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January 8, 2008

Future Shock

Blue Jays Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Travis Snider, OF
Four-Star Prospects
None
Three-Star Prospects
2. Kevin Ahrens, 3B
3. Brett Cecil, LHP
4. John Tolisano, 2B
5. J.P. Arencibia, C
6. Justin Jackson, SS
7. Ricky Romero, LHP
8. Yohermyn Cavez, OF
Two-Star Prospects
9. Robinzon Diaz, C
10. David Purcey, LHP
11. Trystan Magnuson, RHP

Just Missing: Ryan Patterson, OF; Curtis Thigpen, C; Tracey Thorpe, RHP

1. Travis Snider, OF
DOB: 2/2/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/245
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, Jackson HS (WA)
2007 Stats: .313/.377/.525 at Low-A (118 G)

Year In Review: The former first-round pick built on his impressive debut by leading the Midwest League in slugging, RBI, and extra-base hits.
The Good: Snider is one of the top hitting prospects in baseball. He has a very patient approach, plus power to all fields, and hits lefties and righties with equal effectiveness--projecting for legitimate MVP-level numbers down the road. He's a hard worker with great makeup who has survived personal adversity and appreciates where he is.
The Bad: Snider is absolutely massive, and will need to watch his conditioning in order to say in a corner, and his speed is a little below average. He could use more aggressiveness at the plate, as he currently works himself into poor hitter's counts while letting not perfect--yet perfectly hittable--pitches go by.
Fun Fact: Snider didn't steal a base after April 28th, getting caught nine consecutive times thereafter.
Perfect World Projection: A number-three hitter on a championship-level team, and a perennial All-Star.
Timetable: Snider had an outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League, proving that he's already capable of producing against upper-level pitchers. He'll begin 2008 in the Florida State League, and could be on the verge of a Jay Bruce-like breakout campaign.

2. Kevin Ahrens, 3B
DOB: 4/26/89
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Memorial HS (TX)
2007 Stats: .230/.321/.339 at Rookie-Level (48 G)

Year In Review: The powerful switch-hitter moved up draft charts all spring, to the point of becoming the top-rated prep player in Texas, but his pro debut was disappointing.
The Good: Ahrens' quick, fluid swing from both sides of the plate and plus power has already generated some Chipper Jones comparisons. Moved from shortstop to third base shortly after signing, his skill set played much better at the hot corner, as he showed good instincts and an above-average arm.
The Bad: The Blue Jays attribute Ahrens' initial struggles as an adjustment to both professional baseball and a new position; they have no long-term concerns. He's compactly built and not especially quick. He struggled at times against right-handers, against whom he was prone to chasing pitches.
Fun Fact: As a sophomore, Ahrens' teammate on the left side of the Memorial High School infield was Koby Clemens, son of Roger and current Astros farmhand.
Perfect World Projection: An all-star-level third baseman.
Timetable: Ahrens will be the offensive centerpiece of a Low-A Lansing team that promises to easily be the most interesting team put together there since Toronto took over the affiliation.

3. Brett Cecil, LHP
DOB: 7/2/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, University of Maryland
2007 Stats: 1.27 ERA at Short-season (49.2-36-11-56)

Year In Review: Maryland's closer made a successful transition to starting as a pro, limiting New York-Penn League hitters to a .197 average.
The Good: Cecil is a big, strongly-built left-hander with a good command of a solid three-pitch mix. His low-90s fastball can get cranked up to 94 mph at times, but it's more effective at a slightly lower velocity, which is more of a splitter that batters continuously pound into the ground. His hard slider is his best pitch, and his changeup rates at least as average. He has advanced pitchability and knows how to set up hitters and mix his offerings effectively.
The Bad: Cecil has rarely started in the past, so there will be questions about his stamina until he proves he can handle a big inning count. While he's solid across the board, he lacks any one knockout pitch.
Fun Fact: Cecil played his high school ball at Maryland's famed DeMatha High, which is more famous for its national reputation in basketball, having graduated enough NBA players to fill an entire roster.
Perfect World Projection: A middle-rotation lefty.
Timetable: Cecil has the stuff and polish to move quickly, but his inning count will be closely monitored in his first full year as a starter. He'll begin the year in the Florida State league with the goal of getting him to Double-A by season's end.

4. John Tolisano, 2B
DOB: 10/7/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, Estero HS (FL)
2007 Stats: .246/.336/.437 at Rookie-Level (49 G)

Year In Review: After a below-expectations senior year, the switch-hitting infielder struggled to make contact in his pro debut, but nonetheless led the Gulf Coast League in home runs.
The Good: Tolisano's swing path provides natural loft with backspin from both sides, and he already has a knack for recognizing which pitches he can drive. He has a patient approach, a tick above-average speed, and good overall athleticism.
The Bad: Tolisano often sells out the rest of his offensive game for power, becoming pull-happy at times and flailing at breaking balls at others. He hasn't gotten good reviews for his range, glove work, or instincts, and many think he'll need to move to the outfield soon.
Fun Fact: In the eighth inning of GCL games, Tolisano was 1-for-19.
Perfect World Projection: A 30+ home-run producer at a position still to be determined.
Timetable: Tolisano will be another part of the very talented squad at Lansing, where his defense will be watched with as much scrutiny as his power bat.

