WTNYJune 29, 2005
System Overviews: TOR, TB
By Bryan Smith

With a slow day around Baseball Analysts, I thought I'd take the time and write up a pair of system overviews. Expect me to do this from time to time, and today I'll begin in the American League East.


Preseason John Sickels Top 10= League, Purcey, Hill, Banks, Rosario, Jackson, Adams, Quiroz, McGowan, Marcum

Preseason Baseball America Top 10= League, Hill, Quiroz, Rosario, Purcey, Adams, McGowan, Jackson, Banks, Chacin

It would be impossible to look at the Blue Jays minor league system and say that we foresaw what was going to happen in 2004. They have had an up and down year in the largest of ways, as players like Aaron Hill and Russ Adams have moved on to the Majors, while Brandon League has been awful and Guillermo Quiroz hurt.

The solace to the system, however, was a great draft in 2004. David Purcey, the club's first round pick last year, has been passed on the organizational depth chart by second pick Zach Jackson, already in AA. While Purcey's BB/9 is way too high, he still is pitching well. Jackson has added a cutter, like Gustavo Chacin did in 2004, and has really taken off this season. Second-round pick Curtis Thigpen, the former Texas backstop, is doing everything well in the Midwest League. Finally, the unsung hero of the class might be third-round pick Adam Lind, who in his age 21 season in the FSL, is hitting .297/.362/.414. If just some of those 22 doubles (in 273 AB) start going over the wall, watch out.

The other sleeper in the system looks to be Chi-Hung Cheng, the key of the Blue Jay's increased scouting in the Far East. Cheng has been the best prospect on the Lansing Lugnuts this season, and has dominated the Midwest League with a 2.91 ERA and 89 strikeouts in just 77.1 innings. He's one to watch, as raw pitchers don't enter this system very often. In fact, most of the time it's very polished players, which indiactes why the Blue Jays have a glut of B-/C+ pitchers in their system: Izzy Ramirez, Vince Perkins, Jamie Vermilyea, Kurt Isenberg, Shaun Marcum. The head of the polished class is Josh Banks, who has just seven walks (against 74 strikeouts!) in AA this season, but simultaneously has allowed 12 home runs. The lone raw pitcher is Francisco Rosario, a favorite of mine, but a player likely destined for the bullpen.

Guillermo Quiroz' return is key to this system, as the Blue Jays have hung their backstopping future on his shoulders. Quiroz must get enough repetitions in AAA this year to sustain a full-time Major League role next season, so Toronto fans can stop being forced into watching Gregg Zaun try and play. Quiroz will have some aging hitters to learn from in AAA, as both John Hattig and John-Ford Griffin are hitting with gusto this season. Both 25 years of age, neither profiles to be more than a bench player at the Major League level.

In conclusion, if the Jays hadn't drafted well last season, the Toronto system wouldn't have a lot at the top. Lucky for them, their first four picks all look to be top ten prospects.

Current Blue Jays Top Eleven Prospects
1. Zach Jackson
2. David Purcey
3. Dustan McGowan
4. Francisco Rosario
5. Josh Banks
6. Chi-hung Cheng- SLEEPER
7. Guillermo Quiroz
8. Adam Lind- SLEEPER
9. Curtis Thigpen
10. Shaun Marcum
11. Brandon League


Preseason John Sickels Top Ten= Young, Kazmir, Niemann, Bankston, Orvella, Dukes, Brignac, Hammel, Gathright, Houser

Preseason Baseball America Top Ten= Young, Kazmir, Gathright, Hammel, Brignac, Houser, Dukes, Orvella, McClung, Bankston

While graduations have lessened the Devil Rays depth, very few teams have better top fours than the Devil Rays. That, of course, starts at the top with Delmon Young, who is proving to be the best player in the Southern League this season. As if his game was not complete enough, Young will almost surely surpass 40 steals on the season. Expect Delmon to spend the second half of this season playing with B.J. Upton, and for the Devil Rays to show their hand on how they are planning to rebuild this organization.

