We’re still waiting for a response to an email that has been sent to the Blue Jays, but a source in Canberra indicated that Toronto will be sending none of their minor league players to the Australian Baseball League, which begins play in mid-November.
There are likely a couple of reasons for this development. The Blue Jays have not seen a great deal of return on their investment over the past couple of seasons, as the players they’ve sent have not played major roles. IF Jason Leblebijian, who played the last two seasons at Buffalo, was the 2015-16 ABL MVP. The season prior to that, the team sent two-way star Anthony Alford down under after he had given up on his college football commitment in September of 2014. Football limited him to just over 100 PAs in his first three pro summers after being drafted in 2012, so the Jays sent Alford to Australia to make up for that lost development time. Even though their ABL affiliate Canberra made it to the league finals last year, Blue Jays prospects played only a minor part.
From Canberra’s perspective, they likely wanted some more experienced players as the sport fights for atttention in Australia’s crowded sports landscape. Toronto tended to send players from A ball who needed reps, but the competition level of the ABL is probably closer to AA. This month, Canberra signed four players from the Yokohoma Bay Stars of the Japanese Central League, a clear indication that they wanted to upgrade the talent level on their team.
The Cavalry were born in 2009 as part of the latest version of the ABL. The league has had its difficulties over the past few seasons, as MLB did not renew its original agreement with the league. Teams have had to struggle to stay afloat and attract players, but most have been able to obtain local corporate support to continue to operate. The Blue Jays have sent a number of players to Australia beginning with the 2011 season when they sent three players, including C Jack Murphy, whose status in the ABL could best be described as legendary. New Westminster, BC native Mike Crouse, who the Blue Jays took in the 16th round of the 2008 draft, spent the 2013-14 season with the Cavs, and will be returning to their lineup again this year after spending the 2018 season in the Mexican League.
Canberra also have a partnership with the San Diego Padres, who are said to be sending four players south. The Cavalry open their 2017-18 season against Sydney on November 10th. The league has expanded from six to eight teams this year, adding an Australia-based Korean team who will use this experience as winter training, and a team from Auckland, NZ. Teams play a 40 game schedule, with post-season play wrapping up by the end of January.
A response from the Blue Jays simply stated that the team will not be sending any prospects to Australia this year. There were no reasons given, nor was there any indication that they will be sent in the future.
This seems to give credibility to the notion that maybe both sides are ready to move on. Canberra has been active in acquiring players to fill out their roster, rather than wait for MLB prospects to come on board a few weeks before the season started.