By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
The Toronto Blue Jays have had a fairly quiet off-season, but so, too, have a lot of other teams. With spring training this month, and pitchers and catchers reporting very soon, the Blue Jays still have major question marks with the rotation.
It is fair to say Toronto has the first four spots of the rotation locked down in Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez, with the fifth spot up in the air.
However, it isn’t even just the five spot that is a major question mark, it is who will be the six- to-10 starters who can come up if needed and start games if a starter gets hurt, which everyone knows will happen. The fifth starter appears to be Joe Biagini, but beyond him, the Blue Jays have a huge hole.
Not only do the Blue Jays not have a ton of depth, but they also have a legitimate concern in the MLB starting rotation. No one truly knows what Biagini is as a starting pitcher in the MLB and if he can do it for a full season, while Aaron Sanchez’s blister problem will be a concern for many as he barely pitched last season due to the injury.
Currently, on the 40-man roster only Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone and Taylor Guerrieri appear to be starters.
Borucki had a phenomenal season in 2017 as he moved all the way up to triple-A Buffalo, from single-A Dunedin. Borucki finished the season with a 2.93 ERA in a 150 1/3 innings spanning three levels of the minor leagues. However, Borucki won’t be someone who can come up immediately given he only has one start in triple-A to his name, and the Blue Jays may want him to pitch awhile in triple-A.
Borucki is a left-handed pitcher who throws high 80's to low 90’s who gets a lot of ground balls from his fastball. He was dominant in double-A holding hitters to a batting average of .187. While in his lone triple-a start he dominated again throwing six shutout innings.
He is one of the fastest risers through the Blue Jays system and will get an opportunity in 2018 to pitch in the MLB, but he will need more time in triple-A to continue to develop, and possibly come up and start a game or become another left-hander out of the bullpen. Whatever Toronto decides to do with Borucki it is clear he is a long-shot to start the year in the MLB and will be headed to Buffalo to start.
Pannone is another left-handed pitcher who seems destined for triple-A Buffalo to start the season. He was acquired by the Blue Jays in the Joe Smith trade at the deadline last year, and features a high 80’s fastball, with a great curveball that he has fantastic control of. However, a knock on Pannone is he only has a fastball and curveball to his name, as he is currently working on a changeup, and will need that third pitch to be an effective starter in the majors.
Even with only two pitches, Pannone dominated the minor leagues last year, as he started in class-A and ended up in double-A New Hampshire after the trade from Cleveland. Pannone pitched in 144 2/3 innings, while recording a 2.36 ERA in 25 starts. As mentioned earlier, the left-hander seems destined to start the year in triple-A Buffalo but will be insurance for the Blue Jays this season.
Guerrieri was once a promising young prospect who many thought could be a number two or three starter, however, injuries derailed his promising career and after being claimed off waivers by Toronto, Guerrieri is looking to revive his once-promising career.
Guerrieri is a right-handed pitcher who has very good control of his pitches, as in his minor league career had just 86 walks compared to 279 strikeouts. While to back that up in 2012, Guerrieri was named as having the best curveball and control in the whole Tampa Bay Rays system according to Baseball America.
Guerrieri is looking to bounce back after only pitching 9 1/3 innings last year due to an elbow injury. He is also a very good fit in Toronto given he is a ground ball pitcher which should project well at the Rogers Centre.
Out of all the pitchers mentioned, Guerrieri figures to have the best shot to head to Toronto for opening day as the fifth starter as he will be competing with Joe Biagini for that fifth starter role. If Biagini beats out Guerrieri he may find himself in the bullpen or head to triple-A and be the ace for the Bisons and would be the first one to be called up if an injury happens to a starter.
With pitchers and catchers reporting on February 14, the starting pitching depth is not a strength for the Blue Jays and Toronto should be working on adding to it. The Blue Jays should be looking for another two pitchers who will start the year in triple-A and can pitch in an emergency at the MLB level if needed.
However, the starting pitching depth is building up with the likes of Sean Reid-Foley, T.J. Zeuch and Nate Pearson as pitching prospects, but all of them are a good two-three years away if not more.
Simply, Toronto needs to add to the depth now as it is a concern entering spring training.