Young has been part of a fantastic squad in AA, one in which five of my top ten players have played on. Second on the list is Elijah Dukes, joining Young in the outfield, who has not drawn the usual character complaints this season. The Devil Rays decision between Dukes, Joey Gathright (who I didn't include on this list) and Rocco Baldelli will be an interesting one. They also have some middle infield depth with the breakout of Fernando Cortez, who entered the year with a career .699 OPS, and left the Southern League midseason with insane (for him) .333/.377/.420 numbers.

Wes Bankston was moved up from the California League about the same time Cortez was moved to the Durham Bulls. Bankston made a mockery of A-ball in 62 at-bats, and now has hit eleven extra base hits in his first 87 AA at-bats. Bankston's breakout this season should allow for the midseason trade of Aubrey Huff. In that trade, the Devil Rays will likely demand pitching, as their system doesn't have much of it. The most legit prospect highest up the later is Jason Hammel, who has a 3.00 ERA in 10 Southern League starts. The 6-6 Hammel might be the least known of the Biscuit stars, but he certainly will be starting in Tampa before long.

The other top ten pitchers in this system are 2004 first-round pick Jeff Niemann joined by southpaw James Houser. Both have had some arm troubles in the past, but while Houser seems to be over his, Niemann's continue. If you ask me, I expect Niemann to join the Angel Guzman and Anthony Reyes always sore club, bouncing on and off the DL for a long time. Houser is pitching better than his ERA (4.20) indicates in the Midwest League. Houser is backed up on offense by John Jaso, a powerful catcher (tops in the system), ace Andy Sonnanstine, and Reid Brignac.

For kicks, I have tried to create the Devil Rays 2007 lineup, considering the moves that I would make:

1. Carl Crawford- LF
2. Jorge Cantu- 2B
3. B.J. Upton- 3B (sooner or later, we have to accept it)
4. Delmon Young- RF
5. Jonny Gomes- DH
6. Wes Bankston- 1B
7. Elijah Dukes- CF (once Rocco proves to be healthy, deal him)
8. Fernando Cortez- SS (maybe)
9. Toby Hall- C (hanging on by a thread)

They aren't far from being a contender, ladies and gentleman.

Current Devil Rays Top Ten Prospects
1. Delmon Young
2. Elijah Dukes
3. Jeff Niemann
4. Wes Bankston- SLEEPER
5. Jason Hammel
6. John Jaso- SLEEPER
7. James Houser
8. Fernando Cortez
9. Reid Brignac
10. Andy Sonnanstine

If you'd like to see any more system overviews in the future, or have any questions about these two, please indicate within the comments. Also, please check back tomorrow for a few surprises.


I'm not sure that BJ Upton's future is in the infield even if it's at 3rd base. He would be a great centerfielder. His speed and arm translate well thare and his offense would do better without the defensive responsibilities of an infielder.
BJ has the same problem that his little brother Justin has, hard hands and bad footwork which leads to throwing errors. It will be interesting to see what Arizona does long term with Justin.

How about an overview of the Diamondbacks?

I notice you didn't mention Gathright that much. The TB outfield is glutted with bright prospects, but I think Gathright could be a dynamic lead off man. Basically, I think he should get more mention. Gathright may not develop into a complete player, like everyone expects Crawford and Young to do. The fact is that he has 2 things that could really create problems for other teams. The ability to get on base and amazing speed. Rickey Henderson became one of the greatest players of all time with basically those 2 traits. Gathright may not be Rickey, but he could be Rickey-like.

He is probably the fastest guy in baseball and he even has a good batting eye. Carl Crawford is pretty good, really fast, and may develop power. That is not a leadoff hitter though. The chances of 2 of the D-Rays outfield prospects turning into Superstars is not 100%. I think the chances of Gathright turning into something much better than Podsednick and maybe as good (or better) as Juan Pierre are pretty good. He may already be there.


Of course you should continue with the system overviews. I for one am interested in these sorts of articles.

Why is Delmon Young still in Double A?

The obvious answer is that these are the Devil Rays, but at some point even an idiot realizes that their ass is on fire.

