Blue Jays flying under the radar

Blue Jays flying under the radar

Before the 2008 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent Draft class.

It would be easy to lose the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East prospect-development shuffle, what with the top-of-the-pack results of the Tampa Bay Rays, the homegrown flavor of the ever-dominant Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees' recent commitment to bringing up their kids as well.

But the Jays are quietly determined not to let that happen and have a passel of prospects of their own, either already establishing themselves in the big leagues or well on their way. Just because you're not hearing as much about them doesn't mean they're not there.

With a 3.49 ERA in 2008, the Jays had one of the best pitching staffs in the big leagues, and it was bolstered by a young and largely homegrown group of arms. Even though three of those future aces are sidelined (Dustin McGowan and Casey Janssen are on the mend from shoulder operations and Shaun Marcum is out for the year following elbow surgery), there is still talent on deck for the future.

On the hitting side, you just may have seen the future with the coronation of 20-year-old Travis Snider, the club's top pick in 2006, who played regularly in September between left and right field (with a little DH thrown in for good measure) and hit over .300.

The Jays have been making good use of the Draft to acquire polished college talent, with 2007 first-rounders such as southpaw Brett Cecil and catcher J.P. Arencibia boasting possible 2009 big-league arrivals. This year's top pick, David Cooper, a first baseman out of Auburn, has also shown he's on the fast track.

On the field in 2008 the system as a whole had a .510 winning percentage (425-409), which put it just above the middle of the pack at 12th overall. Class A Advanced Dunedin (85-53) made it to the Florida State League playoffs, while its manager, Omar Malave, was named the league's top skipper. Lansing (76-64) also made it to the postseason in the Midwest League.

Organizational Players of the Year

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Travis Snider, OF: We thought this was the safe pick. As we said, "How can you not go with this guy? As long as he's young enough not to be called up at midseason (maybe another year or two), he's our pick." And he had a great year, a Player of the Year season for many organizations, combining to hit .275 with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs between three levels of the Minors. He did get called up to the bigs to boot and hit .301 as an everyday player down the stretch. But his buddy, catcher J.P. Arencibia, edged him out for the honors. A first-round pick from 2006, he's still just 20. The sky -- or the Skydome -- really is the limit.
Snider doubles in first Triple-A at-bat

Brett Cecil, LHP: Again, our pick was a good one. The Jays' supplemental first-round pick in 2007 out of Maryland had a 1.24 ERA in 14 starts last season at Class A Short-Season Auburn, then gave up one earned run in two postseason starts. This year he combined at three levels to go 8-5 with a 2.88 ERA (fourth in the system), striking out 129 in 118 2/3 innings and finishing among the top 10 lefty Minor League starters with 9.78 strikeouts per nine innings. The closer-turned-starter throws a nasty slider as his out-pitch and has a fastball in the low 90s. He finished the year at Triple-A Syracuse and should factor into the wide-open rotation picture come Spring Training.
Cecil takes no-hitter through seventh


•  Monday, Oct. 6: Washington Nationals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 7: Seattle Mariners
•  Wednesday, Oct. 8: San Diego Padres
•  Thursday, Oct. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates
•  Friday, Oct. 10: Baltimore Orioles
•  Monday, Oct. 13: Atlanta Braves
•  Tuesday, Oct. 14: San Francisco Giants
•  Wednesday, Oct. 15: Cincinnati Reds
•  Thursday, Oct. 16: Colorado Rockies
•  Friday, Oct. 17: Detroit Tigers
•  Monday, Oct. 20: Kansas City Royals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 21: Oakland Athletics
•  Wednesday, Oct. 22: Texas Rangers
•  Thursday, Oct. 23: Cleveland Indians
•  Friday, Oct. 24: Arizona Diamondbacks
•  Monday, Oct. 27: Florida Marlins
•  Tuesday, Oct. 28: Toronto Blue Jays
•  Wednesday, Oct. 29: St. Louis Cardinals
•  Thursday, Oct. 30: Houston Astros
•  Friday, Oct. 31: Minnesota Twins
•  Monday, Nov. 3: New York Yankees
•  Tuesday, Nov. 4: New York Mets
•  Wednesday, Nov. 5: Los Angeles Angels
•  Thursday, Nov. 6: Chicago White Sox
•  Friday, Nov. 7: Milwaukee Brewers
•  Monday, Nov. 10: Chicago Cubs
•  Tuesday, Nov. 11: Boston Red Sox
•  Wednesday, Nov. 12: LA Dodgers
•  Thursday, Nov. 13: Tampa Bay Rays
•  Friday, Nov. 14: Philadelphia Phillies

