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Anthopoulos building up Jays' farm system

Anthopoulos building up Jays' farm system

TORONTO -- Alex Anthopoulos has focused on strengthening the foundation of the Blue Jays organization since assuming the role of general manager at the end of this past season. He knows that a better farm system can ultimately lead to more success in Toronto.

Since Anthopoulos' arrival, the Blue Jays' scouting and player development departments have been given serious facelifts. The rookie GM wants to build the best staff in the game, giving him more eyes for evaluation and more opinions at his disposal, with the goal of piecing together a talented young core that can lead Toronto back to the postseason.

"We're never going to satisfied with what we're doing," Anthopoulos said earlier this winter. "If we get five players out of the Draft to get to the big leagues, then the challenge next year is to get six. It's just like any big corporation going forward -- you never stop growing. You try to be innovative, you try to be creative and you try to continue to push the envelope.

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"The long-term goal is to try to have the best staff across baseball. Ultimately, that will lead to us having good players, and that will show up in Toronto."

The Blue Jays have shown in recent years that they have a solid group of talented young pitchers. Last season, Toronto had four pitchers (Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepcyznski and Brad Mills) make their Major League debut -- three originating from the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. It is a promising young group for Anthopoulos to build around.

As much success as the Jays have had on the mound, though, Baseball America still ranks Toronto's farm system 28th overall in baseball. It is primarily the arms helping keep the Jays from being ranked even lower. Toronto added another highly-touted pitcher in Zach Stewart -- acquired in a July 31 Trade Deadline deal with Cincinnati.

Anthopoulos knows that as well as anyone, and he is quick to admit that the organization needs better hitters.

"From a position-player standpoint, I think we certainly can improve," Anthopoulos said. "I think we've done a very good job on the mound. You see all the young starters that we have developed and drafted and that have come up here and had great success. We've had some good position players here, too -- Aaron Hill, Adam Lind. We think [Travis] Snider is going to be a great player. We think J.P. Arencibia is going to be a very good player for us. We took David Cooper in the first round [in 2008]. But we need more. We need more position players."

With that in mind, Toronto will likely target some top position-player prospects in any trade talks involving ace Roy Halladay. Various reports this offseason have indicated that the Jays have inquired about Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero, as well as top shortstop and outfield prospects from other organizations.

"We're trying to build and add young, core-controllable players that we can have for the long-term," said Anthopoulos, speaking in general about the club's organizational needs. "That's certainly the goal. We have some good ones now."

In no particular order, here is a look at three of the Blue Jays' top prospects:

Henderson Alvarez, RHP: Anthopoulos rarely speaks at length about the Blue Jays' farm system without mentioning Alvarez, who he considers one of the club's top pitching prospects. The general manager also uses the right-hander as an example of why Toronto is adding a more in-depth scouting system.

"A year ago, he was in instructional ball, and now he was in [low Class A] Lansing this past year and he's rapidly developing into one of our best prospects," Anthopoulos said recently. "That's the type of thing where, a year ago, if we had this structure that we're going about putting in place, we may have tried to be a little bit more aggressive with our evaluations.

"We maybe would have tried to determine who some of the top prospects are and maybe tried to make a trade earlier with some of the younger players."

After all, building a strong core is accomplished through more than just the First-Year Player Draft. Minor League signings and trades are just as integral in locating missing pieces. The 19-year-old Alvarez -- signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2006 -- went 9-6 with a 3.47 ERA over 23 starts with Lansing in 2009.

Arencibia: The Blue Jays had two first-round picks in the 2007 Draft and used the 21st overall selection on Arencibia. Original projections had the 23-year-old catcher pegged as Toronto's starter behind the plate by '10. Anthopoulos said the organization still has faith in Arencibia, but he needs more time to develop.

"We like Arencibia," Anthopoulos said. "We think he's going to be a very good player. We just don't want to be in a position where we feel he needs to be rushed. We want to be able to get him the at-bats that he needs, continue to work on his defense, and, just like anything, any time you bring up a young player, your hope is that you never have to send them back down again.

"With J.P., we would be thrilled if he came into Spring Training and blew the doors off and made it very tough for us not to take him north. We'd be thrilled if he broke in halfway through the season or at the end of the season. Then again, we also understand that he might be a year away or two years away, so we're in no rush.

"We're just going to take our time and let him develop and make sure that when we do call him up, that he's ready for the challenge."

The Jays are actively looking for a starting catcher this offseason, considering it is highly unlikely that free-agent Rod Barajas re-signs with the club. Toronto is likely looking for a short-term solution to buy more time for Arencibia. In 2009, Arencibia hit .236 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs over 116 games for Triple-A Las Vegas before undergoing a kidney operation in September.

Moises Sierra, OF: One Minor League outfielder that the Blue Jays are excited about is 21-year-old Sierra, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2005. Anthopoulos raves about Sierra's raw talent, especially the cannon of an arm that Sierra loves to put on display.

"He doesn't strike out much and he has tremendous tools," Anthopoulos said. "He can really throw -- probably the best arm [in the system]. Power's probably the one thing that we're not sure to what level it's going to come, but we're very excited about him. He plays well -- a very good defender.

"The guys that can really throw will show you they can throw -- they love showing it off. He loves doing that. There was a throw he made in Spring Training from the right-field corner. When you have that type of arm strength, you love to show it off."

In 2009, Sierra had stops at high Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, combining to hit .292 with six homers and 62 RBIs in 118 games. Sierra only had an eight-game stint at Double-A, but he posted a .353 average during that stretch. The Jays are hoping Sierra's power can catch up with his other tools.

"He's so young," Anthopoulos said. "[Power] develops later. We just don't know what it's ultimately going to be. So for you to ask me what I think he's going to be down the road power-wise, I don't know yet. It's too early to predict. We like him. He's got very good tools and he comes to play. We're defenitely excited about him, but we still need to let him develop."

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

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