TORONTO – Pitchers Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro are among the young prospects the Toronto Blue Jays are inviting to big league spring training, an indication the club feels they may be ready to contribute sooner rather than later.
Osuna reached single-A Dunedin during a season mostly spent rehabbing from Tommy John surgery while Castro starred at short-season A Vancouver. Joining them as prospects not on the 40-man roster headed to big-league camp are outfielder Anthony Alford and infielders Mitch Nay, Dwight Smith Jr., and Devon Travis, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in November for Anthony Gose.
While it’s highly unlikely any of them will open the season with the Blue Jays – Travis, a second baseman who finished last year at double-A, is closest to breaking through – each will have an opportunity to position themselves on the fast-track.
“With that type of player, we want to start integrating them into the major-league environment, demystify it for them,” says Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, who oversees the farm system. “We feel they’re players that will eventually contribute and it’s an evaluation chance for the front office, and a chance for the big-league staff to look at the players.”
The Blue Jays’ current spring roster includes 32 pitchers, 18 infielders, seven outfielders and seven catchers for a total of 64 players (everyone on the 40-man roster gets invited to major-league camp). The majority of non-roster invites are minor-league free agents who get an invite to camp as part of their contract, leaving only room for prospects on the horizon.
Typically, that means players the team envisions being able to factor within the next year or two.
“You wouldn’t want to bring in someone further removed than that,” says LaCava.
While the plans for Castro were revealed by general manager Alex Anthopoulos back in November, the addition of Osuna is an interesting one given that he appeared in only seven games at Dunedin last year.
The 20-year-old right-hander did however show well at the Arizona Fall League and the Blue Jays feel “he has a chance in the near future to impact the team,” says LaCava.
“Last year was his comeback year, his hang with them year coming back to his normal level of play,” he continues, praising Osuna’s overall maturity. "He comes from a baseball family, his uncle (Antonio Osuna) pitched in the big-leagues, his dad in the Mexican league, so he’s pretty advanced in how he goes about his business. His stuff is major-league stuff.”
Smith, who’s expected to open the season at double-A New Hampshire, will arrive at camp looking to make the transition from outfield to second base. He worked at the keystone during the Arizona Fall League, and the Blue Jays are hoping he can make the transition full-time.
Nay, a 21-year-old third baseman, played 11 games at Dunedin after posting a .731 OPS in 120 games with low-A Lansing. A supplemental first-round pick in 2012, he was one of the players the Baltimore Orioles sought during the failed negotiations for executive Dan Duquette.
“He’s progressing well,” says LaCava. “He has a chance to hit, he’s getting better defensively, and we wanted to get him some exposure to start the process.”
Alford, a 20-year-old centre-fielder, is the one outlier in the group, as his invitation to big-league camp is more about helping him make up for lost time. A third-round pick in 2012, he only turned his focus to baseball full time last fall when he left the Ole Miss football team after playing in four games as a backup safety and punt returner as a sophomore.
When he signed with the Blue Jays, his contract allowed him to play football – he was the quarterback at Southern Miss in his freshman year – while only taking part in pro baseball around that.
Alford collected a mere 110 plate appearances since then before heading to Australia this winter, where he had 135 at-bats over 37 games with the Canberra Cavalry. His .646 OPS was far less meaningful than the playing time he received.
“This is a guy that’s missed a lot of time and is playing catch-up,” says LaCava. “He’s got an exceptional amount of talent and we think he can be part of our major-league team in the future.”
HOFFMAN ON MOUND: First-rounder Jeff Hoffman, the ninth overall pick last year, is back up on a mound as he continues to make progress in his recovery from Tommy John surgery last May.
There’s no timeline in place for Hoffman to return to games, and the Blue Jays generally like to wait a full 12 months before letting pitchers recovering from the ligament-replacement procedure see real action.
“There’s no hurry and no rush,” says Tony LaCava. “We want him to do it right the first time. We’re looking forward to getting him going.”
2015 DRAFT ORDER SET: James Shields’ signing with the San Diego Padres finalized the 2015 draft order, and the Blue Jays will get the 29th pick as compensation for Melky Cabrera’s departure for the Chicago White Sox after forfeiting the No. 18 selection for signing Russ Martin.
Baseball America projects the Blue Jays to have a draft pool of $5,634,745 to work with this year, and they’re expected to pursue some of the top Latin American free agents available July 2.
On that front, they’ve been linked to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and while industry chatter suggests they have a verbal agreement in place with the young slugger, there’s nothing to stop a rival club from sweeping in once the signing period opens in the summer with the high bid.
DIRKS DELAYED: Andy Dirks, who signed a minor-league contract with the Blue Jays in January, will report to minor-league camp instead of big-league spring training to continue rehabbing his back.
The outfielder missed all of last season with back and hamstring injuries.