Three members of Toronto's young core -- Kyle Drabek, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia -- were among the players who made the cut Tuesday night for MLB.com's Top 50 Prospect rankings.
Drabek was the highest-ranked Blue Jay on the list at No. 12 overall. The native of Texas moved up four spots on the list from last year after going 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA for Double-A New Hampshire in 2010. Drabek struck out 132 batters while walking 68 and allowing just 12 home runs over 162 innings.
The 23-year-old also got his first taste of the Major Leagues last season. He received a September callup from the club and proceeded to make three starts for the Blue Jays. The former first-round Draft pick didn't allow more than three runs in any of his appearances, but he failed to earn his first victory.
Drabek, who will likely begin the season as the Blue Jays' No. 4 starter, was also named the third-best right-handed pitching prospect in the game. The Eastern League's Pitcher of the Year possesses a devastating curveball and is expected to work with pitching coach Bruce Walton to improve his changeup, which already is an above-average pitch.
Lawrie, who was acquired from the Brewers on Dec. 6 in exchange for Shaun Marcum, ranks 28th on MLB.com's list of top prospects. Last year, Lawrie attended his second consecutive XM All-Star Futures Game and finished the season batting .285, with eight home runs and 63 RBIs while playing for Double-A Huntsville.
The 21-year-old infielder's success came as one of the youngest regulars in the Southern League. Although the power numbers weren't where he had hoped, Lawrie recorded 36 doubles and 16 triples in a league that is notoriously tough on hitters.
The always confident Lawrie has talked openly about his desire to be fast-tracked to the Major Leagues, but he is expected to start the season with Triple-A Las Vegas. He likely will begin transitioning to third base with the 51s and should be ready to contribute at the Major League level by 2012.
Arencibia cracks the Top 50 list for the first time in his career following an impressive season with Triple-A Las Vegas. He recorded a .301 average, with 32 home runs and 85 RBIs en route to winning the Pacific Coast League's Most Valuable Player Award.
The 24-year-old also made headlines with a historic Major League debut on Aug. 7. Arencibia homered on the first pitch he saw from Rays starter James Shields, and before the day was over, Arencibia would add another home run and finish the game 4-for-5 with a double and three RBIs. He became just the fifth player in Major League history to hit two home runs in his first game, and the 107th to record a home run in his first at-bat.
The next challenge for Arencibia will be securing a regular role with the Blue Jays. He is expected to take over the starting reins from the departed John Buck, but Arencibia will also face stiff competition from backup Mike Napoli. Despite being a rookie, Arencibia does have the advantage of having caught a lot of Toronto's young staff as he advanced through the club's Minor League system.
Two other Blue Jays prospects -- Adeiny Hechavarria and Travis d'Arnaud -- finished among the top-ranked players at their respective positions but did not crack MLB.com's Top 50 list.
The 21-year-old d'Arnaud is ranked as the ninth-best catcher in the Minor Leagues. The native of California posted a .259 average with six home runs and 38 RBIs in 71 games for Class A Dunedin. His season was cut short because of a back injury, but it was not considered serious and d'Arnaud is expected to begin the season pain free.
The club plans to give him the opportunity to advance to Double-A New Hampshire, where he will work closely with manager -- and former Major League catcher -- Sal Fasano. d'Arnaud was acquired as part of the deal that sent ace Roy Halladay to Philadelphia in December 2009.
Hechavarria makes the list of top shortstop prospects at No. 7. The 21-year-old native of Cuba signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Blue Jays in April. He got off to a slow start with Class A Dunedin, but Hechavarria started to excel later in the year while playing for New Hampshire.
In 61 games at Double-A, he hit .273 with three home runs, 34 RBIs and six stolen bases. His bat was a little inconsistent, but on the field, he showed the type of skill-set that is expected to eventually make him a top defender.