By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
The Toronto Blue Jays' class-A Short Season Vancouver Canadians announced their 2017 Opening Day roster a few days ago and we're finally able to take a closer look as the draft day fun has calmed down a bit.
This is a potentially stellar group of starting pitchers. I've been a fan of Weatherly's since I saw him pitch in Bluefield last year. I've heard that he's undergone a complete change of his offspeed pitches and this could have been the reason for him staying back in extended spring training.
Aleton moved over to the GCL last year and had a strong year in his first in the US (after three in the DSL) and at 21, it was expected that he might be skipped over a level.
Dany Jimenez was also in the GCL last year after jumping from the DSL, striking out over a batter per inning. He's 23 and this jump was also not unexpected.
I saw Dalton Rodriguez in spring training and he was in the low 90s, but getting hit hard with an inconsistent slider. Hopefully he's been able to work out some of his issues over the course of the spring.
Juan Nunez is the pitcher whom I have the most interest in with this group. Nunez missed all of last year and, at 21, is hitting 95 mph consistently with his fastball and hit 97 in spring training.
There are a couple of interesting arms in this group, with Bouchey coming to Vancouver after being excellent in Bluefield last year. Espada has been downgraded to a relief role after starting in his past two seasons while Juliandry Higuera appears to share the same fate. Orlando Pascual is an older (21) Dominican pitcher who looked like he had a decent three-pitch mix when I saw him in the spring. Hall, Ouellette and Carkuff both have had some experience at higher levels (Dunedin for Ouellette and Carkuff and Lansing for Hall) this spring and Burgos offers another lefty option although he doesn't throw hard. Bobby Eveld will get to make his debut outside of the complex and Huffman will need to establish himself this year after posting an ERA over 6.00 in Vancouver last year.
Of these three players, Matt Morgan has the most to prove. A fourth-round draft pick in 2014, Morgan has yet to hit above .200 for a season. Rodriguez could play more first base or DH than catcher and, at only 19, is jumping over Bluefield after hitting .318 at two levels last year. Spiwak, a Canadian, is likely going to be a backup this year.
Vicuna is probably the most exciting guy on this list for me. At 19, he's already gotten into 26 games in Dunedin this year with other players (Lourdes Gurriel) down to injury. He hit only .202 there but showed that he wasn't overwhelmed by the pitching. I want to see him dominate in the Northwest League.
Lizardo and Barreto both get another shot at Vancouver although Barreto has also had some time in Dunedin. Francisco Rodriguez looked very solid with a big, powerful body when I saw him in spring training. I saw Severino last year in Bluefield and I really liked his defensive prowess at shortstop with soft, quick hands and a strong arm. He's just turned 20 but hasn't shown the ability with the bat the way Vicuna has.
Romanin missed much of spring training with an injury so I wasn't able to see him play, but he'll likely be used in a utility role.
The three last names on this list all have a lot of potential. Young impressed me in spring training and must have impressed the staff too in order to skip over Bluefield at the age of 19. The Bahamian has lots of speed and some power and could be a sleeper after being selected in the 39th round in 2016.
Reggie Pruitt was drafted as a toolsy outfielder with blazing speed but raw skills at the plate. He's been moving along, spending a year in the GCL and a year in Bluefield with flashes of excellence but a lot of struggles too. Still, from what I've seen of him, I think that once he figures out the strike zone and makes more consistent contact, he could be a quick riser.
Norberto Obeso is another player who's skipping Bluefield. He hit .316 with a .441 OBP in the GCL last year and, at 21, is certainly the right age for Vancouver. He could be another player who is exciting to watch in the Vancouver outfield.
Lance Jones is the final member of this crew and is likely going to be used in a fourth outfielder role. He was outstanding in Bluefield last year but struggled a bit in Vancouver (comparatively). At 24, he'll offer more experience than the other three outfielders.
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The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available! Check out the Handbook page for more information!