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Blue Jays' Romano continues to dazzle at Double-A

MLB.com

TRENTON, N.J. -- With each start, Jordan Romano is shedding his projection as a future bullpen arm.

Romano, Toronto's No. 27 prospect, impressed Wednesday in his second start of the season for Double-A New Hampshire, allowing three hits in seven scoreless innings as the Fisher Cats shut out Trenton, 4-0, at Arm & Hammer Park.

TRENTON, N.J. -- With each start, Jordan Romano is shedding his projection as a future bullpen arm.

Romano, Toronto's No. 27 prospect, impressed Wednesday in his second start of the season for Double-A New Hampshire, allowing three hits in seven scoreless innings as the Fisher Cats shut out Trenton, 4-0, at Arm & Hammer Park.

Romano was sharp from the outset of the game, as he retired the first five batters before allowing a two-out single. He rebounded to retire the next eight batters, and then he put a bow on his performance by retiring eight of his last nine while pitching around a leadoff double in the seventh inning. Romano posted seven strikeouts against zero walks in the outing, throwing 58 of his 86 pitches for strikes.

Romano notches seventh K

"I felt pretty good from the start," Romano said after the game. "Me, [catcher Pat Cantwell] and Vince Horseman, our pitching coach, put a plan in place before the game. Pat would call the pitches and I'd try to execute, and the defense behind me played extremely well."

Born and raised in Ontario, Romano began his collegiate career with one season at Connors State JC (Okla.) before transferring to Oral Roberts in 2014 and recording 12 saves as the Golden Eagles' closer. He signed for $25,000 as the Blue Jays' 10th-round pick that June and continued to excel in a bullpen role during his professional debut, only to miss all of 2015 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

That recovery period allowed the Blue Jays to reevaluate Romano's profile, as they had pegged him as a potential starter out of the Draft on account of his durable frame and promising arsenal. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder returned to the mound in June 2016 as a member of Class A Lansing's starting rotation and impressed in the new role, posting a 2.11 ERA with 72 strikeouts and a .191 opponents' average in 72 2/3 innings (14 starts/15 games).

Romano showed good command of his four-pitch mix in the outing. He pitched to both sides of the plate with a fastball that averaged 91-92 mph with some natural cut and was as high as 94 mph. That feel for his heater, on a cold night nonetheless, aided the effectiveness of his secondary offerings, as Romano comfortably mixed a sharp, mid-80s slider with an improved low-80s changeup and a fringy curveball that featured top-to-bottom action at 79-80 mph.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: #BlueJays Jordan Romano picks up his fifth strikeout on his best fastball of the night (94 mph). @FisherCats pic.twitter.com/kH7AdsseVa

Romano's potential as a reliever stems from a fastball-slider pairing that has long made him tough on right-handed hitters. He held them to a .192 average in 2017, spending the entire season with Class A Advanced Dunedin in the Florida State League. Left-handed hitters, on the other hand, batted .351 last season against Romano, in turn highlighting his need for better fastball command as well as a more effective changeup.

Romano checked both of those boxes in Wednesday's contest, as the 24-year-old right-hander allowed just a pair of singles to left-handed hitters.

"The changeup today was especially big for me," said Romano, who pitched to 3.39 ERA with 138 strikeouts and 54 walks in 138 innings (28 games/26 starts) last season. "I showed it early so they couldn't sit on my fastball or slider, and mixed in my curveball early in counts. I felt like I mixed my pitches well and threw a lot of strikes."

Pacing the Fisher Cats' offens was none other than MLB Pipeline No. 3 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays' No. 1). The 19-year-old third baseman continued his torrid start to the season with another multi-hit performance.

After grounding out in his first at-bat, Guerrero recorded New Hampshire's first extra-base hit of the game in the top of the third inning when he lined a one-out double into the right-center field gap on an outer-half 2-0 fastball from Trenton starter Domingo Acevedo (Yankees' No. 9).

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: Surprise surprise ... #BlueJays Vladdy with a rocket double to RCF on a 2-0, outer-half fastball from #Yankees Acevedo. Gorgeous swing, per usual. @FisherCats pic.twitter.com/bvFjSoMjqo

Guerrero would later tack on a run-scoring single back up the middle as part of a two-run seventh inning to finish the game 2-for-5 at the plate. The two-hit showing lifted the teenager's average and OPS to .321 and 1.061, respectively, and he's now hit safely in six of seven contests for the Fisher Cats so far this season.

Not to be forgotten was Bo Bichette, as the No. 13 overall prospect (Blue Jays' No. 2) showed a pull-heavy approach for much of the game with two weakly-hit balls and a pair of strikeouts in his first four at-bats. The 20-year-old shortstop -- who logged his first start of the year at second base in the contest -- made an adjustment in his final at-bat as he stayed inside a 1-1 fastball to line it to right field for a single.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: After pulling off pitches in his early at-bats, #BlueJays Bo Bichette finally stays inside the ball and lines a single to RF. He���s 1-for-5 tonight for @FisherCats. pic.twitter.com/BQIlgoQnxo

The ninth-inning knock extended Bichette's hitting streak to six games. He had tallied multiple hits in his five previous contests after going 0-for-4 on Opening Day. Overall, Bichette is hitting .364 through seven games this season after finishing 1-for-5 on Wednesday.

"Their talent is one thing," said Romano about the two Fisher Cats phenoms, "but another thing that really stands out is what great teammates they are. They're young guys but leaders in the clubhouse and it's really great having them play behind me."

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Toronto Blue Jays

Alford set to begin rehab assignment in Minors

Blue Jays outfield prospect dealing with strained right hamstring
MLB.com

BALTIMORE -- Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Alford is set to begin a rehab assignment later this week with Class A Dunedin after previously dealing with a strained right hamstring.

Alford, who is ranked Toronto's No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, has been out since midway through Spring Training with the leg issue. He is expected to play a couple of games for Dunedin before eventually being activated from the 10-day disabled list.

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BALTIMORE -- Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Alford is set to begin a rehab assignment later this week with Class A Dunedin after previously dealing with a strained right hamstring.

Alford, who is ranked Toronto's No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, has been out since midway through Spring Training with the leg issue. He is expected to play a couple of games for Dunedin before eventually being activated from the 10-day disabled list.

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Once healthy and settled into a routine, Alford will be optioned to Triple-A Buffalo. Alford is not under consideration for a spot on Toronto's 25-man roster, but that could change later in the year depending on his success and the results of the Blue Jays' corner outfielders.