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

J.P. Arencibia, C: One of seven players taken by the Jays in the first 88 picks of 2007, the first-rounder from Tennessee dominated at the plate in his first full season, hitting .298 with 27 homers and 105 RBIs between Class A Advanced Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. He finished tied for 10th in the Minors in RBIs and showed pure power to all fields. Though he has the reputation for being an "offensive catcher," he is working hard on his defense and should be more than adequate behind the plate when he is called to the bigs. And that may not be far off. Right now, with veteran Rod Barajas and Jays prospect Curtis Thigpen ahead of him, he could be in the bigs by 2009.
Arencibia cranks two homers for Fisher Cats

Brad Mills, LHP: The Jays had had their eye on the Arizona southpaw for awhile, drafting him in the 22nd round of 2006, though he chose not to sign so he could continue his degree in civil engineering. They took him with their fourth-round pick in 2007 and he posted a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings that summer at Auburn, but missed time with arm soreness and an irregular heartbeat. Jays player development director Dick Scott said prior to the 2008 season that he expected Mills to have a successful first full season in his comeback, but who knows if he could have expected such a year? Mills' 1.95 ERA between Class A Lansing (2.55), Dunedin (1.35) and New Hampshire (1.10) ranked fourth among all Minor League starters, while his 159 strikeouts in 147 1/3 innings were eighth in the Minors. He won the Toronto Triple Crown for wins (13), ERA and strikeouts and could factor into the big-league mix come April.
Mills strikes out his fifth batter

Climbed the Ladder

J.P. Arencibia, C: See predictions.

Brett Cecil, LHP: See predictions.

David Purcey, LHP: The first-rounder from 2004 out of Oklahoma was slowed in 2007 by an arm injury that shut him down for the second half of the summer, but his 1.23 ERA in six starts in the Arizona Fall League may have been a sign of things to come. Throwing a lively fastball in the low 90s and a good curveball, Purcey delivered the first official pitch of the 2008 Minor League season and went on to be Pitcher of the Year for the Syracuse Chiefs as he led the International League with a 2.69 ERA in 117 innings, but he spent much of the second half with Toronto, going 3-6 with a 5.54 ERA. We predicted here that he'd be the club's Comeback Player of the Year for 2008 and it looked to be on target.
Purcey picks up his seventh K

Scott Campbell, 2B: The 10th-rounder out of Gonzaga in 2006 looks to become the first-ever New Zealander to make it to the big leagues, and he is certainly on target to achieve that goal. The club's Player of the Year at New Hampshire, he hit .302 with nine homers and 46 RBIs for the Fisher Cats and appeared in the All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium in July. He was ninth in the Eastern League in batting and sixth with a .398 on-base average.
Campbell goes deep twice

Brad Mills, LHP: See predictions.

Luis Perez, LHP: After three short-season campaigns, with the last being at Auburn where he posted a 3.70 ERA in 16 starts in 2007, Scott saw Perez as a sleeper who would emerge from under the radar in 2008 and he was on target with that prediction. In his first full season, he posted a 3.60 ERA at Lansing and struck out 137 batters in as many innings, finishing 10th in the organization in ERA.
Perez strikes out the side

Ricky Romero LHP: After pitching in just 18 games in 2007, posting a 4.89 ERA at New Hampshire and suffering from a sore shoulder and command issues, the first-round pick from 2005 was facing a real make-or-break year with the Jays in 2008. But he seemed to put it together in 2008, especially in the final month at Syracuse, and the timing couldn't be better with the club looking for in-house candidates for the '09 rotation. At New Hampshire, he went 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA but came on strong in the last month there with a 2.83 ERA in July before moving up to the Chiefs, where he had a 3.38 ERA in seven starts, striking out 38 in 42 2/3 innings.
Romero takes one-hitter through eight

Travis Snider: See predictions.

