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Notes From Blue Jays Minor League Camp

Last year I published a wildly popular (with all four of my readers) series entitled Notes from Blue Jays Extended Spring Training.  Unfortunately my ‘inside man’ for those posts has moved on from the organization and I have no replacement on the horizon.

I did take a break recently from searching for a new source to speak to a few contacts at minor league camp.  Got some interesting information actually, some of which makes my annual exercise of attempting to predict the Lansing Lugnuts starting pitchers seem like the ravings of a lunatic.

First the bad news.  One of my ‘locks’ to start the season with Lansing won’t be doing so.  Not because of poor performance but because he’s been sidelined with injury.  Left hander Ryan Borucki was shut down with a sore elbow, described to me as ‘tennis elbow’.  Despite being told Borucki is back throwing and should be fine, I’m still uneasy.  Too many times I’ve heard elbow issues described as something simple, only to see that player undergo tommy john surgery 2, 3, 10 months down the road.

Obviously I hope that is not the case but given Ryan sat out 2013 with the dreaded TJ, it has to be a concern.

Turns out the other two ‘Lugs locks’ I had may very well not end up in Lansing.  For very different reasons.  Matt Smoral, the huge lefty who is still struggling with his mechanics got off to a rough start this spring and has found himself in group 5, on the bubble between heading to Lansing or being sent to extended.  His next outing was much better so it’s going to come down to his final two starts.  I had hoped to get info on his most recent one, but have yet to hear back.

In the positive surprise category, Jairo Labourt, who struggled in Lansing last season, has worked his way up from group 3 to group 2, which may mean he’s ticketed for Dunedin.  If he’s throwing the ball that well, then ya, nice.

While we’re talking about the groups players work out with, it’s maybe a bit simplistic to say those in group 1 go to Buffalo, 2 to New Hampshire, etc.  I think it’s a bit more fluid than that so don’t want to say anything definitively.

However, I was told that 80% of those currently at minor league camp are pretty much slotted in to a particular full season team, while the other 20% are battling for say 10% worth of jobs.  So, similar to Smoral, there’s a few guys playing to stay out of extended.

On with the wrong.  I had the Jays giving Alberto Tirado one more chance to start.  Beginning the season in Lansing.  Apparently that isn’t happening.  He’s officially a reliever now and has ‘looked great’ this spring, moving from group 4 to group 3.

For those counting, I’m now 0 for 4 in my Lugs starting staff predictions (with one ‘maybe’ in Smoral).  The only one I may get right, according to my source, was the one I was most concerned about.  Apparently Sean Reid-Foley has pitched himself into the full season assignment mix.

That’s not all that surprising I suppose but it will still be seen as an aggressive assignment.  I did get the impression that the Jays are taking the shackles off the younger pitchers (as we saw last year with Norris, Graveman, et al) and even in Vancouver we could see a far younger staff.  The Canadians will be used this year as a place for guys that don’t quite make A ball, no matter their age.  Whereas previously, the younger kids would have ended up in Bluefield, regardless of their spring.

A quick note on Jeff Hoffman.  While the person I spoke to doesn’t work with the ‘rehab’ group, word of mouth says he is looking fantastic.

With Lansing’s roster (I’m guessing the 6th) to be announced next week I haven’t fully worked out how the information I got affects, not only, the Lugs starting staff but those of Dunedin and even New Hampshire.  I suppose if Labourt does get a Dunedin call then I’ll be excited as proves he has ironed out his release point and is letting his stuff do the talking.  That would be tempered somewhat if Matt Smoral is sent to extended.  I really hoped he would be a breakout candidate in 2015.

I’m like a kid at Christmas.

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