"I'd guess he'll play just a couple of days down there and if he feels good, sending him right to Buffalo," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I couldn't tell you the plan, but that would be my guess."

Grichuk gets a breather

Right fielder Randal Grichuk was held out of the Blue Jays' starting lineup on Monday night in Baltimore as he received a mental and physical break after a frustrating start to the season.

Video: TOR@TEX: Statcast™ measures Grichuk's four-star catch

Grichuk is currently mired in a career-worst 0-for-26 skid, and he has just two hits in seven games this season. Toronto handed him the starting duties in right field, and while that's not expected to change in the near future, Grichuk will have to start performing relatively soon to hold off Minor League outfielders Teoscar Hernandez and Dalton Pompey.

Gibbons said on Monday afternoon that the quality of Grichuk's at-bats has been improving of late and he just hasn't had the final result he has been looking for.

"He's taking good swings," Gibbons said. "I guarantee you, he has just missed five or six balls. If he catches them a little bit differently, they would go a long, long way. Really, that's it, but he's pressing no doubt. He's human. But he's swinging the bat much better than the numbers would indicate."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Anthony Alford

Guerrero Jr., Bichette impress in Double-A debuts

MLB.com

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette took the next step toward reaching the Major Leagues on Thursday as the Blue Jays' talented twosome, both making their Double-A debuts, led New Hampshire past Hartford, 6-0, on the Opening Day of the Minor League season.

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette took the next step toward reaching the Major Leagues on Thursday as the Blue Jays' talented twosome, both making their Double-A debuts, led New Hampshire past Hartford, 6-0, on the Opening Day of the Minor League season.

Starting spots for each team's Top 30 prospects

Temperatures, which hovered around freezing for most of the day and continued to drop throughout the game, did little to cool down the bats of Guerrero and Bichette, Toronto's Nos. 1 and 2 prospects. Together they combined to reach base three times en route to scoring three of the Fisher Cats' six runs in the victory.

Blue Jays' top prospect performers from Thursday

"The last couple innings there got pretty chilly," admitted Bichette, MLB Pipeline's No. 13 overall prospect. "I'm really excited just to get out there, compete, play hard every day. You don't really get that in Spring Training. To be out there playing games that matter, I'm just excited to get things going."

The duo got things going even before the game began with a hitting display during batting practice that captured the attention of everyone in the stadium. Guerrero's BP was particularly impressive, as MLB Pipeline's No. 3 overall prospect generated booming contact from line to line with his explosive right-handed swing.

Many of Guerrero's BP blasts made Hartford's Dunkin Donuts' Park look small, and he elicited gasps from teammates, coaches and onlookers alike when he deposited a ball halfway up the scoreboard in left field with one of his final swings. It was a Herculean blast by all standards, with numerous Yard Goats officials noting that it was the first time they had ever seen a player hit one that high and far off the scoreboard.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: Vladdy, Double-A BP. Get some. #BlueJays pic.twitter.com/hAZX92sMYg

He continued to showcase his 80-grade hitting ability in the game, too, as the 19-year-old third baseman connected on his first Double-A hit in his second plate appearance. Batting with two outs in the top of the third inning, Guerrero, who had walked in his first trip to the plate, laced a 3-2 pitch over the head of Hartford center fielder Yonathan Daza for a stand-up double. He would score New Hampshire's first run of the game one batter later, when Lourdes Gurriel plated him with the Fisher Cats' second straight double.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: After walking in his first plate appearance, #BlueJays Vlad Guerrero Jr. picks up his first @FisherCats hit, a rocket 2B to CF, in the top of the third inning. That poor baseball. pic.twitter.com/ZqcPZR0Utc

Guerrero also looked good in his final two at-bats. He showcased his athleticism along with his better-than-expected speed while reaching on an error in the fifth inning, and then nearly hit his first Double-A home run, ultimately a fly out to deep center field, two innings later. He finished the game 1-for-4 at the plate, also scoring a pair of runs to pace New Hampshire's offense.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: Oh man did Vladdy just miss this one. His at-bats are incredible, by the way. #BlueJays pic.twitter.com/sA840b2TVP

"It's exciting -- both of us have had some success so far," said Bichette, the 2017 Class A Midwest League MVP who entered his second full professional season with a robust .372/.427/.591 batting line through 132 career games. "It's fun to watch [Guerrero]. He's a great player, and to be able to watch him and learn from him and see the things he does, he pushes me. That's all I can ask of him."

While Bichette didn't enjoy as much success at the plate in his first Double-A contest, it was still an impressive showing for the 20-year-old shortstop.

After grounding out in his first at-bat and popping up in his next trip to the plate, Bichette led off the fifth inning with his first walk of the season, following by his first stolen base, and then scored on Gurriel's sacrifice fly to center. He would ground out once again in the following frame, but finished his Double-A debut with his best swing of the night in his final at-bat, lacing a line-drive out to left field.

Tweet from @GoldenSombrero: Best swing of the night for #BlueJays Bo Bichette on this lineout to left: pic.twitter.com/qINN130fqw

"I felt alright [tonight]," said Bichette, who went 0-for-4. "I think my mindset wasn't really how I wanted it to be in my first couple at-bats, but I think my at-bats got better as the game went on. Every day isn't going to be a two or three-hit game, so I just continue to have my mindset as consistent as can be. That's pretty much the goal."

The immense potential of Guerrero and Bichette was on display in their Double-A debuts, giving Blue Jays fans a glimpse of what's to come as the top offensive tandem in the Minor Leagues gets settled into Eastern League play. For now, at least, they're focused on the task at hand, knowing that their performance ultimately will dictate their path to the Major Leagues.

"Go out there and be aggressive -- that's how I play my game when I'm at my best," said Bichette when asked about his specific goals in 2018. "I want to make sure I'm aggressive every pitch and on good pitches … just trying to find a comfort level and get off to a good start."

