10:38 PM Eastern

For the last couple of winters, the Blue Jays have brought some of their best and brightest young up-and-comers to Toronto as part of their Rookie Orientation Camp.

There’s a group of seven that’s made its way up here this year – three pitchers, two infielders and two outfielders – and the kids are getting a taste of the city, a chance to check out Rogers Centre, and some information about the ins and outs of life as a major leaguer.

It’s an opportunity, if not to demystify life in the big leagues, to at least show these minor-leaguers where to go, what to do, who to talk to, basically what happens as far as the minutiae of life at the ballpark is concerned.

This year’s crop is comprised of pitchers Evan Crawford, Drew Hutchison and Chad Jenkins, first baseman Mike McDade, infielder Jonathan Diaz and outfielders Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra.  This doesn’t mean all seven will be in the bigs at some point this year – Travis d’Arnaud was part of last year’s group of minor leaguers – but it certainly means that they’re on the Blue Jays’ radar and could wind up spending some time with the major-league club in 2012.

Members of the media were given an opportunity to chat with the kids in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse – which is an awfully impressive place out in which for minor-leaguers to hang, since it’s probably as big as some of the fields they have played on, and intrepid reporter Kayla Harris and I were there to elbow our way through some of the scrums and talk to them.

We split the room in two – I drew Hutchison (see what I did there?), Crawford, Diaz and Sierra, while Kayla spoke to Gose, Jenkins and McDade.

Of the entire group, Crawford was the only one I hadn’t met.  The lefty, recently-added to the 40-man roster, was an 8th-round draft pick in 2008 who moved from the rotation to the bullpen in 2010.  He raved about  his experiences as part of the Eastern League Champion New Hampshire Fisher Cats this past season, and had nothing but great things to say about getting to learn from Sal Fasano and Pete Walker.  Crawford was the surprise addition to the 40-man this off-season, the guy who had the least buzz about him – but the one who held that title last winter was Joel Carreno, and he managed to do pretty well for himself.

Hutchison, about whom the buzz has been off the charts this winter, seemed sort of oblivious to it all – but that may have been him trying not to get too excited, which is probably the right move.  Like all the young players there, he was very pleasant, modest almost to a fault and absolutely thrilled to be here in Toronto getting a chance to see what goes on up here.  It’s Hutchison’s first trip outside the U.S. and he, like Crawford, was very surprised not to see the entire city covered with snow when he arrived.

Frankly, I have lived here for over 40 years and I’m also surprised that the city’s not covered in snow right now.  Five degrees and raining on January 12th?  Seriously – what the hell have we done to this planet?  But I digress…..

It was interesting to get a chance to talk to Diaz, who is someone on whom to keep an eye this year.  He’s been referred to in the past as a John McDonald clone – an excellent defender with not much of a bat – and that spot is certainly open on the 2012 Blue Jays with Johnny Mac himself plying his trade in the Arizona desert.  Diaz at least has shown that he can get on base – his career minor-league OBP is .363 despite a .228 batting average – but he’s never going to have a career in the majors on the strength of his offense. His glove certainly plays, though.  Sound familiar?

For his part, Diaz didn’t want to get caught up in the McDonald comparisons, but they’re not unfounded.  His competition for that back-up middle infield spot consists of Mike McCoy and Luis Valbuena, and Diaz is easily the best shortstop of the bunch, at least.  He was limited to just 92 games last season because of a pretty awful car crash in which he and his then-fiancee (now wife) were involved in the summer, but he says he’s completely recovered and is looking forward to heading to Dunedin to try to make this team.

All the audio is included here for you, starting with my conversation with Drew Hutchison:

Download

Here, for your listening pleasure, is Jonathan Diaz:

Download

And here’s your chance to get to know Evan Crawford a little bit:

Download

Moises Sierra, the big-armed, big-raw-power outfielder whose game has drawn heavy comparisons to Raul Mondesi’s, doesn’t speak any English, but he was happy to speak in a scrum with me, Shi Davidi and John Lott of the National Post with Jonathan Diaz handling translation duties:

Download

Finally, here’s Anthony Gose, in conversation with Kayla Harris:

Download

Next order of business is Saturday evening, when some of Canada’s best and brightest baseballists get together for Baseball Canada’s annual Awards Banquet.  Among the scheduled attendees are Justin Morneau, John Axford, Jeff Francis, Rene Tosoni, Chris Leroux and, of course, Brett Lawrie.  It was a phenomenal year for Canada on the international baseball field, with a gold medal at the Pan Am Games, a silver at the Junior Worlds and a bronze at the World Cup, and the key architects of those teams, including Grand Poobah Greg Hamilton and National Team skipper Ernie Whitt, will be there as well.  I’ll talk to as many of them as possible, and get the audio up for you right here and on Sportsnet590 The Fan.

