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March 12, 2009

Future Shock

Blue Jays Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Travis Snider, LF
2. J.P. Arencibia, C
Four-Star Prospects
3. David Cooper, 1B
4. Brett Cecil, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
5. Justin Jackson, SS
6. Brad Mills, LHP
7. Brad Emaus, 2B
8. Ricky Romero, LHP
9. Mark Rzepczynski, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
10. Scott Campbell, 2B
11. Tim Collins, LHP

Just Missed: Carlos Perez, C; Kevin Ahrens, 3B; Kenny Wilson, CF

Ranking Challenges: After coming off of the Rays and the Rangers Top 11s, the Jays present a different kind of challenge, as the talent in the system drops off very quickly. The pitching tends to be in the polished to low-ceiling range, but there are some high-ceiling youngsters who could easily play their way onto next year's list.

1. Travis Snider, LF
DOB: 2/2/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/245
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Jackson HS (WA)
2008 Stats: .279/.333/.557, .270 EqA at High-A (17 G); .262/.357/.461, .263 EqA at Double-A (98 G); .344/.386/.516, .306 EqA at Triple-A (18 G); .301/.338/.466, .270 EqA at MLB (24 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: One of the top hitting prospects in the game, he began last year at Low-A, and finished in the big leagues as a 20-year-old.
The Good: Snider has all of the necessary tools and skills needed to be an offensive force in the big leagues. He has an easy swing with great bat speed, and he gets tremendous leverage with natural loft and backspin. He profiles as a high-average hitter with well above-average power. He works the count well, uses all parts of the field, and his makeup is off the charts.
The Bad: Snider is a massive physical presence, almost built like a cube, and he's a below-average runner who plays merely adequate defense in the corner of the outfield. More advanced pitchers were able to get him to expand his strike zone and force him to chase pitches, leading to a high number of strikeouts.
Fun Fact: Three big-league home runs have been hit by players born in Kirkland, Washington, and all came off the bat of Blue Jays players; before Snider's two last year, third baseman Tom Evans had hit one in 1997.
Perfect World Projection: He's going to be the third hitter in the Jays' lineup, a perennial All-Star, and an occasional MVP candidate.
Glass Half Empty: He has to move to first base, which will slightly lower his value, but he's certainly going to hit.
Path To The Big Leagues: He has arrived.
Timetable: While the Blue Jays insist that Snider is simply competing for a job this spring, he should be the everyday left fielder to open the year, and he could be the best hitter on the team right now. His home run off of Yankee right-hander Ian Kennedy that left Legends Field in Tampa earlier this week is already the stuff of legend, and could be an indicator of things to come.

2. J.P. Arencibia, C
DOB: 1/5/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, University of Tennessee
2008 Stats: .315/.344/.560, .268 EqA at High-A (59 G); .282/.302/.496, .241 EqA at Double-A (67 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: Last year's first-round pick was flying below the prospect radar, despite playing at the same levels as uber-prospect Matt Wieters while matching him with 27 home runs.
The Good: Arencibia is a rarity as a catcher who is often described as athletic and toolsy. He has excellent hitting fundamentals with easy plus power, and he doesn't have to fully square up on the ball to get it out of the park. He moves well behind the plate, has a plus arm, and enjoys working with pitchers and coaches to come up with a game plan.
The Bad: Arencibia is a highly aggressive hitter who needs to develop a more patient approach. While he has all of the tools required to be an outstanding defensive catcher, he's still a bit raw when it comes to blocking balls effectively.
Fun Fact: He has two connections to Alex Rodiguez; he tied A-Rod's school record with 17 home runs at Westminster Christian High in Florida, and he was also drafted by the Mariners out of the school, when Seattle made him the 17th-round selection in 2004.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an above-average starting catcher in the big leagues.
Glass Half Empty: The lack of walks and patience will cut into his ability to drive the ball, making him more of an average starter at the position.
Path To The Big Leagues: Arencibia is moving quickly, and the path is clear.
Timetable: Depending on the numbers game, Arencibia will begin the year at either Double- or Triple-A, and should be the Jays' starting catcher by Opening Day 2010.