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Toronto Blue Jays

Where Blue Jays' Top 30 prospects are starting season

MLB.com

With the 2018 season getting started, here's a look at where the Blue Jays' Top 30 prospects are starting the season:

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB No. 3), 3B -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
2. Bo Bichette (MLB No. 13), SS/2B -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
3. Anthony Alford (MLB No. 47), OF -- Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) -- DL
4. Nate Pearson, RHP -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
5. Logan Warmoth, SS -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
6. Danny Jansen, C -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
7. Eric Pardinho, RHP -- Extended spring training
8. Ryan Borucki, LHP -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
9. T.J. Zeuch, RHP -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
10. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
11. Richard Urena, SS -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
12. Miguel Hiraldo, SS/3B -- Extended spring training
13. Samad Taylor, 2B -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
14. Reese McGuire, C -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
15. Rowdy Tellez, 1B -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
16. Riley Adams, C -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
17. Carlos Ramirez, RHP -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
18. Ryan Noda, OF/1B -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
19. Kevin Smith, SS -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
20. Hagen Danner, C -- Extended spring training
21. Mc Gregory Contreras, OF -- Extended spring training
22. Leonardo Jimenez, 3B -- Extended spring training
23. Kevin Vicuna, SS -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
24. Maximo Castillo, RHP -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
25. Justin Maese, RHP -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv) -- DL
26. Thomas Pannone, LHP -- Suspended
27. Jordan Romano, RHP -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
28. Jonathan Davis, OF -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
29. Max Pentecost, C/1B -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
30. Jon Harris, RHP -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)

With the 2018 season getting started, here's a look at where the Blue Jays' Top 30 prospects are starting the season:

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB No. 3), 3B -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
2. Bo Bichette (MLB No. 13), SS/2B -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
3. Anthony Alford (MLB No. 47), OF -- Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) -- DL
4. Nate Pearson, RHP -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
5. Logan Warmoth, SS -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
6. Danny Jansen, C -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
7. Eric Pardinho, RHP -- Extended spring training
8. Ryan Borucki, LHP -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
9. T.J. Zeuch, RHP -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
10. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
11. Richard Urena, SS -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
12. Miguel Hiraldo, SS/3B -- Extended spring training
13. Samad Taylor, 2B -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
14. Reese McGuire, C -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
15. Rowdy Tellez, 1B -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
16. Riley Adams, C -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv)
17. Carlos Ramirez, RHP -- Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
18. Ryan Noda, OF/1B -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
19. Kevin Smith, SS -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
20. Hagen Danner, C -- Extended spring training
21. Mc Gregory Contreras, OF -- Extended spring training
22. Leonardo Jimenez, 3B -- Extended spring training
23. Kevin Vicuna, SS -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
24. Maximo Castillo, RHP -- Lansing Lugnuts (A)
25. Justin Maese, RHP -- Dunedin Blue Jays (A Adv) -- DL
26. Thomas Pannone, LHP -- Suspended
27. Jordan Romano, RHP -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
28. Jonathan Davis, OF -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
29. Max Pentecost, C/1B -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)
30. Jon Harris, RHP -- New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA)

Blue Jays prospect coverage | Blue Jays Top 30 prospects stats

Team to watch
Headlined by the Minor League's best offensive tandem in Guerrero Jr. and Bichette, it almost goes without saying that Double-A New Hampshire is the Blue Jays' affiliate to watch in 2018. Both players are elite offensive talents and could be in the mix for promotions relatively early in the year, so Blue Jays' fans should check out the Fisher Cats early and often this season. The club should have a solid rotation, too, with Reid-Foley, Romano and Harris, while Davis and Pentecost give the Fisher Cats two quality hitters to complement Vlad and Bo.

Where baseball's top prospects are starting the 2018 season

Teams on MiLB.TV
Buffalo Bisons (AAA)
New Hampshire Fisher Cats

New faces
The Blue Jays' Top 30 Prospects list doesn't include any players who were not with the organization last year.

On the shelf
Top 100 prospect Alford was having a strong spring in big league camp up until he suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain in mid-March. The 23-year-old outfielder has resumed light running and taking batting practice, and he's expected to join Triple-A Buffalo's roster once healthy. Toronto also will be without Maese to begin the season. Plagued by a shoulder injury for much of 2017, the 21-year-old right-hander underwent surgery to address a shoulder impingement during the offseason. He's expected to make a full recovery and should join Class A Advanced Dunedin early in the season. Pannone, acquired at last year's Trade Deadline from the Indians, will miss the first 80 games of the season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in March.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Toronto Blue Jays

Vlad Jr. rips dramatic walk-off HR in Montreal

Blue Jays top prospect electrifies Olympic Stadium, where father played with Expos
Special to MLB.com

MONTREAL -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. followed in his Hall of Fame father's footsteps in a most fitting way at Olympic Stadium.

With the Cardinals and Blue Jays locked in a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth, Guerrero crushed the second pitch he saw from St. Louis righty Jack Flaherty deep to left-center field for a walk-off home run and a 1-0 Toronto victory on Tuesday night.

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MONTREAL -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. followed in his Hall of Fame father's footsteps in a most fitting way at Olympic Stadium.

With the Cardinals and Blue Jays locked in a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth, Guerrero crushed the second pitch he saw from St. Louis righty Jack Flaherty deep to left-center field for a walk-off home run and a 1-0 Toronto victory on Tuesday night.

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The Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect, and No. 3 in MLB according to MLB Pipeline, is the son of Vladimir Guerrero, who spent the first eight seasons of his career playing his home games at Olympic Stadium with the Expos and hit seven of his nine career walk-off home runs there, three more than any other player at the ballpark. The last walk-off home run by the Expos was hit by Orlando Cabrera against the White Sox on June 20, 2004.

Vlad Sr. was elected to the Hall of Fame in January, garnering 92.9 percent of the vote in his second year on the ballot, and will be inducted this July.

Tweet from @VladGuerrero27: #priceless pic.twitter.com/dh3RUpcTjg

"I'm pretty sure my father has already seen it because he was watching the game," Guerrero said through an interpreter. "And he'll be very proud of me after seeing what I did."

Guerrero's mechanics at the plate look eerily similar to his father's -- the bare hands, the little twitch with his bat as the pitcher comes set. Add in the familiar face, and it's like going back in time. The expectation is that the young Guerrero will be able to generate a similar amount of power to his father, but the scary thing is he might do it with a much better recognition of the strike zone.

Side-by-side view of Vlad, Vlad Jr. hitting Olympic Stadium walk-off HRs

Wearing his father's No. 27, Guerrero tossed his helmet into the air as he neared home plate following his walk-off homer and hopped across the Olympic Stadium turf into a mob of Blue Jays teammates.