Great article over at Baseball Prospectus, Bryan. Was that the first one you've written for them? Assuming this is a new gig, congrats for the much-deserved recognition. Aside from Boyd Nation's draft coverage, BP hasn't had a good prospect evaluator since Dave Cameron left, so I'm glad you're on board.

Thanks Jon, I appreciate it. But, I wouldn't call it a new gig, I don't expect to be a regular contributor over there. It was still fun to have been recognized by them.

Excellent job as always, Bryan.

Funny thing about Gathright is that last year I completely disagreed with you when you suggested that the Rays would be better off trading Rocco for something good and using Gathright in CF. Now he has reversed the negative trend in his walk rate and started to show at least a little pop in his bat (he drove the ball well several times in his brief stint with the Rays this year) and I like his potential a lot more than before. I'm also a strong supporter of trading Baldelli, though Gathright's improvement isn't really the reason for that.

I think you're really overrating Cortez. If he was a couple years younger he might be interesting but for a 24 year old his performance at Montgomery wasn't anything special. Nice batting average but his isolated power and discipline were mediocre as always. I can't see him being anything more than a utility infielder in the majors.

Dukes has had some minor issues this season, mainly with ejections though I believe he had a suspension too. It's an improvement though since every problem has been confined to the field so far.

I don't expect Hall to be around in 2007, he may not even be on the team in 2006. In '07 he'll be in his third arbitration year and his production isn't close to justifying what he'd make then.

I think Bankston is finally going to start getting the attention he deserves now. He matched Young's performance last season and so far is doing the same in 2005. He's obviously not the prospect that Young is, he has two seasons more experience, but he's still very young and should end up on a lot of peoples top prospect radars by the end of the year.

The Rays may not have a lot of established pitching prospects that don't have concerns surrounding them but the depth in the system is beginning to look very good after the 2005 draft. I feel that sheer quantity of potential contributors is a very important strength of a system due to the normal attrition of young pitchers as they develop. By this time next year I bet the system will be getting a lot more recognition for the pitching side of it, though a lot of the guys will still be far from the majors.

Jim, awesome response.

Yes, there was certainly a time when you Devil Rays fans would have killed for Rocco Baldelli. That time has passed with two significant surgeries of course, which means they should have listened to me when I said to trade him last year. But when I now say to trade Joey Gathright, that would only be in the right scenario, and it would be rooted in my confidence for Elijah Dukes to become a good player. By the way, thanks for the Dukes information, I hadn't heard any of that.

Come to think of it, Cortez probably does belong behind Brignac in the rankings, but I can see him starting at shortstop in two years. I don't think he will do any offensively, but for such a loaded lineup, having a possible Gold Glover up the middle would be nice.



Actually, it's Jonny. Jhonny is a common misspelling because that's how his name is spelled in Spanish, and when he was dominating the Mexican league this past winter, that's how his name kept showing up in the boxscores. He really isn't as bad of an outfielder as people give him credit for either - he's pretty much like Huff out there, just with more speed and he doesn't play balls off the wall as well.

A few more guys who look like they may establish themselves before the season is over -

Matt Walker - last years' 10th round pick who got 2nd round money, Walker has started so far with 17 Ks, 4 BBs, 10 hits and a .64 ERA in 14 innings. Supposedly, his FB hits 95, so I wouldn't necessarily call it an early fluke, but we'll see if he keeps it up.

John Matulia - This year's 10th round pick, he was off the radar because he was considered to have a solid commitment to UF. Still, PG ranked him as one of the top 50 HS prospects, and he's doing very well so far as a 17 year old in Princeton, hitting .377/.424/.574.

Matt Spring - last years' 5th rounder, an adequate catcher out of the JC national champions (probably will need to move down the line, but has enough athleticism to not need to DH), always had power, but is starting to lay off pitches, with an early .306/.432/.528 line in Hudson Valley.

Despite a slow start in AA (he did very well in A+, however), I'd put Elliot Johnson ahead of Cortez in terms of 2B prospects. The kid has 70 speed, and unlike COrtez, he's shown some pop in his bat, working up to .273/.350/.449 after a really slow start. As an undrafted kid, he seems to be moving along well, but he did start having some error problems this year.