DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Developing prospects can benefit an organization in multiple ways. It can create a direct pipeline of young talent to their Major League team. But it also can provide a source of talent to use to acquire players in trades.
After trading away four players who rank among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects in moves to bolster their Major League team a year ago, the Blue Jays are now getting close to graduating a few of their own homegrown players to the Major Leagues. Right-handers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, who lead the club's latest Top 20 Prospects list, could soon join the rotation in Toronto.
Sanchez and Stroman are in Major League camp this spring, and assistant general manager Tony LaCava said they have lived up to expectations.
"We're pleased with how they've handled themselves in big league camp, which is big," LaCava said. "They've done the right things. We were hoping for that, and they didn't let us down in that regard.
"We're really pleased with where those guys are and think they're ready for strong seasons."
Further down in the system, the Blue Jays have also accumulated a bevy of young, raw players with lots of upside in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. Class A Lansing is expected to be heavily stocked with the prospects the organization views as the next wave of talent, including outfielder D.J. Davis, third baseman Mitch Nay and pitchers Alberto Tirado, Jairo Labourt, Chase DeJong and Tom Robson.
With so many highly regarded players moving to full-season ball for the first time, LaCava said the Blue Jays will use caution to make sure all the players are prepared for the full five-month grind of the Minor League season. They will employ a piggyback system for the starting pitchers, a method the Blue Jays also used two years ago when Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino pitched in Lansing.
"We want them to go five months, so early on, we'll use the piggyback approach," LaCava said. "As season progresses, we hope to give them each their own day. It worked out well for those other guys. They stayed healthy and they got better."
After using so many talented players in trades in the last two years, the Blue Jays are eager to rebuild the depth of their farm system. With a young wave of talent matriculating in Lansing and a pair of early picks in the First-Year Player Draft, LaCava said he thinks the Blue Jays are well positioned to soon do just that.
"One other thing we're excited about is having picks nine and 11 in the Draft," he said. "With that Lansing wave and nine and 11 in the mix, we feel like the Minor Leagues, the depth is quickly trying to regain our footing, and we think we will by the end of the year."
Three questions with Kevin Pillar
Pillar, a 32nd-round pick in the 2011 Draft, made his Major League debut last August and is competing for a spot on the Blue Jays' roster this spring.
MLBPipeline.com: Has being a late-round Draft pick from Cal State Dominguez Hills, a Division II school, given you any extra motivation?
Pillar: First of all, [I was motivated by] not getting drafted after my junior year, where I thought I did everything I was supposed to do -- whether it was during the year or at all the pre-Draft workouts I was at. So going into my senior year, I definitely had a chip on my shoulder. And then being taken later in the Draft than I thought I was worth going, I definitely had a chip on my shoulder throughout the Minor Leagues. I wanted to prove people wrong. Not only my own organization, but all the teams that passed on me and kept me around so long.
MLBPipeline.com: What was the most important thing you learned while you were in the big leagues last year?
Pillar: Just that once you get over the nerves of being up there the first time and playing in front of 40,000 people, the game really isn't a whole lot different. The biggest challenge is the amount of information other teams have on you, whether it's what you did yesterday or last week or where you like to hit the ball on certain counts. They definitely are put in the best situation to get you out every time you're at the plate. But on the flip side, you have that information, too. There's a fine line of learning how to balance that information and use that to your advantage.
MLBPipeline.com: You've played all three outfield positions in the Minor Leagues. Which one do you prefer?
Pillar: It used to be center field, but it doesn't really matter to me anymore. I've gotten comfortable with playing all three positions. I would say, initially, center field was home to me. That's where I played in college. But as I've gotten comfortable with the corners, it really doesn't matter anymore.
Breakout candidate: Adonys Cardona
Cardona is among the young pitchers likely headed to Lansing this season. Armed with a fastball that reaches the upper-90s and some feel for a changeup, he has the look of an athletic power pitcher. But injuries and poor command have slowed his progress at the outset of his career.
LaCava thinks that this might be the year Cardona puts it all together, in part because of the strides he's made with his slider.
"His slider is coming on," LaCava said. "His breaking ball was something that was a little lacking, but he's found a new grip to it."
Camp standout: John Stilson
Originally drafted as a starter out of Texas A&M in 2011, the Blue Jays moved Stilson to the bullpen last year. He had good stuff as a starter, but his power arsenal has played up in short stints. He effectively pairs his mid-90s fastball with a short, cutting slider.
Stilson excelled in the role at Triple-A Buffalo and finished the season strong in the Arizona Fall League. This spring, he has picked up right where he left off. In three appearances, Stilson has allowed just one hit and struck out three batters in 2 1/3 innings. And his performance is not going unnoticed.
"Stilson, he's been on the radar. He's a third-round pick, he's one of our better relief prospects; we like him a lot," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said last week. "I think he's had a good camp so far."