Tweet from @thehazelmae: Vladdy Jr. said postgame that he didn���t request his dad���s number, but when he was packing for the trip to #Montreal, someone from the #Bluejays had already put the #27 jersey in his bag as a surprise. https://t.co/fnO7b00B0t

"Every now and then in this game you'll see something like that, just something dramatic happens," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "And he was a toddler running around this place when his daddy was here. And I guarantee his dad did that a few times. I would say everything lined up perfectly."

The crowd of 25,816 gave him an extended ovation, prompting a curtain call from the 19-year-old phenom.

"That was justified," Toronto catcher Russell Martin said of the fans' reaction. "I mean, he gave the fans what they wanted. They wanted to see something special from the kid and he delivered. And he just lifted his whole team at the same time. So hopefully, if we look back at this time next year, he'll be the reason that we look back and say that we had a good start."

Video: MLB Tonight discusses Vlad Jr. walk-off homer

"It didn't feel like it was just the crowd here, I felt like the whole world was just pulling for me," said Guerrero, who used to take batting practice at Olympic Stadium as a child. "And it just makes you feel a little bit more comfortable going out there and trying to do your best."

Guerrero was signed by the Blue Jays for $3.9 million -- the second-highest international signing in franchise history -- on July 2, 2015. His enormous talent was obvious the following year during his pro debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, and then even more so during his full-season debut in 2017, when, at age 18, Guerrero produced a .323/.425/.485 slash line with 13 homers between Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin. He earned Midwest League All-Star honors in the process, as well as a trip to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in July before a torrid second half in the Florida State League.

"He doesn't have his dad's arm or speed, have to be truthful on that, but he's only 16," Blue Jays special assistant of Latin American operations Ismael Cruz said when they signed him. "He has a better bat now than his father did at that age and it's not a swing that's going to go away, he's had it for a long time and he has always hit. ... He's hit all his life and he's always faced competition above him.

"Those kind of guys don't come across very often. So it was either play all of your marbles on one guy or it was go out and get a couple of players that are fine, but for us, Vladimir is a difference-maker. He has the potential to be a very, very special kid."

Video: Vlad Jr. has a momentous week in Montreal

In his first taste of Major League games this Spring Training, Guerrero had seven hits in 13 at-bats (.538) with a double, a homer and two RBIs. And he only struck out once. He is expected to start this season at Double-A New Hampshire.

"When you play with other players that have more experience than you, it motivates you and you learn a lot about you," he said. "And for me, I'm just trying to give my best every time I go out there and I see those guys that are veterans going out there and giving their 100 percent, and that's what I try to do every time."

Tweet from @RGriffinStar: This stat courtesy of Frederic Daigle of La Presse Canadienne. Vlad Guerrero Jr. has become the first Quebec-born player to hit a walk-off home run at Olympic Stadium #BlueJays #Expos

And he's certainly made an impression on Gibbons.

"I don't think he's just a slugger, he's a pretty good hitter," Gibbons said. "He goes up there, he's got an idea. ... I haven't seen him a lot but just from the limited times, he's got an idea at the plate. And just like his dad, he'll take just a nice cheap single the other way to drive in a run. I think he's got a little more discipline than his dad had. His dad would hit anything you threw up there.

"But certain guys just stand out that you see over the years. Not many of them like that, but it's just something different about him. Physically, he's a strong kid so you know he'll hit some home runs. But he's really advanced for his age, a lot like Bo Bichette is, so the future bodes well for this organization."

Video: STL@TOR: Guerrero Jr. walks it off with booming homer

Guerrero will be joined in New Hampshire by Bichette, the son of Dante Bichette, who played 13 years in the Majors, mostly with the Rockies. Bichette, a middle infielder, is the Blue Jays' No. 2 prospect and is No. 13 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100.

"I don't think we see eye to eye on everything, but that's the way baseball is," Bichette said earlier this spring. "People have their different approaches and their different swings. I think the one thing we do agree on is swing as hard as you can every single time. That's something we agree on, because if you're not using what God gave you, you're not going to be as good as you can be."

Sean Farrell is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Guerrero Jr. gets standing ovations in Montreal

Special to MLB.com

MONTREAL -- It was a scene that played out regularly in Montreal for eight years: The mention of Vladimir Guerrero's name over the Olympic Stadium sound system, followed by loud cheers and a standing ovation.

On this night, it was for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., son of the Expos' fan favorite who was back in Montreal 19 years and 10 days after being born there -- and 15 years since his father last suited up in the city.

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MONTREAL -- It was a scene that played out regularly in Montreal for eight years: The mention of Vladimir Guerrero's name over the Olympic Stadium sound system, followed by loud cheers and a standing ovation.

On this night, it was for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., son of the Expos' fan favorite who was back in Montreal 19 years and 10 days after being born there -- and 15 years since his father last suited up in the city.

View Full Game Coverage

"It was very nice of them," Guerrero said. "I was just happy. I said, 'OK, I'm back home now.'"

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons inserted Guerrero as a defensive replacement at third base in the seventh inning of Toronto's 5-3 exhibition loss to the Cardinals. The crowd began to cheer when it saw him on the scoreboard. Then came the announcement, followed by an even louder show of appreciation as the 25,335 in attendance stood on their feet.

"It was pretty cool," Gibbons said of the crowd's reaction. "I really enjoyed it, and I know he feels pretty good about that. His dad was a legend here."

Tweet from @VladGuerrero27: Enjoy the moment VGJI���m proud of you. Thank You Montreal for receiving my son as one of yours. pic.twitter.com/0gdcbkRWtu

"I was nervous when Gibbons said I was going into the game, but once I stepped on the field, it was just another baseball game for me," Guerrero said.

Guerrero, donning his father's No. 27, got out in two plate appearances, in the seventh and ninth. He never requested the number; it turned out to be a surprise one day after practice when he was packing his bag and saw the team had given it to him.

"I feel very proud that they did that for me," acknowledged Guerrero, who said his father was the first person he called when the Blue Jays told him he was making the trip to Montreal. "It motivates me to have my dad's number on my back and wear his number."

Tweet from @BlueJays: Wearing @VladGuerrero27's number. On the field at the Big O. Playing the game they both love.This one is for Dad. ������ pic.twitter.com/Shg28FA7AG

Following in the footsteps of a professional athlete father comes with inherent pressure. Add in the factor of a Hall of Fame career and sharing the same name and number. But the younger Guerrero doesn't see it that way. If anything, it just adds to the motivation.

"I don't feel pressure. I think it gives me more energy and excitement," Guerrero noted. "My dad's a Hall of Famer and I want to be like him. I'm just trying to give my 100 percent and have fun when I go out there, like he did."

