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March 29. 2014 9:23PM

Blue Jays' top prospect set to open in New Hampshire


Aaron Sanchez, rated as the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect by Major League Baseball, will start the season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats after a strong showing in spring training. (USA TODAY Sports)

Several media outlets have labeled starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez as the No. 1 prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization, and it appears he will begin the 2014 season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Toronto's Double-A affiliate.

Earlier this week Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos told the Toronto Star that Sanchez will start the season in Double-A. The Fisher Cats are scheduled to open the season Thursday at Trenton.

MLB.com has Sanchez ranked No. 23 among prospects in minor league baseball. Sanchez battled through injuries last season, when he pitched for Class A Dunedin, but posted a 1.16 ERA in six starts in the Arizona Fall League.

Sanchez, a first-round draft pick in 2010, has an overpowering fastball to go with a curve and changeup, but at times has struggled with his control. He walked 40 batters in 86 1/3 innings with Dunedin.

"(Control is) something that I go to the park working on every day," Sanchez said in an interview with MLB.com before spring training. "There's always room for improvement, and if that's what I need to do I'm going to work my hardest to get that done."

Here's a look at some other players who could begin the 2014 season with the Fisher Cats:

Starting pitchers: Sanchez, Scott Copeland, John Anderson, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Shawn Hill.

Bibens-Dirkx spent most of last season with Dunedin, even though he posted a sub-2.00 ERA and three victories in 12 appearances with the Fisher Cats. His overall numbers were 12-9 with a 2.48 ERA.

Copeland, who used to pitch in the Orioles' organization, spent all of 2013 with Dunedin, where he made 26 appearances (23 starts). Copeland has undergone Tommy John surgery twice, and has yet to pitch as high as the Double-A level.

Relief pitchers: Danny Barnes, Randy Boone, Blake McFarland, Dayton Marze, Ajay Meyer, Scott Shuman, Tyler Ybarra, Matt Wright, Casey Lawrence.

Injuries forced Boone to move from starter to a relief role. He appeared in 33 games with the Fisher Cats last season, when he posted a 3.47 ERA in 62 1/3 innings.

McFarland, Marze, Meyer and Ybarra were all in Dunedin's bullpen last season. Meyer and McFarland each appeared in 48 games during the 2103 season. Ybarra had a 1.95 ERA in 39 appearances.

Shuman is entering his first season with the Blue Jays. He was acquired from San Francisco in the Rule 5 Draft.

Catchers: A.J. Jimenez, Derrick Chung.

Jimenez began the 2012 season with the Fisher Cats, but required Tommy John surgery in May of that year. He returned in June last season and hit .276 during a 50-game stretch in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A Buffalo. A sore arm brought a premature end to his season. MLB.com lists Jimenez at No. 11 on its 2014 Blue Jays Top 20 Prospect Watch.

Chung, a converted infielder, threw out 43 percent of potential base stealers with Dunedin last season. He batted .390 during 13 games in the Arizona Fall League.

Infielders: Kevin Nolan (SS), Andy Burns (3B), Gabe Jacobo (1B), Jon Berti (2B), Shane Opitz (SS), Peter Mooney (Utility), K.C. Hobson (1B).

Nolan, who attended Nashua South, was among the top five in most offensive categories with the Fisher Cats last season, and earned an invitation to the Eastern League All-Star Game.

Hobson, the son of former Red Sox third baseman and manager Butch Hobson, attended Nashua South as a freshman before his family moved to California. The Blue Jays selected him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. He hit 19 home runs with Dunedin in 2013.

Outfielders: Kenny Wilson, Mike Crouse, Matt Newman, Nick Baligod, Marcus Knecht, Dalton Pompey.

Wilson began last year with the Fisher Cats, but missed most of the season because of a stress fracture in his shin. He stole 12 bases in 17 attempts in the Arizona Fall League.

Crouse, Newman, Baligod and Knecht were with Dunedin last season. Baligod can play all three outfield positions, Newman played college baseball at Arizona State and Crouse spent the winter in the Australian Baseball League. Knecht was a third-round draft pick in 2010.

Pompey, a center fielder, was a Midwest League All-Star last season, when he stole 38 bases in 48 attempts with Single-A Lansing.

rbrown@unionleader.com


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