TORONTO - There is an argument to be made that never before in the Blue Jaysí 35-year history have they been in possession of a farm system populated by so many prospects.
Itís not a fluke that five of Torontoís seven minor-league affiliates made their league playoffs this season. Vancouver has already won the Northwest League (rookie ball) championship. Lansing is involved in the Midwest League (low A) championship series right now against Quad Cities.
New Hampshire goes into Fridayís third game of the Eastern League (double-A) final against Richmond deadlocked at a win apiece. Dunedin, of the Florida State League (high A) and Bluefield of the Appalachian League (rookie ball) also made the playoffs but have been eliminated.
That speaks to the talent that is percolating toward the surface at the end of the second full season of Alex Anthopoulosí tenure as general manager.
Given his appetite for collecting as many draft choices as possible every year, that trend probably isnít going to change anytime soon.
Soon enough, the question becomes about how to turn all this blossoming talent in the pipeline into a playoff team at the major-league level. Throughout the 2011 season, the Jays have counted on young players like J.P. Arencibia, Eric Thames and, more recently, Brett Lawrie to play more or less regular roles. Both Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider began the year in the bigs and were sent back for more seasoning.
In the second half that list has been expanded to include Henderson Alvarez, Brad Mills, Adam Loewen and David Cooper as the auditions continue. There is a sense within the Jays braintrust that they need to start finding out which of these players can either be part of the teamís future or can at least be packaged as assets to get a player.
ďWeíre here to win as many games as we can,Ē maintains manager John Farrell. ďBut within that goal, there is room to get a read on some of these young players with an eye to 2012.Ē
In a perfect world, Anthopoulos would be left alone to build his model into a practical talent machine in the fullness of time. This is not a perfect world. There may not be a strict deadline, but weíre sure the Jays want to build their winner around their best player, Jose Bautista, while he is still able to produce elite numbers.
On another level, fans in Toronto have bought in to the notion of an entire franchise rebuild, but their patience is not without limits. Itís been 18 years since they last savoured a playoff appearance.
Anthopoulos has preserved both money and tradeable assets the past two seasons but it would not be a big surprise if he started to use his resources this winter to add, either through trades or free agency, more key major-league ready components.
He has already moved Zach Stewart to the White Sox in a three-way trade that netted Toronto Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals.
ďYou know Alex,Ē Farrell said the other day during a discussion about how the teamís starting rotation needs to improve. ďAnybody is in play.Ē
Farrell was responding to a question about adding an established starter via trade or free agency to the mix of young, and often inconsistent, pitchers at his disposal.
As good as the Brett Lawrie trade has been for the Jaysí long-term outlook at third base, it came at a cost of Shaun Marcum, who had become a leader and steadying influence on the pitching staff after the departure of Roy Halladay.
There are as many as 10 or 15 high-ceiling arms being groomed in the Toronto system just now, but none of them is expected to be ready for 2012. That doesnít mean that Drabek or Alvarez might not break through. But the next wave behind them includes power arms like Chad Jenkins, Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchison and Nestor Molina, all of whom are on a track that could get them to the big leagues by 2013, or later in 2012. And there is another group (Justin Nicolino, Noah Syndergaard, Asher Wojciechowski and Aaron Sanchez) just behind them. However, it is the rare pitcher who makes that final step without some hiccups along the way before establishing himself as an impact pitcher.
The Jays have not spent nearly as much on big-league salaries under Anthopoulos but they have funnelled a lot of those savings into scouting, drafting and player development. There is little doubt that it will soon start paying off in players who will be Blue Jays themselves or be used to get players who become Blue Jays.
Donít be surprised if that transition begins this winter.