Mar 21, 2014; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) warms up before the start of the first inning of the spring training exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY SportsWith Kyle Drabek, Sean Nolin, Chad Jenkins, and Anthony Gose all optioned to Buffalo the trickle down is now in full effect as Toronto pares down its roster in preparation for opening day. The three pitchers above, along with Marcus Stroman will be the backbone of the Bison’s staff. When writing about the B’s, I said that pitching will be the theme for prospect watchers throughout Toronto’s organization. For Buffalo I will be eagerly checking the starter’s line every morning. The same can’t be said of double-A New Hampshire. Where it’s going to be only once every five days, but for Jays prospects watchers those days will be like Christmas in the summer.
Aaron Sanchez was assigned to minor league camp Saturday, finally putting to bed the ridiculous notion, led by that renowned managerial genius, Buck Martinez, that the 21 year old righty from Barstow, California should break camp with the Jays. Make no mistake, the spring Sanchez put in has been very positive, but baseballreference.com has a neat little stat that tracks the quality of opposition faced by a pitcher this spring. And for the most part, Sanchez was facing AAA hitters. His stuff definitely plays at this level but it still needs harnessing. He has a career minor league BB per nine of 4.7 and he walked six in 12.1 innings pitched this spring, pretty much level at 4.5/9. Add in fact the 2010 first rounder only threw 109.2 innings last year (none of which were above A+ ball) and some work needs to be done. Best it be done away from the spotlights of Toronto and under the watchful eye of New Hampshire’s new pitching coach Jim Czajkowski.
That all being said, I do believe that Sanchez’ spring may have shifted organizational philosophy somewhat. After a very cautious approach thus far, I think the shackles will be removed. If he shoves in double-A and circumstances at the major league level dictate a need then Sanchez may make his mlb debut a year before many originally thought.
Another beneficiary of the Jays newfound ‘aggressiveness’ with their young pitchers will be Daniel Norris. If his first half in Dunedin mirrors his second half of 2013 then he’ll be a Fisher Cat at some point this year. Until then though, it’s Sanchez and four other guys.
Offensively, the Fisher Cats will have a few mid level prospects who will be worth keeping an eye on. Third basemen Andy Burns should return to New Hampshire where he will hope to pick up where he left off in 2013. After his June 20 promotion from Dunedin, the Colorado native struggled with double-A pitching. Things turned for him at the end of July though, putting up a .312/.355/.505 slashline through the final 30 games of the season.
Most reports have Burns defense as average at best and with third seemingly locked down at the major league level for the foreseeable (Brett Lawrie is only about six months older than Burns) it will be interesting to see if Andy either switches positions or shows more versatility in 2014. His Arizona Fall League stint included some time at first base. I would have thought, given the situation in Toronto, that a move to second would be more logical, but outside of 12 games for Lansing in 2012, the Jays do not seem to want to try him there. Either way, if he starts 2014 like he finished 2013, I can see Burns in Buffalo at some point.
The Jays top catching prospect will also begin, but, like Burns, more than likely not finish, the year in New Hampshire. After only 67 games played in 2013, A.J. Jimenez will look to play everyday in New Hampshire. He’ll get the opportunity to build a rapport with Sanchez while also working with off-season signee and converted knuckleballer Tomo Ohka.
I don’t believe there is any doubting Jimenez’ catch and throw ability, it’s the stick which will decide whether the Puerto Rican native eventually takes at bats away from either Erik Kratz or Josh Thole in Buffalo. A.J. has shown improvement in both his strikeout and walk numbers as he’s progressed up the system. A good sign to be sure, but with a career ISO in the .115 range, he could still look to take a few more base on balls to be a more effective hitter.
In an off-season of disappointment, one of the more surprising moves by the Jays, for me at least, was the addition of Kenny Wilson to the 40 man roster. Wilson is a speedy center fielder with little power and an inability to make consistent contact. Sound familiar? Thing is, Anthony Gose is six months younger and 2014 will be his third season in AAA while Kenny has yet to get above AA. For comparison sakes, I’ve put together a table with the minor league OBP, K%, and BB% numbers. Pertinent stats for a couple of players whose value will be very dependent on what they do on the basepaths.
**Am only using Wilson’s AA numbers as he spent bulk of season there
Is interesting that both set career bests in OBP and K% in their fifth seasons. For Gose, we know that season was a bit of a mirage as it was affected by the hitters paradise that was Las Vegas. Wilson was a 22 year old who started the year in Lansing. Not exactly rocketing up the ladder.
Some people do see value in Wilson, with colleague Zak comparing him to Rajai Davis. I don’t see it. Davis’ lowest minor league OBP was .335 during his first AAA season. He was able to get himself on base throughout his lower level career, taking advantage of his speed.
With similar type players Dalton Pompey and D.J. Davis hot on his heels I can see Wilson getting squeezed before seeing time in a Blue Jays uniform. But hey, he’s on the 40 man, so will keep tabs on him.
Who will be flanking Wilson in New Hampshire’s outfield should also be interesting (for Canadians that is). After a couple of poor seasons, both Toronto’s Marcus Knecht and Coquitlam, B.C.’s Mike Crouse should probably be considered non-prospects now, however, I think the Jays will give them a last chance, challenging them in double-A.
I would like to see them do well but won’t be holding my breath.