TORONTO – The return of Sean Nolin from injury and the approaching end of Marcus Stroman’s 50-game suspension for a positive drug test are restoring some of the lost upper level pitching depth in the Toronto Blue Jays farm system.
Already that much needed layer has helped the big-league club as Chad Jenkins, who started the year on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, was called up after one start for double-A New Hampshire and proceeded to throw five innings of two-run ball over the Boston Red Sox last Sunday.
Nolin, a 23-year-old left-hander taken in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, is expected to be the next prospect to join him after coming back from a groin injury at the end of spring training that paused his season.
GM Alex Anthopoulos watched his season debut last week – an underwhelming 3.1 innings of six-hit, three-run ball – but missed the gem Nolin tossed Sunday, when he struck out eight over six shutout innings versus Trenton.
Stroman, the 2012 first-rounder who tested positive for a stimulant banned under the minor-league drug program but not the big-league one, will be able to return on May 18 if he joins New Hampshire or May 19 if he ends up making a start or two for single-A Dunedin.
Right now, the thinking among the Blue Jays is that he heads straight for the Fisher Cats, with May 19 his next scheduled day to start, the role the organization plans to keep him in for now. His name has already come out in conversations about who to call up for the big-league club, so his progress will be watched closely.
"Velocity's been great, some of our amateur scouts were down there for meetings, they said he looked really, really good," said Anthopoulos. "He's going to stay a starter for the time being, he looks good, stuff was very good, he was 91-95 (Tuesday), we all know great athlete, very poised. We're excited to be able to get him into some games very soon."
Here's a look at some other names up and down the system making news:
BUFFALO BISONS (AAA)
Jim Negrych, 2B
Negrych leads the International League in batting average and on-base percentage this year. The 28-year-old has a .411/.468/.625 batting line with 17 extra base hits and more walks than strikeouts in 29 games. He's a left-handed hitter who also has minor league experience playing third base, although his defence is described as average with only enough arm strength to play second in the majors.
"The reports have been great," said Anthopoulos. "He's playing exceptionally well, even at the end of spring training we saw him swing the bat well. Being completely candid, there's obviously the point of are you expecting someone to hit .400 for the entire year when he hasn't done in his entire career? No, but great surprise. ... He's starting to make his way into the conversation more and more as he continues to do this."
Ricky Romero, P
The line from his Bisons debut wasn't pretty - six runs, 10 hits, five walks and no strikeouts over 3.2 innings wasn't pretty.
"Deep counts, walks, the stuff was fine, he just got hit," said Anthopoulos. "Still got ground balls, Tampa was the same way, a lot of hits just found holes. He's got to continue to pitch. The up, he wanted to be up here, he believed he could be up here, so he definitely wanted the opportunity. He was in a good frame of mind, but any time you don't have success, you're getting hit, your confidence is going to be impacted. He knows he's struggling, he knows he's not where he needs to be. He needs a good outing to get himself going again."
Anthony Gose, CF
Gose has slowed down at the plate in recent weeks and now has a .230/.338/.341 batting line. As usual he has lots of strikeouts - 36 through 35 games, although Anthopoulos credited him with being more selective at the plate of late. The speedy 22-year-old has five stolen bases, including a steal of home, but has been caught four times.
Moises Sierra, RF
Sierra has a .333/.377/.508 batting line with 13 extra base hits. The right-handed hitter would be among the Blue Jays' options if Melky Cabrera's hamstring injury pushes him to the disabled list.
Josh Thole, C
Thole, 26, has a robust .347/.426/.537 batting line through 26 games with the Bisons. The left-handed hitter has experience catching R.A. Dickey and could be viewed as a natural complement to the right-handed hitting J.P. Arencibia. Thole ranks third in the International League in on-base percentage, and has a .331 mark in four MLB seasons.
Luis Jimenez, 1B/DH
The Blue Jays signed Jimenez as a free agent one month after the Seattle Mariners granted him free agency last off-season. So far the 31-year-old left-handed hitter has eight home runs and a .374/.438/.634 batting line with his new team. Negrych, Jimenez and Thole rank 1-2-3 in the International League in both batting average and on-base percentage.
Mauro Gomez, 1B/DH
Gomez, one of Alex Anthopoulos' many waiver claims, has seven home runs and a .273/.365/.586 line with Buffalo. The right-handed hitter appeared in 37 games with last year's Boston Red Sox team.
Chad Beck, RHP
Beck, a 28-year-old right-hander who has appeared at the MLB level in both of the last two seasons, recently joined the Bisons. He had struck out 25 hitters in 15.2 innings at double-A before the promotion.
Neil Wagner, RHP
Wagner has 25 strikeouts in 15.2 innings and has allowed just seven hits and seven walks. The 29-year-old's 1.15 ERA could help him return to the MLB level for the first time since 2011. He has been especially effective against right-handed hitters.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
Jeffress, who began the season at the MLB level, has made seven relief appearances in the minors this year. He has allowed seven hits and four walks in 9.2 total innings, striking out seven.
NEW HAMPSHIRE FISHER CATS (AA)
Joel Carreno, RHP
Carreno, who pitched for the Blue Jays in each of the last two seasons, will be back in the big leagues before too long if he keeps producing like this. Now pitching out of the bullpen at double-A, the 26-year-old has dominated the opposition, posting a 0.93 ERA. He has allowed just four walks and eight hits in 19.1 innings, striking out 33.
Deck McGuire, RHP
McGuire has had mixed results through seven starts at double-A. The 2010 first round pick who turns 24 next month has a 5.11 ERA through 37 innings with 31 strikeouts and 18 walks. Anthopoulos noted that his stuff has been better in recent starts, but he needs to put together a run of steady starts to pull himself back onto the big-league club's radar.
DUNEDIN BLUE JAYS (A)
Aaron Sanchez, RHP
Sanchez, 20, entered the season as the 65th-ranked prospect in MLB, according to Baseball America. The 6'4" right-hander has a 2.95 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 14 walks in 39.2 innings for Dunedin so far this year. So far the 2010 first round pick has cut down on walks, but his strikeout numbers are down as well.
A.J. Jimenez, C
Jimenez recently returned to action after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. The 23-year-old is a gifted defender and has seven hits in his first six games back, but is now dealing with some nerve irritation that threatens to derail him. The Blue Jays are unsure how much of an issue the new pain in his elbow will be.
Dustin McGowan, RHP
The oft-injured 31-year-old returned to action Tuesday, striking out the side and reaching 96 m.p.h. on the radar gun. The Blue Jays see him as a reliever and Anthopoulos raised eyebrows when he said Tuesday that he expects the star-crossed right-hander to be ready when he's eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list May 30.
LANSING LUGNUTS (A)
Roberto Osuna, RHP
Osuna hasn't pitched this month due to an elbow injury that may require Tommy John surgery. The 18-year-old struck out 31 hitters in 22.1 innings before being placed on the disabled list, although he tweeted Tuesday that he'll be ready to pitch in 10 days. That won't alleviate the tear, and much like Drew Hutchison's attempt at rehab last year, he may only be delaying the inevitable.
Santiago Nessy, C
Nessy hasn't played since late April due to a concussion. The 20-year-old is in the midst of his fourth professional season and the Blue Jays view him as a potential impact bat with above average defensive skills.
Daniel Norris, LHP
Norris, a second round selection in 2011, has struggled so far this year. He has an 8.54 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 16 walks in 26.1 innings, although he enjoyed perhaps his finest outing as a pro Monday, when he struck out five over four shutout innings, allowing one hit and three walks. His primary problem is repeating his delivery, although observers very much like his arm action.