Certainly the hardest of these lists to make is the one for relief pitchers. It is generally true that the preponderance of important relievers in the majors (especially among non-closers) were starters in the minors. It's not that often that you see a guy pitching out of the pen in the minors who's a genuine top shelf prospect, and the stats can often be quite misleading. Even on this short list, there are a couple of guys who relieved this year who might well be squeezed into a rotation next season. Conversely, a lot of the guys on the last list will end up as relievers in the majors.
There probably is no real "correct" order here, and the rankings are the most subjective yet.
1. Tim Collins - 19, 5'7" 155, undrafted
No, that's not a typo. The man is five foot seven inches tall. He's a left-hander with a funky delivery who - for obvious reasons - was undrafted. So how did an undrafted high schooler come to be such a hot item for the Jays? Wel, thereby hangs a tale (which if you are a Jays fan you've probably already heard but what the hell, I'm going to tell it anyway): Collins just so happens to be from Worcester, Massachusetts. The home town of a certain general manager. And this GM's dad just happens to have been watching Tim Collins pitch in HS and American Legion games for a few years now and he told his son "You gotta see this kid" so the GM takes in a game in which young Collins strikes out 12 hitters in four innings - that's called an attention getter.
After scheduling a workout where Collins came through for JP and a Jays scout, he was offered a contract. Now he's one of the best stories to come out of the Midwest League. The little lefty with the big curve held opposing hitters to a .158 batting average, he struck out 98 in 68 innings, and he finished with a 1.58 ERA. Some around the MWL call him a LH Tim Lincecum (5'10" 155) - his pitching coach, Tom Signore, says his delivery looks like Sandy Koufax. He qualifies:
"Obviously he's not Sandy Koufax, but the delivery is very reminiscent of his delivery. Timmy's able to generate every bit of energy within him. And it goes from his feet, through his body to his arm."
Collins was famous for exacting control in high school and his walk rate would, at first glance, seem troubling (32 in 68 IP) but he only allowed 38 hits so it works out to a WHIP slightly over 1.00. He compliments his great curve with a good 93 MPH fastball and he maximizes his height with a straight over the top delivery. There's no doubt that Collins is going to face a lot of skeptics at every level, but he is young enough and good enough to be firmly on the radar.
2. Robert Bell - 23, 6'4" 195, 2008 18th round
On the surface it's odd to be very impressed with what you get out of an 18th round pick this low in the system. Legion are the late round picks who look real good in rookie and short season ball and then flame out, especially when you are coming out of college and playing against guys who are as much as 3 or 4 years younger than you. But there is a little depth to Bell's story. Bell missed his entire junior year at Rice after Tommy John surgery and came back to his college team in relief as a senior. He was Very Damn Good in that role but teams were naturally hesitant to draft a guy who was already a vet of TJS. As a professional, Bell spent most of 2008 at Auburn where he not only struck out 39 batters in 28 2/3 innings, he allowed only 15 hits and did not walk a single batter. There's a very good chance the Jays will shift Bell into the starting rotation in 2009, probably at Lansing. Expect to hear more from Bobby Bell.
ETA: mid-to-late 2012
3. Alan Farina - 22, 5'11" 195, 2007 3rd round
In the Jays amazing haul of picks in the 2007 draft, Farina is the most overlooked of the higher picks. Of the Jays 10 picks in the first five rounds, eight of them have a good shot at being listed among the top 15 prospects in the Jays system this offseason. Of the other two, one is disappointing Trystan Magnuson, who enjoys the praise of Keith Law, and the other is the virtually unnoticed Farina. Hell, that alone makes it worth my time to list him. Farina is another guy who was expected to be used as a starter by the Jays, given that he has three plus pitches, but for whatever reason (overcrowding maybe?) Farina spent the year in the pen at Lansing. His strikeouts and hits allowed were impressive and his walk rate was a bit higher than you would like. I still think you will see him tried as a starter at some point but given the number of starting pitchers with a real shot in the Jays' system, he could still make the majors as a reliever, or, more likely, if he's a successful minor league starter he could be included in a trade.
4. Zach Dials - 23, 6'2" 200, 2006 28th round
Dials was a reliever in college and the Jays, naturally, were quick to try him as a starter in the professional ranks. His first full season in 2007 was mediocre across the board and after 15 starts the rotation experiment was ended and he was back to the bullpen. As a full time reliever in 2008, Dials was able to focus on his better pitches and, as is often the case, 'dial' up his velocity. A fastball-slider-change pitcher, the big red flag on Dials is that he gave up entirely too many hits for the number of innings he threw (45 in 36 2/3) which is something he'll need to work on. He's pitching in the Arizona Fall League now and, as of this writing, he's not fairing well as opposing hitters are hitting over .400 against him.
I expect the Jays will start him back in AA again next year and let him achieve some more polish before he has to pitch in the notorious PCL.
5. Joe Wice - 23, 6'4" 210, 2004 22nd round
For the second year in a row, the big lefty is a little-noticed guy who just keeps racking up the numbers. I recognize that there's always the possibility that a guy who looks great in the lower minors can't keep it up as he climbs the ladder - I remember Clayton Andrews. But still, some guys just catch your eye. Take a look at Wice's combined stats for the last two seasons (at Auburn and then Lansing)
2.37 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 91 IP, 73 H, 12 BB, 102 K
You gotta like those ratios. Wice's best pitch is a curve, a solid average slider and a fastball that reportedly sits just shy of 90. He's said to be, despite his size, more of a "crafty lefty" who has a good feel for pitching and working with change of velocity and deception. He has a smooth repeatable 3/4 arm delivery. Having spent this long in relief, the Jays apparently don't see him as a potential starter. Look for him to move one level at a time as an organizational soldier who's shot at the majors will come - if it comes - when a team needs a so-called "non-prospect" to step up (not unlike Jessie Carlson in fact).
* * * * *
Before I close, let me mention some guys who are not on my lists but are worthy of notice. Obviously the newly signed Loewen and Bullington rate notice. But most of these guys are going to be new draftees, guys who are coming off injury, or lower level standouts. I'll start with some relievers who didn't make the cut:
RH Nathan Starner, LH Cody Crowell; RH Chad Beck (from SD for Eckstein); LH Fabio Castro (from Phillies for Stairs); LH Edger Estranga; RH Brian Pettaway
2008 draftees: LHP Evan Crawford; C Antonio Jimenez; LHP Ryan Page; LHP Chuck Huggins; LHP Matt Wright; RHP Dan Farquhar
International signings: RF Moises Sierra; RHP Joel Cerrano; LHP Luis Perez; RHP Castillo Perez; LHP Jose Vargas; 2B Oliver Dominguez
So, there ya go. 70 names in all. Sometime soon the three of us will put our heads together and come up with a Southpaw list of the top...well...we'll decide how many then too. But when we figure it out, you'll know!