Jogging onto the field at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin will not be a new experience for many of the Toronto Blue Jays players during the team's home opener on February 26th. Dunedin was home for many of the current Blue Jays during their minor league careers on their way to Toronto. In total, 22 former Dunedin Blue Jays have received invitations to Major League Spring Training in 2017.
Some are well-established big leaguers, such as Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Kevin Pillar, who have been integral parts of Toronto's deep playoff runs in 2015 and 2016, becoming Major League stars after excelling in Dunedin during their rise through Toronto's system.
Sanchez, the 2016 American League ERA champ, made 20 starts for Dunedin during the 2013 season. He finished the year with a 4-5 record, 3.34 ERA, and 75 strikeouts, showing his readiness to be promoted by tossing a brilliant 7-inning shutout performance in his final regular season start of the year. He debuted with Toronto the following season.
The kind of highlight reel catches that have made Kevin Pillar a fan favorite in Toronto were commonplace in 2012 during his time in Dunedin. Called up from Single-A Lansing near the end of the 2012 season, Pillar slashed an impressive .323/.339/.415 and swiped 16 bases for the D-Jays.
Before becoming the youngest closer in major league history to save 50 games, Roberto Osuna was a big-armed starting pitcher for Dunedin struggling to harness an overpowering fastball. Entering Spring Training in 2015, Osuna was tabbed to return to A-ball to begin the season, where he had posted a 6.55 ERA in seven starts for Dunedin the previous year following Tommy John surgery. Instead, he excelled during the spring campaign, posting a 2.19 ERA in nine appearances, and made the Toronto roster out of Spring Training.
Other former Dunedin players are just beginning their careers in the Major Leagues. Former D-Jays Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody, and Chad Girodo debuted in the Majors during the 2016 season and come to camp hoping to secure a long-term spot in Toronto this spring
For some players, Spring Training will serve as an opportunity to showcase their talents to Toronto's coaching staff before returning to the minor leagues to open the season. Top prospects Richard Urena, Anthony Alford, Conner Greene, and Rowdy Tellez will be building off strong recent seasons in Dunedin (Tellez in 2015, Urena, Alford, and Greene in 2016) while gaining experience against major league competition this spring. With a strong performance in camp, any of the four could be the next to trade their Dunedin Blue Jays uniform for Toronto's.
Urena excelled at shortstop for Dunedin in 2016, hitting .305 with seven triples and eight home runs before earning a call-up to Double-A New Hampshire. He was named to the Florida State League's Post-Season All-Star team and was recognized as an Organizational All-Star for Toronto for the second straight year.
Alford comes into camp hoping to continue building off a strong finish to the 2016 season. After starting the year slowly, Alford hit .260 with 7 HR and 13 stolen bases from July 1st on. He was even better for Dunedin in 2015, hitting .302/.380/.444 and stealing 15 bases.
Greene has starred in Dunedin for parts of two seasons, posting a 2.68 ERA in 117.2 innings over 22 starts. He returns to Major League camp this spring after displaying an electrifying fastball in two scoreless innings in big league camp in 2016.
Tellez's prodigious power will return to Dunedin this spring. He launched seven homeruns for the D-Jays in just 35 games with the team in 2015, establishing himself as a premier power prospect with Double-A New Hampshire in 2016, slashing .297/.387/.530 and hitting 23 homers. Tellez made a strong first impression in his Spring Training debut in 2015, hitting a long home run in his only at bat in major league camp.
Fans interested in watching their favorite former Dunedin Blue Jays will get their first chance to do so on Sunday, February 26th during Toronto's Spring Training home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. Fans will be able to get their first glimpse at future big league stars on April 8th when Dunedin faces the Clearwater Threshers in their home opener at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. For tickets, please visit www.BlueJays.com/Tickets and www.DunedinBlueJays.com/Tickets.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.