Making a good first impression key for Blue Jays prospects

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays have 65 players set for spring training after the acquisition of outfielder Darrell Ceciliani filled the last vacancy on the 40-man roster, and the 25 non-roster invitees will be particularly intriguing this camp.

While veteran pitchers like Roberto Hernandez, Brad Penny and Scott Diamond will be fighting for spots on the 25-man big-league roster, the 14 non-roster prospects bound for Dunedin will have a chance to make an impression on the reconfigured front office.

The highly regarded foursome of centre-fielder Anthony Alford, first baseman Rowdy Tellez, right-hander Conner Greene and shortstop Richard Urena headline that group of youngsters.

Pitchers Chad Girodo, Taylor Cole and Wil Browning; catchers Danny Jansen and Derrick Chung; first baseman Matt Dean; second baseman Jon Berti; third baseman Andy Burns; and outfielders Roemon Fields and Dwight Smith Jr., join them as president Mark Shapiro, GM Ross Atkins and player development director Gil Kim get their first up-close looks at the farm system.

Beyond the obvious on-skill elements, some of the more subtle things they’ll be looking for include "players showing a respect and understanding for the environment that they’re in," says Atkins.

"There are essentially three groups of players that are in a major-league spring training," he continues. "There’re the players that know they’re going to be on the team – they’re getting ready. There’s a group of players competing to try and make the team. And then there’s a group that are typically just getting exposure. Sometimes that group will fall into two of the categories we’re talking about, but not too often. The emphasis we’re placing and what we’re looking for from a young minor-league player is that they understand that, they understand those roles.

"The way you can see that manifest is when a player is way too focused on their own individual performance and results. That’s a distraction and a disappointment. What we’re looking for is that level of professionalism that in the end probably turns into better results, guys that just focus on their effort and what they can control, and respect that players are falling into several categories."

Young prospects can always emerge to claims a big-league roster spot the way Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro did last spring, although in general non-roster prospects invited to spring camp tend to be a little bit further from the majors.

Girodo generated some buzz during the Arizona Fall League as someone who might be able to make a quick jump to the Blue Jays as a lefty specialist, but more often than not such youngsters are getting looks in spring camp while jockeying with the 40-man roster prospects for spots on the pecking order.

"What you have to focus on are two things," says Atkins. "One is making your team better, obviously, so if there’s a chance for someone to impact your team that year, (an invitation) can be seen as an orientation and a familiarization with the coaching staff, with the players on it, and certainly a more extended preparation. The other way to look at (an invitation) as far as the criteria for deciding which prospects should come in is just effort, who’s earned it from an effort standpoint, who’s been the most consistently professional.

"Talent is always going to play a part into it, but that’s the easy part to focus on, the hard thing to be consistent with is making sure you’re rewarding guys that have given the most consistent effort and been the most professional."

The biggest challenge is in weighing spring performances wisely.

Osuna lit up Grapefruit League competition last spring and kept rolling all season long; Castro also dominated all spring, but wilted under the big-league lights before returning to the minors to be rebuilt mentally.

That’s one reason why Atkins says the spring "is typically a terrible time to make assessments and evaluations."

"The younger a player is in their career, the more you’re weighting an evaluation or assessment because the learning curve is so much steeper," he says. "But I think it’s exceptionally important to be disciplined about not making strong evaluations during spring training beyond effort and professionalism. If you start to evaluate and react off results in spring training you can make mistakes. Secondarily, recognize that transitioning to the big-leagues on opening day is less than ideal. You are coming in with expectations that you haven’t felt before, into an environment you haven’t been in before and you’re not hot, you’re not seasoned. Those are all factors."

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VANCOUVER EXTENSION: The Blue Jays and short-season-A Vancouver Canadians extended their player-development contract through the 2018 season, continuing a partnership that began in 2011.

Under the guidance of managing general partner Jake Kerr, partner Jeff Mooney and team president Andy Dunn, the Canadians have been hugely successful in Vancouver. Last year, they set a franchise attendance record by drawing 215,595 fans to picturesque Nat Bailey Stadium.

The Canadians won consecutive Northwest League championships from 2011-13.

"We have seen a number of Toronto's top prospects over the years and we look forward to further helping in their development," Kerr said in a news release. "The Canadians relationship with the Blue Jays remains as strong as ever and we appreciate the quality of young men they have sent to represent our city and organization."

Blue Jays to have passed through the Canadians on their way up the system include Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey, Miguel Castro and Bo Schultz.

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ORGANIZATIONAL MOVES: The Blue Jays promoted Sandy Rosario to director, Latin America operations, in part filling the void left by the November departure of Ismael Cruz for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The front office still has room to hire a new international scouting director, although nothing is imminent on that front. Henry Sandoval is now Venezuela supervisor and Lorenzo Perez is Dominican supervisor. … Bob Stanley takes over as pitching coach at triple-A Buffalo, moving up from double-A New Hampshire. He’ll serve with returning manager Gary Allenson and hitting coach Richie Hebner. Stanley served as bullpen coach for the Blue Jays in 2014. … The well-regarded Vince Horsman takes over from Stanley at New Hampshire after being promoted from single-A Dunedin. He joins manager Bobby Meacham and hitting coach Stubby Clapp, who both return for another season with the Fisher Cats.