Kept Their Footing

Kevin Ahrens, 3B: The first of the team's seven high picks in 2007, the high school switch-hitter from Houston continued to make the transition from shortstop to the hot corner. Just 19, he batted .259 with five homers at Lansing in his full-season debut, adding 42 RBIs though he struck out 135 times. The power should develop for the youngster, who hit the wall the final month after hitting over .270 through Aug. 1.
Ahrens hits game-tying RBI single

Eric Eiland, OF: The 20-year-old Eiland, the last of the "magnificent seven" taken with pick No. 88 overall in 2007, was a football star in high school in Texas who has a lot of raw tools but is still refining his game. Starting the season a month and a half behind his compadres out of extended spring training, he batted .233 with 23 steals and was caught once in 74 games at Lansing.
Eiland strokes walk-off single

Justin Jackson, SS: The club's supplement first-round pick out of high school in Asheville, N.C., the son of former big league infielder Chuck Jackson played for Lansing at age 19 and hit .238 with seven home runs, 47 RBIs and 17 steals. He struck out 154 times and had a streaky season, hitting over .300 in April and July but under .213 in May, June and August. He has some power for his position, great instincts and is a plus defender.
Jackson drives bases-clearing double

John Tolisano, 2B: Yes, you guessed it -- yet another youngster from the Class of '07. The just-turned-20-year-old Tolisano shifted from shortstop to second base at Lansing, where he hit .229 with six homers and 47 RBIs. He was hitting .271 through July 1 before hitting the proverbial wall and batting .162 the rest of the way. He does have some power as his 10 homers in the Gulf Coast League in his 2007 debut will attest.
Tolisano rips go-ahead homer

Slipped a Rung

Ryan Patterson, OF: The fourth-rounder from 2005 out of LSU has a potentially powerful bat but his average dropped 20 points in 2008 in a return to New Hampshire, as he hit .248 there with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 121 games after batting .267-18-68 in 111 games for the Fisher Cats in 2007. He can still regain his status on the outfielder ladder, but he has more players he has to overtake now.

Curtis Thigpen, C: On the one hand, the 2004 second-round pick out of Texas is on the verge of having a big-league job, with no clear-cut starter ahead of him right now. But after hitting .285 at Syracuse in 2007, Thigpen slipped offensively in '08, batting .222 in 96 games with the Chiefs and .176 in 17 games with Toronto. The job may be his to start 2008, but he's going to have to ratchet it up while he looks over his shoulder at who may be gaining on him.

On the Radar

Brian Dopirak 1B: It may seem like Dopirak is an older player who has no business being on this list because he's been around for so long. But he's actually just 24 years old, having being taken out of high school in the second round of 2002 by the Chicago Cubs. Picked up by the Jays as a free agent, Dopirak earned Dunedin's Player of the Year honors and combined between that club and New Hampshire to hit .304 with 29 homers and 101 RBIs. Those numbers should earn him a shot to see whether he can keep it going at higher levels.
Dopirak belts three-run homer

Balbino Fuenmayor, 3B: The Gulf Coast League Blue Jays' Player of the Year, Fuenmayor led the system with a .307 batting average at age 18 -- he was born in November 1989. A teen sensation when he signed out of Venezuela in 2006, he had not done much until now, hitting .174 with the Gulf Coast team in 2007. His defense needs work, but the Jays have to be happy to see what he did with the bat this summer.

