Farm Report: Sanchez, Norris continue to impress

Aaron Sanchez. (Shi Davidi/Sportsnet)

BOSTON – System-wide evaluations are coming soon for the Toronto Blue Jays and pitching prospect Daniel Norris is among those making a compelling case for a minor-league promotion.

The 21-year-old left-hander is 3-0 with a 0.80 ERA in 45 innings over nine starts at single-A Dunedin, including Wednesday’s five innings of no-earned-run ball against Fort Myers, and has an impressive WHIP of 1.00 and 10.4 strikeouts per nine.

Certainly sounds like someone in need of a new challenge.

“For our prospects, we have a system in place where we periodically talk about when they get moved,” says Tony LaCava, the Blue Jays assistant GM who oversees the farm system. LaCava will review plans for each prospect with minor-league field co-ordinator Doug Davis, director of minor-league operations Charlie Wilson, pitching co-ordinator Dane Johnson and instruction co-ordinator Clayton McCullough in early June.

Norris, a second-round pick in 2011, really turned a corner midway through last season at low-A Lansing and has taken his game to another level this year. The command issues that plagued him early in his pro career have ebbed as his mechanics have stabilized, and dramatic improvements in his numbers have followed.

"This has been a real breakout for Daniel," says LaCava. "We've hoped for this since we got him. He's always had great stuff, but now he's actually getting the results we all anticipated.

"He's done a great job."

Other strong candidates for a promotion next month include Aaron Sanchez and A.J. Jimenez. Here's a look at them and other prospects in the Blue Jays system (all stats through Wednesday):

Buffalo Bisons (triple-A)

Ricky Romero (0-2, 6.07 ERA)
The left-hander is home in California right now to attend his brother's graduation, but also to clear his head after his last start, when he walked nine batters in 2.2 innings. He's scheduled to make his next start Monday at Indianapolis.

"We've been talking about what's the best way to help Ricky, and right now, talking to the guys, we want to continue with him there at that level," says LaCava. "We think there's been some progress made, it's not always showing up in the games, but we're still hopeful he's going to turn it around."

As for moving him to the bullpen, LaCava says: "The thing about starting is he gets to work on the side, which can help. At some point we may look to do the 'pen, it's been brought up a couple of times, at this point though we haven't made any decision about that."

Sean Nolin (2-2, 2.70 ERA)
The left-hander is on the disabled list with a groin injury and it sounds like his absence could be an extended one.

"He had a setback, he's going to miss a little time with this one, unfortunately, because he was off to such a good start," says LaCava. "We'll let it resolve and get him back out there, but he was really showing a lot of promise. … (Healing) just takes time, a nuisance thing where you can't participate. It's not serious, but you can't do your thing."

John Stilson (1-0, 1 save, 3.72 ERA)
The hard-throwing right-hander has a WHIP of 1.76 this season but hasn't given up a run in his last seven outings.

"The game reports have been good of late, it sounds like he's starting to figure it out. For me, he's got three ways to get a hitter out: he can get you out with his fastball, he can get you out with his slider, and he can get you out with his changeup. I think he's going to factor for us at some point. But it looks like he's starting to turn the corner.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats (double-A)

Deck McGuire (3-4, 2.98 ERA)
The 2010 first-rounder had his best outing of the season Tuesday, allowing just one run over eight innings with nine strikeouts, and is finally making some gains in his third full season at double-A.

"Sometimes guys take a little longer than others," says LaCava. "Deck's got all the pitches, it's a matter of being consistent and executing. His stuff certainly could play in the major leagues. He has all the weapons, it's a matter of consistency and executing the pitches."

A.J. Jimenez (.233, 1 HR, 13 RBIs)
The 24-year-old catcher is looking to put his arm issues behind him for good, and a promotion to Buffalo may soon be in his future.

"He's really been a difference-maker behind the plate with his game-calling, he's such a good receiver, and he controls the running game. It's great to have him back and healthy," says LaCava. "The bat continues to be a work in progress, he's shown signs of getting back on track, but he's still shaking the rust off with his swing. When he's ready, I see him eventually seeing the triple-A level."

Aaron Sanchez (1-2, 2.98 ERA)
The crown jewel of the Blue Jays farm system has allowed just 34 hits in 48.1 innings, but has also walked 30 batters to go with his 41 strikeouts.

"Sanchy is doing great," says LaCava. "When you think about his progress from last year in the Florida State League to having a really good fall league and a good spring training, he just continues to impress. We're keeping a close eye on him and so far so good.

"There are certain things we'd like him to continue to work on, (including) fastball command, but he's done a great job with that to this point and we think it gets better each time out."

Dunedin Blue Jays (advanced-A)

Dalton Pompey (.329, 5 HR, 22 RBIs)
The 21-year-old centre-fielder from Mississauga, Ont., has been building slowly since being a 16th-round pick in 2010 and the dividends are beginning to show.

"This looks like it's Dalton's breakout," says LaCava. "He was a classic projection, athletic kid when he was signed and each year he's gotten a little better. It didn't always show in his results, but this year he's putting up the numbers, as well. Really good upside to him and we're excited for him to finally get results."

Taylor Cole (3-1, 2.39 ERA)
The 24-year-old right-hander is a bit old for his level but has made a dramatic jump forward this season that has put himself back on the organization's radar.

"He did the weighted ball program and picked up a little more velocity," says LaCava. "He's always been able to command the ball, now it seems like he's really re-established himself."

Lansing Lugnuts (single-A)

Santiago Nessy (.297, 1 HR, 15 RBIs)
The 21-year-old catcher's 2013 season was marred by a concussion but he's been back at full strength and quickly making up for lost time.

"Not only is he swinging the bat and getting results, but his defence, his ability to relate to pitchers, game-calling and blocking balls, all the things we look for in catchers, he's shown improvement across the board," says LaCava. "He's repeating the level but he's still young for the level and we're pleased with what he has done so far."

Jairo Labourt (0-0, 6.43 ERA)
The 20-year-old left-hander had a rough go in six games with the Lugnuts, walking 20 in 14 innings, before he was sent back to extended spring training.

"We tried him at the level. He certainly has all the equipment to pitch at that level and higher, but he is young and we wanted him to get the experience," says LaCava. "Right now we think the best place for him was the regroup down in extended. We'll look at a short-season placement for him."

Alberto Tirado (1-0, 3.03 ERA)
The 19-year-old right-hander has good numbers across the board save for his 28 walks in 29.2 innings. He also has 31 strikeouts.

"We think a lot of the stuff for the kids who were there in the cold weather for the first time, that obviously is a factor," says LaCava. "But it's also the lack of routines, when you can't get outside and work and get your sides in. We think as the weather warms up, which it has, we're going to see better results for Tirado."

Tom Robson (2-4, 6.25 ERA)
The 20-year-old from Ladner, B.C., experienced some arm problems in his last start May 16, when he gave up seven runs in 3.1 innings, and is awaiting a diagnosis.

"Robbie had a little bit of a setback with his arm, he's been sent back to extended and he's going to see a doctor down there," says LaCava. "We're evaluating that."