The Toronto Blue Jays sent very few of their highly touted prospects to offseason leagues outside of the US but several minor and major league veterans got some extra work in this winter.
The Blue Jays sent four minor leaguers down to play for the Canberra Cavalry in the Australian Baseball League. Catcher Jack Murphy, who was invited to major league camp, was one of the leaders of the Cavalry as they reached the final series. He hit .306/.361/.400 with nine doubles and two home runs in 160 at bats after a season spent mostly in Double-A New Hampshire.
Jon Berti, a speedy 24-year-old second baseman, not only led the Florida State League this season in stolen bases but smashed the ABL record by swiping 31 bags and hitting .309/.425/.421. Berti earned the Blue Jays’ award for the MVP for the Dunedin Blue Jays, his 2013 team, playing excellent defense and serving as offensive catalyst.
Berti’s teammate in Dunedin, Mike Crouse, a British Columbia native, was among the ABL leaders in home runs, knocking eight balls out of the park down under. Crouse, 23, had a solid season in High-A Dunedin but only hit eight home runs in 347 plate appearances in Florida.
Shane Opitz, another A-ball Blue Jays farmhand, held his own in Australia despite being the youngest member of the Blue Jays’ contingent at the age of 22. Opitz had a tremendous year with the bat between Class-A Lansing and High-A Dunedin, hitting .322/.376/.421 in a utility role and hit .261/.305/.333 in 111 at bats in Australia.
Jonathan Diaz, signed as a minor league free agent, went down to the Dominican Republic and hit .261/.444/.328 in 134 at bats for Gigantes del Cibao. Diaz walked an incredible 33 times and struck out 26 times in the Dominican after a very solid Triple-A season in the Red Sox’ organization.
Anthony Gose and Brad Glenn, who both spend some time in Triple-A in 2013, both had very little playing time in Venezuela, with 25 and 20 at bats respectively. Neither hit particularly well and both could very well end up back in Buffalo together with Gose, 23, patrolling center field and Glenn, 26, in right. Gose is also a candidate to make the big league club as a fourth outfielder while Glenn will be mostly minor league depth after a very solid, 22-HR season between Double-A and Triple-A.
The Blue Jays also re-signed minor league free agent Ricardo Nanita who in the Dominican winter league, hitting .237/.285/.280 in 188 at bats. Nanita, 32, played for the DR’s World Baseball Classic team in 2013 and then signed with the Blue Jays and appeared in 74 games combined between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo.
Outfielder Kevin Pillar, 25, tore through the minor leagues in less than three years to make his big league debut in 2013 and had some of the similar struggles to what he faced in the majors when he played in the Dominican Winter League. Getting into 15 games and having 66 at bats, Pillar only hit .227/.239/.258 while walking just once and striking out nine times.
Moises Sierra had a much different experience playing at home in the Dominican Republic. The 25-year-old right fielder hit .331/.401/.435 with four doubles and four home runs in 154 at bats after a season split between Toronto and Buffalo, putting up his best major league numbers in his second attempt at the level.
Puerto Rican shortstop Dickie Thon, 22, was a sub in the Puerto Rican winter league, getting three hits in 24 at bats. While he hasn’t played above Short-Season A ball, Thon had a very strong 2013 in Vancouver before an ankle injury cut his season short at just 45 games.