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Here's a look at the Blue Jays' farm system

@JonathanMayo
March 19, 2019

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Allen Iverson would not believe what’s been a primary area of focus in the Blue Jays’ Minor League camp this spring. The question would be deliberate and repeated often: “We’re talking about practice?” For all of the advancements in player development, technology and data, the Blue Jays’

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Allen Iverson would not believe what’s been a primary area of focus in the Blue Jays’ Minor League camp this spring. The question would be deliberate and repeated often:

“We’re talking about practice?”

For all of the advancements in player development, technology and data, the Blue Jays’ changes in how they run Spring Training have more to do with the drills and workouts they run, and why they do them.

Blue Jays' Top 30 | Blue Jays' prospects Spring Training stats | Smith demonstrates infield drills

“It’s about optimizing practice and training for our players vs. playing with a bunch of new toys,” Blue Jays farm director Gil Kim said. “It’s important to realize a simple position player throwing program with great focus, intent and detail can be as valuable as using a Rapsodo for a pitch-design session.”

Of course, Toronto’s player development staff uses all the new toys as well. But there’s been more mindfulness in how they are incorporated, as well as the intent of this preseason work, and that has the staff buzzing with excitement and anticipation as to what kind of impact these changes will have in the regular season.

“We feel good heading into this camp,” Kim said. “We’re continuing to think about ways to improve the purpose, the focus, the feedback systems with which our players train. We have Casey Candaele now in a coordinator role, focused on practice design and skill development for our position players. We’ve seen an increase in challenging practices, implementing not only traditional skill development drills, but also practices and drills that involve competition, data, technology, variability, game speed situations.

“On the pitching side, Jeff Ware and David Aardsma have done a nice job with the whole pitching staff to really design purposeful bullpen sessions and implement some of the newer resources in technology. We’re trying to improve how we help our players get better. Are we maximizing each player’s potential.

Prospects knocking on the door

The players in Minor League camp need only to look over the big league facility to gain inspiration and motivation. In 2018, there was a homegrown player like Ryan Borucki who graduated into the big league rotation. Catcher Danny Jansen also made his big league debut and is slated to be Toronto’s primary catcher. Of course, there’s the now-injured Vlad Guerrero Jr., the top prospect in the game, and Bo Bichette, who in many ways has been the talk of camp, with both on the cusp of impacting the Major League roster.

Kim talks about these players and the opportunities they are getting, almost like a proud parent sending his kids off to college. And he also knows their younger “siblings,” the lower-level prospects in the system, can use them as role models.

“What’s most exciting is thinking about how those guys have taken ownership of their careers and how they provide great examples for our Minor Leaguers of what it takes to get to that level,” Kim said.

Borucki committed to learning a slider two years ago and now has three quality pitches. Jansen focused on using the whole field at the plate and his game-calling behind it at the same time, and both are now big league quality. Bichette has come to Dunedin the last two offseasons to work with infield coordinator Danny Solano on his defense, turning himself from a player some were unsure could stick at short long-term to one who manned the premium position for a championship team in the Double-A Eastern League.

“All of those examples are exciting, especially because it provides a great picture for our younger players to see that when you take ownership of your own career, when you commit with focus and intent to your goals, that you can make things happen,” Kim said.

Camp standouts

Nate Pearson was the Blue Jays’ second first-round pick in 2017, and everyone was excited to see what the 6-foot-6 flamethrower would bring to the table in his first full season. The Junior College of Central Florida product barely got to toe the rubber, however, when a line drive fractured his arm in the second inning of his first start of 2018. He did return to get some innings in the Arizona Fall League and reminded people why he was a first-round pick by hitting 104 mph in the Fall Stars Game. Wiping the slate clean, Pearson is chomping at the bit to start his Blue Jays career in earnest.

“Since the day he got here, what’s been evident is his commitment to his work routine, his attention to detail and his proactiveness at getting better,” Kim said. “He takes advantage of every resource we have. He’s healthy right now. We’ve seen an improvement in his fastball control thus far in camp and he’s continuing to work on developing the slider as his primary out pitch as well. Coming off that AFL stint, we know he’s excited to get to work this season.”

So is 2018 first-rounder Jordan Groshans. The No. 12 pick in last June’s Draft had a fantastic pro debut, hitting his way out of the Gulf Coast League (.331/.390/.500) and up to the Appalachian League. As impressed by his bat, his power potential and his advanced approach at the plate given his age as Toronto's staff is, what’s really stood out is how much he’s willing to work on becoming an all-around player.

“He’s been impressive and has acclimated pretty well so far,” Kim said. “He’s really committed to being the best defender he can be. He’s working on his footwork and his base and body positioning right now and he’s been making good strides in camp. Last year, he played both shortstop and third base, and while we plan to develop him as a shortstop, we also know he’ll get opportunities at third as well.”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.