The 2019 Toronto Blue Jays baseball season is almost upon us and we’re getting down to the nitty gritty when it comes to the Opening Day roster. We’ve got the thoughts of the Blue Jays from Away writing staff about how the roster crunch is shaking out.
In the past couple of days, the Blue Jays optioned a few players or reassigned them to minor league camp, ending their quests to make the Opening Day Blue Jays. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Shawn Morimando were reassigned. For Bichette and Biggio, a Buffalo start to the year was always in the cards, no matter what impression they made in spring training. We’ve also been informed just today that Jonathan Davis has sprained his ankle and will be out for two to four weeks of game play. Devon Travis underwent meniscus surgery and will be out at least four to six weeks. Corey Copping was reassigned to minor league camp a few days ago and Reese McGuire and Anthony Alford were optioned to Buffalo. Finally, in what is probably top of mind for everyone (sarcasm), Mark Leiter Jr. had Tommy John surgery on March 12.
So where does that leave our roster? Guaranteed spots go to the following players.
Catchers: Danny Jansen, Luke Maile
Infielders: Kendrys Morales, Justin Smoak, Lourdes Gurriel, Freddy Galvis, Brandon Drury
Outfielders: Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar, Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney
Starters: Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki, Clayton Richard
Bullpen: Ken Giles, Tim Mayza, Joe Biagini, Ryan Tepera
So who’s left? With these “guarantees,” there are still five spots to be decided, likely one position player and four pitchers. The position player battle is going to be one of Dalton Pompey, Richard Urena or Eric Sogard. Sogard would need a roster spot (that could be created by putting Devon Travis on the 60-day IL). I’m really torn on who’s going to get this roster spot. Sentimentally, I’d love to see Dalton Pompey with the job. That said, with the injuries on the infield, it’s likely to be an infielder and that makes things complicated. I think both Urena and Sogard have played well but I think that Sogard’s veteran approach, particularly at the plate, is a known commodity. I have issues with Urena’s tendency to take plays off and I saw him completely miss a ball when playing third base at one of the games I attended.
For the relievers, there’s still Elvis Luciano, the Blue Jays’ Rule-5 pick, Sam Gaviglio, Bud Norris, Trent Thornton, Thomas Pannone, David Paulino and John Axford. My money is on Luciano, Gaviglio, Norris and Axford, the latter two would need 40-man roster spots opened up. I think those are the best choices. Paulino hasn’t been great and Pannone needs to keep polishing his command and figure out how to keep the ball in the ballpark. Thornton, according to some, has looked really good but the Blue Jays want to see if they can keep him in the rotation as starting depth that they’ll likely need.
We also have to keep in mind that David Phelps is working his way back from surgery and Clay Buchholz is going to be returning (but neither will need a 40-man roster spot) within a month of the season starting, giving the Jays a little extra time to see if Richard will stick in the rotation and if Luciano will stick in the major leagues.
But now, we’ll give you the thoughts of some of our other writers. Here’s Emily:
It’s no secret that I love Joe Biagini, so I’m very happy for him to have made the team. I think he’s capable of better than his numbers from last year would indicate. I’m hoping John Axford makes the team too, but other than that I don’t have many thoughts. I generally don’t pay a lot of attention to relievers in spring training; there are just too many to keep track of!
Ryan Borucki was one of my favourite parts of the end of last season. I’m thrilled he’s made the team already, and hope he gets a chance to stick around in the rotation instead of getting bumped by one of the veteran guys on one-year contracts. I’m intrigued by Billy McKinney, considering we didn’t see a whole lot of him last year, and I think he makes sense for the fourth outfield option, especially if they’re planning to use him at first base. As for the third outfielder (Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk are a given), they seem really determined to hold on to Dalton Pompey… so maybe Teoscar Hernandez will be going down to Triple-A? I believe he still has options, and Pompey does not. I don’t know how much stock you put in spring training numbers, but Hernandez has been killing it this spring.
As for Anthony Alford, I definitely believe what Montoyo said, he’d be my next callup if any of the outfielders get injured or start struggling, especially since Jonathan Davis is hurt and Dwight Smith Jr. is gone.
Reese McGuire might come back up to the majors this year, but I can’t see that happening unless one of the other catchers is injured, or Luke Maile gets traded. It just doesn’t make sense to have three catchers right now. I love Rowdy Tellez and he’s had a decent spring, but he probably starts the year in Buffalo. I can’t see where he would fit with Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales taking up the first baseman and DH spots, and McKinney as the backup first baseman.
Devon Travis is hurt again (and I’m sad about it!) but that opens up the crowded infield somewhat. I wouldn’t be shocked if Richard Urena came north with the team, but I’d be surprised if he was still here after Vlad Jr.’s debut. Smoak, Brandon Drury, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Freddy Galvis would make up the rest of the infield.
And here’s what Wesley James had to say:
If he’s not every Toronto fans’ new favourite player, he’s a close second. Anthony Alford had an impressive spring before being sent down to minor league camp earlier this week. He hit .242/.342/.636 with four home runs and a .978 OPS. He won’t start the season with the Jays but if he hits in Buffalo to start the season it will be hard to leave him south of the border eating Buffalo wings for starvation wages for long. Especially with so many open questions in Toronto’s outfield.
