SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Some players are fast-tracked to the Major Leagues. Many more -- and Blue Jays pitching prospect Sam Dyson is prototypical of this group -- run into speed bumps and detours.
Dyson, selected by Toronto in the fourth round (126th overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, came to the Arizona Fall League to continue his progress with the Salt River Rafters with battle scars. He had Tommy John surgery plus two other operations in eight months when he was a freshman at South Carolina and had bone spurs removed during his junior year.
There's more. He went from starting pitcher to reliever, and to top it off, he was bashed around in a brief call-up to the Major Leagues last season. So there are plenty of things in which he can improve.
"Going into the year, I thought I was just going to be a starter in High A and potentially get to Double-A and start toward the end of the year, but they moved me to the bullpen, and I seemed to flourish there," he said. "I never thought I might pitch in the big leagues this year, but due to some unfortunate injuries we had in the organization, I got an opportunity. I guess it's just a great chance to get out there and prove your worth to them."
Dyson, who was the first of the Blue Jays' 2010 draftees to play in the big leagues, is getting moral support from Rafters manager Matt Williams, who calls Dyson's stuff "electric."
His goal the next couple months in Arizona is working on an offspeed offering for a third pitch. Dyson knows he won't master it in that short period of time, but he wants to hone another weapon he can bring to Spring Training.
"They gave me plenty of time to recover, so I've tried working extremely hard," he said. "I lost a little bit of weight, I guess work ethic and just being able to grind it out each and every day is one of my goals, and the training staff down there and everybody who worked with me definitely pushed me to be better and to be more mentally prepared.
Dyson, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander, knows being able to come up with a nasty third pitch will serve him well coming out of the bullpen.
"The fastball [mid to high 90s mph] is definitely my best pitch," he said, noting that after the surgeries he was not able work on his offspeed pitches as much as he wanted. "My main secondary pitch was my changeup, so they want me to work on a harder slider, and that's what I'm out here to do. Hopefully, I'll get into some situations where I feel comfortable enough to throw it without blowing a lead or something like that, and so far I've used it a few times, and it's just one of those things you just have to plug along and don't give up on it, just keep throwing it."
Williams wants to make sure Dyson gets the work he needs without overextending himself.
"His stuff is there," Williams said. "So what's the question with somebody like him? Probably location, one, and the ability to throw his secondary pitches for strikes, because his fastball's just nasty."
The Fall League, says Williams, is the perfect spot for someone like Dyson. He'll be able to get extra innings as well as refine his repertoire to be better prepared for Spring Training where Williams thinks Dyson can make a case for himself.
"We're not overtaxing him. It's an inning at most for him, and he gets to work on his stuff and continue his progress, which is good."
Blue Jays Hitters in the Fall League
• Ryan Goins made a nice transition from Class A Advanced to Double-A in 2012, hitting .289 in almost 600 plate appearances. A fourth-round selection (130th overall) in the 2009 Draft, the left-handed-hitting shortstop drove in 61 runs this season, his best as a Minor Leaguer. He also recorded a personal high in stolen bases with 15.
• Jake Marisnick, at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, was a third-round Draft pick (104th overall) in 2009 and is Toronto's No. 2 prospect and No. 35 overall prospect, according to MLB.com. An outfielder, he was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire of the Eastern League this season, where he appeared in 55 games and hit .253. He hit only two home runs, but stole 14 bases.
• Kevin Pillar has worked his way up to join an elite group in the Fall League -- the outfielder was the 979th player chosen (32nd round) in the 2011 Draft. He was the 2012 Most Valuable Player in the Midwest League, as well as an All-Star in the Appalachian League. In a recent Fall League game, he stole home, had three hits and two RBIs.
• Sean Ochinko hit hit .278 in the Eastern League in 59 games with New Hampshire with eight home runs and 29 RBIs. The 24-year-old catcher played collegiately at LSU, where he hit .368 in the 2009 College World Series. Ochinko was a 12th-round choice (361st overall) in the 2006 Draft.
Blue Jays Pitchers in the Fall League
• Deck McGuire (Blue Jays' No. 12 prospect), a right-handed pitcher, was a first-round selection (11th overall) by the Blue Jays in 2010. He struggled at New Hampshire in 2012, posting a 5-15 record with a 5.88 ERA. In 144 innings, he struck out 97 and walked 62. He was Virginia's High School Player of the Year in 2007 and the ACC Pitcher of the Year (Georgia Tech) the following season.
• Ryan Tepera posted a 7-3 record in 16 games this season, one in a relief role, at New Hampshire with an ERA of 4.84. In 74 and 1/3 innings of work, he struck out 57 and issued 37 walks. He was chosen by the Blue Jays in the 19th round (580th overall) in the 2009 Draft.
• Ian Kadish split 30 games out of the bullpen this season between Short-Season Class A Vancouver and Class A Lansing, posting a 2-2 record with seven saves and a 2.66 ERA. The 6-foot left-hander held opponents to a .167 batting average, striking out 57 and walking 20 in 40 2/3 innings.