The Blue Jays, like most teams, focus instructional league play on their youngest and newest players. As a result, a good amount of the most recent Draft class has been in Dunedin, Fla., in what amounts to their first real exposure to the organization.
When newly drafted players go out to make their debuts in the summer, they're largely left alone in terms of changing anything they do. Instructs is the first time the player development staff can have them all together and really start to work on things. A few of the Blue Jays' top picks were all together in Vancouver for the Northwest League's Short-Season, picking up a title along the way.
First-rounders Nate Pearson, ranked No. 7 on the Blue Jays' Top 30 Prospects list and Logan Warmoth, ranked No. 4, along with third-rounder Riley Adams (No. 16) all performed well with Vancouver and are now wrapping a bow on their first pro experience at instructs. Results are secondary during a debut, usually, but it does allow for a pretty solid foundation of confidence to be built.
"Whenever you have a player of that talent and caliber debut well, it's always promising," Blue Jays farm director Gil Kim said. "But the main goal is to acclimate them to professional baseball and the organization. The performance was an added bonus."
Kim was talking primarily about Pearson, the right-hander, but his comments work for all of the three early-round picks. Pearson was dominant with Vancouver, albeit in a brief look, finishing with a 0.90 ERA, a .106 batting average against and 26 strikeouts in 20 innings before giving up one run on four hits and a walk while striking out 14 across eight playoff frames. Now Kim and his staff are getting a real sense of what makes the junior college product tick.
"He's a guy who has a very solid routine and goes about his work trying to get better every day," Kim said. "He's been impressive. What has stood out is his accountability to those routines, how serious he approaches his work and how humble he is. He, Logan and Riley, you wouldn't think they're [early picks] because they don't carry themselves with that air."
Adams has also stood out at instructs, both at the plate and behind it. The University of San Diego standout catcher hit .305 with Vancouver and threw out 40 percent of would-be basestealers, a good sign especially since some scouts thought his defense had headed in the wrong direction in 2017.
"He's committed to improving on both sides of the ball," Kim said. "He had a good offensive year in Vancouver and we're pleased with the strides he's made behind the plate."
Kim also likes the leadership Adams is already showing, something teams always want from their backstops, and he thinks that was one of the keys to Vancouver's title run. Adams has already made some adjustments on his own, including changing his set-up at the plate. During his junior year in particular, he had a very wide stance, a la San Diego alum Kris Bryant.
"He's not as spread out as he was during the college season or when he first came here," Kim said. "They are primarily changes driven by the player, and it seems like it's working out right now."
Meanwhile, Hagen Danner, Toronto's No. 9 prospect, continues to make progress. He is the lone high schooler taken in the top three rounds by the Blue Jays, selected in the second round between Pearson and Adams. He hasn't played in any instructs games as he works his way back from a left shoulder injury that knocked him out at the end of the Gulf Coast League season. That, along with the fact that he was a two-way player in high school, has him understandably behind his draft counterparts.
"He's been gradually working into practices here," Kim said. "As a young high school draftee who is really devoting himself strictly to catching for the first time, he's getting his body acclimated to that. But he's been very good."