3. David Cooper, 1B
DOB: 2/12/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of California at Berkeley
2008 Stats: .341/.411/.553 at Short-season (21 G); .354/.415/.521, .268 EqA at Low-A (24 G); .304/.373/.435, .255 EqA at High-A (24 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: One of the top hitters in college baseball, he had no trouble adjusting to pro ball, hitting at all three of the levels he played at in 2008.
The Good: Cooper earns universal praise for his abilities at the plate. He has outstanding pitch recognition, as well as a textbook swing that should produce high batting averages and on-base percentages. His plus power should show up in games more as he adjusts to using a wood bat, with most believing that many of the 29 doubles he hit in his first 271 at-bats will turn into home runs at some point down the road.
The Bad: Cooper's value lies solely in his offense. He's a downright slow runner, and his defense, even at first base, is below average. He struggles a bit against lefties, who found success against him as a pro by busting him inside.
Fun Fact: Cooper was the second-highest pick ever for a position player drafted out of the University of California at Berkeley. The Orioles selected shortstop Ted Parks with the 16th overall pick in 1966, but he failed to reach the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become a .300 hitter, with plenty of walks and 25-30 home runs annually.
Glass Half Empty: The power doesn't come, leaving him as a John Olerud/Mark Grace type, but without the glove.
Path To The Big Leagues: Cooper has drawn some comps to current first baseman Lyle Overbay, whose contract expires after 2010, so things should be lined up nicely.
Timetable: Cooper will probably begin the year back at High-A Dunedin, but Jays officials are confident that he'll be ready for Double-A at some point during the season.

4. Brett Cecil, LHP
DOB: 7/2/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, University of Maryland
2008 Stats: 1.74 ERA at High-A (10.1-6-2-11), 2.89 DERA; 2.55 ERA at Double-A (77.2-66-23-87), 3.55 DERA; 4.11 ERA at Triple-A (30.2-28-16-31), 5.70 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: This former college closer always looked more like a starter at Maryland, and he excelled in that role in his full-season debut last year, reaching Triple-A by August.
The Good: Cecil's bread-and-butter is his 88-92 mph fastball that can touch 94 and features outstanding sink and run. He pounds the lower half of the strike zone with the pitch, generating plenty of ground balls. He throws two breaking balls, with both his slider and curve ranking as at least average and flashing as plus.
The Bad: His changeup is still a work in progress, and he'll need a more consistent off-speed offering at the upper levels. He lost a touch of velocity toward the end of the season, leading some question as to his ability to deliver 30-plus starts and 180-plus innings annually. While he has a deep arsenal, he doesn't have a true wipeout offering, and he'll always need a good defense behind him.
Fun Fact: Cecil played his high school baseball at famed DeMatha High in Maryland, which has a long history of producing NBA players, but whose most famous baseball alum is former Royals and Yankees closer Steve Farr.
Perfect World Projection: He should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: More of a back-end type, and there's always a job in the bullpen as a backup.
Path To The Big Leagues: Despite his inexperience, Cecil is already on the cusp of the big leagues.
Timetable: Injuries have created some opportunities at the end of the Blue Jays rotation, and while Cecil will get a long look this spring, he'll still probably begin the year at Triple-A.

