Blue Jays stars realize promise

Cooper wins PCL batting crown, d'Arnaud takes home MVP

Travis d'Arnaud posted a .914 OPS in 114 games for New Hampshire. (Kevin Pataky/

By Robert Emrich / Special to | December 22, 2011 5:00 AM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

2011 was a season of realized promise for the Blue Jays. Travis d'Arnaud, originally a first-rounder by the Phillies in 2007, established career highs in nearly every offensive category en route to winning the Eastern League MVP. Former first-rounder David Cooper led the Pacific Coast League with a .364 average.

All told, Toronto's Minor League affiliates tied for the sixth-best composite winning percentage at .515 and saw two of their affiliates (New Hampshire and Vancouver) claim league titles. Another, Bluefield, fell short in the Appalachian League Finals.

Blue Jays Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Travis d'Arnaud, New Hampshire (114 games): One of three players the Blue Jays acquired from the Phillies for Roy Halladay in December 2009, d'Arnaud sparkled in 2011. The 22-year-old backstop slugged 21 homers, drove in 78 runs and batted .311 for the Fisher Cats, all career highs. However, it is his defensive prowess that draws raves from Toronto manager John Farrell.

"You've got a guy that can control the running game from the way he throws, and he's not afraid to lead a pitching staff," Farrell told during Spring Training. "In the early conversations between innings, or conversations early in camp, he shows a presence and is not afraid to speak his mind."

First base -- David Cooper, Las Vegas (120 games), Toronto (27 games): Selected in the first round by Toronto in 2008, Cooper's first exposure to Triple-A was nothing short of a success. The California native led the Pacific Coast League with a .364 average, the fourth player in Las Vegas history to do so, and he topped the club with 96 RBIs. Cooper finished with 51 doubles, three short of a PCL record, and was sixth in the league with 67 walks.

"The last two years, he's hit .257, .258 for whatever reason ... but when you look at the swing you project him to be a guy that's going to hit for some average and hit for some power," Farrell said after Cooper was sent down at the end of Spring Training.

Second base -- Jorge Vega-Rosado, GCL Blue Jays (51 games): Playing in his first pro season, Vega-Rosado was named to the Gulf Coast League Postseason All-Star team after batting .317, fifth in the Toronto organization. Vega-Rosado, who turned 20 on Dec. 5, showed good speed, stealing 22 bases in 26 attempts.

Shortstop -- Chris Woodward, Las Vegas (108 games), Toronto (11 games): The big league veteran provided a big season for the 51s while manning several different positions. Woodward slugged 13 homers, his most since 2002 with Toronto, and finished eighth in the organization with a .296 batting average. The 35-year-old California native provided solid defense, committing 19 errors in 103 games between second base, shortstop and third base.

Third base -- Brett Lawrie, Dunedin (four games), Las Vegas (69 games), Toronto (43 games): Acquired from Milwaukee last offseason, Lawrie made the acquisition look brilliant, batting .347 with a career-high 18 homers in 73 Minor League games. A broken hand suffered in early July held him back a bit, but upon his promotion to Toronto on Aug. 4, the Canadian native kept on hitting, batting .293 while going deep nine times for the Blue Jays.

What really set this season apart for Lawrie was his commitment to defense. After the trade, Lawrie was asked to transition from second base to third. After struggling initially, committing 12 errors through the first two months, Lawrie committed four over his last 17 games in Vegas before his promotion. He only made six in 46 games with Toronto.

"The strides he's made defensively have been amazing," Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos told "He's really come a long way, and he's looked good."


Brad Glenn, Dunedin (111 games): A 23rd-rounder in 2009, Glenn led Blue Jays Minor Leaguers with 26 homers and was fourth with 80 RBIs. Both totals represented career highs for the 24-year-old outfielder, as did his 215 total bases. Overall, Glenn batted .263 while posting a personal-best .833 OPS for the Blue Jays.

Jake Marisnick, Lansing (118 games): Marisnick provided a little of everything for the Lugnuts in 2011. The 20-year-old California native finished second in the Midwest League with a .320 average, slugged 14 homers, drove in 77 runs and scored 68 runs. Marisnick was also third in the organization with 37 stolen bases in 45 attempts.

Adam Loewen, Las Vegas (134 games), Toronto (14 games): Originally drafted by the Orioles as a pitcher in the first round of the 2002 Draft, Loewen has successfully made the transition to the outfield. Since signing with the Blue Jays in October 2008, Loewen has raised his average each of the past three seasons while increasing his home run and RBI totals during that time frame. The 27-year-old Canadian has shown strong plate patience, drawing 61 walks, and showed off his arm in the outfield, notching 11 assists. He got a chance to show off for Toronto late in the season and slugged his first Major League homer on Sept. 11.

Utility -- Anthony Gose, New Hampshire (137 games): Gose showed off many of the tools that have made him one of the Blue Jays' best prospects. The 21-year-old outfielder slugged 16 homers, smacked seven triples, scored 86 runs and stole an Eastern League-leading 70 bases. Gose also drew a career-high 62 walks and cut down on the number of times he was caught stealing, from 32 in 2010 to 15 in 2011.

"He's been doing great," said New Hampshire manager Sal Fasano. "He's learning to compete at this level. I'm happy with the progress he has made. Defensively, he was already a good outfielder."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Egan Smith, Lansing (24 games): The 22-year-old southpaw finished 7-7 despite a 3.84 ERA, which was good for eighth among Blue Jays Minor League hurlers. Smith fanned 95 batters in 117 innings and tossed the first complete game of his career on July 28 against West Michigan.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Drew Hutchison, Lansing (14 games), Dunedin (11 games), New Hampshire (three games): A 15th-rounder in 2009, Hutchison put himself on the map with a superb 2011 season, placing second in the organization with a 2.53 ERA. He also tied for the lead with 14 wins while losing just five times, and he paced Toronto with 171 strikeouts. Making the jump to Double-A in late August, Hutchison fired blanks in two of his three starts for the Fisher Cats. In his only playoff appearance, the 21-year-old allowed two hits over six shutout innings against Reading in New Hampshire's 1-0 Game 3 win of the Eastern League semifinals.

Reliever -- Wes Etheridge, Dunedin (46 games), New Hampshire (eight games): After parting ways with the Brewers after the 2008 season, Etheridge spent 2009 as a pastor before returning to baseball in 2010, pitching in the Golden Baseball League. Signed by Toronto last offseason, Etheridge led the organization with 33 saves, posting a 2.40 ERA and limiting Minor League batters to a .226 average in 63 2/3 innings.

"Wes is truly getting a second chance at baseball and he's definitely making the most of it," said Dunedin pitching coach Darold Knowles in June.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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