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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Top 10 Prospects Mid-Season Update

 Time for a mid-season update of how the Blue Jays Top 10 prospects are progressing.  This is not a re-ranking of my Top 10 - because progress in not measured in a straight line, I prefer to let a season play out before I re-evaluate my list.

1.  Daniel Norris
   Last year, of course, was a whirlwind for the 2011 draftee.  Starting the year in High A, he picked up where he had left off after a strong second half of 2013.  Norris was the minor league pitcher of the month for May, pitched in the Futures Game, and capped off his 2014 by striking out David Ortiz in his MLB debut.
   The plan for Norris this spring was to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, with further seasoning at Buffalo a very real possibility if he didn't win the job.  The knee injury to Marcus Stroman, of course, laid waste to that and other Blue Jays rotation plans, and Norris headed north with the team to open the season.
  And he clearly wasn't ready.
  After getting roughed up by the Braves in his third start, Norris went 7 innings against the Rays, and appeared to be turning things around.  In what turned out to be his final start against the Indians, however, he was lifted after only 3 innings, having thrown only 42 of his 78 pitches for strikes.  Manager John Gibbons, and GM Alex Anthopolous had clearly seen enough.  Relying on his four seam fastball, Norris was not able to throw it often enough for strikes, and when he did, hitters were teeing off on it:
  The one concern I've had with Norris is his pitch management.  Everything will be going along well for him, then he will lose the strike zone in an inning, and up goes the pitch count.  Repeating his delivery seems to be the key - there were concerns in April about a possible velocity drop, but his fastball seems to have come back; it's just his command that appears to be the issue.
   Norris appears to be becoming more consistent over the past two months - he's thrown about 63% of his pitches for strikes, and is generating more weak contact (about twice as many groundouts as flyouts). Forget Norris' 2-10 record for Buffalo since his demotion; he receives less run support than any other Bisons pitcher.  At 22, there's little reason to worry about this apparent step backwards.  With trade rumours swirling about, and reports of many scouts watching his Bisons' starts, Norris likely will pitch again in the majors this season - the question might be where.

2.  Aaron Sanchez
   Sanchez has moved on from this list, and even though he's nearing the end of a rehab stint, looks like he's in the majors to stay.
  Sanchez, of course, was to be part of that 5th-starters battle this spring, with a possible move back to the bullpen if he lost the competition.  Winning the 4th spot with the shuffling that took place after Stroman's surgery, Sanchez scuffled a bit in his first few starts, but as April gave way to May and June, the just-turned 23 year old was growing up right before our very eyes.  After pitching a career-high 8 innings against the Astros, he missed his next start due to what we were told was normal soreness, and was placed on the DL soon after.  His rehab has come along slowly, although Sanchez pronounced himself ready to return after hs last start with Buffalo, but Bisons Manger Gary Allenson, after watching him fall behind 11 of the 17 hitters he faced, wasn't so sure.  
   Was an 8-inning performance too much to ask at this stage of Sanchez's career?  You can understand why Manager John Gibbons may have preferred to let him stay in, rather than turn things over to the beleaguered Blue Jays bullpen.  We all know about pitch counts and innings limits.  A topic I want to research is "pitch cost," a term introduced by Pirates beat reporter Travis Sawchik in his excellent Big Data Baseball, his summary of Pittsburgh's rise to contention through the use of analytics.  Pitch cost, originally coined by former Baseball Prospectus writer and current Pirates Director of Baseball Systems Development Dan Fox, takes into account the fact that not every pitch places the same amount of stress on a pitcher's elbow and shoulder.  Pitches are weighted according to the type of pitch and the leverage of the game situation in which the pitch is thrown.  The exact formula is proprietary, but it would be interesting to look back at the pitches Sanchez threw that game, and how many high leverage situations he faced.  With the Blue Jays deciding to move him into the bullpen because of his command issues, and the lack of time to get him back to a starting pitcher's pitch count, one thing is for certain: he hasn't been the same since that 8-inning start.

