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Officially, it's called a player development contract. And that's primarily what the minor league system is for - to develop future major league baseball players.

But from the Toronto Blue Jays' perspective, players need to develop more than skills in hitting, pitching and fielding. They need to learn how to win.

During the past few seasons, the Blue Jays have put effort into developing not just players but their minor league system. For Buffalo Bisons fans, that translates into a commitment from the parent club to put a winning team in Coca-Cola Field.

"We are trying to develop our players, but we're trying to develop winning players," said Charlie Wilson, the Blue Jays' director of minor league operations. "We want players that are fundamentally sound but that play championship baseball. That's the Blue Jay way.

"Part of our mission statement is to create a winning environment. We want players that are going to graduate to the major league level who know how to win, they want to win, they plan to win every night. Being in a culture where they're playing on winning teams and playing in meaningful games late in August and September and into the playoffs is of paramount importance to us."

This year, the Blue Jays system was ranked as the third best by ESPN.com and fifth best by Baseball America.

While Las Vegas did not make the Pacific Coast League playoffs this year, the team did break out with a winning season, going 79-64, ending an 11-year losing streak for the Blue Jays in Triple-A.

Double-A New Hampshire won the Eastern League championship last year and its four Class A affiliates went 235-177 in 2012.

"This year we had a very good year," Wilson said. "We had a tough start in Las Vegas but went on to win 79 games and I think if the season was a week or 10 days longer, we'd be in the playoffs. I think we're on the right track. You've got to give a lot of kudos to our amateur scouting and pro scouting departments because they're starting to really rebuild our farm system.

"We had three teams in the playoffs . Last year we had five minor league clubs in the playoffs, three of them went to the finals and two of them won a championship, one in Double-A and one in the Northwest League Short-A. So it is a winning culture that is developing through the system.

The Blue Jays have seven players on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, including catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who ranks No. 12.

He played only half a season at Triple-A this year after tearing the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee in June. Wilson said d'Arnaud is going through rehabilitation at home with the goal for him to be ready for spring training.

He could fight for a spot with Toronto, otherwise he may start the season in Buffalo.





email: amoritz@buffnews.com