Backfield Banter: Blue Jays Instructs Camp 9/11-9/12

Camera-wielding drones buzzed overhead, and there was no shade to be found save for the unintentional sort—in the shadow of a large pole or beside the small building strategically placed in the center of the quad fields. Ninety minutes into the second camp day, I had finally mustered enough “courage” to approach members of the Toronto Blue Jays staff who had been running the start of their instructs camp. My untrained eye deduced these men fell into three categories: coaches, player development staff, and video crew. (And a mysterious forth category, polo shirt question mark?)


I introduced myself to one of the trainers, Hiroki Yoshimoto, and we proceeded to chit-chat. He asked who I was and why I was there; I asked him where he worked previously. The conversation on its own was not terribly significant, but what it stood for took on greater importance. Forcing yourself into uncomfortable situations against your own will is one of the most empowering things you can do; it can make you feel alive. At the end of our brief exchange, Hiroki mentioned they were having a simulated game at 2PM after lunch. My ears perked up like a dog whose owner just returned home.

Tuesday and Wednesday mornings had been filled with an array of drills. But none of them would be as informative as a sim game. On Tuesday, coaches used rackets to smash tennis balls at infielders to test their reaction times. Cross-pollination of Spanish and English was integrated into some drills. Around noon, backstops were rolled into position for BP and players congregated on two of the fields.

Top 2018 J2 signee, Orelvis Martinez showed well in Tuesday’s BP. The swing is effortless, and he uses his lower half well; a moderate leg kick and twist of his front leg/hips back away from the pitcher creates substantial torque. His hands often slot high, and his best swings featured a parabolic bat path. On Wednesday, he showed the ability to go opposite field with ease, hitting one out on a swing that appeared to be less than max effort. I love the swing. It’s not difficult to see why Toronto made this kid the highest paid 2018 J2 signee at $3.5 million.

Dominican third base prospect Rainer Nunez was part of Toronto’s 2017 J2 class. In a short time Nunez has outgrown his listed figures of 6’3” 180. He is a strong kid, and I think he has added about 20 lbs of good weight.  His 2018 slash line in the DSL does not inspire much optimism, but he was a standout performer in an albeit limited look over the two camp days. On Tuesday, he was spraying line drives to all fields with relative consistency. His swing is short and he keeps his head down on the ball. Sheer strength and a slight uppercut were his ticket to raw power. Observations from BP seemingly manifested themselves in Wednesday’s sim game as Nunez ripped two homers out to deep left field. It’s worth noting a pitching machine was used during the sim game, but I was still encouraged by this showing.

In what appears to have been Emmanuel Sanchez’s first action stateside, the SS/3B prospect flashed a pretty right-handed swing. At times his front foot was down early and the hands lagged behind, but when everything was in sync, I saw a smooth swing powered by his hands. The body is also very projectable; he has a lithe frame that I believe will fill out nicely. Sanchez is a guy to keep an eye on. Information on him is hard to come by. Baseball America’s Ben Badler (Twitter: @BenBadler) listed Sanchez among 2018 J2 singings, but I was unable to find anything else other than this. I am operating under the assumption that he’s 17.

There was a fielding drill Tuesday where coaches had a baseball in each hand, and they would roll one of them to the fielder. It was a test of reactions and mostly a warm up drill. Thinking aloud, I remarked to Jason Woodell, “I kinda like how Cardona moves.” The next day, Hugo Cardona displayed nice hands on both sides of the ball. In the sim game he scooped a grounder and adroitly fed the second baseman en route to a 6.4.3. double play. His infield actions are fluid, and he strikes me as a defender who will work well around the bag at second. In BP his base stance was open with some bend in his knees. Pre-swing motion hindered his ability to consistently barrel the ball. However, I still liked his hands. Cleaning up swing mechanics may yield surprising results. It’s a defense first profile, but his hands give him a chance to also have a viable bat.

Cal Stevenson, a 10th round senior sign out of Arizona, was among the more polished players in attendance. His hands were very quiet and there was little to no wasted effort in his swing; he was short to the ball with a moderate stride. He attacks the baseball and smoked a triple to deep center in the sim game. Stevenson will have to prove himself repeatedly due to his size, and at the advanced age of 21 (only half joking), he should be standing out among players who are younger. I would expect Stevenson to get a chance in full season ball next year, and his bat to ball skills give him a chance to rise up prospect lists.