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So, here it is Ė Part One of my magnum opus (or as Baldrick would say, my magnificent octopus) on the Blue Jaysí most interesting A-Ball prospects. For reasons of length (the whole thingís about 7,000 words), Iíve split the project into two sections, batters and pitchers. This shorter article is about the former, and I hope to have the latter ready to go when I get back in the office later next week.

Youíll find that of the total number of 23 A-Ball prospects in these reviews, fewer than one-third of them are hitters. Thatís partly because a number of these teams play in pitcher-friendly leagues, but itís also because the Jays have really stocked up on pitching the last couple of years, and their lower minors are brimming with hurlers whose potential ranges from promising to outstanding.

For those tuning in late who havenít read Part One or Part Two, I want to emphasize that these observations are drawn from the playersí statistical records and insights drawn from research, but involve no actual eyewitness accounts or anything resembling an expert opinion: Dick Scott, I ainít. A-Ball prospects in particular are very hard to judge, and the guy who posts lights-out numbers in Charleston today could be pumping gas in Topeka two years from now. In other words, don't apply for that job with Baseball America based on these columns.

Feedback and suggestions are welcomed warmly, while corrections and criticisms are welcomed more standoffishly, given the uncomfortable chair to sit in, offered some lukewarm tea and maybe some leftover biscuits, chatted with briefly about acquaintances and the weather, and hurried out the door not long afterwards. But welcomed they are nonetheless.
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Allan Ryan of the Toronto Star gets personal with the Blue Jays' skipper in an "Unplugged" interview. Not a word about the batting order or how many pitchers he'll carry, but we get to know him better:

"I read a lot of Ernest Hemingway, maybe because of his ties with Cuba, because of The Old Man And The Sea, a classic. My favourite of his, though, is Death In the Afternoon. I've read a lot of books on leadership, motivational books. Last year, I read a book From Good To Great, by a guy that did a study on all the major corporations, the Fortune 500 or whatever, and what made them great. Myself, I try to gain as much knowledge as I can about guys that have been in leadership roles, biographies on Winston Churchill, Napoleon, just digging for something."
Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News has a new column full of juicy rumours. Lotta stuff here, including Miguel Tejada's future and this keen observation:

If right fielder Ben Grieve doesn't infuriate new Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella with his indifferent body language, then first baseman Travis Lee will. Lee was an odd addition, considering the Rays already were set with Aubrey Huff at first base.

My over/under on Lou's first explosion? April 20. Another "odd addition" -- still just speculation -- would be Kenny Lofton to the Rangers (I had assumed he would end up in Pittsburgh); given the glut of OF in Texas already, that would push Kevin Mench back to AAA.

Rosenthal also points out the Phillies, trying to buy a pennant right now, have committed $55 million to just two players (Thome + Burrell) in 2007 and 2008. Opinion is divided -- is that shrewd, or foolish?
Once again, Iíve been inspired to write a full-length response to a comment here on Batterís Box. Ah, intertextuality. Where would Shakespeare have been without it? Anyway, hereís the quote, from BB regular Jurgen Maas:

But the lesson, again, isónobody is irreplaceable. Other clubs need to take this to heart.

This comment was inspired by the notion the Aís would keep Eric Chavez over Miguel Tejada. I suspect they wonít keep either, and money wonít be the only reason. Part of the decision will be driven by what Jurgen said: weíre all replaceable.

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Peter Gammons' take on the competitive, if inferior National League. Entertaining, with great anonymous quotes:

"What will be interesting will be to see what teams are willing to take on payroll to try and win," says one GM. "The Dodgers and Braves are for sale by their corporate owners."

Don't expect the tightwad Marlins, homeless Expos or mortgaged-to-the-hilt Diamondbacks to be spending, either. That's a big edge for the Cards, Phillies, Astros and Giants, who might bite the bullet on a Shannon Stewart or a Kelvim Escobar at the deadline. But I think PG's right -- several very good teams could make it to the World Series, while the three or four best teams in baseball battle it out in the AL playoffs. That should make for exciting pennant races and enthusiam in more NL cities.
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Fantasy alert! If you aren't joining the free fantasy league for BB readers, this thread will be a waste of your time. Registration should begin shortly on Yahoo, and the league is a definite "go", so Iíd like to start the rules discussion here. The first order of business is to declare in. Even if you have previously indicated interest by e-mail or in a comment on another thread, please send your name, e-mail address, location and proposed team name to me again. If you don't have a Yahoo ID yet, don't worry. That's also free, easy to set up, and will let you play in as many as three other leagues.

Next, let's discuss the scope of the project. It shouldn't be too complicated, as several relative fantasy beginners would like to play, and if I'm the Commish there are time constraints. We can vote on bells and whistles later, and the league could evolve in the future, but here are my proposals, with a few options for you to consider.
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So says Bob Elliott in the Toronto Sun, for reasons known only to him. Thanks to Steve Z. for linking to this column in another thread; it's worth a separate discussion.

The portrayal of Wells as a perennial All-Star combination of Devon White's glove and Pat Burrell's bat is optimistic and premature, to say the least. The suggestion that Vernon is worth more to the Jays than Roy Halladay is just silly. Elliott pitches his illogical plan to Ted Rogers, who doesn't know or care enough about baseball to make such decisions, and by inference, to casual fans. The front office isn't listening anyway, especially when he slips in yet another mudslinging shot at Team Ricciardi for sacking Bob's former sources, the scouts who couldn't adjust to an enlightened philosophy.

