang, allowing no hits over seven innings in his debut. After Midwest League batters hit just .167 off him, the Jays promoted Janssen to Dunedin, where FSL batters could do little better, just .208; his last High-A start on July 4th Janssen saw him give up just one hit and one walk over seven innings. Double-A hitters appearsed to do better, batting.288 against Janssen -- but in his first 25.3 innings, Janssen allowed 19 hits. In his last 17.2 innings, he yielded 30 safeties. Many players reach a down period late in their first full season, and thatís most likely what happened to Casey.

Janssen throws five pitches for strikes in an arsenal that is somewhat similar to Josh Banksí. He brings to the mound a 89-92 mph fastball, a cutter, a slider, a change-up and a curveball. Late in the season, Blue Jays minor-league roving pitching instructor Dane Johnson suggested that Janssen's secondary pitches were better than Banks'. The 2006 campaign should deliver the proof. (GM)

2. David Purcey, LHP
Born March 29, 1982. Selected in the 1st round of the 2004 amateur draft.


The imposing lefty with the size-18 shoes has all the stuff you could want: a 93-94 mph fastball, a sharp curve, and a reluctance to allow home runs. The only issue with him is control: he walks more than 5 batters per 9 innings and goes deep into counts. The organization has rightly been watching his pitch counts, so he has often been taken out in the 5th inning despite giving up zero or one run.

Purcey has got a chance to be a great pitcher, but whether and when is anybodyís guess. A pitcherís negotiation with the strike zone is often more protracted than peace-treaty discussions, and with about the same rate of success. I expect Purcey to start 2006 in the New Hampshire rotation. Progress will be measured in his walk rate and his innings pitched. If he's consistently going 6 innings or more and walking 1 every 2 innings or less in New Hampshire, while maintaining his usual strikeout rate, a rapid ascent is certainly possible. (MG)

1. Dustin McGowan, RHP
Born March 24, 1982. Selected in the 1st round (supplemental) of the 2000 amateur draft.


Hereís what you need to know about Dustin McGowan: after catching him earlier this season, Gregg Zaun said of him, ďIf he gets fastball command, heís Curt Schilling.Ē That is more or less the future that everyone has been predicting for McGowan virtually since the day the Blue Jays selected him as a supplemental first-round pick in 1999 (thanks again, Graeme Lloyd!) Can he achieve it?

McGowan came out of high school with a fastball already in the mid-90s, a sharp curve and an above-average slider. After battling control problems as he entered his 20s, McGowan had broken through and was ripping up the Eastern League last summer: Syracuse was in his immediate future and Toronto was in his sights. And then a pre-existing tear in his elbow, which had almost caused the Blue Jays to void his contract when they discovered it post-draft, finally gave way. He underwent Tommy John surgery, which normally takes 18 months to recover from; but McGowan was back on a Dunedin mound in June and found himself in Toronto in August, a remarkably rapid comeback.

Iíve now seen McGowan a few times in a Blue Jays uniform, and thereís no question that his breaking stuff, the part you worry about post-surgery, is back. He also hasnít lost much, if anything, off his heater. At this point, penciling him into the fifth spot in the rotation for 2006 seems possible -- but there are some caveats. First, his command has to come all the way back, and thatís still a lengthy road for someone who struggled for years with his control. Second, his fastball at times has looked (to me and others) pretty straight, and even the fastest straight fastballs end up over the fence -- he needs to rediscover the sizzle and movement on his heater. And third, Curt Schilling is a championship pitcher today -- but it wasnít until his fifth season and third pro team that it all came together. McGowan is our choice as #1 prospect, and he could be an ace pitcher: itís that simple. But nothing is guaranteed with prospects ... and you know what? Thatís the fun part. Cross your fingers, watch the boxscores and catch every game in which these players appear. We hope you enjoy the whole process as much as weíve enjoyed doing it with you this year. (JF)

Mike Green has asked to me insert the following paragraph at the end of this final Top 30 installment. Ever your humble sevant, I comply.

As Jordan has alluded to in his last Game Report, he will be moving on to other good works next year. The rest of us on the minor-league crew wish to express our thanks for his fine work, his leadership and his collegiality. "General Manager Emeritus" fits neatly. (MG)