3.  Dalton Pompey
   In many ways, Pompey's breakout 2014 mirrored Norris' year.  And like Norris, he was deemed not quite ready for prime time after a month in the bigs in 2015.
  Pompey's struggles at the plate jogged out with him to the outfield, surprisingly, and the Blue Jays wisely sent him back to Buffalo to get his confidence back.  He continued to struggle at the plate there, however, and the team decided that Western New York was still a little too close to home, so the Mississauga product was sent down to New Hampshire, away from the limelight, to get himself back together.
   Which he has done - and then some.
   Hitting just .222/.300/.263 at Buffalo, Pompey has torn up AA pitching, putting up a .950 OPS for the Fisher Cats, and from all reports, squaring up a lot of balls, earning him a promotion back to AAA.
   With Pompey's name mildly circulating in trade rumours, he, like Norris, is bound to be back in the bigs this year, destination unknown.  Which brings about a question - can a Canadian ever play for an extended period of time for the Blue Jays?  Is carrying the weight of a winner-starved hometown's expectations too much of a burden to carry?  No Canuck position player has ever held a long-term regular role with the Blue Jays.  Granted, no one of Pompey's talents has come along, but I think it's a question worth asking, and while my preference is to see an outfield with Pompey and Anthony Alford in it one day, I won't be surprised if the local kid makes his name playing somewhere else.

4.  Jeff Hoffman
   Hoffman's name has widely circulated in social media as possible trade bait for the Blue Jays to use to help upgrade their major league roster before the trade deadline.
  Wise people know better.  Hoffman's a keeper.
   The 9th overall pick in last year's draft made his pro debut in May with Dunedin, just over a year after having undergone Tommy John surgery.  And while you can't argue that he's been lights out, his velocity has returned, and his wipeout curveball has already been labelled one of the best in the minors.
   Like all TJ patients, Hoffman's command has been the last tool in the kit to return, but all evidence suggests that it's coming.  Promoted to AA this past week, Hoffman had a solid debut at that level, giving up 5 hits and 2 earned runs in 6 innings last night.
  Some will point to the relatively low strikeout totals (just under 6 per 9IP over 60 minor league innings) as a cause for concern.  I counter that with the almost 3:1 ground ball to fly ball ratio he posted over his last 3 starts prior to his promotion as evidence that he's progressing.
  Hoffman, at this point, is not ready to contribute to the major league club, and it would be foolish to assume otherwise.  Yes, he could make an Aaron Sanchez-like impact in September with a pared-down arsenal of pitches, but a pennant race is no time for experimentation like that (while he didn't exactly pitch in a pressure-packed September environment last year, Sanchez had almost a month and a half to grow into that role prior to September).  Let him continue to develop his full complement of pitches in the minors, refine his command, maybe send him to the Arizona Fall League for some more innings, then give him every chance to win a rotation spot in 2016.

5.  Roberto Osuna
   A year ago, if you had told me that Osuna would be the most effective performer in the Blue Jays bullpen, I would have said that Canada winning Pan-Am Baseball Gold against the USA on an errant pick-off throw in extra innings would have been more likely.
   In July of last year, Osuna was about to make his return from Tommy John surgery performed in 2013, and while the K rate was encouraging, he struggled with his command in both the Florida State and Arizona Fall Leagues.  Osuna impressed early in spring training this year, and even when the hitters began to get their timing down by late March, he was still lights out in relief.  Brought north with the team when camp broke, it's hard to think of where the Blue Jays bullpen would be without him.  What's even more encouraging is the prospect of him in a starter's role next year.  He has an advanced feel for pitching that's allowed him to get MLB hitters out in late game situations, even at the tender age of 20.

6.  Miguel Castro 
   With the exception of Norris, Pompey, and maybe Kendall Graveman, no prospect made as much progress last year as Castro did.
   The Blue Jays openly mused about using him in relief in 2015 as early as last November.  His electric fastball (and slowly developing secondaries) made him a good candidate, and when he opened spring training with a slew of scoreless appearances, his stock soared.  Even as hitters began to time him better over the last half of March, his status didn't waver, and he opened the season as a back end of the bullpen reliever, and was anointed closer in the season's first week, when Brett Cecil was unable to answer the bell on Opening Day.
   Castro was overmatched in the role, of course.  And maybe having a youngster just three months removed from his 20th birthday, who hadn't even pitched a full season stateside, as the closer was the equivalent of throwing Castro in the deep end in the hopes that he could master the butterfly stroke.  His fastball was its usual vapour-trail self, averaging 97 through the month, but his slider came in at 82 - too much of a separation to be effective.  A pumped Castro then tried to blow his four seamer past hitters, but it can be a difficult pitch to control, and he found the meat of the strike zone too often with it.  In the minors, he could get away with that;  MLB hitters made him pay a heavy price for living in the high rent district that is the middle of the strike zone:

   The news is not all bad, of course.  Sent down to AAA to be stretched out as a starter, Castro missed most of June with a thumb injury, and the the Blue Jays wisely returned him to the bullpen upon his return. His last two outings for Buffalo have been strong ones, so there's a high probability we'll see him back in the bigs before summer is over.

