Nashua native Kevin Nolan, drafted in 2009 by the Blue Jays, has been climbing through the minors and waiting for his chance to shine with top prospects at Double-A New Hampshire. Although Toronto has yet to finalize its rosters for minor-league affiliates, it's looking good for Nolan, a Nashua South graduate.
There's nothing left to prove in Single-A, where the versatile infielder batted .316 last season while settling in at shortstop for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Last week, the 25-year-old was the starting shortstop for Double-A games against Pirates and Yankees minor leaguers.
A hungry bunch of Fisher Cats arrive at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Monday, ready to begin the 10th season in franchise history. First-year manager Gary Allenson, who played for the Red Sox from 1979-84 and finished his career with the Blue Jays, will be on that flight along with pitching coach Tom Signore and new hitting coach Richie Hebner, who played 18 seasons in the majors.
Who else is joining the Fisher Cats?
First-round draft pick Deck McGuire, who took the mound for New Hampshire's Eastern League championship clincher in 2011, has been ticketed for The 603 along with fellow right-hander Ryan Tepera, based on recent workouts and game reports from Dunedin, Fla. It can be a nerve-racking final week of spring training as players hang in limbo. When the big-league team makes its final roster cuts, a domino effect ripples through the minors.
One of the Blue Jays top pitching prospects, Sean Nolin, is expected to begin the season at New Hampshire. Nolin, called up from Single-A at the end of last season, dazzled the Jays' brass while making three starts for the Fisher Cats. The 6-foot-4 lefty was among an elite group of Toronto minor leaguers not traded over the off-season. Ex-Fisher Cats Travis d'Arnaud and Jake Marisnick were traded, along with starters Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino as the Blue Jays went "all in" - at least that's their motto - for the 2013 season. The Jays landed Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, among others.
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FISHER TRACKS: The Pirates acquired former Fisher Cats catcher Brian Jeroloman from the Indians and sent the 27-year-old to Triple-A Indianapolis. Jeroloman spent parts of four seasons with the Fisher Cats, first arriving in Manchester in 2008. In 2011, he spent 37 days in majors but never entered a game, the result of a hand injury suffered on the day he was called up by Toronto.
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SEA DOGS TAKING SHAPE: Former Red Sox No. 1 prospect Anthony Ranaudo, who battled through a slew of injuries last season and struggled at Double-A Portland, is set to reboot for 2013. The 6-foot-7 righty will begin the season with the Sea Dogs, looking to build on a strong spring training. In a recent outing against Twins minor leaguers, the 23-year-old retired all 13 batters he faced, striking out seven while touching 98-mph on the radar.
Daniel Bard? Yes. The 27-year-old begins the season at Portland, pitching in the Eastern League for the first time since 2008. The fireballer struggled as a starter and reliever in 2012, logging a 6.22 ERA in the majors. Portland catcher Christian Vazquez is another player to watch when the Sea Dogs make their first visit in May. Vazquez, 22, impressed the Red Sox during the Arizona Fall League and also at big-league camp. In addition to above-average defensive skills, Vazquez also some pop, homering against the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla.
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LOCKE FINISHES STRONG: Pittsburgh lefty Jeff Locke, a Kennett High of Conway graduate, worked six scoreless innings in his final outing at spring training. Locke, who has been named the fifth starter in the Pirates' rotation, allowed four hits and struck out three in a 2-1 victory against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday. The 25-year-old notched a team-high three wins and posted a 2.63 ERA in the Grapefruit League. Locke is scheduled to pitch against the Dodgers on Saturday.Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org