5. Justin Jackson, SS
DOB: 12/11/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/186
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Roberson HS (NC)
2008 Stats: .238/.340/.368, .203 EqA at Low-A (121 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: He's a toolsy shortstop who displayed a great array of skills while showing plenty of room for improvement in his 2008 full-season debut.
The Good: Jackson has the kind of long, loose athleticism that scouts adore. He has an advanced feel for the strike zone and solid gap power, as well as a tick above-average speed. He has outstanding moves at shortstop with fantastic instincts and plus range, and a strong, accurate throwing arm.
The Bad: Jackson's swing is both long and loopy, which resulted in a low batting average and too many strikeouts, and some scouts called for a complete rebuilding of his mechanics. His plate discipline can get the better of him; he seems to always be looking for a base on balls at the expense of taking the opportunity to drive hittable pitches.
Fun Fact: He made just one out in five appearances with the bases loaded last year, delivering six RBI on a single, a double, and two walks.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a plus defensive shortstop with enough on-base skills to hit second in the lineup.
Glass Half Empty: Settles for being a second-division starter or utility player.
Path To The Big Leagues: He's the best shortstop prospect in the system by a mile, and the major league starters right now are Marcus Scutaro and Jason McDonald. It's hard to imagine a clearer path, though Jackson's development will require some patience.
Timetable: He's likely a one-level-at-a-time type of player, and he'll begin 2009 at High-A Dunedin.

6. Brad Mills, LHP
DOB: 3/5/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2007, University of Arizona
2008 Stats: 2.55 ERA at Low-A (81.1-71-28-92), 6.20 DERA; 1.10 ERA at Double-A (32.2-24-12-32), 3.73 DERA; 1.35 ERA at High-A (33.1-25-12-35), 4.15 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This cost-effective senior signing went from Low- to Double-A in his full-season debut in '08, while finishing fifth in the minor leagues with a 1.95 ERA.
The Good: He is the consummate pitcher who gets by without top-of-the-line stuff by hitting his spots and keeping hitters off balance. His 88-91 mph fastball was characterized as "sneaky fast" by one scout due to Mills' deceptive delivery, and he throws a decent curveball and gets strikeouts with the best changeup in the system, a pitch with heavy fade that he'll often throw in non-traditional counts.
The Bad: Like many Toronto prospects, he's not a dominating hurler, he needs defensive help, and he has little room for error when it comes to location. Already 24 years old, he's a finished product with little projection.
Fun Fact: While coming from a storied program, none of the 41 pitchers drafted out of the University of Arizona in the last 19 years has won a major league game.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid big-league starter...
Glass Half Empty: ...Or a reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: Mills could be closer to The Show than many think.
Timetable: In the open fight for the fifth-starter's job coming out of camp, there is some thought that Mills stands out enough to have taken an early advantage. With just six starts above A-level, putting him in the majors now would be something of a risk, but he does have the polish to succeed there.

7.Brad Emaus, 2B
DOB: 3/28/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 11th round, 2007, Tulane University
2008 Stats: .302/.380/.463, .265 EqA at High-A (124 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: He's a low-round pick who had a breakout season last year, leading the Florida State League in runs while finishing among the circuit's top five in batting average, hits, and doubles.
The Good: Emaus just plays the game right. He works the count well, has an excellent knack for contact—displayed by more walks (60) than strikeouts (56) last year—and gap power with the ability to pound mistakes. He makes the plays on any balls within reach and has a strong enough arm for third base, a position he played at times in the Hawaii Winter League. He's a baseball rat who gets the most from his somewhat limited tools, thanks to a maximum effort style and his passion for the game.
The Bad: He'll never light up scouts with his tools, and his projection falls below star-level because of it. He's not especially quick, which costs him some range in the infield.
Fun Fact: Only seven players drafted 355th overall have ever reached the big leagues, including All-Star (swear to god, look it up) Ron Coomer, and Cy Young Award winner Mike Flanagan.
Perfect World Projection: A solid everyday second baseman.
Glass Half Empty: A utility type who can play anywhere in the infield except shortstop.
Path To The Big Leagues: It depends on how much faith you have in Aaron Hill.
Timetable: Emaus will move up to Double-A in 2009, and his performance at the upper levels will give everyone a better idea of his future role.

