Even more so than Groundhog Day, nothing says that spring is just around the corner than Pitcher and Catchers reporting to spring training, particularly when we’re fighting through a
snowicestorm here in Toronto. On Wednesday, official spring training activities (like photos and physicals) get underway and, not only will hope spring eternal (pun intended), but some questions about how the Blue Jays will be constituted will begin to be answered. Here are my Top 5 questions.
Question 1: Where is the line for the pitching staff?
Usually, heading into camp, there is a clear line between pitchers who are almost certainly going to make the big league team and those who are destined for the minors with a few players who will be on the bubble.
This year, it seems to me that the line is particularly fuzzy with a huge number of candidates that could go either way. What really brought this home to me was Gregor Chisholm’s article at MLB.com about how the Opening Day roster might look as well as Andrew Stoeten’s column over at The Athletic.
The five pitchers slated to be in the starting rotation looks fairly set with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard all raring to go, but what if Richard is this year’s Jaime Garcia? What about (knock on wood) injuries? The Jays have a small group of pitchers with some major league experience knocking on the door including Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, Sam Gaviglio, and a number of guys waiting in the wings in the minors like Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, Julian Merryweather, Shawn Morimando and David Paulino.
While Chisholm thinks that Waguespack and Paulino will make the Opening Day bullpen, with David Phelps recovering to start the season, we may also see a big group of pitchers competing for bullpen spots four through eight with, apparently, only Ken GIles, Ryan Tepera and (probably) Joe Biagini set. With Tim Mayza (likely), Paulino, Elvis Luciano, Mark Leiter Jr. and Waguespack the early front runners, I could also see Danny Barnes back in the bigs after a good spring, and Javy Guerra in competition. The Jays have a couple of other home-grown guys like Justin Shafer and Conor Fisk who could also jump up and surprise people.
So my question is where do we draw the line? There are fewer “sure things,” in my opinion, this year than in years past.
Question 2: The Outfield
It’s more than likely that the Jays carry four outfielders, and the odds are that they’ll have Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar and Billy McKinney. But, like the pitching, the floor of that quartet is awful low with Hernandez and McKinney still being unknowns. With hitters like Hernandez (high strikeout rate, low walk rates, big power), there tends to be a time where pitchers figure them out and they start to produce diminishing returns. McKinney hasn’t played much more than a month in the majors and we still don’t know what he’s going to be. A good spring for Anthony Alford gets him closer to the starting line but I don’t think he comes to Toronto unless he plays two very good months in Buffalo. Can Dalton Pompey stick as a fourth outfielder since he’s out of options? That’s possible too although less likely than carrying McKinney. My dark horse guy is Dwight Smith Jr. but the fact that he has options hurts his case despite the fact that the Buffalo outfield is going to be very crowded (and, in my projections, there may not be a ton of DH time until after Vlad comes to Toronto).
Those are my top three candidates to stick with the big league club after spring and, right now, there aren’t a lot of guys who have shown that they’re ready to make the jump.
Question 3: Whither Vlad?
Ok, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won’t be in Toronto to start but what are we going to get from him? That’s going to be a huge question, not only to answer what we might see from the game’s top prospect (and, possibly the best prospect ever, if you ask Jim Callis of MLB.com), but to answer how the Jays are going to anchor their rebuild. I’ll leave questions about the other prospects for later but this year, is the year we get to find out about how Vlad will do in the major leagues (at least for this year).
Question 4: Infield Playing Time
No, this isn’t another question about Vladdy. This is more a question about how playing time is going to shake out at shortstop and second base throughout the season, particularly once Vlad is in Toronto. Is Lourdes Gurriel Jr. the everyday shortstop? Does he move around? Does he split time with Freddy Galvis at short, Travis at second and maybe even Teoscar in left field? Where does Brandon Drury fit in once Vlad is in Toronto? Does Drury eclipse Travis’s playing time at second? I’m actually giving myself a headache contemplating all of the possible outcomes. The fact is that the question will be answered by performance. Who hits and plays good enough defense will likely play. Galvis will be given a ton of string even if he doesn’t hit but I suspect that if Gurriel’s defense gets into the “good enough” category and he doesn’t make some of the same mental mistakes that characterized his play last year, he could usurp some playing time. If Travis hits, he’ll play more. If Drury hits, ditto.
Question 5: Does Kendrys Morales last the season?
This front office showed us this season that it’s not above eating money on contracts to free up playing time for younger players. I think that a release is a realistic outcome for Morales at some point in the season. As much as I like Kendrys and, from reading other articles, he has had a great influence on Cuban players like Lourdes Gurriel, if he’s not putting up a well-above average wRC+ or OPS+, then he’s just taking up a spot. Of course, a player has to prove himself worthy of the spot and the guy who, right now, would be the best candidate would be Rowdy Tellez, although if Dwight Smith Jr. proves himself again at the major league level, he could be a decent DH candidate a couple of times a week.
What questions do you have about the 2019 Blue Jays roster?
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