7.  Richard Urena
   Outside of Anthony Alford, no Blue Jays position prospect has made as much progress as Urena this year.  At 19, his promotion from Lansing to Dunedin caught me a bit by surprise, as I thought he would be given a whole year in Low A.  As the organization has proved with their young pitchers, however, they are not afraid to challenge a prospect, and they have sent Urena, who was among the Midwest League Home Run hitters, to the next level, where he is now the youngest player in the Florida State League.
  Urena's pop is a surprise - he hit 12 in a tough hitter's park and league with Lansing, far surpassing his career total of 3.  Hitting lefthanders continues to be a bit of a challenge for him, however.  Just the same, he has barreled up a lot of balls this year, and when you add to that his premium defence, he is Jose Reyes' successor.

8.  Max Pentecost
   We've been waiting a while to see the second of the Blue Jays first round draft choices.  His pro debut last year was limited to 25 games (much of it as a DH), and he was shut down in early August with what turned out to be shoulder woes.  Surgery in October was reportedly successful, although he wasn't ready to start the season.  Word came a month ago that he was throwing again, and not far from returning to action.  Just today came news via fellow prospect blogger Charlie Caskey that Pentecost had a setback last week, and has been shut down once again, his season likely over.
   Pentecost's name had been mentioned (mostly by fans on social media) in trade rumours as the trade deadline approaches.  If that was a thing, it likely isn't any more.

9.  Devon Travis
   Sometimes, you go out on a limb, and it proves to be worth it.  If anything, in hindsight I wish I had gone further.
   A number of people on Twitter took me to task for suggesting that Travis would make an impact for the Jays at some point.  I wasn't sure if it would be this season or next, and I certainly didn't anticipate his knockout April, but Travis has been exactly as advertised.
   After missing time on the DL, Travis has picked up right where he left off, and has put up a line of .302/.352/.487.  With uber-prospect Carlos Correa playing well since his debut, Travis may not be a lock for American League Rookie of the Year, but he certainly should be in the conversation by season's end if he can keep up this level of play.
   Travis puts the ball in play, gets on base, has good baserunning instincts, plays solid defence, and generally displays a high baseball IQ.  He has filled a huge hole in the Blue Jays lineup that has existed for years.

10. Sean Reid-Foley
   Reid-Foley is another prospect who the Jays have rewarded with aggressive promotions.  In only his second pro season,  he was challenged by an assignment to full-season ball, and recently he was challenged again by a promotion from Lansing to Dunedin. Again, at only 19, I was mildly surprised by this.
  SRF struck out 79 MWL hitters in 54 innings, but his 40 walks come from mechanical issues, an area that he needs to work on before he continues his ascent up the ladder.  Here's what Baseball America's John Manuel had to say about Reid-Foley recently:
Reid-Foley’s stuff is Top 100 worthy for sure. His stuff’s electric, as was described in his draft report last year (just go to his player page to see the report). The scouts we’ve talked to say he’s just not to the point yet where he can fix his own mechanical issues; he needs a coach to figure that out, either in mid-inning or between innings. But he’s not that different from a guy like Grant Holmes that I mentioned earlier, though Holmes has more polish and a bit better breaking ball at this point.
   I watched Reid-Foley's dominant May 30th start with Lansing, and you can read about it here.
His name has been mentioned too in trade talks, but possibly more by people who don't realize that A-ball prospects who aren't in the Top 100 in the minors don't have as much value as they might think.  Still, if he continues to develop, he's not far from Toronto.