Guerrero, the Blue Jays' top prospect per MLB Pipeline, showed glimpses of his father in the field when, in the eighth inning, he made up for bobbling a routine ground ball by throwing a missile to first for the out. He also showed how he differed from his father, holding up on a first strike in his first at-bat.

Video: STL@TOR: Guerrero Jr. shows off hand-eye, rocket arm

The elder Guerrero's willingness to swing at the plate was far from a secret, but his son learned the hard way to be more disciplined.

"It all started when I'd do batting practice with my dad," Guerrero said. "He threw a low ball; I hit it on the ground and it hit me in the nose. After that, I said, 'I don't want that to happen again, so I'm just going to hit strikes.' Since then, I think I've become a better hitter."

Guerrero was just a youngster when his father was in Montreal, just 4 years old when he said goodbye to the city. And although it has been quite some time, some memories came right back to him when he got to town.

His first stop upon arrival? Going for poutine, a Quebec dish consisting of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. And when he got to the stadium on Monday, he had his eyes peeled for another tasty memory.

"The first thing when I came in, I was looking for the ice cream machine because I remembered that, but I found out it's not there anymore," Guerrero said. "Every time I came here, the first thing was to eat ice cream from that machine."

Video: STL@TOR: Guerrero Jr. films video in Olympic Stadium

While he's enjoying a return to his youth and the memories of his father's time in Montreal, Guerrero is slated to begin his season in Double-A. He noted he's very comfortable with the decision, knowing the organization has his best interests in mind.

Guerrero has played several games against big league talent in Spring Training. He has soaked up as much as he can in those outings and knows that one day, he'll get the call.

"I think there's always room for improvement. I need to improve at the plate and defensively," Guerrero said. "I think that will come with experience. The more I play, the better I'll get. It'll come with time."

And as Guerrero learns to get his game ready for eventual duty with the Blue Jays, he'll do so with lessons learned from his Hall of Fame-bound father.

"What I learned the most from my dad was to be humble and have fun every time I go out on the field and give a hundred percent," Guerrero. "That's what I do, and that's what I'll keep doing."

Heather Engel is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays value seasoning gained in Minors

Organization has no plan to push Guerrero, Bichette to Majors quickly
Special to MLB.com

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have been impressive in Blue Jays camp this spring -- not only because of their last names. Guerrero, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the game's No. 3 overall prospect and Toronto's No. 1, will celebrate his father's induction into the Hall of Fame this summer; Bichette, Toronto's No. 2 prospect, is the son of former big leaguer Dante Bichette. The pair could make up the left side of the Blue Jays' infield at some point in the future.

Some are calling for that point to be sooner rather than later, but the Blue Jays are recommending patience.

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have been impressive in Blue Jays camp this spring -- not only because of their last names. Guerrero, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the game's No. 3 overall prospect and Toronto's No. 1, will celebrate his father's induction into the Hall of Fame this summer; Bichette, Toronto's No. 2 prospect, is the son of former big leaguer Dante Bichette. The pair could make up the left side of the Blue Jays' infield at some point in the future.

Some are calling for that point to be sooner rather than later, but the Blue Jays are recommending patience.

View Full Game Coverage

Spring Training: Info | Gear

Bichette just turned 20 and was a second-round pick in 2016, while Guerrero is even younger, having turned 19 last Friday. Both advanced to Class A Advanced Dunedin last season.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"They are very good, talented ballplayers, no doubt," said Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale, the acting manager in Friday's 6-5 loss to the Rays. "They've got a bright future. … On a whole, when you're looking at what this organization has done and the time that they've required, it's pretty good, and those two are definitely special. It takes us to keep them on the right path as well."

Which means developing patience.

"They move up when they conquer each level -- that's the simple [answer]," Hale said. "They have yet to get to Double-A. They have yet to play Triple-A. So they need to conquer those levels and [work] through the adjustment that is going to happen to young, good players. You start playing better talent.

Video: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. named No. 3 prospect

"At some point, the experience and what you gain climbing the system, it pays benefits for you when you become a Major League player: How do you go about your life every day? The preparation? Those are some of the things that are very important. It's 162 games. How many games have they played in a year? Minor leagues, you usually play 140. Are we sustaining 160, 171 into the playoffs? "How do you play tired?

"They'll get there when their time comes, when they show that there's a development and they are a big league player that can sustain a full season or fit a role in the big leagues."

Video: TOR@PIT: Bichette slugs a two-run homer for the lead

Oh, it's Happ-ening

Left-hander J.A. Happ worked four scoreless innings, including a six-pitch third, in Friday's game. He allowed two hits, with one walk and one strikeout. It was Happ's fifth and final spring start before his scheduled Opening Day start against the visiting Yankees in Toronto next Thursday. Happ will continue to work out in Dunedin when the team leaves on Sunday for two exhibition games in Montreal.

Video: Gibbons names Happ Opening Day starter for Blue Jays

"I have one extra day in between, so I'll pitch on the sixth day instead of the fifth," Happ said. "Then I'll throw a bullpen [session] in between there and do all my regular work and try to feel as good as I can for that outing."

It will be Happ's first Opening Day start as he enters his 12th big league season.

This and that

• Christian Williams hit a three-run homer, his first of the spring, in the top of the ninth inning to give Toronto a short-lived one-run lead.

Steve Pearce played left field for five defensive innings and batted fourth, going 1-for-3. It was his second set of back-to-back games after being sidelined earlier in camp by a calf strain.

Randal Grichuk, who had been sidelined by a rib-cage injury, played his first game in the field on Thursday. It was his first time playing in back-to-back games. Hale said Grichuk came through it with no problems.

"All seems to be pointing in the right direction," Hale said. "You just continue to monitor and talk to these guys and see where they're at."

• Hale said the organization is considering holding back some players, or at least monitoring workloads, for the exhibition games on Monday and Tuesday against the Cardinals at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Pearce, Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson would be among the players under consideration.

"That decision is going to be made going forward, because that's a different turf up there," Hale said. "But they also need to still play and get their at-bats. … We have to be careful with all of them, really. That's the big thing, is just starting the season healthy."

Up next

The Blue Jays will travel to Tampa, Fla., on Saturday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Yankees, who will start David Hale. Toronto has yet to announce a starting pitcher. Listen live on Gameday Audio.

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com who covered the Blue Jays on Friday.

