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Fall League? You Want to Talk About Fall League??!

Well, since the Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs in many people’s lifetime then ya, let’s talk Arizona Fall League.  For those of us (i.e. me) who are eternal optimists, the Jays future looks rosy and two potential pieces of that future will be suiting up for the Mesa Solar Sox over the next six weeks as the annual prospect showcase that is the AFL kicks off its 12th season today.  I’ve also got a few other topics to ramble about, so let’s get going.

If you don’t believe me that the prospects will be in Arizona, consider this.  Today’s game not only features Toronto’s golden boy, Dalton Pompey, who is leading off and playing center field for Mesa but also features the mid-season #5 and #19 prospects according to John Sickels in shortstops Addison Russell and Corey Seager.  Throw in Boog Powell who has to make any all-name team and this year’s AFL is being kicked off in style.

Along with Pompey, the Jays are sending are sending starting pitchers Roberto Osuna and Sean Nolin, relievers Blake McFarland and Arik Sikula, and position players Sean Ochinko and Dwight Smith Jr.  If you’re interested, here’s a link for entire Solar Sox roster.

The makeup of an AFL roster is a little odd in that teams are able to designate a ‘priority’ player who is guaranteed a certain amount of playing time.  They also have a sort of ‘practice’ squad (for the life of me, I can’t find the official term for it online) who only get to play once a week (on a Wednesday I believe).  Although I can’t find any official confirmation you’d have to think Pompey is the Jays priority player while I do remember reading that Smith Jr is on the practice roster.

Despite getting far more reps than I think anyone could have expected during his September call-up, GM Alex Anthopoulos was quite adamant during his year end press conference that they were still looking for Pompey to use the AFL as another learning tool.  With the Jays 2015 outfield very much in flux, a strong showing this month will do the Mississauga native no harm.

On the pitching side of the ledger the AFL gives both Osuna and Nolin an opportunity to make up some innings lost to injury.

For Nolin it was a dodgy groin that limited him to 20 starts and only 97 minor league innings.  That injury couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the New York native as 2014 saw the emergence of a more sexier names such as Sanchez, Norris, etc.  Despite throwing the ball fairly well when healthy, Nolin will have slipped down the starting pitching depth chart.  Arizona will give the Jays brass a chance to ensure he is fully healthy while also giving Nolin a chance to add his name back into the 2015 mix.

If you’ve read any of my previous stuff, you’ll know I have a pretty serious man crush on Roberto Osuna.  Seems I’m not the only one as the Mexican teenager has been getting some ink as one of the players to watch this fall.  Keith Law also mentioned him in his latest chat at ESPN and I’m very much looking forward to his opinion.

Most players in the league will have played at AA or above this past season.  That won’t phase Osuna as he’s pitched against older competition his entire career.  During our most recent podcast, I suggested a good performance from Roberto would put him in line for a New Hampshire assignment to start 2015.  An aggressive promotion for a would be 20 year old who is coming off TJ surgery but with his stuff I don’t think he’ll look out of place in AA at all.

Having only thrown 23 innings after his return the AFL won’t necessarily be a tool to pile in as many innings as possible for Osuna.  For him the focus will be on getting fully comfortable with his breaking balls again.  I’m guessing he’ll be throwing  a lot of changeups for Mesa.  Despite the thinner Arizona air.

Osuna is definitely the Jays prospect I’m most interested in this month and will look to do some sort of update for each of his appearances.

Speaking of Toronto prospects I’ve taken a shine too, there was some interesting (and pretty terrific) news this past week when it was announced that dual sport star Anthony Alford was dropping football to focus full-time on baseball.  And the hits just kept on coming when reports started to filter out that Alford would be joining ex-C’s Christian Lopes and L.B. Dantzler (as well as Canberra Cavalry legend Jack Murphy) in the Australian Baseball League.

The timing of this is all a bit odd.  Alford made no secret over the last couple of years that football was his first love and that it was his dream to play for Ole Miss.  So, after having had to sit out a redshirt year, after transferring from Southern Miss it seems odd that he’d give it up after only a hand full of games.

We do know that Anthopoulos did visit with Alford prior to his leaving Lansing to head back to school and offered the Mississippi native a five year deal.  It’s entirely possible that someone finally talked some sense into Alford when it became apparent he wasn’t going to get that many reps on the football field this year.

Makes you pine for the lost year of development when he was red shirting but I’m not going to complain.  For a guy that only just got married this past summer and has probably not been outside of the States all that much (that’s just me assuming) heading to Oz for a few months is a bold move.

Every time I asked a Vancouver Canadian about Alford I would invariably just get a shake of the head, followed by an audible exhalation before the word ‘freak’ was used.  Now, fellow players are generally a bit biased but we do know his athleticism is off the charts.  With the Australian experience, followed by a full spring training, there is no reason not to think that Alford could be a quick mover in 2015.

For Jays prospect lovers this is huge news.

I was going to end there, but this story just came down the wire.  I think most assumed that Norris’ late season decline in velocity was just down to fatigue after his breakout 2014 but the surgery he had this morning may give us an alternative theory.  Either way, not great news for Daniel but as it’s not that serious, hopefully nothing to worry about.

(as an update: mlb.com allows you to keep up to date with that Toronto’s farmhands are doing in the various winter leagues.  So far there hasn’t been much activity but that will tick up today as the Venezualen league kicks off.  Third basemen Andy Burns will suit up for Bravos de Margarita, Cory Aldridge is with Caribes de Anzoategui,  and both Gregory Infante and Tyler Ybarra will pitch for Tiburones de La Guaira.  I’m surprised C’s MVP Franklin Barreto is not on any roster but it’s possible he will be added once instructs finish next week)

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