There have been a couple of stories of note about the Blue Jays’ minor leagues over the past 24 hours and they include minor leaguers getting an invitation to spring training and the Jays’ minor league staffs being announced.
A big league club usually will invite a few dozen players who aren’t on the 40-man roster to spring training but the great bulk of them are minor league free agent signees who will be given a small chance to compete for a big league job. The club often also invites several young minor leaguers to major league spring training as a reward for their service, to help fill out rosters, particularly for road games when the starters aren’t travelling, or to get a closer look at what these young players can do against better competition.
Minor leaguers getting the invite this year are Wil Browning, Conner Greene, Tim Mayza, Reese McGuire, Rowdy Tellez, Jon Berti and Dwight Smith, Jr. Of course, Richard Urena, Anthony Alford and Ryan Borucki were added to the 40-man roster this offseason and are automatically invited to spring training. Also keep in mind that Matt Dermody, Chad Girodo, Chris Smith, A.J. Jimenez, Harold Ramirez and Lourdes Gurriel are already on the 40-man roster and will also be in big-league camp.
Reese McGuire was almost certain to get an invite, primarily because the Jays have just two catchers on their 40-man roster at the current time. Look for the Jays to sign at least a couple of minor league catchers with invites to big league camp to help fill up the roster with players ready to catch all of the pitchers the Jays will have in camp.
Mayza made a couple of appearances last year in big league spring training and his high-powered left arm could rise quickly this year after struggling in limited attempts to pitch in New Hampshire.
Conner Greene has been near the top of the Blue Jays prospect list for a couple of years now and his mid-to-high-90s fastball and great changeup have been edging closer to the major leagues. In 2016, Greene had an inconsistent year in Double-A as he was trying to find his command but pitching in spring training and working with the big league staff will give him a chance to continue his development.
Wil Browning is a 28-year-old right-handed side-armer who just dominates right-handed hitters. He’s an interesting guy to keep an eye on because he’s come from being a non-drafted free agent to someone who is being looked at for a possible future in the big leagues in just a few years. He’s managed to prove himself at every level but the fact that his OPS against was 300 points higher against lefties could be a serious limitation to his progress.
With Andy Burns heading to Korea this season, Jon Berti becomes the new versatile utility man who will likely play in Buffalo with a possibility of being called up. Unlike Burns, Berti has a ton of foot speed that could make him a late-inning pinch runner (for Kendrys Morales, perhaps?) in the majors aside from being able to play both in the infield and outfield.
Dwight Smith, Jr. has had some solid seasons in Double-A but the former first rounder hasn’t really stood out from the pack. Still, he’ll get a chance to show what he can do in front of the major league staff.
Rowdy Tellez is the guy who has the best chance of getting to Toronto by the end of the year. In fact, despite the fact that he’ll be competing for at bats with guys like Kendrys Morales, Steven Pearce and Justin Smoak, Rowdy could get a fair bit of playing time. One of the Jays’ closest position playing prospects to the majors, Tellez has taken every challenge and excelled.
The Blue Jays have finally announced their minor league staff for most of their teams. Moving into coordinator roles are Jeff Ware (the former Lansing pitching coach), who takes over for Sal Fasano as the pitching coordinator and Ken Huckaby (who managed Dunedin last year) as the catching coordinator. Eric Wedge gets a new title as the Field Coordinator, taking over for Doug Davis while Mike Mordecai, a long-time roving instructor is now the Assistant Field Coordinator. Danny Solano is now the Infield Coordinator.
The Blue Jays have also added a position player coach to their staffs in addition to managers, hitting and pitching coaches.
Bobby Meacham gets a promotion from New Hampshire to manage Buffalo while Bob Stanley remains in place. Devon White joins the Blue Jays’ staff to be the hitting coach in Buffalo and Matthews, who was the hitting coach in Bluefield last year is now in Buffalo to coach the position players.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Gary Allenson, the Buffalo manager last year, returns to the Jays’ system as the manager in New Hampshire while Vince Horsman stays in place as the pitching coach. Ronnie Ortegon joins the Blue Jays’ organization after having worked in the Braves’ system and was the assistant hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds, serving as their hitting coordinator for six seasons. Fermin is a former Blue Jays’ minor leaguer and makes the move into coaching in 2017.
Dunedin Blue Jays
Manager: John Schneider
Pitching Coach: TBD
Hitting Coach: Corey Hart
Position Coach: Michel Abreu
John Schneider moves up to Dunedin after managing previously in Vancouver and Lansing. Corey Hart returns as hitting coach and the Jays hire Michel Abreu, a Cuban who has a long career of playing in foreign leagues including Japan and Mexico.
Cesar Martin moves up in the Jays’ system from the GCL while Willie Collazo also moves up from Vancouver to join Lansing. Donnie Murphy was the Lugnuts’ hitting coach last year while Chris Schaeffer moves into a formal coaching role after being a player/coach over the past couple of years.
Manager: Rich Miller
Pitching Coach: Jim Czajkowski
Hitting Coach: Dave Pano
With the return of Jim Czajkowski and Dave Pano to Vancouver, the Canadians’ staff remains almost intact while Rich Miller returns to Vancouver for his first time managing the club since 2011.
Manager: Dennis Holmberg
Pitching Coach: Antonia Caceres
Hitting Coach: Carlos Villalobos
While we don’t have a ton of information about the Bluefield staff, Holmberg and Caceras have been there for quite a while and have been the Jays’ staff in the Appalachian League for years. If Villalobos is the person we think he is, he played for years in Mexico and even a year in Italy.
GCL Blue Jays/DSL Blue Jays
We don’t have the complete staff for the rookie league teams but former minor league catcher Luis Hurtado makes his managerial debut in the GCL while John Tamargo, Jr., a long-time Jays minor league staff member, has been tagged to manage in the Dominican Summer League, working with Dominican Field Coordinator Pablo Cruz.
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