Toronto Blue Jays

Alford out 3-6 weeks with hamstring strain

MLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays left fielder Anthony Alford will miss the next three to six weeks because of a Grade 2 strain in his right hamstring.

Alford is Toronto's top prospect in big league camp and was one of the club's most positive storylines this spring with a .323/.313/.645 slash line over 13 games. He is ranked No. 3 in the Blue Jays' system by MLB Pipeline, trailing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays left fielder Anthony Alford will miss the next three to six weeks because of a Grade 2 strain in his right hamstring.

Alford is Toronto's top prospect in big league camp and was one of the club's most positive storylines this spring with a .323/.313/.645 slash line over 13 games. He is ranked No. 3 in the Blue Jays' system by MLB Pipeline, trailing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

View Full Game Coverage

One positive is that the Blue Jays should be well equipped to handle the injury. Alford was not in contention for a spot on the Major League team, and Toronto has Teoscar Hernandez, Dwight Smith Jr. and Dalton Pompey as depth options in the Minors. Toronto projects to have outfielders Curtis Granderson, Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk and Steve Pearce on the big league squad.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Donaldson returns
Josh Donaldson made his return to the Blue Jays' lineup in Friday's 6-4 victory over the Phillies. Donaldson went 1-for-3 with a single and a strikeout while also making a nice play on a slow roller up the third-base line. It was Donaldson's first appearance since he was removed from a game against the Tigers on Saturday because of dehydration and cramping in his calf muscle.

"It's not an issue, I'm out there playing," Donaldson said after the game. "Just kind of working into it. I'm not going crazy out there right now. Just trying to enjoy the weather ... but I'm seeing the ball pretty well right now, without having consistent at-bats, and that's good."

Video: TOR@PHI: Donaldson races in for nice barehanded stop

The waiting game
South Korean right-hander Seung Hwan Oh remains in limbo as he waits for his work visa to be approved by the United States government. Oh signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays late last month but cannot appear in spring games until his paperwork goes through the proper channels. The process has taken longer than expected, but the Blue Jays still hope Oh will be available at the start of the season.

Oh has been throwing regular bullpen sessions and should only need two or three outings before he is deemed ready. The problem is -- that will become a challenge unless Oh's visa is approved relatively soon.

"He's still doing all that throwing," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "It's not ideal, but we really haven't talked about [Oh missing time] yet."

The medical report
Justin Smoak has been held out of the lineup this week because of a sprained left wrist. Smoak initially was scheduled to play in Fort Myers, Fla., against the Red Sox on Thursday but was scratched because of the injury. The issue is considered minor and Smoak is expected to be back in the Blue Jays' lineup Saturday afternoon.

Marcus Stroman is scheduled to throw approximately 30 pitches in an exhibition game against the Canadian Junior National Team on Saturday. Stroman has yet to appear in a game this spring because of right shoulder inflammation, and this will mark his first step in getting stretched out. Stroman remains questionable for the first week of the season.

• Grichuk remains out because of a minor rib cage issue. Grichuk is considered day to day, but Toronto expects him to be ready for Opening Day on March 29 against the Yankees.

"I think he's going to be fine," Gibbons said. "I don't think he's too far off. You don't know how that's going to develop, but I don't anticipate any problems there."

Up next
It's Canada Day south of the border as the Blue Jays host their annual spring game against the Canadian Juniors on Saturday afternoon at 1:07 p.m. ET at Dunedin Stadium. Braden Halladay, the son of the late Roy Halladay, will be on the mound for Canada after he was previously invited to play for his adopted country.

The game -- which can be seen live on MLB.TV -- will be a family affair for the Blue Jays as Cavan Biggio, Kacy Clemens, Guerrero and Bichette -- the sons of former Major Leaguers -- start for Toronto. Stroman will make his return in this game and is scheduled for approximately two innings of work. The Blue Jays also will travel to Sarasota on Saturday afternoon for a split-squad game against the Orioles, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Joe Biagini will start in a game that can be listened to on Gameday Audio.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Anthony Alford

Pannone suspended 80 games for PEDs

MLB.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Major League Baseball announced on Friday afternoon that Blue Jays left-hander Thomas Pannone received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

Pannone tested positive for Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, which is commonly known as DHCMT. The drug is reported to be used as a form of anabolic steroids and is the same substance that former Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello tested positive for in 2016.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Major League Baseball announced on Friday afternoon that Blue Jays left-hander Thomas Pannone received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

Pannone tested positive for Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, which is commonly known as DHCMT. The drug is reported to be used as a form of anabolic steroids and is the same substance that former Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello tested positive for in 2016.

"I have personally known Thomas as long as he's been in professional baseball and I've only known him to have exceptionally high character and integrity, so when I heard this news I was extremely surprised," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said in a statement.

"Additionally, when he informed me that he was unaware of how this substance got into his system, I believed him at his word. We will continue to support Thomas and focus on his return to helping this organization after his suspension. Having said that, we feel strongly that the MLB Joint Drug Program has helped the game of baseball and will continue to do so."

Pannone was acquired by Toronto prior to last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline as part of a deal for reliever Joe Smith. He is ranked the No. 26 prospect in Toronto's system by MLB Pipeline and was expected to begin the year in the rotation for Triple-A Buffalo.

The 23-year-old was competing with prospect Ryan Borucki to become the first starter called up in the event of an injury but his suspension will now run deep into June. Pannone combined to go 9-3 with a 2.36 ERA over 144 2/3 innings at two levels last season.

The native of Rhode Island made three appearances for the Blue Jays this spring, including two starts, and allowed five runs over six innings. Pannone was optioned to Minor League Spring Training earlier this week.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Thomas Pannone

Pipeline Q&A: Blue Jays' Nate Pearson

MLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Blue Jays camp, it was Toronto's No. 4 prospect, Nate Pearson.

The Blue Jays drafted Pearson with the second of their two first-round picks in 2017, selecting him No. 28 overall out of JC of Central Florida and signing him for $2,452,900. After dominating in the JuCo ranks, Pearson was even more impressive in his pro debut with Class A Short Season Vancouver, posting a 0.95 ERA and a 0.58 WHIP over 19 innings (seven starts), with 24 strikeouts and a .097 opponents' average. That success carried over into the postseason for the hard-throwing righty as he helped lead the Canadians to a Northwest League title.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Blue Jays camp, it was Toronto's No. 4 prospect, Nate Pearson.