Ok - let's acknowledge that Sanchez and Travis have graduated from this list.  While I'm not in favour of re-ranking my Top 10 prospects, I will admit that maybe there's room for two more:

Anthony Alford
   Almost exactly a year ago, Alford was on his way back to Mississippi to get ready for his upcoming wedding and the college football season. after having teased us with a week of jaw-dropping play at Lansing.
  What a difference a year makes.
   Alford gave up on his gridiron dreams in late September, and after catching the tail end of Instructional League play, he and his young bride packed up and headed off to Australia.  Facing veteran pitching the 2012 3rd round pick's inexperience showed down under, as his over-aggressiveness got him into a lot of pitcher's counts.
   An invite to major league camp (as well as a huge contract offer) likely convinced Alford to give up football, and he's made up for lost development time this year as a result.  A fixture at the top of Lansing's lineup, Alford reached base safely in his first 34 games of the year.  Promoted to Dunedin after the MWL All Star game, Alford has not missed a beat, and after going 0-5 in his FSL debut, rattled off a 19 game hit streak.
  There are so many areas Alford has made strides in, but chief among them is pitch recognition.  He isn't striking out as frequently as he did over his first three abbreviated pro seasons, and while he still needs to put more balls in play, he has also shown a drastically improved ability to work the count and take a walk.  Gone is the pull-happy hitter, and in his place is one who uses the whole field, and driving the ball to right-centre more.  The power has yet to manifest itself, but it likely will in time.
  The next jump up the ladder will be one of the biggest ones prospects have to make, and it will give us a true read on Alford when he makes it (likely next year), but both he and the Blue Jays have to be happy with the decision he made last September.

Matt Boyd
   Sometimes, teams draft college seniors to fill out the rosters of their minor league affiliates.  Other times, they draft them with the hope that maybe a full time focus on baseball will accelerate their development.  Such was the case with Boyd.
 Drafted in the 6th round of 2013, Boyd was on his way to his own breakout year in 2014 before elbow issues and inconsistency slowed him down.
  Healthy again, and a devoted disciple of pitching guru Kyle Boddy in the offseason, Boyd added velocity to his fastball, and was far and away the best pitcher in the Eastern League in April and May.  Promoted to Buffalo, he found himself in Toronto a few weeks later, making his MLB debut - and it was a good one.
  The next start - not so much.
  Boyd was blasted by the Red Sox, not retiring a batter and giving up 6 earned runs before being pulled in the 1st.  Undeterred, he has been his usual effective self since his return to Buffalo.  His name also popped up in trade talks, but that outing against Boston has silenced much of it.

Honourable Mention
Rowdy Tellez - the former California HS legend was not content to be just a bopper; he came into spring training in incredible shape, and it has paid off in spades on defence and at the plate.  Promoted to Dunedin a few weeks ago, Tellez has continued to mash.  He's still far off, but this may be a bat for the future.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What to Expect from Matt Boyd

  Before we begin, a disclaimer:

   I've been a Blue Jays fan since Day One.  My parents, knowing that their youngest son was obsessed with baseball (a trait inherited from his father and brother), let me skip school the afternoon of that snowy 1977 Home Opener.
   I have also been a fan of minor league baseball for much of that time.  In the pre-internet days of the early 90s, I booked a conference in Woodstock, ON, not for the professional skills upgrading it would give me as much as because the Expos AA team, which featured Rondell White and Cliff Floyd, would be visiting nearby London, then home to the Tigers AA team, for a series.  I had been reading about the pair in Baseball America for some time.
   I have been writing for prospects for three seasons now.  Matt Boyd is the first prospect that I have followed from MLB draft to the major leagues.  I've corresponded with him on Twitter, and I have found him to be a genuine and likeable young man.  He is very devout, and plans to do some volunteer ministry work with his young bride Ashley.  His college coach Pat Casey had this tribute:

“When you coach young men—and it’s difficult enough, but he’s a no-maintenance guy,” Casey said of Boyd. “He takes care of everything. He goes to school, does well in school, trains. He’s the guy you never have to worry about. He’s just easy to coach; he’s just a great kid . . . And he’s just—he’s a really fun kid to coach and he’s a great man.”

   I say all of this because I know that a journalist should try to be impartial.  Having said that, just as I have said many times that I'm not a scout, I'm not really a journalist, either.  Boyd is my first prospect graduate, so while I'll try to be objective, I'm not making any promises.


