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:
Here, for your listening pleasure, is Jonathan Diaz:
And here’s your chance to get to know Evan Crawford a little bit:
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:
Finally, here’s Anthony Gose, in conversation with Kayla Harris:
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!