Please give me a follow on The Twitter, you can find me @wilnerness590.  A couple of the minor-leaguers who are here at the Orientation camp are on Twitter as well – you can follow 2009 first-rounder Chad Jenkins @jenknutz and 2010 R. Howard Webster Award winner (Dunedin) Mike McDade @MacDizzleMan.

Comments are welcome – I read them all and reply to most!

 

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15 Responses to “Catching Up With The Kids”
  1. 1.

    Someone suggested (Drunk Jays Fan I think) that the fans will be clamoring for Gose this year like they were for Lawrie last year. An OF of JoeyBats, Rasmus and Gose in the middle would look nice. Do you see that happening? Gose sould hit in the PCL.

    MW: It would definitely be a terrific defensive outfield. Gose should hit in the PCL, but so could you and I.

    - Anonymous
  2. 2.

    I believe there are two Howard Webster Award winners in rookie camp this year. Both Mike McDade(2010)and I believe Jonathan Diaz (2009) got the Webster, recognizing their defence. Mike, Thanks for the nice coverage!

    MW: Diaz hasn’t won a Webster Award, and McDade’s bat wasn’t anything to sneeze at in 2010.

    - Mamboon
  3. 3.

    Mike, I heard AA yesterday @ BoBCat mentioned “PAYROLL PARAMETERS”, the roster for ’12 and the starters, and I here are my predictions for ’12:we are going to finish 4th in the East AGAIN. here’s my first though when I think of the following Jays/F.Office people:
    Rasmus=CocoCrisp
    Morrow=AJBurnett
    RiRomero=Garza
    Thames/snider= survivor series
    Laurie= sophomore jinx
    Jose= no official at bats…
    Alvarez= hope/future
    Cecil= bullpen
    MaGowan=fine crystal
    Drabek= patience tester
    kelly= cheaper Aron Hill
    AA= a kid asking for presents
    Nadir= Scrooge
    PS.Arizona’s infield=JaysSouth

    MW: My advice to you is to find another team to follow. It can’t be worth it to you to be so angry all the time.

    - Didier
  4. 4.

    Hey Mike, im gettin anxious for this season, i got my new jays hat for xmas and im pumped!!! AA made reference to having an 80mil payroll for this year, how does he justify that numbewr when ive heard its lookin more 40-50 mil…. whers that mysterious 30 mil… are there guys still on teh books who arent gonna be in uniform? a la mark teahen?

    MW: I’m sure he’s counting the Teahen contract that they’ll be swallowing, but I don’t know where you’re getting 40-50 million from. They’re committed to $52 million without including arb-eligibles and 0-3 guys. Counting Teahen and all the arbitration raises (Janssen, Johnson, Rasmus, Morrow, etc.), the payroll looks like $80 million to me.

    - Benny
  5. 5.

    Hi Mike

    It never fails – when you say there is no snow, now there is. It is pretty ugly out there and these kids will get a real taste of winter. Blowing snow and all. I read that Drew Hutcheson never crossed the border and now this. Yikes!!! Thank god they are at the Rogers Centre as opposed to being outside. They are probably thankful they play baseball in a dome.

    We started talking baseball again today in the office – can’t wait till opening day. We had a discussion about Thames and Snider. I think Snider has a bigger upside. He is faster, better defender, more versatile defensively and if he sticks to his plan at the plate, I think he can hit better than Thames. What are your thoughts?

    MW: I agree with you completely, though Thames isn’t chopped liver. It’s a good problem to have – two young sluggers who can play in the big leagues.

    - Francis
  6. 6.

    Might be off topic a little – but do you think John McDonald has a chance to get his name put up on the wall of fame in the RC. #BlueJays

    MW: Again, this isn’t twitter – no need to hashtag stuff here. John McDonald is an exceptional defensive player and is well-loved by Blue Jays fans, but he was never a regular in the line-up so you can’t out him up there.

    - Nicholas
  7. 7.

    michael,
    honest to goodness. do you ever take your foot off the pedal?
    “i drew hutchison…”
    very clever indeed….
    such a wordsmith.
    that one was very well played no doubt. you’re good.

    - darrell bishop
  8. 8.

    Love when the Jays farm system gets attention. A little OT (not too much) is someone who could be on this tour next year: Noah Syndergaard, saw this guy in Lansing pitch behind the catcher and man was he impressive. He’s got the stats and scouting reports to back up his awesomeness too, 19 years old, plus fastball above average curve and an above average change and hes got above average control and he strikes out a TON. He’s a special talent that most Jays fans should keep an eye on. He’s got ace upside.