   Matt Boyd grew up in the Seattle area, and played both baseball and hockey as a youngster.  He was good enough at the latter sport to have made a regional development team as a teenager before giving up hockey to focus on baseball.
   Boyd has an interesting family tree, claiming distant relations with both former First Lady Dolly Madison and Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.
   Boyd attended Oregon State, and pitched out of the bullpen for his first three years.  The Reds took him in the 12th round after his junior season, but he opted to return to school for another season - a wise decision, as it turned out.  He was converted to a starter for his senior year, and pitched a complete game four-hit shutout in OSU's 2nd round game in the College World Series.
    The Blue Jays took Boyd in the 6th round that year (2013), and he pitched at Lansing and Dunedin, but was likely feeling the effects of a long college season.  Boyd broke out in 2014 - he had a better April/May than Kendall Graveman or even Daniel Norris, and earned a promotion to AA New Hampshire.  After being lights out in High A, Boyd had his struggles at the higher level.  A foot injury, plus pressing too hard caused Boyd to get hit early and often, and he found himself back at Dunedin, only to be promoted for another brief stint with New Hampshire when they needed starting help.  Boyd came back to help the D-Jays make a run at a Florida State League title, but he was lit up by a prospect-laden Daytona squad.
   Boyd's late-season struggles could be at least partially attributed to bone chips, which he successfully had removed after the season.   Boyd also adopted a new training regimen, working with rising pitching guru Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball, a Tacoma-based pitcher training company.  I had several reports this spring that he had a spike in velocity, and his new program had to be a part of it.
   Boyd has an effective four-pitch arsenal.  His fastball now touches 96, and sits 92-94.  His delivery can be deceptive, as he has a high leg kick and a slight pause in his delivery.  It used to be said that he lacked a true out pitch, but that no longer seems to be the case - his fastball now is his best pitch, and complements his secondary pitches.  Boyd pounds the strike zone down low, and is getting better at pitch sequencing with almost every outing.  When he gets into trouble, it's usually because of command issues - Boyd can lose the strike zone, but only for short periods of time.  Because he strikes out a lot of batters, his pitch count tends to go up in a hurry, but he has shown a better ability to economize his pitches and induce weak contact.  He does give up the odd long ball, and he tends to give up more flyball than groundball contact sometimes, but he doesn't hurt himself with walks.  Hitters have had a tough time barreling him up, for the most part.
   Boyd  has gone from being an organization (roster-filler) guy to one of the best pitching prospects in the system - one of the best in all of the minors, even - in a relatively short period of time.  He shows an advanced feel for pitching, and while prospects tend to struggle in their first few starts as they adjust to major league hitters, I think Boyd has a bright future.  What should you expect from him?  He will need some time, but a mid-rotation starter is his likely ceiling.

  What are other evaluators saying?  There is something of a discrepancy amongst them, possibly because some haven't factored in the velocity bump this year.

  Here's what Al Skorupa of Baseball Prospectus had to say about Boyd recently:
At his best, Boyd is filling the zone with a four-pitch mix of near-average pitches. On the downside, the FB isn’t big enough, the command is below average and there’s no out pitch. Boyd has a 50 FB (88-92,m t92) with sinking action. His command really eluded him in the first couple innings last start, but he picked it up and limited the damage in the meantime. In limiting the damage he showed me he has some feel for pitching and setting up hitters. Boyd seemed to have a lot of trouble repeating his hand break and I think that might have hurt him early....., I thought the SL (77-80) had the most potential, but I still rated it as an future average pitch. It’s a 1-7 slurve that he throws for strikes and as a chase, but the shape and command were inconsistent..... we’ve got a 69-71 good high school type, big, slow loopy CB. It flashed some downer action and I wouldn’t trashcan the pitch, but it’s best as a mix-up and used to give a different look against opposite handed hitters. The CH (76-83) was also a little too inconsistent for me to really get behind it despite some above-average flashes. Often too firm, the pitch was thrown with good arm speed and he put it in the perfect spot a couple times. Boyd looks like another role 40/no. 5 starter/middle reliever to me. I could see him helping the Blue Jays pen in 2015.
   Ezra Jones of had the following projection:
Many saw Boyd as a finesse back end starter at the beginning of the season, but as his fastball has progressed and his numbers continue to be stellar, I see him as, if all works out, a solid #3 starter. Boyd has good composure on the mound and has very good control and command, walking few and striking out many. He does give up fly balls easily, especially when he leaves his change-up up in the zone, as just over 40% of the batted balls he gave up were fly balls.
This could end up as a larger problem if he cannot keep down the number of homers he gives up. This is less of an issue now, as his better fastball is inducing more pop ups. An interesting fact is that Steamer, a projection system, saw him as a league average starter in the majors this year.

