Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spring Training: part 3 - Minor League Complex

This morning I headed out for a nice 2 mile jog over to the Bobby Mattick Training Facility where the Blue Jays hold their minor league camp.  While it's open to spectators, there weren't too many of us around, maybe a dozen on and off, and you have to find your way in the back through one of the baseball diamonds run by the city of Dunedin.

I arrived around 9:30am, just in time for the pitchers to run through their fielding drills.  Each of 4 diamonds in the complex had a different drill.  One involved covering home on a wild pitch, one involved covering first on batted balls, one involved run-downs and another had position players doing baserunning drills.

The pitchers were grouped into the minor league level that they were expected to play with to start the year (I assume) with a AA group featuring Sean Nolin, John Stilson, and Deck McGuire, an A+ group featuring Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, another group of guys seemingly tagged for Lansing, and a last group of some of the very young Jays pitching prospects like Roberto Osuna, Chase DeJong, Tyler Gonzales, Adonys Cardona, Alberto Tirado, and Matt Smoral.

It was fun to watch these guys be put through their paces and joke around with each other.  The coaches seemed to be very supportive and have a good rapport with the players, which, if you've read Dirk Hayhurst's first book "The Bullpen Gospels," you'll know isn't always the case.  I also noticed injured major leaguers Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison taking infield practice with the AA squad.  Both looked good, although it's still a long way back from Tommy John surgery before they can throw off the mound.
Sean Nolin throwing live BP

Sean Nolin throwing live BP

Following the pitching drills (and catchers coming out and warming up in the far corner of a diamond that we couldn't really get to), they set up the diamonds for Live BP.  Live BP is where the pitchers throw to hitters and they take a few swings.  Among the group of pitchers who threw today were some of the Jays top prospects, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman.
Aaron Sanchez throwing live BP

Marcus Stroman throwing live BP

They both threw hard, although you could see that the hitters in their group would rarely pull Sanchez's fastball.  Sanchez showed a nice curve but wasn't really commanding it yet, but Stroman's slider was really impressive.  Both were able to really keep the ball down and I can only imagine how tough these guys would be to hit.

After the Live BP was regular BP (with coaches pitching).  Watching this, you could see that some guys like Kenny Wilson and Kevin Pillar (both played in the major league game yesterday) had real compact smooth swings and could drive the ball really well, while a guy like Matt Newman (a late 2011 draftee) made great contact, but it was all low line drives.

A guy who looked pretty impressive and hit balls way farther than his small size would suggest was Jorge Flores, 19th round pick of 2012.  Flores stands only 5'5" but still had a good offensive year in Vancouver, hitting .265/.355/.381 with 3 home runs and 14 doubles.  He'll definitely be a guy I'm keeping an eye on this season.

Following my morning at the minor league complex, I went to the Smokehouse Grill on Main St. to watch the Canada/Italy debacle WBC game.  It was definitely a tough game to watch as the Canadians were mercied in 8 innings 14-4.  The Canadians were really hurt by a lack of pitching and particularly a lefty-heavy lineup.  The Italians used the same strategy they did in 2009 (a game at Rogers Centre that I was at) - riding the left-handed pitcher as the Canadians swing futilely.

All around though, it was a really good day of baseball.  Tomorrow will be another good day.  I'll be heading to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in beautiful downtown Dunedin to see the Jays take on the Tigers.

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