On October 8th, the Salt Lake Rafters (Arizona Fall League home to Blue Jays, Rays, Cardinals, Diamond Backs & Rockies prospects) will kick off their 31 game schedule vs Scottsdale at Talking Stick.
For those of you who are not familiar with the AFL, think of it as the Cape Cod League for professional ball players… A showcase of Major League Baseball’s top prospects who are on the cusp of breaking in to the Majors.
Former AFL alumni include such stars as Shawn Green (1993), Chris Carpenter (1996) and Roy Halladay (1998) not to mention current Blue Jays Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins, both of whom suited up for the AFL East champion Rafters squad in 2012 prior to making their MLB debuts in 2013.
As for this year, Toronto will be sending a strong class of prospects to the desert as the list includes 1st Round Pick – Marcus Stroman, top pitching prospect – Aaron Sanchez as well as MiLB stand out John Stilson.
When the club originally announced its selections for the 2013 AFL season, Starting Pitcher Sean Nolin, Lefty Reliever Tyler Ybarra & Top Catching Prospect A.J. Jimenez were penciled into the Rafters roster however due to a number of circumstances (ie injuries, tax, ect), these players have been scratched and replaced with other prospects.
The full list of prospects breaks down as follows:
Drew Hutchison – Returning from Tommy John Surgery, the Blue Jays are likely using the AFL to further stretch Hutchison out and get him his innings required to give the team a better idea where the young RHP is at heading into 2014.
Aaron Sanchez – After dominating in Lansing during the 2012 season, Sanchez hit a small road bump while with Dunedin earlier this year. Despite posting an impressive ERA of 3.49 in the hitter friendly Florida State League, Sanchez’ K/9 was down and he struggled at times with his command. The most encouraging statistic put forth by Sanchez was his WHIP of 1.193, a career best.
John Stilson – Perhaps the most exciting reliever the Blue Jays have in the pipeline, Stilson put together a solid season split between New Hampshire and Buffalo. In 35 combined games, the Texarkana native (Smokey and the Bandit) recorded an ERA of 2.17 while walking a mere 15 batters in an injury limited 49.1 Innings Pitched. Although Stilson has appeared in only 65 MiLB games, he has certainly caught the attention of the Blue Jays brass as they look to bolster their Bullpen for the 2014 season.
Marcus Stroman – Similar to Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stoman missed some time during the 2013 season due to 50 game suspension having tested positive for a banned substance at the end of the 2012 campaign. The Blue Jays 1st Round Pick (22nd overall) was quick to silence any of his critics as the 22 year old put together a solid season with AA New Hampshire. Stroman made 20 starts going 9-5 with an overall ERA of 3.30 in 111.1 Innings Pitched while posting a career best in BB/9 with 2.2 and a dominating 10.4 K/9. 2014 should be a a pivotal year for the young righty as he appears to be poised for a MLB call up should he not to break camp with the MLB club out of Spring Training.
Derrick Chung – Chung is an interesting prospect for Toronto as he has proven to be a solid defensive minded catcher in his 2 years in the Blue Jays system. In 2013, the 25 year old caught 43% of would be base-stealers while also showing a good eye at the plate en route to finishing with a .341 On Base Percentage. With the Blue Jays catching depth having been depleted during last years off season, Toronto will continue to evaluate their players as they look to sort out this position going forward.
Andy Burns - Burns was easily one of Dunedin’s MVP’s as the club stormed to a first place finish in the FSL Notrh (first half). The 22 year old’s strong play earned him a call up to New Hampshire mid way through the season however his numbers declined with the Fisher Cats and he ended the season with a .253/.309/.419 slash in AA. Regardless of the drop in NH, Burns earned himself a look in the AFL and will be the only Blue Jays Infielder on the Rafters roster.
Kenny Wilson – Entering his 6th season as a farmhand for the Toronto Blue Jays, Wilson appeared in 60 games between the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, Dunedin Blue Jays and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Wilson will likely begin the 2014 season in either New Hampshire or Buffalo as he continues to better his overall game in the Minors.
The Rafters begin play on the 8th of October and finish their regular season schedule on November 14th. You can keep up to date on all of Toronto’s prospects via the AFL’s website and corresponding twitter account.