prospect hype

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Vernon Wells, 2000 Bowman, #372

Is everyone done being mad at Vernon Wells yet? Has that stupidity passed? Because it was tiresome when he was here and it is even more annoying now that he is gone. The guy was overpaid, but someone tell me how that is his fault? He fought for a big deal and was given it. Unless you think his decline was somehow a conscious decision or the result of a lack of caring then I do not understand the anger at Wells, who was among the best outfielders in team history. Take it as a lesson learned when paying players long-term mega money deals and move on.

Vernon was arguably the best prospect in the history of the franchise and this card captures that nicely. I particularly like the skills analysis included. It is superficial, but it gives a bit of an introduction to the player while avoiding misleading fans using silly comps. I had also totally forgotten he wore #3 when he started with the team.

2

Alex Gonzalez, 1993 Bowman, #374

Aside from the hideous oily glittered graphics along the front border, I am incredibly impressed by this card. A solid scouting report on what was, at the time, one of the hottest prospects in the Blue Jays system.

Alex Gonzalez seemed to rub many Jays fans the wrong way. I can’t quite figure out why, but he is not remembered terribly fondly. In fact, in the last couple of years when he has made appearances at Jays games as a member of the alumni I have even heard him booed by some.

I think there are two main reasons for this. First, he was the first long term SS since Tony Fernandez and came up lacking when compared to the longtime fan favourite. But I also think he became a victim of the era. Traditionally SS was a position that had little offensive expectation, but a new gen of players like Jeter, Garciaparra and A-Rod in the mid to late 90’s changed that. I think Jays fans did not like how their guy stacked up to the era.

This card gives a solid tribute to the Jays system at the time. Of the prospects highlighted on the back, the team produced a full-time SS, an all-star outfielder and the greatest power hitter in the history of the franchise (Bautista may end up with that title, but not yet). Not to mention some useful role players and relievers. Given the failure rate of prospects in baseball, not bad at all.

2

Luis Lopez, 2002 Fleer Premium, #233

It’s a premium prospect in pajamas. What the hell uniform is that? Is this some sort of throwback one-off I don’t remember? Or was this a Syracuse throwback?

Also, calling Luis Lopez a premium prospect at that point was a little bit ridiculous. He had come up for a brief stint with the big league club, made no impact and was placed on waivers after the 2001 season. As a fan, If I had collected this card prior to the 2002 season I would be pissed. Fleer Premium produced cards for seven Blue Jays that year, including Luis Lopez. For one of only seven slots they picked a player who was cut by the Jays, couldn’t hack it with the A’s and only resurfaced again in 2004 for a stint with the Expos. That is one premium prospect. On behalf of Blue Jays fans, thanks Fleer.

Lopez was another Blue Jay alumnus who played some time over in Japan, which means he likely played for a team with an awesome name…*checks wikipedia*… Yep, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. I love the Nippon Professional Baseball League. He is still kicking around the Atlantic League, playing for the Bridgeport Bluefish. But likely not as happy as he is in the photo on the back of this card. Wow.

2

Blue Jays 1979 Prospects, 1979 Topps, #714

I have no idea where to start here. Victor Cruz, Pat Kelly and Ernie Whitt were apparently the Blue Jays top prospects heading into the 1979 season.

Let’s get Pat Kelly out of the way first, because he should be quick. He played three MLB games for the Jays in 1980 and was never heard from again. The biggest impact he has had on the game is the fathering of his top prospect son Casey, who was originally drafted by the Red Sox, but sent to the Padres prior to last year in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. Also, based solely on his photo on this card, I am not sure Pat Kelly should be allowed within 500 feet of a school.

Moving on.

Victor Cruz had a strong 1978 season as a rookie for the Jays, but was sent to the Indians in the trade for Alfredo Griffin. He would go on to pitch for the Indians, Pirates and Rangers before calling it a career after the 1983 season. His rookie season with the Jays would remain his peak as he never came close to the 2.4 WAR he posted that year. Also, based solely on his photo on this card, he had amazing hair and either a serious problem with chewing tobacco or a fondness for obscene sexual gestures.

Finally, there is Ernie Whitt. The only one of these three to play a meaningful career with the team. One of the most iconic players from the early days of the franchise, Whitt was taken from the Red Sox in the expansion draft of 1976, because the Sox were set with Carlton Fisk behind the plate. I will go into more on Whitt in upcoming posts because of all the Jays, he might have the most material to work with. He also seems to pop up every time the Jays have a coaching vacancy. Also, based solely on the photo on this card, Ernie Whitt was the oldest prospect in baseball history. Seriously, Ernie Whitt was 26 when this photo was taken but he looks like a player ready for retirement.

2

Alex Gonzalez, 1994 Upper Deck Minors, #97

One of the highest ranked prospects in Blue Jays history, Alex Gonzalez was Baseball America’s #4 overall prospect in 1994 behind Cliff Floyd, Chipper Jones and Jeff Hammonds. After playing only 15 games that year, he went into the 1995 season as the #8 prospect behind players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Shawn Green and, once again, Chipper Jones. And although he never made it as the Blue Jays shortstop for the full decade predicted on this card, from 1995 through 2001 he proved a capable, if never exceptional, placeholder. I do enjoy that on Baseball Reference’s Similarity Score, Alex Gonzalez’s #3 comp is…the other Alex Gonzalez.

The design of this Upper Deck minor league card does not have a light touch with the hype. Throwing a AA player in front of a giant All-Stars label seems a bit much, but it is cool to look back at old Jays minor league uniforms. Knoxville was the Jays AA team from 1980 to 2002, starting out as the Knoxville Blue Jays before going back to the history laden franchise’s original name the Smokies. After brief stints as part of the St. Louis and Arizona organizations, The Tennessee Smokies are currently a Chicago Cubs minor league affiliate.

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Domingo Cedeno and Paul Spoljaric, 1994 Topps, #776

Coming soon to utility roles near you!

In 1994, Paul Spoljaric and Domingo Cedeno were not the elite prospects in the Jays system, that honour fell to players like Alex Gonzalez and Carlos Delgado, but that does not mean it was ridiculous to highlight them on a card like this. Spoljaric was as high as #6 on some Jays prospect lists and while Cedeno was always more about dreaming on potential than actual performance, a toolsy SS is always worth watching.

That being said I have no idea why they are paired together on a card. You couldn’t do separate cards for prospects? They couldn’t even photograph them together, so you get a glamour shots blending of two boring pictures. To me prospect cards are only worthwhile if you can provide some actual insight on the players. Pre-internet there were not a lot of places for young fans to look for any info on minor league prospects and baseball cards played a valuable role. But one line of minor league stats combined with a one sentence descriptor is pretty much useless. I do like any card that credits the scouting staff. I will have to do a post dedicated just to Epi Guerrero at some point.