Andy Burns (9) puts the ball in play for the Blue Jays in a minor league spring training game in Dunedin Florida on March 13, 2014. Jacob Stallings (16) is thought to be the catcher for the Pirates. Mandatory Credit: Jay Blue

First-hand Reports: Blue Jays vs. Pirates Minor League Games

There wasn’t a lot of star power on display at the Engelbert Complex in Dunedin, home to the Blue Jays’ minor league complex. But there were a few names who stood out and that’s what you’re going to get! While some top prospects were in the games, they didn’t really distinguish themselves while I was watching.

A few notes about watching games at a minor league complex. First, there are two games going on at a time plus other drills happening on one of the other diamonds so there’s no way to see everything. I tried to get a good look at most of the pitchers on both diamonds and try to get a look at each of the players once through the batting order.

Another thing to note is it’s still early in the minor league spring training game schedule. Actual games between teams just started on Tuesday and so Thursday’s games were just the third (at most) game that they were playing. Rust is bound to show and we shouldn’t be too critical.

The last thing to make sure you’re aware of is that these were Double-A and Triple-A games. That actually means that the players aren’t necessarily going to be stocked with players from those teams when the regular season starts. In fact, in Spring Training, most players “play up” until the Triple-A guys who are still at major league camp get back. While I’m not as familiar with the Pirates’ rosters, the Jays had guys like A.J. Jimenez, Andy Burns and Kenny Wilson all playing for the “Triple-A team” and all three are likely to be with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats when the season starts.

And now, my notes!

I saw a bullpen session before the games and came away really impressed with Daniel Norris. The hard throwing lefty was popping the mitt, hitting his spots and throwing a nice, sharp slider. The Jays’ second round pick of 2013, Clinton Hollon was also throwing well. His slider and changeup are both developing though and weren’t nearly as sharp or as developed as Norris’s (which is to be expected). Hollon’s fastball location looked good though. I also caught some of Tomo Ohka throwing his knuckleballs and they were definitely fun to watch. It’s going to be interesting to see how he fares during games.

In the actual games, Ben White started for the Blue Jays in the Double-A game and Austin Bibens-Dirkx started for the Triple-A game. Both are more finesse pitchers and neither is really considered a prospect although both had excellent seasons in 2013 (White with Lansing and Bibens-Dirkx with Dunedin and New Hampshire).

Starting the Double-A game for the Pirates was 22-year-old Adrian Sampson. He looked very good and and looked like he was throwing fairly hard (I didn’t see the radar readings for him).

Dan Gamache, a 23-year-old second baseman, hit a big triple off White to the gap. It was a bad pitch, up in the zone, right down the middle, but Gamache didn’t miss it.

Brett McKinney, a college righty drafted out of Ohio State last year really impressed both me and Chris King (writer for Baseball Prospectus) with his arm-side run on his fastball. There was one play where Kenny Wilson leaned in to bunt on a pitch up and in that could have been very damaging had he not gotten out of the way.

Catcher Aaron Munoz (Blue Jays) impressed by throwing out a runner at second base and almost nabbing another base thief. The defense-oriented catcher split the season between Lansing and Dunedin last year.

It was good to see Jays’ righty Danny Barnes in action. Barnes only threw three innings last year and he looks healthy, hitting 89-90 with his fastball with some nice movement on it.

Emmanuel De Leon (Pirates), a 23-year-old Dominican who struck out almost a batter per inning in Bradenton last year, looked very good on the mound in the Double-A game. He was throwing 92-93 consistently.

Also for the Pirates in the Double-A game, shortstop Carlos Aponte impressed with his defense. He looks like a no-hit/good-field shortstop but he went into the 5-6 hole to make a diving stop and had the arm strength to throw out a batter.

Home runs that I saw came from Sean Ochinko (catcher) and Brad Glenn (right field) both for the Blue Jays in the Triple-A game.

For the Blue Jays, another good fielder was utility man Jason Leblebijian who made a couple of really nice plays. Third baseman Gustavo Pierre had a couple of good at bats, hitting the ball hard but with nothing to show for it.

Alright folks! That’s it from yesterday’s game. Today, I’ll be in Clearwater to catch the Jays vs. the Phillies but I’m heading over now to Dunedin to catch some bullpen sessions.

Tags: Pittsburgh Pirates Toronto Blue Jays

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