   By the numbers:   I'm not a big stats-based scouting guy (I'm not a scout, remember?), but here are Boyd's stats between two levels this year:



They're pretty convincing.

  I've written extensively about Boyd, probably as much as any Blue Jays prospect not named Anthony Alford..  You can read about his off-season regimen in more detail here, and I charted his April 20th start (while he still was with New Hampshire), and you can read about that here, if you so desire.   Finally, here's a look at his delivery:


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Blue Jays Short Season Rosters Coming into Focus

Michael Fabiaschi photo
 With play in short season ball opening later this week and the MLB draft over and done with, it's time to turn our attention to the likely rosters of the three affiliates the Blue Jays have at this level.

  The lowest rung of the ladder is the Gulf Coast League.  Teams are housed at the spring training complexes of their major league clubs (there's a league in Arizona, too).  Players practice early in the morning, and then play a late morning game in the hopes of avoiding the hot Florida sun.  Attendance figures are not kept (because the crowds are sparse), and up until a few years ago, there wasn't even a playoff at the end of the regular season.  Players from the Caribbean summer leagues, who are getting their first taste of playing stateside, recent high school draftees, and lower-level college picks populate this league.
  The next rung is Rookie ball, and there are several leagues across the US.  The Blue Jays have an affiliate in Bluefield, WV that plays in the Appalachian League.  Players here play "under the lights," usually in front of a couple of hundred fans, and get to experience travel.
  The top rung of short season ball is advanced rookie ball - the Blue Jays have an affiliated team in Vancouver, with the Northwest League.  High college draftees and players who have had a season or two of pro ball play in this league.  Vancouver has a hugely successful club on an off the field.  They are one of the best-run organizations in all of minor league ball, and after winning three straight NWL finals, lost in the final last year.
   I have a source in the Gulf Coast League who sweats it out and sends me photos and updates.  I've never been to Bluefield, but the park looks like it was carved out of the Appalachian forest, and I plan to head there in 2016 or 2017.  Vancouver is a great place to watch a game.  The crowds are huge, and the stadium has undergone extensive renovations.  If I went to a game again, I would probably check (either by calling or emailing) to make sure my seat wasn't an obstructed one.  There are 6 pillars supporting the grandstand, and our seats on the 1st base side of home had an effectively blocked view of the hitters.  Luckily, the seats beside ours were empty, so we were able to move down - that doesn't happen often.  The selection of craft beers at the park helped to make up for it somewhat, but that is a caution I would give when buying tickets.

Let's start at the top, and look at Vancouver's roster so far (players will be added in the next few days).
The Canadians have a nice mix of pitching on their roster.  The top prospect (at the moment) would have to be Clinton Hollon, a 2nd round pick in 2013 who the Jays took despite a partial UCL tear that needed surgery to fix a year ago.  Hollon has an electric arm, and hits 96 with his fastball. Reports I've had about him this spring say he's back to his old velocity.  Daniel Lietz was undrafted out of high school, but hit the weight room, and added velo, causing the Blue Jays to take him in the 5th round in 2013.  He's repeating Vancouver.  Evan Smith is a tall, lean lefty the Blue Jays took ahead of Lietz.
As for position players, Lane Thomas is the most promising at the moment.  A bit of a sleeper last year, the Blue Jays took him last year in the 5th round, and he played well at two levels.  It sounds like he may have been hurt this spring, and didn't get into a full slate of games in Extended Spring Training.   At 5'10", 155 lbs, Juan Kelly may not look like a corner infielder, but the 1st baseman has some pop projected in his bat. Juan Tejada drew some rave reviews for his power in the GCL last year.
 At the moment, this team doesn't look to have the same talent level that past Vancouver has had. That should change as news filters in about signed draft picks.  At this point Jon Harris, Carl Wise, JC Cardenas, Travis Bergen, Conor Panas, and Owen Spiwak have signed from amongst the top 10 picks from colleges, so several of them should at least start with Vancouver, giving them a major roster upgrade. There will likely be some lower college picks joining them, too.  Adonys Cardona, who is magnificently talented but has underachieved to this point, may show up in the northwest after recovering from surgery to repair a broken elbow last year.  The Blue Jays signed Cardona out of Venezuela for $2.8M in 2010 - still a record for a Venezuelan signee.  Bend Badler of Baseball America wrote an excellent article on the aftermath of Hugo Chavez's demise in the South American country, and its effects on scouting and player development there.