The Blue Jays drafted Pearson with the second of their two first-round picks in 2017, selecting him No. 28 overall out of JC of Central Florida and signing him for $2,452,900. After dominating in the JuCo ranks, Pearson was even more impressive in his pro debut with Class A Short Season Vancouver, posting a 0.95 ERA and a 0.58 WHIP over 19 innings (seven starts), with 24 strikeouts and a .097 opponents' average. That success carried over into the postseason for the hard-throwing righty as he helped lead the Canadians to a Northwest League title.

MLB Pipeline: So you pitched out of the bullpen as a Florida International freshman before transferring to JC of Central Florida. What led to that decision, and in terms of your development and maturation process, how important was that one year of JuCo ball?

• Blue Jays camp report

Nate Pearson: There were more opportunities for me in JuCo. I was going to become Draft-eligible a full year earlier than if I had stayed at FIU. I also wanted to go to an elite Division I program and was set to go to LSU after my JuCo year, so I completed that goal I had for myself. I learned a lot about my mechanics and my arm -- learned all the specific arm-care stuff that I do -- at JuCo. I learned how to start and get quality starts, become more of a pitcher and not just a thrower and develop my pitches in quality pitches.

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

MLB Pipeline: You had what became a legendary pre-Draft bullpen session in which you hit 102 mph on the radar gun. What do you remember from that day, and did you realize at the time that you were throwing so hard?

Pearson: My agent set that whole thing up, it was his idea. It was pretty risky, honestly, because if I'd thrown poorly it wouldn't have been a good look for scouts. That was my only pre-Draft workout for all teams -- I didn't do a workout for any one team. My JuCo season ended early and I had a little over a month off until the Division I seasons ended and before the Draft, so I used that time to train a little more and get stronger, basically preparing for just that bullpen. So when we did it in Lakeland, I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand well, and it obviously was cool to see those numbers up there.

MLB Pipeline: So tell me about Draft day. What was your reaction when the Blue Jays made you a first-round pick?

Pearson: It was a dream come true, something I can't describe. I had all my family and friends over watching the Draft. I didn't know exactly when I would be picked, but I knew it could be the first round. To hear my name get called was truly a dream come true, something I've worked for since I was a little kid. It was great to see it live, hear my name called on TV.

MLB Pipeline: You dominated during your pro debut and helped pitch Class A Short Season Vancouver to a Northwest League title. In your opinion, what enabled you to make such a successful transition to pro ball?

Pearson: I just tried to be who I am. I'm a hard-throwing starter and I just try to embrace while working on my other pitches and fine-tuning them. I didn't really change my game plan, just attacked hitters the same way and had success with it. Being on that Vancouver team helped a lot, too, because we had a lot of positive guys there, great teammates. I can't imagine any better way to start my pro career than to win a championship with those guys.

MLB Pipeline: As you prepare for your first full season, what are some things that you're working on? Any specific parts of your game that you're addressing, any goals?

Pearson: This offseason I focused on getting my body in the best shape for Spring Training and to prolong my year. I don't want to run out of gas too early; I want to remain healthy all season. I also want to fine-tune my pitches, master my craft, you could say. My goal is to have four plus pitches, which is pretty hard to do, but it's a goal I have for myself. I want to work on all of my pitches together, not just one or a couple.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Toronto Blue Jays

Pipeline report: Blue Jays camp

Farm system suggests impressive youth movement on the way
MLB.com

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on Blue Jays.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays struggled to finish last season as they relied heavily on an older and often injury-plagued Major League roster. While the club won't be much younger in 2018, the Blue Jays have a youth movement on the way that could set up the team as a perennial playoff contender in the coming years.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on Blue Jays.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays struggled to finish last season as they relied heavily on an older and often injury-plagued Major League roster. While the club won't be much younger in 2018, the Blue Jays have a youth movement on the way that could set up the team as a perennial playoff contender in the coming years.

Blue Jays' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Nate Pearson

No. 9 in MLB Pipeline's latest system talent rankings, the Blue Jays boast the best offensive prospect duo in the Minor Leagues in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the organization's Nos. 1 and 2 prospects, respectively. Their impact potential was on full display in 2017, when the pair thrived alongside each other in their first full season while putting up gaudy numbers across Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin.

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

Guerrero, the son of 2004 AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero and MLB Pipeline's No. 3 overall prospect, proved an exceptional talent last season, showing preternatural hitting ability, power potential and an overall feel for the game that has him poised to soon become a star at the highest level. The recipient of the second-highest bonus in franchise history when he signed for $3.9 million in July 2015, Guerrero, at age 18, produced a .323/.425/.485 batting line, with 13 home runs, 28 doubles and more walks (76) than strikeouts (62) in 119 games between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues.

Bichette, meanwhile, was equally impressive. Playing the entire season at age 19, the No. 13 overall prospect and son of former four-time Rockies All-Star Dante Bichette, took Midwest League MVP honors and led all Minor Leaguers in batting average. Playing in 110 games between the two levels, he slashed .362/.423/.565 with 14 home runs, 41 doubles and 22 stolen bases. Factor in his stellar pro debut from the previous year, and Bichette, a 2016 second-rounder, heads into 2018 with a .372/.427/.591 batting line in 132 career games.

Though obviously blown away by the teenagers' on-field performances, it was how they both went about their business while positively influencing other players within the organization that has the Blue Jays convinced more than ever that they house a pair of future stars.

"Vladdy has an absolute passion to play to this game, absolutely loves baseball," said Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim. "You can see that through the way he brings positive energy on a consistent basis and how he's always smiling and working hard when challenged with defensive drills. His level of focus in-game is high and he likes to compete, and that's an area we're very excited about with Vladdy, because it does translate to other players."

Kim's praise also extends to Bichette, who, like Guerrero, has emerged as an organizational leader on and off the field.

"Bo is an intense competitor who comes to beat you and wants to be great. That attitude is felt amongst his teammates and throughout the organization," he said.

While the Blue Jays knew that they were getting an impressive offensive talent in Bichette, a natural shortstop, they also knew there were questions about his future defensive home. Some of those questions still remain, although Bichette certainly has done his part to assuage such concerns within the organization.

"The level of commitment Bo has shown in playing shortstop and improving his defense the past two years is just outstanding," Kim said. "This past offseason, Bo proactively reached out to our infield coordinator Danny Solano and came [to Dunedin] twice per week to work with Danny on his defense. He was asking us for video clips of him last season to compare them to other Major League shortstops.

