Having a strong minor-league system can fuel an organization for years to come. Quality young talent can propel an organization to new heights—see the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.
This time, we'll look at the Toronto Blue Jays, one of many teams who will have to contend with the young talent the Rays have groomed.
The Jays haven't made the playoffs since capturing the 1993 World Series, but they have shown an ability to turn prospects into big contributors at the major league level. They drafted Roy Halladay, the 2003 American League Cy Young winner, as well as Vernon Wells, a two-time All Star.
Toronto Blue Jays 2009 Top-Five Prospects
1. Travis Snider, OF, 2/2/1988 - Snider, the 14th overall pick in the 2006 draft, is one of just 11 players from the first round of that draft to have already cracked the majors.
He did so on August 29th and ended up hitting .301/.338/.466 in 73 at-bats.
It was a rapid rise through the system for Snider, who began the year with High-A Dunedin before advancing to AA-New Hampshire, AAA-Syracuse and eventually Toronto.
Hitting isn't Snider's problem—through 1138 AB in the minors, he's compiled a line of .299/.375/.513.
Striking out is his problem. In those 1138 AB, a stretch of 305 games, Snider has struck out 330 times, including 154 times in 487 AB (133 games) in the minors last year.
Snider is likely headed to Las Vegas, Toronto's new AAA affiliate, to begin 2009. He'll work on cutting back on the strikeouts, the biggest mark against him.
Vernon Wells and Alexis Rios are locked up long term in Toronto, so Snider could end up in left field, though he could be an option at designated hitter. He'll be back in Toronto before too long.
2. J.P. Arencibia, C, 1/5/1986 - A standout at Tennessee, Arencibia followed Snider in the first round a year later, going 21st overall in the 2007 draft.
Arencibia's best asset is his bat. It was his calling card in the draft, and between Dunedin and New Hampshire this past season, he hit .298/.322/.527, including 36 doubles and 27 homeruns.
Patience is a virtue, and one Arencibia seems to lack. He walked just 18 times in 510 at bats last year, an abysmal rate, and one that was even worse while he was with New Hampshire. He also struck out 101 times on the year.
He's probably ticketed for Las Vegas to begin 2009, but could debut in Toronto later in the year. There's nobody blocking him at the major league level.
3. Brett Cecil, LHP, 7/2/1986 - Cecil was primarily a reliever during his days at Maryland, but the Jays have used him as a starter since taking him 37th overall in the 2007 draft.
He's made them look smart. Cecil is knocking on the door of the major leagues after a 2008 season that included stops in Dunedin, New Hampshire, and Syracuse.
Cecil made 28 starts, accumulating 118.2 innings. He allowed 100 hits, walked 41, and struck out 128—more than a batter per inning at each level. His usually good control wavered a bit in Syracuse, where he walked 16 in 30 innings.
He's been a consistently good performer in the minor leagues and will have a chance enter 2009 with a rotation spot in Toronto—especially if A.J Burnett leaves via free agency. Either way, he's about ready.
4. David Cooper, 1B, 2/12/1987 - The UC Berkeley product was nabbed with the 17th pick in last year's draft and figures to be a fast mover.
In less than half a season, Cooper made it up to Dunedin, and overall, he put together a line of .333/.399/.502 in 273 AB, spread pretty evenly between NYP-Auburn, Low-A Lansing, and Dunedin.
He's a good bet to begin the year in AA and could debut in Toronto late in the year.
Cooper has been compared to the player he figures to replace in Toronto, Lyle Overbay, who is signed through 2010.
While not the traditional masher you'd expect to see at first base, Cooper makes up for it by hitting for average and getting on base at a high clip. He should hit a lot of doubles as well.
5. Justin Jackson, SS, 12/11/1988 - Unlike Cooper, Jackson won't be someone who shoots through the system.
A supplemental first rounder in 2007, he's supposed to be known for his defense, but he committed 26 errors last year, one behind the team lead.
His hitting needs a lot of work, too. In 121 games (454 AB) last year, he struggled for hit for average (.238) and had problems making contact (154 strikeouts). Despite the strikeouts, he showed decent patience by drawing 62 walks, most on the team.
He didn't hit for much power, going deep just seven times, but he was second on the team with 26 doubles.
He did show speed -- Jackson was 17 for 25 in stolen base attempts and he legged out six triples.
Jackson has a lot of potential, and at 19, has plenty of time to fulfill it. He's very raw and should be back in Lansing next year. He didn't do anything to show he's ready for the next level.
What he's done to date won't generate a lot of excitement, but what he could do, will. Jackson has one of the highest ceilings in the system, but is among the least likely to reach it.
NOTE: Only players with no more than 130 AB/50 IP in the majors qualify for this list.