* A number of names came up this winter and new ones this spring. Like the Blue Jays considering bringing back Vernon Wells, like Canadian James Paxton, and a No. 1 who got away. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list
By Bob Elliott
How about these names Jeff Samardzija, Vernon Wells, Ricky Romero, James Paxton, Kyle Freeland, Cobi Johnson and Brian Doran?
Remember any or all of those players?
_ You must recall Samardzija. There was talk about the Blue Jays making a trade for the Chicago Cubs right-hander in the off season as Toronto searched for starting rotation help, which is the case today. The asking price was believed to have been both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman.
How serious were the Cubs? Serious enough that the Cubs were phoning asking former Blue Jays minor-league employees to rank the top Jays pitching prospects in order after Sanchez and Stroman, acclaimed as the Jays top pitching prospects.
The question asked by Cubs people were in what order would you rank Sean Nolin, Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna, Alberto Tirado and John Tilson? Their thought was maybe one of Sanchez-Stroman pairing plus another prospect could make the deal happen.
Obviously not. Eligible for salary arbitration, Samardzija, 29, will earn $5.345 million US with the Cubs this season. He was 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA making 33 starts for the Cubs last season. He walked 78 and struck out 214 men in 213 2/3 innings.
_ You certainly remember Wells, the Blue Jays former No. 1 pick, who general manager J.P. Ricciardi gave a $126 million US, seven-year contract extension. Four seasons into the deal Wells was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels and last year he was traded to the New York Yankees before opening day.
The Jays kept in touch with Wells this winter to see if he wanted to play one more season as an extra player with the Jays this year, according to the outfielder’s friends. Wells, 35, decided to retire.
_ You do remember Romero, the former all-star and opening-day starter, who is camp ... and has impressed in his first three outings. In his debut against the Baltimore Orioles he had a hitless, scoreless inning. Then, he pitched two scoreless against the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing one hit, walking two and striking out three facing mostly minor leaguers.
His most recent appearance was four innings on Wednesday facing the Rays allowing one run on two walks and two hits. He struck out three, including Ben Zobrist looking.
And the next day an Angels scout said “we talked about Romero a lot this winter, some of our guys had interest.” After being the opening day starter in 2012, Romero was at triple-A Buffalo last year. It’s early but in seven innings Romero has allowed one run on three hits and five walks, while fanning six. His velocity was 91-92 MPH.
_ You recall Paxton, a first-round choice of the Jays in 2009. The Jays offered him a $1 million US signing bonus, above the prescribed $874,000 slot. Paxton’s agent Scott Boras wanted $1.5 million and the Jays refused to pay more than they gave Chad Jenkins, chosen 17 selections earlier who receieved a $1.359 million bonus. Paxton will break camp in the Seattle Mariners rotation, Jenkins will not break camp with the Jays.
_ Not many will know Freeland. Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, his senior advisor and top scout Dana Brown, who helped build the Washington Nationals, and former Cy Young award winner Pat Hentgen made the trip to Winter Haven, Fla. to see Freeland pitch on Thursday.
The lefty started for the Evansville Purple Aces and picked up the win against the Northwestern Wildcats in the Russmatt Central Florida invitational. Freeland pitched six innings and did not allow an earned run, walking one, striking out nine. Freeland, the 31st top prospect in North America according to the Perfect Game scouting service, has walked two and struck out 29 in 24 innings.
_ You probably don’t know Johnson a high school right-hander from New Port Richey, Fla. He’s the son of former Jays reliever Dane Johnson, a roving minor-league pitching instructor with the Jays. Cobi Johnson stands 6-foot-4, weighs 180 pounds, the perfect pitcher’s frame and has signed a letter of intent to attend Florida State.
Perfect Game projects him as the 30th best prospect in North America. If he goes that high, he would best dear old dad almost 40 years to the day of dad’s draft. Dane Johnson was the Jays first pick in 1984, 48th over-all (a second rounder) that June. The Jays lost their first-round pick for signing free-agent Dennis Lamp.
Dane didn’t make the majors until 10 years later with the Chicago White Sox and in 1996 made 10 relief appearances for manager Cito Gaston’s team which finished with 74 wins.
_ When the Maine Black Bears headed south infielder Alex Calbick of Burnaby, B.C. was the Canadian most scouts wanted to see. While Calbick has hit, the most impressive Canuck on the Maine roster which has nine, has been outfielder Brian Doran, of Ayr, Ont. Doran is hitting .309 with four doubles, a triple and six RBIs, plus an .760 OPS. Jacob Gosselin-Deschesnes of Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., has two saves, with a 1.37 ERA, walking six and striking out 10 in 19 2/3 innings. .