I also have a 97 with the 5 speed and well its not a powerful engine by any means. I would say if you were going to use it for a project truck, find the engine that would work for what you want (power vs economy) and go with that. The 2.3 is a good engine, just not a powerful one.
j.... the 2.3 can be made to be a very strong engine, My DD is basicly a stock 2.3 turbo engine.
I commonly haul over 1500-2200 lbs of scrap in the bed or drag my TC on a dual axl car hauler to the drag strip,
in stock NA form they need help I will agree, but slamming a turbo on one is simple and commonly done.