Trystan Magnuson, RHP: The last member of the gang of seven from 2007, the 6-foot-8 23-year-old did not pitch in 2007 due to a sore arm, so his 2008 campaign at Lansing marked his pro debut. He finished 0-9 with a 5.40 ERA, tossing 81 2/3 innings, but his winless streak was due in part to the fact that in 24 outings he only went five innings four times, so he was rarely eligible for that elusive first pro victory.
Magnuson fans his fifth batter

Scott Richmond, RHP: The 29-year-old from Vancouver has to get mention here for succeeding against all odds to make his big-league debut with his home-country club in late July and pick up his first victory in his last game of the regular season. An independent league product who retired to become a dockworker, he signed with the Jays and worked his way to the bigs within months. After posting a 4.92 ERA in 16 starts at New Hampshire and moving up to Syracuse, he made his big-league debut July 30 starting against the Rays. He was sent back down (in a case of bad timing, just too late to pitch for Team Canada in the Olympics), finished his Chiefs stint with a 3.56 ERA in eight games and was back up with the Jays in September. Overall he had a 4.00 ERA in five big-league starts, including six innings of four-hit shutout ball on Sept. 26. He is the 14th Canadian-born player and sixth pitcher to play for the Blue Jays.
Highlights from Richmond's first Major League win

Marc Rzepczynski, LHP: Lansing's Pitcher of the Year was the team's fifth-round pick in 2007 out of Cal-Riverside as a senior. His 2.83 ERA for the Lugnuts ranked seventh in the Midwest League and third in the organization, as he struck out 124 in 121 innings. Just don't ask us to pronounce his name.
Rzepczynski fans his ninth batter

2008 Draft Recap

1. David Cooper, 1B: The Jays drafted and signed yet another polished and almost-ready-for-prime-time player in Cooper, a Cal Berkeley product who became the first of the 2008 first-round picks to sign June 10. He hit .341 in 21 games at Auburn, .354 in 24 games at Lansing and finally wound up at Dunedin, where he batted .304 in 24 games for a combined .333 average, five homers and 49 RBIs. A left-hander with a pure swing, he was the 17th overall pick.
Draft day conference call with Cooper

2. Kenny Wilson, OF: The high schooler out of Florida was viewed as one of the speed threats in the Draft and he showed why as he swiped 25 bases in the Gulf Coast League, good for fourth in the organization.

3. Andrew Liebel, RHP: Drafted out of Cal State-Long Beach, Liebel went 1-2 at Auburn with a 3.68 ERA in seven games, striking out 19 while walking two in 14 2/3 innings.
Liebel strikes out back-to-back batters

Others of Note: The Jays took a pair of promising Florida high school athletes back to back in SS Tyler Pastornicky (fifth round) and OF Marcus Brisker (sixth round). Pastornicky's 27 steals in the Gulf Coast League ranked third in the system, while Brisker hit .306 for that club with 13 steals in 32 games. ... OF Eric Thames (seventh round) did not play this season due to a torn quad muscle suffered at the end of his college season, but the Pepperdine star has huge talent and will be one to watch in 2009. ... RHP Danny Farquhar (10th round) tossed six shutout innings at Lansing after posting a 2.39 ERA in 12 games at Auburn. ... RHP Matthew Daly (13th round), out of Hawaii, posted a 1.46 ERA in relief at Auburn. ... Rice right-hander Robert Bell (18th round) was the key relief ace at Auburn, going 10-for-10 in save opportunities while posting an 0.98 ERA in 19 games. He struck out 39 batters in 27 2/3 innings without walking a batter and limited New York-Penn League hitters to a .153 average. He was named Auburn's Pitcher of the Year. ... LHP Ryan Page (20th round) posted a 1.69 ERA in the Gulf Coast League, added six shutout innings at Auburn and finished at Dunedin with an 0.82 ERA in 11 innings. ... Louisville 2B Justin McClanahan hit .282 in the Gulf Coast League with eight homers, 32 RBIs and 17 steals, finishing top five in the league in home runs and RBIs.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.