TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays are conducting an internal investigation into a sudden spike of positive drug tests, with six minor-leaguers disciplined over the past week by Major League Baseball for using the steroid Boldenone.
A seventh player was suspended in September when Stanozolol metabolites were found in his system, establishing a new single-season high for the club. Six minor-leaguers were suspended in 2016 – two for using a banned stimulant, one for a drug of abuse and another for refusing to take a test – meaning 13 of the team’s 31 players disciplined since baseball’s punitive drug program was introduced in 2005 have come in the past two years.
"This situation is very disappointing and disturbing to the organization; disappointing that the players made these choices, but more so disturbing that some failure of our environment allowed this to happen," said Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins. "It is our responsibility to create an environment and culture where our players know that PED use is not condoned, and to give them resources and education to ensure that they do not make these decisions.
"As we seek to determine both how and why this happened, an internal investigation into the situation remains ongoing, and we will double down on ensuring that all our staff is properly equipped to help our players make the right choices."
All seven of the players suspended in 2017 began the season with the Blue Jays’ Dominican Summer League program, with one, right-hander Jol Concepcion, graduating to the rookie-level GCL Blue Jays, where he posted a 3.78 ERA in 33.1 innings with 28 walks and 29 strikeouts.
Shortstop Hugo Cardona, who received the maximum $300,000 bonus the Blue Jays could offer players last year when they were in the penalty for exceeding their bonus pool on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2015, is perhaps the most notable name of the seven.
Cardona, infielder Yhon Perez and catcher Leonico Ventura were each suspended Friday, while Concepcion and fellow pitchers Juan Jimenez and Naswell Paulino were disciplined Tuesday, all for using Boldenone.
Commonly, when a group of players from a shared location tests positive for the same substance, it hints at a point distribution source, something the Blue Jays are surely looking into, although Atkins didn’t want to reveal details of their investigation.
"We fully support the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and will continue to collaborate with MLB on all matters relating to PED abuse," he said.
Advances in testing can also lead to more positives by identifying previously undetectable substances or metabolites.
Pitcher Luis Pena, the seventh player punished this year, was suspended Sept. 1 for Stanozolol metabolites.
The Blue Jays’ suspensions total nine per cent of the 79 minor-league drug bans handed out so far this year under baseball’s program, which covers performance-enhancing substances, stimulants and so-called recreational drugs.
Only one Blue Jays player has ever been suspended under the separate major-league program: first baseman Chris Colabello, last year, after metabolites of dehydrochlormethyltestosterone were found in his system, a substance he adamantly denied taking knowingly.
Six Blue Jays were among the 100 minor-leaguers suspended in 2016: Canadian right-hander Andrew Case for failing to take a drug test; right-hander Clinton Hollon for a drug of abuse; outfielder David Harris for a growth hormone known as GHRP-2; catchers Jesus Montero and Cam O’Brien for using stimulants; and right-hander Pedro Loficial for Stanozolol.
Before 2016, the Blue Jays had never had more than three drug suspensions in a single season.
Of their 31 minor-leaguers disciplined under the program, 12 have been in either Dominican Summer League or former Venezuelan Summer League, seven in rookie ball, five at single-A, two at double-A and five at triple-A.