  Bluefield is a bit of a different story.  They receive players from the GCL and advanced high school picks.  Their roster has only a handful of names on it at the moment, but that will be subject to serious change in the next week as the club decides who's ready to play under the lights, and who needs more time at the complex.  Infielder Deiferson Barreto (no relation to Franklin), who hit well in Extended, should be a lock, and may be joined by Short Stop Yeltsin Gudino, who at 17 was overmatched in the GCL this year, but has added some muscle in the off season. Catcher Matt Morgan was highly regarded, but the fourth round pick from last year had a difficult year at the plate last year, and struggled in Extended.  Freddy Rodriguez, an 18 year old out of Venezuela, had middling numbers in the GCL, but hit over .300 in Extended. 2014 31st rounder Dave Pepe hit .304/.430/.362 in the GCL and in truth was a bit old for that level, and should find himself at Bluefield (or even Vancouver) this year.
  On the pitching side, 2014 6th rounder Grayson Huffman pitched well in the GCL and Appy Leagues this year, and may start in Bluefield.  Expect him to move quickly if he pitches well again.
Angel Perdomo, who averaged over 11K/9 in the GCL last year, will follow Huffman's path, as well as 2014 3rd rounder Nick Wells.  Jake Brentz, a lightning-armed lefty who can hit 97 with his fastball, is likely headed to Bluefield as well.  Depending on who winds up there, Bluefield has the makings of a good rotation.
   The GCL Jays roster is one of the hardest to predict.  They will likely feature high school picks Brady Singer (assuming he signs), Justin Maese, and Jose Espada to start the season, but they likely will accelerate fairly quickly to Bluefield unless their development dictates otherwise.  Juan Meza was the 10th-ranked International prospect last year, and signed with the Jays but did not play for the Dominican Summer League Jays.  He's not on the DSL Jays roster this year (they began play two weeks ago), so the thinking is that he will pitch stateside in the GCL this year. 3B Bryan Lizardo didn't hit well in Extended, but did the in the DSL last year, and appears to be headed to the GCL.  The roster will be filled out with high school and lower round college players.

   Patrick Murphy is one of those players the Blue Jays often seem to find - tall, lean, athletic, and forgotten.  Drafted in the 3rd round of 2013, Murphy missed his senior year of high school competition because of Tommy John surgery.  He didn't make his pro debut until last year, but was shut down in mid-July with shoulder issues.  He had more surgery (likely a clean up) in April.  His debut may be delayed, but he will be looking to get his career back on track in the GCL.
   Jake Anderson was a first round pick (35th overall) in 2010.  A lot of eyebrows were raised by the pick, but after a promising start to his career, he has been sidelined by injuries almost ever since.  Anderson missed all of 2013, and amassed all of 11 PAs with Bluefield last year before being shut down.  Reports from Florida indicate that he didn't play a lot in Extended, and didn't show a great deal, either.  He has a long way to go to resurrect his career, and the GCL may be where he starts.
  A couple more injury notes.........Ryan Borucki, like Murphy, was a high school pitcher with an injury history who the Blue Jays were willing to wait and gamble on.  He rewarded the organization with a solid 2014 at Bluefield and Vancouver, but submitted to surgery once again when he had a clean-out performed on his elbow.  His timetable is unknown, but he may see time at Vancouver once he's healthy.  Tom Robson underwent Tommy John just over a year ago, and is likely being held back until the start of short season play to at least get a few outings in before returning to full season play, Dunedin being the logical guess.

  ....And, just as I was getting ready to hit the old "publish" button, comes word via Charlie Caskey on Twitter that Cardona was throwing well at Extended, but was having some discomfort in his surgically-repaired elbow.  The surgeons had to insert another plate and do some extra work on the repair, and now Cardona is basically out for the year.
  Adding to the injury report update, thanks to Caskey, is that Max Pentecost, the 2nd of Toronto's first round picks who was banged up thanks to a long college season, was shut down in August, and then underwent shoulder surgery in October, is inching toward game action.  Pentecost is doing all regular hitting and catching activities, but is on a throwing program that has him tossing from 75 to 90 feet.  The hope is that he will be ready to return by the end of the month, and will likely start in Vancouver - much to Caskey's elation.