It seems that at least once a year there’s some sort of “is Teoscar Hernandez actually this good” article. Perhaps this is too soon for that question because he’s certainly not going to hit .405/.563/.514 over a full season as he’s done so far in spring training. Despite his good numbers, Hernandez has only hit one home run and one double. That’s a lot of singles for someone with his power. But If Hernandez can walk more and play something resembling average defence they Jays might start to move away from the planned platoon in left. Otherwise, If Morales is moved or hurt I would expect Hernandez at DH and Alford to get called up and get a longer look.
And then there’s Billy McKinney. So far this spring he’s hit .265/.405/.471 with two home runs, a double, and an .875 OPS in 43 plate appearances. He didn’t hit poorly last year and while he was an upgrade defensively over Hernandez, well, that’s not saying much. I don’t think Pompey is going to make this team after starting hot and then cooling off somewhat and I think Pillar will be moved at some point. By the the end of the season if things are going well I’d like to see Grichuk in centrefield, Alford in right, a defensively improved Hernandez in right, and McKinney on the bench.
With Devon Travis hurt the only Short term question about the infield positions is who will take the coveted utility infielder spot. Not since the great Goins/Barney fight of 2017 have two titans put so much on the line as Eric Sogard and Richard Urena have done this spring. Because Urena is already on the 40-man and had a much better spring, I would expect this job to go to him. Problem solved. When Travis comes back and Vladimir is called up things will get a little more cozy but for now I think it’s Urena. Tellez could also make the infield conversation even more interesting if he continues to hit well with Buffalo in April.
Joe Biagini and Tim Mayza are both making the team this year. Not surprising. The most interesting question is do the Jays like rule 5 draftee Elvis Luciano’s potential enough to keep him around. The answer despite some gaudy numbers might be yes. In 6.2 innings this spring he’s allowed eight earned runs, five walks, two home runs with a 10.8 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP. He’s also a teenager who has never pitched above rookie ball and had a 3.9 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP over 67 innings. Atkins loves his mechanics and sees his acquisition as a unique opportunity, which is Atkins speak for, well, most opportunities. Don’t be surprised if he’s still around opening day. My opening day bullpen looks like this: Joe Biagini, Tim Mayza, Ken Giles, Trent Thornton, Elvis Luciano, Ryan Tepera, Bud Norris.
Mack Longpre weighed in too:
C: Danny Jansen
1B: Justin Smoak
2B: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
3B: Brandon Drury
SS: Freddy Galvis
LF: Teoscar Hernandez
CF: Kevin Pillar
RF: Randal Grichuk
DH: Kendrys Morales
C: Luke Maile
OF/1B: Billy McKinney
IF: Richard Urena
Most of these positions have been set in stone for some time. The decisions around the infield have unfortunately been made easier by injuries to Devon Travis and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (who wasn’t going to start the season in Toronto either way). The outfield spots have essentially been finalized in the last few days, as Billy McKinney has officially made the opening day roster. I also don’t think there’s much debate around the starting rotation. However, as with most teams around this time, the bullpen is the last contingent to take form. Biagini, Giles, Mayza, Tepera, and Luciano are all locks at this point. I like Gaviglio and Thornton as candidates to make the roster. Gaviglio has starting and bullpen experience, and will be valuable in a multiple-innings role out of the pen. As for Trent Thornton, he has twelve strikeouts over 11.1 innings this spring. I like him over a lot of the other eighth-man-out-of-the-bullpen arms on the active roster. Like it or not, I’m pretty sure Bud Norris makes this team. To be fair, it’s worth giving him a shot. He’s a veteran, he’s not starting anymore, and he had a decent year out of the bullpen for the Cardinals last year. The Blue Jays may get a passable year of 6th, 7th 8th-inning work out of him this year.
Some players to consider are the players currently rehabbing from injuries who will likely make the team as soon as they’re healthy. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., David Phelps, Devon Travis, and Clay Bucholz are all in line to take spots on the 25-man roster. Who they replace will be up for debate when the time comes. Aside from Vlad, I’m most excited to get Phelps onto this team. I think his numbers and experience will vastly improve the Jays’ bullpen. Along with the injured list, there are also a number of players who will start in Buffalo who are banging on the Blue Jays’ door. Bo Bichette, Sean Reid-Foley, Rowdy Tellez, Dalton Pompey, and Anthony Alford have all had tremendous springs (particularly Bichette…yikes). If any player on the 25-man roster falters for an extended period, any one of these five could indeed be given an opportunity to stick with the big club.
First in line for promotion:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Finally, I’d like to take a stab at the Opening Day lineup.
Ahem. Here goes:
RF: Randal Grichuk (R)
2B: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)
1B: Justin Smoak (S)
LF: Teoscar Hernandez (R)
DH: Kendrys Morales (S)
3B: Brandon Drury (R)
C: Danny Jansen (R)
CF: Kevin Pillar (R)
SS: Freddy Galvis (S)
P: Marcus Stroman
That’s it from us, but what do you think about the 2019 roster? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
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