InsideTheDome recently talked with Jim Callis, Executive Editor of Baseball America and asked him his opinion of the Jays farm system, some of the top prospects in the organization, what aspect of the system he would like to see the Jays improve on. In addition, Jim shared with us which players be believe will be choosen early in the upcoming 2005 draft.
ITD: How would you rate the Blue Jays farm system in relation to the rest of the clubs?
Jim Callis: We just finished our Prospect Handbook and they came out right in the middle of the pack in relation to the other major league teams.
ITD: How has the system changed since J.P. Ricciardi and Dick Scott came into the organization?
Jim Callis: They have brought in a whole new philosophy in terms of what they are trying to find during the draft process. During the Pat Gillick and Gordon Ash tenure they went for the premium athlete, the big tool guy, and hoped to turn those guys into big name players, and actually did a good job of it. I did a study looking at the years of 1990 to 1997 and looked at the players drafted in the first ten rounds, and the Toronto draft came out as the best draft in baseball. The organization found more talent in the first ten rounds of those draft than anybody. Since J.P. came in they focused more on the college guy and looking at the college performance of players. With that there are some positives and negatives. If you take that approach it is a safer approach and you are less likely to miss spectacularly when you draft guy like that, but I also think with that approach you limit yourself with the high ceiling player.
ITD: If there is one thing you would like to see the farm system improve upon, what would that be?
Jim Callis: Overall with the Jays system you have some depth to it but if there is a shortcoming to the system it is that you don't have a whole lot of high ceiling players. If you look at the system I don't know if you can pick one guy and say 'that guy will be a star', a guy that you can take and build your team around. That is not saying their system is back, because we do have them ranked 15th, but they are missing the big time player in my opinion.
ITD: Which position players in the organization would you say have the most power potential?
Jim Callis: Guillermo Quiroz has shown power, although he was hurt last year. He never really could hit for much of an average but he does have some power. A guy like Joey Metropoulos has lots of power, although he is far away. Aaron Hill does not have big time power, but does possess some power for a middle infielder. John Hattig has some power, Gabe Gross was projected to be a player with lots of power when he was originally drafted, but he hasn't really come through with that. Some guys they drafted last year - Adam Lind and Cory Patton are couple of guys with some power, but they don't have that guy that you will look at and say 'he will hit thirty-five home runs a season in the big leagues'.
ITD: Do the Jays in your opinion have more depth at the pitching department or the hitting department?
Jim Callis: I think they have some balance to it but their pitchers do stand out a little more than the hitters do. We just did our prospect list and guys like Aaron Hill, Guillermo Quiroz, Russ Adams, Gabe Gross and Yuber Rodriguez - an Appy League guy, were their top hitting guys. I believe ten of their top fifteen prospects we had ranked as pitchers, so I definitely do think their pitchers stand out a little bit more right now.
ITD: Which pitchers exhibit the best fastball in the organization?
Jim Callis: Brandon League has a solid fastball, although you would expect him to have more hitters swing and miss. Dustin McGowan who is coming back from Tommy John Surgery had a real good fastball before he got hurt, and I suspect it will come back for him, and along that line Francisco Rosario is another dominate arm that will be coming back from surgery. Among the lefties a guy that stands out if their top pick from last year David Purcey.
ITD: Do you see Gustavo Chacin as a long term starter or a reliever?
Jim Callis: If I had to be conservative on it, I would say he profiles more as a middle reliever. With guys like him, who come out of nowhere, I always like to see them do it a second year before I jump on their bandwagon, but he did have a solid year and made some progress, though right now, based on the one year I am not ready to say he will be a bonified solid big league prospect.
ITD: Do you think his success this season was due to the fact that he repeated the Double-A level for four consecutive seasons?
Jim Callis: I think his stuff got better too, but that is something you can't discount. I have never done a study on that but that is something I keep in the back of my mind. The fact that he came out of nowhere and was at a level that he played for three previous seasons, you have to take it into account. Another thing that makes me real skeptical on him is that his strikeout rate was not really high. It was seven per nine innings, and although he had a nice year, he wasn't ultra-dominate. I just think he is more of a finesse guy, than a guy that will go through the lineup three times.
ITD: What are your thoughts on Josh Banks?
Jim Callis: We ranked Josh ninth on our list but personally I actually like him slightly better than that. I thought he could have been a first round pick two years ago, but he came down with blister problems when he was in college, and a lot of crosscheckers and scouting directors did not see him at 100 percent. I do like Josh a lot and I think he has potential to be a solid starter in the majors.
ITD: Many in the Jays organization envision Brandon League as a reliever, and you mentioned earlier you do as well. My question is how successful of a reliever do you think he will be, and could he be a future closer?
Jim Callis: He has a big time arm, and you really have to like his arm. By looking at the radar gun you think he has what it takes to be a closer, but you would really like to see him have batters miss more. His slider at times can be real dominant, but again for a guy with that good stuff I would really wish he would make batter miss a little bit more in the minor leagues. Sure he could be a closer, but unless he begins to make adjustments, and make guys miss more I see him more as a setup man.
ITD: Do you see John Hattig as a consistent major league starter down the road?
Jim Callis: I know he hit twenty-two homers last year which was a career high, but realistically he is not a good third baseman, and I don't think you can place him there on an everyday basis. Then that means you would consider him as a first baseman, and I just don't see him having that type of power to play the position. I see him more as a bench/role player at this point, although he has developed better the past two years.
ITD: What did you think of Alexis Rios 2004 season and how do you see his future shaping up?
Jim Callis: I think the Jays called him up a little too soon last year as he was not having that great of a year at Triple-A. I do think he will show more power than he did last year. He is a very toolsy guy who must learn the strike zone, and that is his major weakness. Here is a guy who came up at the age of twenty-three and was not really ready for the big leagues, but did play fairly well last year hitting for a good average, and displaying a higher walk rate than he showed in the minors. If he learns to make a little better contact I do believe he will be a good hitter. Our reports on him coming into the year was that he could go either way. He could be a guy who hits for a high average and be more of a gap-power guy, or he could be a guy who hits .270 and hit thirty-five to forty home runs. Whether he becomes a hitter that hits for a high average and less power, or a lesser average and more power will depend on what he wants himself to be and what the Jays want him to be.
ITD: Looking forward to the 2005 draft, which players will be chosen within the first 5-10 picks of the draft?
Jim Callis: Guys that have a good chance of going in the first five picks are Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, and your top high school pitcher right now is Sean O'Sullivan, who actually is a two way player from California. In terms of the college guys, which will be more in the Jays field, you have Alex Gordon from Nebraska and Tyler Greene, a short stop from Georgia Tech. Couple of the pitchers that could go very early in the draft are Mike Pelfrey from Wichita State and Luke Hochevar from Tennessee.