Blue Jays non-roster invitees: The Infielders and Outfielders
The final weeks leading up to Spring Training are some of the most exciting of the year. Sort of like the lead-up to the holidays, the anticipation builds with every passing day, a beacon to the summer days ahead when baseball once again fills our days and nights. For a select few Toronto Blue Jays prospects, the anticipation is also at hand.
On Wednesday, the Blue Jays announced that they had extended spring training invitations to the a number of players, including Gregory Infante, Jack Murphy, Derrick Chung, Dwight Smith, Roberto Osuna, Anthony Alford, Miguel Castro, Sean Ochinko, and Mitch Nay.
So what do we know about each of these Blue Jays prospects that will get a look this spring? Previously we discussed the pitchers and catchers. Now let’s discuss the infielders and outfielders.
There was much rejoicing among Blue Jays fans in September when prospect Anthony Alford officially decided to walk away from football and focus solely on becoming a baseball star. Since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2012, the outfielder has split his pursuits between Ole Miss football and his limited minor league duties. However, Alex Anthopoulos finally put a sum of money on the table (a 5-year deal according to reports) to convince the promising prospect to focus on baseball.
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Despite playing just 25 games over 3 minor league seasons, Alford remains one of the most promising positional prospects for the Blue Jays. He features a power and speed profile which is absent among outfielders in the Blue Jays system, and FanGraphs went as far as to indicate that despite missing so much time over the last three seasons, he is actually further developed that another highly-touted prospect in D.J. Davis.
He certainly showed some of that promise when he accepted a trip to play in Australia with the Canberra Cavalry this winter. In 135 at-bats (more than his minor league career), Alford hit 3 home runs and stole 9 bases against a .207/.327/.319 slash-line. His 46 strike-outs were a bit of a concern, but he’ll iron those out with more repetition and coaching in the minors this season. Alford will likely start the season back in Low-A Lansing.
Dwight Smith Jr.
Unlike Alford, Dwight Smith has been working his tail off on the minors for the Blue Jays and has started to see the fruits of that labor pay off. After hitting a solid .284/.365/.388 in the Midwest League in 2013, Mr. Smith went down to Dunedin in 2014, and alongside Dalton Pompey, formed one of the best outfield combos in the Florida State League. A year older, Smith carried that 2013 production with him, putting up a similar .284 average and .363 on-base percentage, but upped his power numbers a bit with 12 home runs, 28 doubles, and a .453 slugging percentage.
Like Pompey, Smith plays a very solid outfield and features a strong arm. However, that hasn’t stopped the Blue Jays from tinkering with him a bit in the Arizona Fall League and giving him some instruction at second base. With the position in flux in the Blue Jays organization, the team was willing to try one of the club’s best athletes there to see what took off.
Drafted 58th overall in the 2012 draft, Mitch Nay has perhaps the most tantalizing power potential in the Blue Jays system. At 6’3″, 225 lbs, the 20-year-old doesn’t have a whole lot of growing to do, so the Blue Jays can focus on refining his approach and bring out the beast.
After missing 2012 with a broken foot, Nay showed his ability to collect hits and RBI in droves, putting up a .300/.364/.426 mark at short-season Bluefield, notching 11 doubles, 6 home runs, and 42 RBI in just 64 games. He followed that up with stops in Lansing and Dunedin in 2014, authoring a .278/.335/.376 batting line. His home runs stagnated at just 3, but Nay also managed 35 doubles in 558 plate appearances.
The true question is whether he’ll stick at third base. MLB.com notes that Nay has some range concerns at the hot corner. As Jay Blue noted for us in 2014, the Blue Jays seem to want to keep him at the bag rather than moving him to the outfield or first bay. However, his work on his fielding will ultimately determine where he’ll play on the diamond, as his bat will profile anywhere.
Nay, Smith, and Alford will be joined in camp by a slew of other fielders who received minor league deals and an invite to Spring Training. That group includes Andy Dirks, Ezequiel Carrera, Munenori Kawasaki, Daric Barton, Jake Fox, and Caleb Gindl.