Saturday, April 6, 2013

Midwest League starting pitching at its early-season finest

There's a logical reason for the Captains' slow offensive starts.

Quality pitching can stall any young lineup. Especially in football weather.

Whatever happened in Dunedin, Fla., the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training home, has prepared Lansing pitchers for Midwest League play. The Lugnuts defeated the Captains, 8-1, on Saturday at Classic Park to improve to 2-1.

Lansing's starters have allowed just six hits and one run through 17 innings. Alonzo Gonzalez, a 6-foot-5 left-hander, surrendered three hits in six innings Saturday. His start followed Taylor Cole's six-inning, one-hit, no-run outing on Friday.

Teenagers Daniel Norris and Roberto Osuna highlight the Lugnuts' staff. Norris, a 19-year-old left-hander selected in the second round of last year's draft, pitched out of Lansing's bullpen in Thursday's season opener. He makes his first Midwest League start Monday at Bowling Green.

"He has a great arm," Lansing manager John Tamargo Jr. said following Saturday's game. "He did really well in spring training. He's going to be just fine."

Osuna will start Sunday's series finale against the Captains. The 18-year-old right-hander enters the season ranked as the Blue Jays' second best prospect by Baseball America. The Blue Jays purchased Osuna's rights for $1.5 million from the Mexico City Red Devils of the Mexican League in 2011. Osuna was 16 at the time.

"He's definitely a lot of fun to watch," Tamargo said. "He's experienced. He's been pitching down in Mexico beyond his years. His composure and the way he goes about his business. ...He's advanced past his age."

This might be the second straight year the Blue Jays stock Lansing's roster with solid starting pitching. Baseball America ranked three Lugnuts pitchers -- Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez and Justin Niccolino -- among the Midwest League's top 15 prospects following the 2012 season. The Blue Jays sent Syndergaard to the New York Mets as part of a trade for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.

Last year's talented trio helped Lansing produce a league-low 3.45 team ERA last season. The Lugnuts finished the regular season 82-55.

Tamargo is excited about this year's crop of pitching prospects.

"There's talent and youth and energy, and it's fun to come to the ballpark and watch them work," said Tamargo, the 2012 Midwest League manager of the year. "Watching them develop over the course of the year is going to be a lot of fun."

Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy


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