With the calendar having rolled over into February, the days getting longer, and the sun's warmth becoming an actual event for a few minutes some days, baseball's annual rite of spring training can't be far away. And for those of us who live close enough to Toronto to make a few Rogers Centre pilgrimages every season, that's good news.
The Blue Jays invited several non-roster prospects to attend the big club's spring training, which starts with pitchers and catchers reporting in just a few weeks. Clubs do this with prospects who are on the cusp of a breakthrough. It lets the young players soak up the major league atmosphere, and see how established major leaguers prepare themselves for the season ahead.
To that end, Toronto has invited a handful of prospects to join the team in camp this spring. The chances of any of them sticking with the club when camp breaks are slim to none, but that's not the point. It's to get them ready for major league life - the travel, and looking after themselves and preparing for each day.
In no particular order, the prospects invited are:
C - Jack Murphy/Derrick Chung/Sean Ochinko
A lot of pitchers, roster and non roster types, are invited to spring training (we count 31, at the moment), and as a result, you need a lot of catchers, at least until the club starts to pare the number of arms down. This trio, to a large extent, is part of that catching depth. At the same time, the invite is a reward for Murphy, who had another sterling season of winter ball in Australia, as well as converted infielder Chung, who made it as far as AA last year. Ochinko started the season under a 50 game suspension for Adderall use, and then suffered a severe concussion in extended spring training. He played in the Arizona Fall League, and acquitted himself well. With Max Pentecost about to leap over all three on the Blue Jays depth chart, likely at some point this season, there's some jockeying for minor league assignments that will be going on between the three. Chung did catch Aaron Sanchez in the club's final exhibition series at Olympic Stadium, but none of the three figure to last much past the middle of training camp. Still, just to get the invitation is an accomplishment.
Infielders - Mitch Nay/Devon Travis
I suspect you faithful readers know all about the latter. You would have to think that Travis would have to blow the doors off this spring in order to break camp with the team, but he'll be getting some valuable experience just the same, and unlike some of his fellow prospects, may get to start fairly often in the exhibition games.
Nay did not hit for the power that some thought he would display last year, but Lansing is a tough home run park, and power is always the last part of the toolkit to develop. Nay did hit 30 doubles, and the thinking is likely that some of them will turn into home runs one day. The question has always been if Nay can stay at 3rd base. By all accounts, he played well there in 2014, and will likely stay at the position for at least this year.
Outfielders - Anthony Alford/Dwight Smith, Jr.
Alford struggled in Australia against veteran pitching after making a full time commitment to baseball; this invitation was likely part of the the package the Blue Jays used to convince him to give up his gridiron dreams. While Alford is still a long way away, the experience at spring training should set him up nicely in his first year of full season ball.
Smith had a very underrated year in the Florida State League, and we've heard lots of talk that if he hits at AA this year, he could very well be on his way. If we were to pick out a potential sleeper position player at spring training, he would be it.
Pitchers - Roberto Osuna/Miguel Castro/Gregory Infante
An intriguing trio of arms. Osuna came back last summer after TJ surgery, and while he showed that he had regained most of his former velo and his advanced feel for pitching, he often caught too much of the plate. 2015 will be a big year for him, and the club has challenged him with this invitation. And he doesn't turn 20 until later this week.
Castro had the best season for a Blue Jays prospect not named Daniel Norris or Kendall Graveman last year. He throws heat with his 96 mph fastball, but the nagging concern is about his secondary pitches. Of all the prospects invited to this camp (save for Travis, maybe), his invitation could be considered to be an audition. While we would like to see him get an opportunity to continue starting, Alex Anthopoulos has mentioned on more than one occasion that we could see Castro in the Blue Jays pen sooner, rather than later. Castro turned 20 just before Christmas.
Infante may throw even harder than Castro, but the former White Sox pitcher does not tend to have a lot of movement on his pitches. He pitched well in Venezuela this winter, and could be on the fringes of a big league return.