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Notebook: Camp starts Sunday
LaRoche, Nickeas, Kawasaki among 60 invites
02/10/2014 2:23 PM ET
Andy LaRoche is back for his second season in the Blue Jays organization.
Andy LaRoche is back for his second season in the Blue Jays organization. 

Follow the Leaders to Camp

Blue Jays Spring Training Camp opens on Sunday, February 16 and Toronto has 60 players invited to test out the Florida sun. A total of 29 of those 60 players spent time in Buffalo during the 2013 season.

MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm lists all the players that are set to report, with a keen eye on some of the marquee spring battles that will play out in Dunedin.

One-third of the invitees are non-roster players -players not currently on Toronto's 40-man roster. Most of these players signed minor league contracts with Toronto during the off-season with the hopes of sticking on a big league roster.

More often than not, minor league free agents spend one year in an organization and then move on. The instances of Valentino Pascuccis or Jason Coopers are far out-weighed by those that choose this route.

A few Bisons that have returned to the Blue Jays for a second year include infielder Andy LaRoche, catcher Mike Nickeas and infielder Munenori Kawasaki. All three players made appearances with Toronto last season, no doubt a huge factor in their return. The group also provided large leadership rolls, both on the field an off.

While Kawasaki's positive effect on the Blue Jays clubhouse was well publicized, he was equally a teammate-favorite in the clubhouse at Coca-Cola Field. LaRoche and Nickeas were also vocal and provided veteran leadership throughout the year. Nickeas was voted by his Bisons teammates as the 2013 Most Inspirational Player by season's end.

Head and Shoulders above (or below) the rest

Two players that arrived on campus a little early are two of Toronto's top pitching prospects, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.

Both players rank in MLB.com's Top 100 prospects, with Sanchez coming in at 23 and Stroman at 55. Baseball Prospectus, however, has Stroman ranked higher.

National Post's John Lott tackles the scouting report on these two hurlers and the interesting discrepancy not only in their height (Sanchez is 6'4", Stroman listed at 5'9"), but in how each are being projected as future major leaguers.

At the Bisons annual Hot Stove Luncheon in January, new Bisons skipper Gary Allenson spoke glowingly of the 22-year old Stroman. He should know. The righty was 9-5 with a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts for Allenson in 2013 with Double-A New Hampshire. Stroman struck out 129 batters to only 99 hits allowed in 111.2 innings with the Fisher Cats.

Manto needs to make room on the mantel

The International League made it official, plugging Jeff Manto into their Hall of Fame.It was a no-brainer in Bisons land, but something that might not have been possible without his time with the Norfolk Tides and the Rochester Red Wings.

Don't forget, when Manto hit 20 of his Bisons modern era leading 79 home runs in 1997, the Herd was playing in the American Association. While it was an unbelievable 54-game stretch for the slugger where he was AA Player of the Week four times, it couldn't be factored into this discussion. Maybe Manto's finest season at Triple-A wasn't even in Buffalo. While splitting the 1994 season between Norfolk and Rochester, Manto hit 31 homers and drove in 100 as the league's MVP. That made his election to the IL Hall of Fame a slam dunk.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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