The Toronto Blue Jays are well into the process of determining which of their prospects at extended spring training gets assigned to their various rookie league and short-season affiliates, with two of the organization’s dynamic young position players tentatively slated for the Vancouver Canadians.
Outfielders D.J. Davis and Anthony Alford, first- and third-round picks last year, appear bound for the Northwest League and the guidance of Clayton McCullough, the well-regarded Canadians’ manager who’s been helping cover for Alex Andreopoulos with the Blue Jays while the longtime bullpen catcher recovers from shoulder surgery.
If the current plans stick, the assignment to short-season A-ball Vancouver won’t be much of a surprise for Davis, who played five games for the Canadians after working his way up from the GCL Blue Jays and Bluefield, both rookie league clubs.
Alford, on the other hand, appeared in only five games for the GCL Blue Jays before reporting to Southern Miss where he played quarterback in a difficult season for the Golden Eagles, was arrested for an off-field altercation, and finally transferred to Ole Miss.
Davis and Alford, both from Mississippi, are said to be close and the Blue Jays like the idea of keeping them together. Whether or not he starts the season with them both, McCullough raves about the talent level of the two 18-year-olds.
"(Davis) is a very strong kid, especially through his hands and his forearms, and then when you watch him take batting practice, you see how it translates through the way the ball comes off his bat," says McCullough. "Offensively he can be dynamic because he can run and bunting and getting on and stealing bases but he’s also going to have enough thump to make them respect the bat."
As for Alford, McCullough saw him only at a minicamp last year but immediately noticed "just how explosive his body is" during routine stretches.
"Even with a bunch of very talented and athletic guys around him, he stood out just doing basic movements with how quick and how powerful his body is," continues McCullough. "I saw him in the cage and for a guy who plays dual sports, a very good, balanced swing. It wasn’t like, ‘Whoa, that’s going to need a whole lot of work,’ it’s more he needs some at-bats, and if he focused on baseball only, wow. Sometimes with those guys, they’re always back and forth but to see the balance in his swing and his strength for that age, it really stood out."
The Canadians head into the new season as the two-time defending Northwest League champions, and the club has struck a good balance between developing players and winning.
There’s a school of thought that the environment in Vancouver plus the day-to-day life of professional ball combined with the reality that Alford must miss a year of football because of his transfer (he also will be switching to cornerback from quarterback) may convince him to focus exclusively on baseball.
That’s a topic McCullough has no plans to get involved in.
"He’s got an opportunity many kids don’t, a chance to play football at a high level and also play professional baseball, and his heart is probably split a little bit, and he’s still figuring out what he wants to do," he says. "I don’t know that for sure but that’s a tough decision so if I had him this summer, I’d try to do the best I could baseball-wise and help him as a baseball player and would support him either way because it shows what a special talent he is."
McCullough’s stint at the big-league level has given the 33-year-old more insight into what it takes for a player to make it there, and the experience is one he plans to apply to his managing.
"I’ve always felt like I’ve been pretty patient, things happen, mistakes happen, but I think I’m even more patient now," he says. "These are the best players in the world and they mess up and strike out and chase pitches and walk guys. It puts things back in perspective that sometimes we get ahead of ourselves with the younger players and want them to be something that they might not be ready for yet. It happens at this level here so you know it’s certainly going to happen down there.
"I’ll take a lot from here. I knew it was a tough game, but even more so now."
A quick look elsewhere around the Blue Jays farm system:
The Blue Jays certainly liked what they saw from Ricky Romero for five innings during his most recent start Tuesday night, but the sixth inning was a different story. The left-hander allowed just a run on four hits and two walks through his first five frames, but came out for the sixth and walked four consecutive batters to sully his night.
The performance underlines that while the left-hander is making some progress, work remains.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Kevin Pillar is quietly putting together another solid season and the 24-year-old is convincing people that at some point he’ll be a big-leaguer, either as a fourth outfielder if not a starter.
A 32nd-round pick in 2011, the native of West Hills, Calif., has hit at every level so far, can play all three outfield spots and possesses plenty of off-field qualities. Heading into Wednesday’s play, Pillar was batting .325/.367/.462 in 45 games with 29 runs, 22 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
Dunedin Blue Jays
Top prospect Aaron Sanchez is on the seven-day DL after tweaking a muscle in the shoulder blade area but the injury isn’t considered serious. The right-hander came out of his May 18 start after just three innings, having allowed two runs on two hits and two walks.
Right-hander Roberto Osuna rejoined the Lugnuts on Wednesday after a trip home to Mexico for family reasons and will resume his rehabilitation throwing program for his elbow. At this point ligament replacement surgery isn’t on the table but it remains an option if the injury doesn’t resolve.