5. J.P. Arencibia, C
DOB: 1/5/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, University of Tennessee
2007 Stats: .254/.309/.377 at Short-season (63 G)

Year In Review: Seen as a top ten pick going into the season, the top college catcher struggled both offensively and defensively in his junior year due to a lower back injury, and his struggles continued in his pro debut.
The Good: Arencibia has well above-average raw power, especially for a catcher. He also has above-average athleticism for the position and an outstanding arm, while earning high marks for his game-calling skills and field leadership.
The Bad: Arencibia is prone to striking out due to a power-only swing that has plenty of exploitable holes. Scouts are mixed on his ability to stay behind the plate, but Arencibia wants to be a catcher, and has dedicated himself to improving his receiving skills and quickening his release. He needs to tighten his approach and wait for his pitch, instead of being too aggressive early in the count.
Fun Fact: When appearing in the Auburn lineup as a designated hitter or pinch-hitter, Arencibia was 3-for-25 with 12 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday big-league catcher, with some moderate star potential.
Timetable: Arencibia will likely skip Low-A and head to the Florida State League. It shouldn't take long for him to move to the top of Toronto's catching corps.

6. Justin Jackson, SS
DOB: 12/11/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Roberson HS (NC)
2007 Stats: .187/.274/.241 at Short-season (42 G)

Year In Review: Another player who dropped because of disappointing draft-year production, Jackson looked lost at times in his pro debut, but scouts are still high on his athleticism and potential.
The Good: Jackson is an excellent defensive shortstop for a teenager, with quick reads, plenty of range, and a strong arm. He shows good patience at the plate, and many feel his long arms and lanky frame should project for power down the road. He's an above-average runner who should steal 20+ bases annually.
The Bad: Jackson's hitting needs significant work. His swing is a bit stiff and mechanical, and he's unable to make adjustments once the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. He struggles mightily against left-handers, often looking to draw a walk to avoid even swinging the bat. Defensively, the worst thing you can say about him is that he's prone to errors while trying to make spectacular plays on balls that most shortstops couldn't even get to.
Fun Fact: During his first two years at Roberson, the best player on the team was Marlins center fielder Cameron Maybin.
Perfect World Projection: Jackson's ceiling is higher than many of the high school middle infielders drafted ahead of him, but his lack of 'now' skills also makes him a far greater risk.
Timetable: The Blue Jays would like to see Jackson ready to join his other 2007 draft brethren at Lansing, but that will require an impressive spring training.

7. Ricky Romero, LHP
DOB: 11/6/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Cal State Fullerton
2007 Stats: 3.86 ERA at High A (4.2-4-1-2); 4.89 ERA at Double-A (88.1-98-51-80)

Year In Review: The sixth overall pick in 2005 continued his disappointing career with a poor showing at Double-A and shoulder soreness that limited him to less than 100 innings.
The Good: Romero's changeup and curve both rate as above-average pitches, and he sets them up well with a 89-91 mph fastball that he locates well. His makeup and competitive desire are both off the charts, and have remained so despite his struggles so far as a pro.
The Bad: Romero's control went south last year, as he's had consistent trouble throwing his secondary offerings for strikes, often leaving him with a fastball that isn't enough when he's consistently behind in the count. His consistency from start-to-start and even inning-to-inning can be maddening at times, and there's no real known reason for it.
Fun Fact: Romero has an 8.13 ERA in eight home starts, but a 2.83 mark on the road with more than a strikeout per inning.
Perfect World Projection: A solid No. 4 or 5 starter.
Timetable: The Blue Jays will continue Romero's ascension up the ladder with an Opening Day assignment at Triple-A. He'll have to pitch well to earn a look.

8. Yohermyn Chavez, OF
DOB: 1/26/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2005, Venezuela
2007 Stats: .301/.389/.494 at Rookie-level (50 G)

Year In Review: The big Venezuelan outfielder rebounded from subpar debut to lead GCL team loaded with higher-profile 2007 draftees in several offensive categories.
The Good: Chavez is a huge, hulking presence at the plate with tremendous raw power who can put on a show in batting practice and gave signs of bringing that power into game situations after going homerless in 2006. He has good plate discipline, decent range, and an average arm.
The Bad: Chavez' bat will need to carry him to the big leagues, as his other tools are no more than average, and he'll likely lose speed as his body matures. He's still prone to striking out and seems to have problems reading pitches from left-handers.
Fun Fact: In six GCL night games, Chavez went 13-for-22 (.591) with 21 total bases.
Perfect World Projection: A classic power-hitting corner outfielder.
Timetable: While Chavez doesn't get the press of the deep and talented 2007 draft class, don't be surprised if he ends up with the best numbers at Lansing.