"Bo's taking ownership of his career, and that's very exciting."

Arms on the rise

The Blue Jays added a pair of high-ceiling arms to their system in 2017, drafting hard-throwing right-hander Nate Pearson with the second of their two first-round picks and then inking 16-year-old Brazilian righty Eric Pardinho the following month at the outset of the international signing period.

Pearson, whom Toronto selected No. 28 overall out of JC of Central Florida and ranks No. 4 on the Blue Jays' new Top 30 prospects list, has more upside than any hurler in the Blue Jays' system. Making all but one start during his pro debut with Class A Short Season Vancouver, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder posted a 0.95 ERA and a 0.58 WHIP over 19 innings (seven starts), with 24 strikeouts and a .097 opponents' average. He continued to thrive in the postseason, turning in two impressive starts that were key in helping the Canadians claim the Northwest League title.

"It's a mid- to upper-90s fastball, even triple digits at times, with late life," said Kim of the 21-year-old righty. "The slider and the changeup are both quality secondary pitches; he has a curveball as well. He's a power pitcher, and that ability is only enhanced by the makeup and competitiveness that he shows.

"Nate has a level of intensity and competitiveness to him, not just on the mound, but with his commitment to routines. He has a very strong work ethic, takes his recovery and arm-care routine very seriously. To have a pitcher at that age who is already as competitive and intense with his preparation and routines as he is on the mound is awesome."

Pardinho, on the other hand, is yet to make his professional debut but already ranks as one of the organization's better prospects, checking in at No. 7 on Toronto's Top 30 list after signing for $1.4 million.

"Eric's a very humble person; he gets on the mound and has a quiet confidence about him. For such a young pitcher, he has an advanced feel for pitching. He has a very talented arm, throws a variety of secondary offerings and commands his entire mix," noted Kim.

"He has all of the ability to be a very good Major League starter someday, but, again, it's his level of humility that has probably been one of the most impressive things about him so far."

Video: Alford on debut, Jansen on his catching abilities

Camp standouts

The Blue Jays stocked up on up-the-middle players in the 2017 Draft, using their first five picks to select Pearson and a pair of shortstops and catchers. Among the latter group was Riley Adams, the club's third-round pick and No. 16 prospect for 2018.

After standing out for his physicality and right-handed power potential while at the University of San Diego, Adams has impressed the Blue Jays with his development and overall maturation behind the plate since entering the organization.

"What we love about Riley is his leadership and his presence behind the plate," noted Kim. "He prioritizes relationships with pitchers and communication, and he has one of the strongest work ethics in the organization. He obviously has not just the ability, but more the quality of teammate that he's been and shown here in camp, in terms of helping guys like Hagen Danner and some of the other younger catchers, has been the impressive thing about him."

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Toronto Blue Jays

Vlad Jr., Bichette give glimpse of bright future

Toronto's top two prospects star in Thursday debuts; Alford adds three hits
MLB.com

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays received a glimpse into the future on Thursday afternoon as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette made their long-awaited Grapefruit League season debuts. They did not disappoint.

Toronto's top two prospects combined to go 6-for-8 with two RBIs and three runs scored in a 9-3 victory over the Orioles. Add in Anthony Alford's 3-for-4 afternoon, which included a pair of doubles and a triple, and it was a day to remember for the Blue Jays' youth movement.

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays received a glimpse into the future on Thursday afternoon as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette made their long-awaited Grapefruit League season debuts. They did not disappoint.

Toronto's top two prospects combined to go 6-for-8 with two RBIs and three runs scored in a 9-3 victory over the Orioles. Add in Anthony Alford's 3-for-4 afternoon, which included a pair of doubles and a triple, and it was a day to remember for the Blue Jays' youth movement.

View Full Game Coverage

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Guerrero started at designated hitter and finished 4-for-5 with four singles. Bichette entered in the third inning as a pinch runner and later knocked in a pair of runs on two RBI singles. It marked the first time Alford, Guerrero and Bichette appeared as teammates in the same game.

"We know they're good, and the baseball world knows they're good, and they go out there and produce in their first day," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They've got to feel really good. For our fans and our organization, it's exciting. They finally get to see them play. It just seems like a lot of life on the field. Talk about those three, but there's a lot of other ones out there that are going to contribute some day, too."

Video: Gibbons, Sanchez discuss Bichette and Guerrero

Toronto's future appears bright, with a Minor League system that is ranked ninth in baseball by MLB Pipeline. A lot of that talent was on the field against Baltimore. Guerrero, Bichette and Alford were joined by other top prospects, including infielder Lourdes Gurriel, catcher Max Pentecost, outfielder Jonathan Davis and right-hander Sean Reid-Foley.

The Blue Jays attempted to get younger during the offseason, but this is still one of the oldest rosters in the Major Leagues. Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and a number of arms in the bullpen are set to hit free agency at the end of the year, while the remaining core of Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales are getting long in the tooth.

There will be a need for an influx of youth in the not-so-distant future. It won't be this year, with the possible exception of Alford, but there's a good chance that when Bichette and Guerrero take the field next spring, it won't be just to get a taste of the next level. Instead, it will be with a legitimate shot of making their big league dreams come true.

Video: TOR@BAL: Guerrero Jr. smacks two of his four hits

"It was just about having a fun day," said Bichette, who also picked up a stolen base. "I mean, this is my first game of Spring Training. So, just about learning. Also learning how to control my emotions in an exciting time ... I mean it's not quite the big leagues, but I guess it's as close as you can get. So it was really cool."

Both Guerrero and Bichette gave the Blue Jays a preview of what to expect in the future. During his first at-bat, Guerrero took a couple of pitches, falling behind 1-2 before he fought off a tough pitch from Orioles lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. and hit a bloop single to right. Before his day was over, Guerrero added three more singles and scored a couple of runs.

Bichette hit a weak grounder in his first at-bat, but later came through with an RBI single to left. He added another RBI single in the eighth to finish 2-for-3 with a run scored. Along with Alford, the trio combined to hit 9-for-12 with six runs scored and three RBIs.

Video: TOR@BAL: Alford scores Davis on a double in the 5th

"I don't think there's one over the other that I'm going to remember," Guerrero said through an interpreter after the game. "Every single hit is good. I'm going to remember all of them. The four that I got. But like I said before, I just tried to give my best, put the ball in play and it went well."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Anthony Alford