8. Ricky Romero, LHP
DOB: 11/6/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2005, California State University, Fullerton
2008 Stats: 4.96 ERA at Double-A (121.2-139-55-78), 6.16 DERA; 3.38 ERA at Triple-A (42.2-42-20-38), 4.08 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: Three campaigns of below-expectation performances by this former first-round pick were mitigated last year by a solid late-season showing at Triple-A.
The Good: Despite his struggles, Romero still has three pitches that rate as average or better. His fastball sits at 89-93 mph and has natural sink, while his changeup is a plus pitch that he throws with confidence at any point in the count. He also throws a hard curveball that flashes plus, and he's intensely competitive.
The Bad: His command is very inconsistent, and it remains the biggest hurdle for him to overcome on his way to the big leagues. His emotions often get the best of him, causing him to overthrow and lose both control and the break on his secondary pitches. Like Cecil, he has a deep arsenal, but no true go-to pitch.
Fun Fact: Romero was a 37th-round pick by the Red Sox in 2002 out of Roosevelt High in Los Angeles, the same school that graduated Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and rock impresario/film producer Lou Adler.
Perfect World Projection: He should become an innings-eating starter.
Glass Half Empty: Romero may end up as a swingman or middle reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: He should be ready at some point during this season.
Timetable: He's also getting a long look this spring as one of the options to fill the holes in Toronto's rotation, but he might need to prove himself more at Triple-A before getting a big-league opportunity.

9. Marc Rzepczynski, LHP
DOB: 8/29/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2007, University of California, Riverside
2008 Stats: 2.83 ERA at Low-A (121-100-42-124), 5.77 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: An advanced college arm who cruised through the Midwest League last season in his full-season debut, he allowed one or zero earned runs in 14 of his 22 outings.
The Good: In a system filled with pitchers who keep the ball on the ground, Rzepczynski arguably has the best sinker of any of them, making up for below-average velocity with tremendous late life. He has excellent command, pitches to contact, and uses a solid slider/changeup mix to keep hitters on their toes.
The Bad: Rzepczynski doesn't have the ability to blow away hitters, and some scouts dinged him as a 22-year-old experienced college arm beating up on the raw talents of the Midwest League.
Fun Fact: Sean Lawrence, who won a pair of games for the Pirates in 1998, is the only lefty drafted 145th overall to ever win a game in the major leagues.
Perfect World Projection: Rzepczynski will be a fourth or fifth starter.
Glass Half Empty: He could become a double-play inducing reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: He's behind some of the more advanced arms on the depth chart, so he'll need to continue to pitch well to get a shot.
Timetable: Rzepczynski will begin 2009 at High-A Dunedin, with hopes of moving up to Double-A before the season ends.

10. Scott Campbell, 2B
DOB: 9/25/84
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 10th round, 2006, Gonzaga University
2008 Stats: .302/.398/.427, .261 EqA at Double-A (112 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: A kiwi import who had no problems with a two-level jump to Double-A, he finished ninth in the Eastern League batting race last year.
The Good: Campbell is one of the best pure hitters in the system, with a good approach, a quick bat, and excellent plate coverage. He's walked more than he's struck out at every level as a pro, and he has gap power and plays a fundamentally sound second base.
The Bad: He's a below-average runner whose range is a bit limited at second base. He played primarily at third base in the Arizona Fall League, and while he does have the tools to play there, he lacks the power profile. He does most of his damage against right-handed pitching.
Fun Fact: If he makes it, Campbell will become the first New Zealander to reach the major leagues. I'm sure Murray back at the consulate will be proud.
Perfect World Projection: He could become a good though unspectacular second baseman.
Glass Half Empty: He may settle for being a utility player.
Path To The Big Leagues: It might be clearer if his defensive position was more clearly defined.
Timetable: Campbell will move up to Triple-A in 2009, and he should make history at some point during the year if he can continue to hit.

