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Aspiring Jays: Anthony Alford, Chase DeJong and Extended Spring Training

The Vancouver Canadians will start their season today, and the Bluefield Blue Jays and Gulf Coast League Blue Jays will start their season next week. The time has come for a preview of the Toronto Blue Jays' short-season teams and their prospects.

Alford playing football
Alford playing football

Extended spring training ended last week, and now, thanks to the amazing Gerry of Batter's Box, we have the stats available of the prospects who played there. Now, the stats coming from extended spring training all have huge "small sample size" exclamation marks attached to them, and we should be aware that these players were possibly working on certain parts of their game - their swings, their deliveries, certain pitches - and therefore not playing to their full potential. But still, I'd argue these stats have some predictive value.

If we look at the extreme cases in 2011's extended spring training, we can see that the pitchers with the worst control were Aaron Sanchez and Adonys Cardona. Sanchez would indeed struggle with his control (it has gotten a bit better since, but it's still the biggest question mark), though Cardona would fare much better in the GCL than in Extended. The best command clearly belonged to Nicolino, though he would improve his K-rate after joining Vancouver. The worst ERAs belonged to Griffin Murphy and Zak Adams, who both busted quite quickly, though Murphy is trying to make a career as a reliever. As for the hitters, Santiago Nessy showed some power but little control over the strikezone, which remained true later, while Chris Hawkins and Kellen Sweeney had nice OBPs but lacked power, and that also remained true. Shane Opitz' lack of either power or discipline also shone through already in these limited extended spring training stats.

During last year's extended spring training, Roberto Osuna's quality was already apparent from the stats, while the disappointing seasons of Kevin Comer and Mark Biggs could also have been predicted by looking at the stats. Jeremy Gabryszwski's control was great in both extended spring training and the regular season but, unlike Nicolino the year before, he did not improve his K-rate in the regular season. Like Cardona the previous year, young Latin American pitchers Alberto Tirado, Jairo Labourt and Yeyfry del Rosario would be much better in the regular season than in spring training. As for the hitters, Nessy had by far the best OPS thanks to 8 home runs, but he wasn't amazing in Bluefield that year. Dwight Smith Jr. was also putting up promising numbers, but wasn't good in the regular season, and neither was Jacob Anderson. Matt Dean's and Jesus Gonzalez' strikeout problems were already apparent from the stats, as was Christian Lopes' and Smith's ability to make contact, which is why they're now in Lansing and Anderson and Dean are not.

So who stands out this year? In a negative way, Tyler Gonzales and Matt Smoral have stood out because they've walked too many, but in very few innings pitched (Smoral had 11 walks in just 13.2 innings pitched). Zakery Wasilewski has also walked far too many, but in more innings. Positive results have come from Chase DeJong (11.2 K/9 versus 1.9 BB/9), Adonys Cardona (10.4 K/9 to 1.6 BB/9) and Jairo Labourt (8.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9), while Alberto Tirado's K-rate is promising but he'll have to throw strikes (4.7 BB/9). Yeyfry del Rosario was impressive in the regular season last year and solid in extended this year (7.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9), but scouts apparently aren't excited by his high-80s fastball. Robson disappointed again after a horrible spring training last year and an injury-shortened regular season, while Gabryszwski still finds strikeouts hard to come by. I expect del Rosario and DeJong to do well statistically, but I wonder if they throw hard enough to impress the scouts. Cardona has something to prove in his third season in short-season ball, he'll have to stay healthy and throw strikes this time so the organization can move him upwards within the system. Jairo Labourt could be a nice sleeper if he has fixed his control issues, he already showed some ability to get strikeouts last year in the Gulf Coast League.

At the plate, no Jays prospects stood out all that much, though Anthony Alford shared the highest OPS (.910) with Dickie Thon, he of the 1.5 million bonus. Since Alford came to camp late and hasn't focused on baseball that much, this is both impressive and too small a sample to really tell. His K-rate was high at 36%, but his walk-rate was also impressive at 14.4%. When on the subject of walks, Mitch Nay showed the best idea of the strikezone with 15% walks and 21% strikeouts, and his .838 OPS is far from bad. Young infielder Richard Urena, now playing in the Dominican Summer League, had a slightly higher walk rate but also too many strikeouts and a less impressive OPS at .724. Considering his age, though, that's actually pretty promising. Another big bonus signing from Latin America, Franklin Barreto, showed decent contact ability (19% Ks) but very little patience at the plate (3% walks). An OPS of .825 from that young a kid is of course very promising nonetheless. Dawel Lugo, yet another infielder and international signing, showed some improved strikezone control with 10% walks and 19% strikeouts with a mediocre .764 OPS. Matt Dean and Jacob Anderson still struggle with the strikezone and/or making contact, but their OPSes were decent (.814 and .863 respectively). First-round pick D.J. Davis had just a .613 OPS with 27% Ks and 7% walks, so he'll be hoping the regular season brings more success.

All in all, this group does not seem to have any obvious stars like Osuna last year, though it contains plenty of prospects with the potential to be positive surprises. I'm not sure if performing well in rookie-ball can ever be considered a breakout season, but if it can, I expect at least one player from this group to have that kind of season. Many young kids, like Alford, Barreto and Urena will probably take time to develop, and in Alford's case it will take giving up on football as well. But the future could be very bright for these young players.