Friday, August 29, 2014

Blue Jays Name Players to Arizona Fall League

   The Arizona Fall League announced the names of three Blue Jays prospects who will be heading to the American Southwest to play for the Mesa Solar Sox this week.
   The AFL was founded by MLB in 1992, and is meant to serve as "grad school" for the top prospects of each organization.  Rather than send these players off to winter ball, where they could not be closely monitored, or treated according to team guidelines in the event of an injury, MLB opted to start a league where the players could be properly monitored.
  Each MLB team sends six prospects, most of whom played at AAA or AA that year.  One player below AA is allowed, as is one foreign player, as long as there is no winter ball in his country (and he's not on that nation's protected list). The six AFL teams play in MLB spring training sites in the Phoenix area.  Play begins in early October, and wraps up by mid-November.
   Last year, the Blue Jays used the AFL to help accelerate the development of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, and the rehabilitation of Drew Hutchison.
   This year, the club has named Buffalo OF Dalton Pompey, New Hampshire 2B Jon Berti, and Dunedin OF Dwight Smith.  The three pitching prospects have yet to be named, and likely won't be until after the minor league playoff are over.
   Pompey's inclusion is not much of a surprise.  He has played at three levels this year, and has caught the eye of many evaluators and scouts.  Smith, Pompey's teammate in the Florida State League this year, is not a huge surprise, either.  Even though he has not produced overwhelming numbers in the pitching-friendly FSL, the 2011 sandwich round pick is still well thought of by the organization.  Berti's presence on the Mesa roster caught us a bit by surprise, although a look at his numbers at New Hampshire suggests that he has had a solid season.  The 2011 18th rounder has moved up the Blue Jays minor league ladder one step at a time, and even though he's a bit of a longshot to reach the minors, has to be considered one of the top 2B prospects in the system.  This year, he is among the Eastern League leaders in games played, and has been a consistent presence at the top of the Fisher Cats batting order, hitting ..273/.326/.379, and has stolen 39 bases.
   It's a toss-up as to which pitchers the club will send to Arizona.  Daniel Norris might be an obvious pick, but he may be shut down for the season after getting shelled in his final start this week.  There has also been talk of moving him to the bullpen to prepared him for a promotion to Toronto in September.  Either way, we can't see the organization asking him to pitch more innings after next month.
   Roberto Osuna could use some fall innings to help speed up his rehab, but if he pitches at all this off-season, it will be in Mexico.  Miguel Castro might be tapped - there is winter ball in the Dominican, but he may not be on that country's protected list.
   Matt Boyd and Taylor Cole of Dunedin have both logged a lot of innings this season, and seem to be wearing down as the minor league season draws to a close.  We can see an off-season shut down in the works for the pair.
   The other prospects who we might have projected earlier in the season as possible Solar Sox are either injured, or are pitching in short season ball.
   Kendall Graveman, Norris' teammate at Buffalo, has pitched at four levels this season, and might be a logical candidate to play in Mesa.
  If we were to look for other possibilities, we might look at players who the Blue Jays must place on their 40-man roster by the end of November, or risk losing them in the Rule 5 draft.  Falling into that category are converted infielder Justin Jackson, who pitched in relief at AA this year, Kramer Champlin, who has been injured for much of the year, but has worked his way back to Dunedin, or Ben White, who recently was promoted from Dunedin to New Hampshire.


  We were somewhat remiss last week, when we discussed which affiliates were involved in playoff races, and we failed to include the Lansing Lugnuts, who this morning sit one game out of a wild card spot in the Midwest League's East Division.
   It's been a long season for the Michigan club, which held much promise at the outset of the season, but saw its young pitching staff beset by injuries and inconsistency.  Just the same, a pair of wins this week over Dayton, holders of the last playoff spot in the division, have Lugnuts fans excited.
   Is it fair that a team that is 8 games under .500 this half, and 13 games under for the season, has a shot at a playoff spot ?   Not really, but this is minor league baseball, after all.  There has to be some incentive for both the fans and players as the season drags on.  Minor league teams and their followers are completely at the mercy of their major league affiliates, of course.  Development trumps competitiveness, as the Lugnuts fans can attest to, having seen two of their top players promoted to Dunedin last week to bolster their roster for the playoffs.  If one of their farm teams makes the playoffs, that's a bonus for MLB teams, but they won't let it stand in the way of the progress of their prospects.  The extra playoff spots are maybe something of a carrot for players and fans at the end of a long season.  And Lansing fans haven't had all that much to cheer about this year. Or last.

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