9. Robinzon Diaz, C
DOB: 9/19/83
Height/Weight: 5-11/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2000, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: .316/.344/.409 at Double-A (74 G); .338/.358/.431 at Triple-A (19 G)

Year In Review: The slow-developing catcher finally made it to the upper levels of the system and just kept on hitting... for average at least.
The Good: Diaz is a contact machine with solid bat speed and outstanding barrel control: he just hits anything that's thrown to him. He's more athletic that your average catcher, and a decent defender with a plus arm.
The Bad: Whatever the opposite of a Three True Outcomes player is, Diaz is just that; in 366 at-bats last year, he had four home runs, 12 walks, and 22 strikeouts. He has little power and projects for no additional pop down the road. His career so far has been filled with minor injuries, and many wonder if, with his smallish frame, he can handle the rigors of a full season.
Fun Fact: In four games against Rochester, Diaz went 7-for-14 with his only Triple-A homer.
Perfect World Projection: A solid backup catcher or starter for a second-division team.
Timetable: While Diaz' progression through the minors has been a slow one, he's finally on the verge of making the majors and will begin the year at Triple-A.

10. David Purcey, LHP
DOB: 4/22/82
Height/Weight: 6-5/235
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, University of Oklahoma
2007 Stats: 5.37 ERA at Double-A (62-67-16-55)

Year In Review: One of the best power arms in the system, Purcey struggled at Double-A and didn't pitch after June following surgery to remove some cysts from his arm.
The Good: Few left-handers around can match Purcey's combination of size and velocity. He's a big-bodied power pitcher whose fastball sits in the low 90s, and he can dial it up to 95 on occasion. He flashes a plus slider and also mixes in a change. Prior to 2007's unique injury situation, he had been a durable arm who carried his stuff late into games.
The Bad: Purcey's secondary stuff remains inconsistent, as does his command, as he's struggled with mechanical troubles throughout his career. Because of his limited arsenal, many ultimately project him as a reliever.
Fun Fact: In his 62 Double-A innings, Purcey faced only one bases-loaded situation all year, in which he gave up a sacrifice fly.
Perfect World Projection: Depending on his future role, either mid-rotation starter or left-handed set-up man.
Timetable: Purcey was at his best in the Arizona Fall League, allowing just 13 hits in 22 innings while striking out 25. The Jays hope he can build on that momentum in 2008 at Triple-A.

11. Trystan Magnuson, RHP
DOB: 6/6/85
Height/Weight: 6-7/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, University of Louisville
2007 Stats: 1.77 ERA at NCAA (61-43-11-59)

Year In Review: An intriguing senior signee, Magnuson dominated while closing at Louisville, but wasn't able to pitch after signing due to minor elbow issues.
The Good: Very tall and very skinny, Magnuson lives off a 91-94 mph fastball that he locates extremely well. He gets a good downward plane on the pitch because of his height, and also features a solid slider. He gets some deception from funky mechanics, but his arm action is clean.
The Bad: Drafted as a college senior, Magnuson turns 23 in June and has yet to throw a pitch as a profession, so he'll need to move quickly. He very much is what he is, and doesn't offer much in the way of projection.
Fun Fact: Magnuson's great uncle was Keith Magnuson, who played eleven years with the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks.
Perfect World Projection: A late-innings reliever, but probably a little to short (stuff-wise, not in stature) to close.
Timetable: Magnuson needs to move quickly because of his age, but he has the skills to do so. He'll likely begin his career in the Florida State League.

The Sleeper: Like Magnuson, 2007 fifth-round pick Marc Rzepczynski was a budget-minded college senior signing with an impressive sinker/slider combination; he could evolve into a solid lefty reliever.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Travis Snider, OF
2. Kevin Ahrens, 3B
3. Brett Cecil, LHP
4. Adam Lind, of
5. John Tolisano, 2B
6. Jesse Litsch, rhp
7. J.P. Arencibia, C
8. Justin Jackson, SS
9. Ricky Romero, LHP
10. Yohermyn Cavez, of

What to do with Adam Lind? He still has plenty of believers in his bat, but he has plenty of non-believers as well, and the Blue Jays aren't exactly bending over backwards to give him another chance. Litsch is equally difficult to evaluate, as once you get beyond the surprisingly good ERA, you find a strike-thrower who can get groundballs but also has a strikeout rate that makes it hard to be optimistic about his future success.

With only one elite prospect in the organization, the Blue Jays have far less depth than most organizations, with most of their hopes pinned on Snider's bat. The 2007 draft class includes a number of intriguing talents, but the Blue Jays will need a high success ratio from them into order to move up the overall talent rankings.

Next: Cleaning Up the American League, and then on to the NL, leading with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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