    MW: Evidently he was the one that Oakland insisted be included in any deal for Gio Gonzalez, and the Blue Jays said “no, thanks”.

    - Adam
  9. 9.

    Curious if you steel feel AAs conservative approach is correct post the Yanks Pineda trade. I’m in the camp that Rogers/AA need to open the purse strings, get a Fielder perhaps allowing LInd and a prospect to get moved for a top notch starter. Playing slow and steady likely won’t get it done in the al east. I know you point to the Rays, but you really need to finish very low for a while to secure high quality prospects. tHis fan base has waited 20 yrs.

    MW: This fan base hasn’t waited 20 years. The Blue Jays won the World Series 18 years ago and since then have put five or six very good teams on the field that have either fallen short or been blown out of the water by Yankee/Red Sox dominance. I understand the desire to make a big splash, but look at how that has worked out for the Maple Leafs over the last 10 years – in a league in which more than half the teams make the playoffs. And looking at the cost for starters like Latos, Gonzalez and now Pineda, you can’t possibly believe Lind and a prospect gets you a good one, never mind “top-notch”.

    - Cm
  10. 10.

    Mike,

    Hope you are enjoying the snow… Does Farrell have the prospects making snowmen outside the rogers centre? That would be hilarious to see.

    AA’s interview with Bob-cat was very interesting. The Snider-Thames LF battle sticks out in my mind. Sounds like Thames has the edge. I’m curious if you’ve talked with Travis recently. I wonder how he’s gearing up for spring training and what his mindset is?

    Also, after the Yankees acquired Pineda to bolster the rotation, Do you think AA feels more pressure to add a big bat or starter?

    MW: I haven’t talked with Travis lately, but knowing him (and keeping an eye on him on Twitter) I’m sure he’s coming to Florida believing he can overwhelm everyone during Spring Training and make the team. I don’t think anything the Blue Jays’ opponents do affects Alex Anthopoulos’ commitment to his plan one way or another.

    - ted
  11. 11.

    Hi Mike, I wonder how good Kuroda will be in the AL? I am not sure what kinda of park Dodger stadium is for pitching in. Do you see him as a #3 or #4 starter competing in the AL East?

    MW: I wonder how good Kuroda will be, too, but I can tell you that Dodger Stadium is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the big leagues, and so are AT&T Park (or whatever San Francisco is calling it this week) and Petco Park in San Diego, and that makes up 60% of the A.L. West. Kuroda is a groundballer, though, which should help ease the transition, but the A.L. East often provides pitchers with a rude awakening. At least he won’t have to face the Yankees’ hitters.

    - douglas mccallum
  12. 12.

    Were you as impressed by Cashman’s moves as I was? Do you think this will put pressure on AA to do something relatively big if the Jays want to stay competitive with the NYY?

    MW: Seeing how I don’t know how impressed you were by Cashman’s moves (to add Pineda and Kuroda), I can’t really answer that. But I was impressed, to be sure. See above for the answer to the second question.

    - Leafs Key Chains
  13. 13.

    Hey Mike,

    I’m from Glasgow, Scotland and love following your thoughts and comments via the blog using the rss feed. The best part is the audio links i can put through my mp3 reader.

    Any chance you can attach your pre-game shows and phone in’s that occur during the season this year? Would make life so much easier for me!!

    Looking forward to a great year _ HOPEFULLY!!

    Andrew

    MW: Don’t I attach the JaysTalks to every post during the season? Maybe you mean something else, I’m not that technically ept.

    - Andrew Donnelly
  14. 14.

    Hi Mike

    Good interview with Hutchison.
    I was just looking at Drew Hutchison’s stats and his physical size – Looks like he is our version of Tim Lincicum – tall, string bean. One thing not shown here is the type of pitcher he is. I know he has control, throw a lot of strikes. How hard does he throw, how many pitches does he have in his arsenal

    MW: I wouldn’t call Hutchison a string bean at all. I mean, he’s not a huge guy or anything, but I don’t see a physical similarity to Lincecum.

    - francis
  15. 15.

    michael,
    ya… if francis here wants to get a real good comparison of physical similarities to lincecun in san fran tell him to just go and rent himself dazed and confused on dvd.
    we’ve talked about this before. wiley wiggins character, mitch kramer. much, much younger of course, but now that’s a dead ringer for lincecum my friend.
    body type, hair, wind up, delivery, everything. hilarious….

    - darrell bishop
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