By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
With the opening of the short seasons, it's time to take a look at the opening rosters of the 2018 Vancouver Canadians, Bluefield Blue Jays, GCL Blue Jays and DSL Blue Jays. We'll divide some of the selections into "newly drafted players" and "returning" players so that neither group gets ignored.
Returning: Josh Winckowski/Randy Pondler
Pondler was the Pitcher of the Year in the Appalachian League last year when he was with Bluefield and he's off to a good start with Vancouver so far, striking out nine and walking two in 11 innings. Still, I thought he'd be with Lansing earlier, given that he's already 21 but the 6-foot-2 lefty did get a game each in Dunedin and one in New Hampshire without completely embarrassing himself before the short season got underway.
Winckowski was a former 15th-round pick by the Jays in 2016 and he's moved up a level per year since starting as a high-schooler in the GCL in 2016. He's been hit a bit in the Northwest League in two starts but his strikeout-to-walk ratio of six-to-one (12 strikeouts and two walks) through 10 innings is very impressive.
Newly drafted: Sean Wymer
While there are several intriguing college arms who have joined the Vancouver Canadians, Wymer was the highest selected in the draft. The 21-year-old righty from Texas Christian University had a rocky first outing in the Northwest League but I'm sure he finds his way, adjusting to the different competition outside of college.
Bluefield Blue Jays
Returning: Nathanael Perez
Perez is jumping a level this year, going from the DSL in 2017, where he was dominant, to the Appalachian League in 2018. He's had a decent start so far but look for the 20-year-old to improve as the year goes on.
Newly drafted: Eric Pardinho
Ok, Pardinho isn't drafted but he's the biggest name newcomer to the organization on the Blue Jays' roster. The 17-year-old righty is known to throw in the low-to-mid 90s despite being undersized and his reputation is that he's mature beyond his years with his pitchability, therefore getting a bump up on many other international pitchers who might start in the Dominican Republic.
Newly converted: Josh Almonte/Emilio Guerrero
Both of these players have been around in the Jays' system for several years before peaking in the mid-minors (for Almonte) and high minors (for Guerrero). Both have started pitching and make their pro debuts on the mound as full time pitchers this season with Bluefield. But Guerrero has landed on the DL.
GCL Blue Jays
Returning: Roither Hernandez
Hernandez was one of the Jays' bigger signings back in 2016 when they were only able to sign players for a $300,000 maximum after breaking the bank for Vlad in 2015. He only made three appearances last year before being shut down for the year and he's only appeared once so far this year so it looks like the Jays are taking a "kid gloves" approach with him. But he's got six strikeouts and one walk through three innings allowing just one hit. Rumour has it that he's got a big fastball and should be a guy to keep an eye on through the season.
Newly drafted: Adam Kloffenstein/Alejandro Melean
Kloffenstein technically isn't on the GCL Blue Jays' roster yet but that's where he's expected to start his pro career after signing a hugely above-slot deal after the Jays selected him in the third round of the 2018 draft. He's not there yet, but look for him. Most of the pitchers on the GCL Blue Jays are Latin-American guys who aren't new to the organization but one who is is Alejandro Melean who was highly regarded by Baseball America and ranked No. 32 among international free agents in last year's class.
DSL Blue Jays
Govea was called a player with "sneaky upside" by Jays' assistant GM Andrew Tinnish when he talked to FutureBlueJays.com. He's already off to a great start with just one walk and eight strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings.
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The 2018 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available!