System Overviews: TOR, TB
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.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
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.