Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camps, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system.
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camps, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com is visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today we check in on the Toronto Blue Jays.
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Perhaps the best way to ensure an organization recommits itself to developing homegrown players is to have decision-makers in the front office who have player development backgrounds. In that regard, the Blue Jays, who are seeing a resurgence in their system, are way ahead of the curve, with a president/CEO, a general manager, an assistant general manager and a vice president of baseball operations who all have that experience on their resume.
• Blue Jays' Top 30 Prospects list
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
"One of the advantages we have is that in Mark Shapiro, Ross Atkins, Ben Cherington and Tony LaCava, four of the leaders we have in this organization, we have four former farm directors," current farm director Gil Kim said. "The passion they have for development, for building from within, is evident. It's a great place to be in terms of player development, because we are receiving the resources and opportunities that make our jobs extremely fun and rewarding.
"A couple of years ago, we lost a lot of players at the upper levels in a few trades. What it did, though, was create opportunities for younger players. And I think those are the younger players now that we're seeing who are about to make more of an impact. Player development is key to what we're doing here as an organization."
Kim is certainly getting more comfortable in delivering that message. Hired from the Rangers in January 2016 to take the helm of the Blue Jays' farm system, Kim dealt with a huge learning curve last spring, often doing it on the fly. With a full year under his belt, Kim exudes more of an internal calm, though he knows there's still plenty to learn and work to do.
"I think the biggest difference in the second go-round is you're a little more comfortable, you know the people a little bit better," Kim said. "You know what to expect. Having worked in scouting for so many years, I had never gone through a full Spring Training as a staff member. A lot of the activity and action I saw when I was with Texas would be for four or five days.
"Last year was about meeting, knowing and learning people. It was staff and players, over 200 people I was trying to get to know and understand. It's definitely a more comfortable Spring Training. We have a lot of good people in place."
Like father, like son
The Blue Jays' staff has been having an on-going conversation about nature vs. nurture. No, they aren't amateur psychologists. It's just that Toronto's system has several prospects who grew up around the game, leading to discussions about bloodlines and genes vs. environmental factors leading to success.
"We are fortunate to have several sons of big leaguers in Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, John Smith and Vlad Guerrero Jr.," Kim said. "These guys have a different comfort level in the clubhouse, on a professional ball field, the way they go about things. It's interesting."
The Junior getting the most attention these days has to be Guerrero. The Blue Jays' top prospect and No. 34 overall is one of the most exciting hitting prospects in all of baseball, one who could easily jump to the top of that Top 100 by this time next year. The front office is well aware of Guerrero's ceiling; they did give him $3.9 million to sign after all, and they will try to find the right balance between challenging him and not rushing him up the ladder.
"I think we all have to be patient and ultimately make the best decision for that player's long-term development, and not just what he can handle this year," Kim said. "A guy like Vlad, I think everyone can see the immense talent he has. He is instinctual, he does control the strike zone very well and he does play hard. When you have some of those key fundamentals there, it might be easier to be a little more aggressive. I'm not saying we necessarily will be with him, but it's a lot more than just results and performance in determining that."
• Q&A with Sean Reid-Foley
Since being drafted in 2013, catcher Danny Jansen has yet to play more than 60 games or collect more than 250 at-bats in a season, with injuries shelving him on more than one occasion. But after a strong Arizona Fall League showing, Toronto's No. 22 prospect earned a non-roster invitation to Major League camp and has impressed with the work he put in there and now on the Minor League side.
"He got a late invite to big league camp and he worked extremely hard there," Kim said. "He's in camp here now and he's improving. I'd say his defense has always been his strength, and he's come in here and is swinging the bat very well, too. He's a guy we're all excited to see.
"Consistent effort, respecting the game, respecting your teammates. This is something field coordinator Eric Wedge preaches. Dan is one of our best guys in representing those values."
No. 4 prospect Richard Urena might get most of the attention in terms of young shortstops in this system, and for good reason. But that doesn't mean you should sleep on Kevin Vicuna.
The Blue Jays signed Vicuna in July 2014 out of Venezuela, and he made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2015, then came to the U.S. for the first time in the Gulf Coast League last season. Still only 19 for all of the 2017 season, Vicuna still could use to add strength to his frame, but Toronto thinks he could put himself on the map a bit more firmly this year.
"He's a younger prospect who hasn't even played a full season yet," Kim said. "The way he goes about his work and his business, with the talent he has on defense at shortstop, he's a guy who has come in here and has impressed a lot of the staff here this spring."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.