Why not wait a year (or two) and see if Vernon can make better contact before giving him the keys to the vault? He's a fine young man, and a promising player, but what's the rush? When -- if -- the Jays decide to spend the owner's millions on long-term deals, Doc will be at the front of the line, and Eric Hinske should be ahead of Wells. Nonsense like this reminds us that some of the local writers may have an axe to grind, but they don't have a clue.
It's a busy baseball morning in the local press; Richard Griffin, not surprisingly, is down on the 2003 Jays: "there's no reason to expect their record to swing upwards dramatically, or at all."

He cites Cito Gaston as the authority for his opinion that hitting is less important in today's AL than pitching and fielding. You will note that I'm neither ranting nor raving, and the headline refers to the column topic; any similarity to the author's talent is coincidental.

Elsewhere in the Star, Carlos Tosca predicts 85 wins. In the Sun, Bob Elliott also talks with the Little General. Even the Globe and Mail has a baseball story, as Jeff Blair takes a look at the Shannon Stewart arbitration case, with an interesting quote:

"I like Shannon, and I think he really grew as a person last season under Carlos," said general manager J. P. Ricciardi, who is just slightly more optimistic than last week about the sides finding common ground without going to a hearing.

On MLB Radio the other day, Will Lingo and John Manuel from Baseball America spoke with Blue Jays Scouting Director Dick Scott about the Toronto farm system. Ever your humble journalistic servant, I took notes and present here, for your reading pleasure, a synopsis of Scott's comments. All quotations are as close to accurate as deciphering my handwriting will allow; consider them paraphrases and judge me with mercy, as I haven't done this for a while.
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One of the best Jays observers around is Spencer Fordin, whose latest column on MLB.com looks at the 2003 rotation. I love this wonderful line in the first paragraph:

...less than two weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin.

Fordin's a bit more cautious than I am about Doc, and presents both sides of Cory Lidle: the slow starter, and the man who had a Hall of Fame month in August. I agree about Tanyon Sturtze:

Here's another telling statistic: of Toronto's starters who pitched more than 40 innings in 2002, only two finished with a better ERA than Sturtze. With better run support and defense than he got in Tampa Bay, Sturtze could shave a run off his ERA and win 10 games in 2003. That's the best-case scenario -- at worst, he'll perform like Esteban Loaiza, who went 9-10 with a 5.71 ERA.

Hope he's also right about Henderson; the big fella's my choice as #4 and part of my fantasy strategy. Seems to think a good game, and his already fine stuff should keep improving for a while. That's a great picture of him. I'm not conceding anything to Walker or Miller; I like Pete even better in the 'pen, and Doug Linton could pitch himself all the way to #5 in Florida.
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ESPN's Jayson Stark, with some time on his hands, wonders if baseball can do something (the Bonds rule?) about boring intentional walks. To me, the solution is simple -- put someone more intimidating than Benito Santiago or Jose Cruz Jr. into the on-deck circle.

Stark's Top 20 proposed rule changes are more fun. Some are incredibly dumb, but he gets credit for including one of my pet peeves:

When a 40-foot pop-up lands in the infield between four different men... don't you just hate it when that's scored a (chuckle) "hit?" When a routine fly ball in the alley drops between two outfielders who forgot to call it, doesn't it curdle your blood when the hitter gets a (gasp) "double?" Absurd! If a ball should be caught, it should be caught. And if it isn't, it's an error -- even if it's a "team" error.

Doug "best Canadian GM in Milwaukee" Melvin has some good ideas, but the Designated Fielder isn't one of them. Maybe he's looking ahead to Prince Fielder. And I'd vote to ban Thunder-Stix, air horns, and anything else that contributes to deafness, like the volume of the music at SkyDome.
From Sportsnet.ca, an informative column from a guy who is sometimes too interested in rumours, about Eric Hinske changing agents and preferring not to hit second. A few interesting quotes from the GM, too. Thanks to Steve Z.

It is a remarkable thing, really, this run of the Braves. Not for their dominance, heavens no, though that is obviously impressive. What is remarkable is how they can be so dominant for six months out the year, for 12 years running (including the strike-shortened 1994 season), but then come up short, year-after-year, save for one, in 1995. At some point you must dismiss the failures as simply more than being bad luck. Conventional wisdom holds that anything can happen in a short series, and with the advent of the Wild Card, itís that much more likely ďinferiorĒ teams like the Phillies and Padres and Giants and Marlins will knock off a ďsuperiorĒ Braves club. On the other hand, if itís possible for any team to emerge a World Series champ, how do you explain the Yankees run? If we follow that logic, why didnít the Orioles or Indians or Mariners or Aís knock them off? Forgetting about payroll issues for a moment, if itís simply bad luck the Braves have only one title in their run, is it simply good luck the Yankees have four in the same time frame? Where do you put the blame for the Bravesí failures? On Bobby Cox? John Schuerholz? The players? A hybrid of the three? This has been asked a million times, but because itís never been answered satisfactorily, letís ask it again: How can a team that has had, over the years, Chipper Jones, Terry Pendleton, Fred McGriff, Ryan Klesko, Brian Jordan, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, et al, managed to win as many World Series titles in the last 12 years as the Marlins, Twins, and Angels?
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Meanwhile, in another NL East dugout...

Bobby Cox is even more hopeful than I am about the Jays.

"Under the circumstances, I think our front office has had one of the best years ever. I think we can win even more games than we did last year."

Estrada better be good; that shrewd front office gave up a lot for him, to that other team in their division; the one that's trying to win this year. I traded for Russ Ortiz, and Byrd might surprise, but on the field, the torch passed with Millwood.