DUNEDIN, Fla.â€”Blue Jays third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor is currently on the hot corner with the rest of the players ticketed for low Class A Lansing this spring, but he isnâ€™t likely to break camp with a full-season club.
â€œWe really like what weâ€™ve seen and sometimes youâ€™d like to be aggressive, but in this case he needs more experience,â€ Blue Jays farm director Dick Scott said. â€œHeâ€™s a pretty young guy for his age, but heâ€™s not just a young guy thatâ€™s here learning the game.
â€œHeâ€™s got a pretty good foundation right now and offensively heâ€™s got to learn a lot about the game . . . but he just turned 17.â€
The Blue Jays signed Fuenmayor as a 16-year-old last August for $750,000 out of Venezuela beating at least six other clubs to the punch.
â€œHeâ€™s a project . . . heâ€™s raw, but the skills are there,â€ an international scouting director from a National League club said. â€œAnd on top of the tools, there are intangiblesâ€”heâ€™s just a great makeup guy.â€
That can easily be seen watching an extremely vocal Fuenmayor on the field with his teammates. He communicates nearly every pitch around the diamond in hopes of just improvingâ€”not so much impressing.
â€œIâ€™m here to do my job,â€ Fuenmayor said. â€œSometimes I canâ€™t believe Iâ€™m here, but Iâ€™m here to learnâ€”always a lot of learning . . . I just play every day and thatâ€™s all.â€
Fuenmayor has exceptional skills defensively, showing plus range, arm strength and reactions at third, but his offense hasnâ€™t shown up in his pre-professional debut at Torontoâ€™s minor league complex.
He struggles mightily with breaking balls, which is to be expected. After all, this is the first time heâ€™s faced pitchers in the Statesâ€”many of whom have been three, most times four or five years older.
â€œHeâ€™s got some size, heâ€™s got some power in his swing and heâ€™s a hard workerâ€”a really determined kid,â€ Scott said. â€œHe hasnâ€™t seen those (kinds of breaking balls) where heâ€™s come from, so all it comes down to is repetition.
â€œHe just needs more at-bats, more at-bats, more ground balls. Heâ€™ll be fine. Heâ€™ll be more than fine, I think.â€
LEARNING PROCESS: Jays lefthander Ricky Romero was the first pitcher chosen in the 2005 draft, but based on his Double-A numbers the 22-year-old took a step backward last season.
After missing the first month of 2006 with minor elbow stiffness, Romero went 2-1, 2.47 with a 61-14 strikeout-walk ratio in 58 innings at high Class A Dunedin last year. Toronto quickly promoted him to Double-A New Hampshire where he wasnâ€™t even close to the same pitcher: In 67 innings, Romero went 2-7, 5.08. He allowed 67 hits over that span, and struck out 41.
But the Blue Jays insist there was no dropoff in the quality of their 2005 first-rounderâ€™s stuff.
â€œHe was very good when he was here (in Dunedin),â€ high Class A Dunedin pitching coach Darold Knowles said. â€œEverything had bite. I mean everything.â€
Instead, Scott points to the missed time early last year, and the fact that the learning curve in Double-A is sometimes much earlier than anticipated.
â€œIn this day and age, players are moved so fast,â€ Scott said. â€œThe urgency to get to the big leagues from your own system is much greater than it used to be. Part of that is theyâ€™re cheaper players and you want to have your own guys there because itâ€™s still (the major league minimum of $380,000), but itâ€™s better than paying that same starter or reliever three million, five million, seven million or whatever it is.
â€œHe got bumped alongâ€”we had a lot of guysâ€”(Dustin) McGowan went through it, Josh Banks went through it . . . David Purcey . . . when youâ€™re in A ball, they chase a lot of the pitches and the numbers are inflated. And then you go to Double-A and itâ€™s kind of a little wake-up call. We can tell them they need to keep the ball down, but until they run into that itâ€™s difficult sometimes to get them to look past their successes.â€
SLEEPER: As a 40th-round pick last June, Ted Serro could easily be an afterthought in the system. But several of the Blue Jaysâ€™ brass like what theyâ€™ve seen out of the righthander from Franklin & Marshall (Pa.) College so far this spring.
â€œHeâ€™s got a real hard sinker with a good split,â€ Dunedin pitching coach Darold Knowles said. â€œHeâ€™s trying to learn a breaking ball right now, but heâ€™s been in the low 90s and keeps the ball down pretty good.â€
â€œHeâ€™s struggled with command a little bit, but his splitterâ€™s very good. He doesnâ€™t know what his ball is just yet, but itâ€™s mediocre at best right now. He calls it a slider, but itâ€™s more slurvy than anything else at this point. His stuff really reminds me a lot of (2006 16th-rounder) Chase Lirette.â€
Serro went 0-2, 3.14 in 27 innings combined between Rookie-level Pulaski, short-season Auburn and low Class A Lansing. Heâ€™s ticketed to begin the season at Lansing, though Dunedin might not be out of the realm of possibility.
PICK TO CLICK: Aside from the usual sleeper, the Blue Jays are also quick to throw that tag on shortstop Jonathan Diaz. A 12th-round pick out of North Carolina State last year, Diaz hit just .200/.245/.326 in his first 220 at-bats as a pro in Auburn last year.
â€œHe can really catch the ball at shortstop,â€ Scott said. â€œAnd his batâ€™s come along. Heâ€™s improved a lot since last instructional league. Just from the draft to instructional league (last September). Heâ€™s gotten a little bit stronger and he can really, really play shortstop. Weâ€™re looking for him to have a nice year. Heâ€™s one of my picks to click.â€
ON THE MEND: Outfielder Travis Snider put up large numbers in his pro debut last season, hitting .325/.412/.567 with 11 homers in 194 at-bats at Rookie-level Pulaski, winning Appalachian League MVP honors.
But this spring, the 2006 first-rounder has yet to build on that success, slowed by nagging oblique and lower back issues.
â€œHe needs to get on the field,â€ Scott said. â€œWeâ€™re two weeks in and it doesnâ€™t sound like much, but weâ€™d really like to get him out there working on his defense and working on his swingâ€”really just have him completely healthy because he needs the work.â€
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