11. Tim Collins, LHP
DOB: 8/29/89
Height/Weight: 5-7/155
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: NDFA, 2007
2008 Stats: 1.58 ERA at Low-A (68.1-36-32-98), 3.72 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Plucked out of J.P. Ricciardi's hometown after his father had raved about his high school outings, this diminutive lefty was one of the better stories in the Midwest League last year as he limited hitters to a .156 batting average.
The Good: Bringing up Collins' name when talking to scouts always brings a smile to their faces. His listed height of 5-foot-7 is generous, and his weight only passed the 150-pound mark when a conditioning program (more like simply eating) put an additional 15 pounds on his skinny frame, with one scout noting, "the first time I saw him take the mound, I was wondering why the batboy was warming up." Once he starts pitching, he shocks hitters with an 88-93 mph fastball coupled with a deceptive delivery, and his lightning-fast arm action had another evaluator referring to him as "a mini-Tim Lincecum... if there could be such a thing." He also has a big, bending curveball that's a plus pitch, and he's absolutely fearless on the mound, pitching inside and challenging all of the hitters he faces.
The Bad: It's almost impossible to project someone like Collins, since most have simply never seen anyone like him. He'll never have the stamina to start, and his stuff is far from closer-worthy.
Fun Fact: Lefties facing Collins in 2008 went 7-for-69 with 27 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a very good big-league reliever, and a fan favorite.
Glass Half Empty: He could be a left-handed situational reliever, or it just may not work out for him at the upper levels and he'll fade away.
Path To The Big Leagues: All you can do is keep throwing him out there, and see if he continues to dominate.
Timetable: Just 18 years old during the majority of the 2008 season, Collins will be one of the younger pitchers in the Florida State League where he'll be working out of the High-A Dunedin bullpen.

The Sleeper: A high-profile Latin American who had a horrible pro debut, third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor rebounded in 2008 with a .307/.360/.458 line in the Gulf Coast League, but his defense at the hot corner remains rough.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Travis Snider, LF
2. J.P. Arencibia, C
3. David Cooper, 1B
4. Jesse Litsch, RHP
5. Brett Cecil, LHP
6. Adam Lind, LF
7. Justin Jackson, SS
8. Brad Mills, LHP
9. Brad Emaus, 2B
10. Ricky Romero, LHP

 

Despite a very good 2008 showing, PECOTA isn't especially optimistic about Litsch, and his secondary numbers do make the 13 wins and the 3.58 ERA appear unrealistic. He's not a one-year wonder or anything, but more of a back-of-the-rotation type. Lind blew his opportunity, has been passed by Snider, and has most scouts now pegging him as a good fourth outfielder rather than a starter.

Summary: While the Jays' system still lacks depth, they do have a good number of high-ceiling offensive prospects who are ready or near-ready, and they should provide a significant upgrade to an offense that finished 11th in the American League last year in runs scored.

---

A Quick Note: This represents the last of the Top 11 Prospect lists, and all of us thank you for reading them and for fostering discussion in our comments section. While in many ways coverage of the prospect world at BP is a one-man operation, there are still some people that need to be thanked. Matt Bishoff took the crown of semi-official Top 11 intern, and he did yeoman's work setting up the writing templates while looking up and coding all of the biographical, statistical, and signing information for all 330 players. He also did an outstanding job of arranging many of the accompanying BP Radio pieces. This brings me to Will Carroll and Brad Wochomurka, who did absolutely outstanding work providing our readers with outstanding interviews with some of the biggest names in scouting and player development, as well as big-name general managers and many of the prospects themselves. When Will approached me in November with the idea of accompanying all 30 of these prospect lists with an audio piece, it was easily our most ambitious radio project, and even we weren't sure we'd be able to pull it off, but Will took the reins on the project and owned it, and I think it was the best addition to the site this offseason.


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Blue Jays Director of Scouting Jon Lalonde joins Brad for a look at the best prospects in the Toronto organization, as we check in on the Top 11 Prospect Lists at BPR.


Click to download mp3

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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