By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
It looks like the real battle for a roster spot in 2018 for the Toronto Blue Jays is going to be in the bullpen. There's an exciting core of young(ish) relievers who are poised to form the nucleus for years to come.
Aaron Loup (L)
These guys are the relative vets, guys who were either in the bullpen full-time last year or really emerged as reliable relievers. Osuna, of course, is the stud closer while Tepera and Biagini will likely bridge the gap to Osuna in the late innings or high leverage situations. Barnes could also be a late-inning guy while Loup will be the first lefty in the pen.
Of these pitchers, I think they'll all be solid in 2018 (although I'm not convinced about Loup). I really like what Tepera and Barnes can do and I think that once Biagini has focused in on coming out of the bullpen for the full season, he'll be very effective again.
The Bubble (40-man edition)
Matt Dermody (L)
Tim Mayza (L)
Guerrieri is probably not going to break camp with the club, mainly because he only pitched in two games last year. I think the Jays will send him to triple-A and he will probably be a starter there (he's started throughout his entire minor league career).
That leaves Dermody and Mayza battling with Craig Breslow (see below) for the second lefty spot. Dermody and Mayza both had their successes and failures in the major leagues last year. I give the edge to Mayza due to pure velocity but both Mayza and Dermody had trouble with right-handed hitters so if one of them can find a way to consistently get righties out, that will give him the edge.
I think Carlos Ramirez has put himself in the conversation for another big league spot. His minor league season last year, in which he didn't give up an earned run over 37 2/3 innings, was phenomenal and his major league debut was pretty impressive too. That said, with three option years left, Ramirez could very well start the year in the minors if the Jays decide to give a non-roster invitee a chance. Look for Ramirez to be a mainstay of the bullpen before the season is done but I don't think he breaks camp.
The Bubble (Non-Roster Invitees)
Craig Breslow (L)
Chad Girodo (L)
For the sake of brevity, I've only included non-roster invitees with major league experience in this list. The Blue Jays have also invited minor leaguers Andrew Case, Jose Fernandez (L), Jon Harris, Sean Reid-Foley, Jordan Romano and Justin Shafer, all of whom are on the way up but are unlikely to see the big leagues for an extended period of time this year.
The front runners for a spot out of camp are, among righties, probably Axford, Alburquerque and Petricka.
I'd suggest that McGuire is probably a very dark horse but he did have a lot of success in double-A last year as a starter and with the Reds in his big league debut. I won't write that off completely but I think the veterans looking to come back have an edge there.
Albuquerque has always walked a lot of batters but he had some success in 2017 with KC and Chicago in small sample sizes.
Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) is the sentimental favourite, being an Ontario boy and having had a couple of years as an elite closer with Milwaukee at the beginning of this decade. Still, he's 35 and far removed from those seasons and despite him saving 25 games in Colorado in 2015, he struggled with walks and had one of the highest WHIPs of his career that year. In 2017, it was just ugly for Axford as he walked 17 batters in 21 innings with Oakland, pitching to a 6.43 ERA.
Petricka also struggled in 2017, posting a 7.01 ERA in 25 2/3 innings with the White Sox. For Petricka, injuries have been his problem as he only threw eight innings in 2016. The youngest of this group of veterans on minor league contracts, Petricka has 181 major league appearances on his resume and had a 2.96 ERA in 2014 in 73 innings.
Rhiner Cruz is almost certainly on the outside looking in. He last appeared in the majors in 2013 and has been kicking around internationally since. He spent 2017 in the Braves' organization pitching in triple-A with a solid 2.84 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, striking out 63 in 50 2/3 innings.
Chris Rowley had a very promising start to his major league career but got hit fairly hard after that. Rowley's big issue is that, like Girodo (see below), he doesn't throw hard, scraping 90 mph with his fastball (MLB.com gives his sinker an average velo of 88.98 mph). For Rowley, he needs to be more fine with his command and I don't think he'll get a chance to work on that in the big leagues.
I think Breslow is the likeliest of this group to emerge from spring training with a job in Toronto. Breslow's coming off a rough 2017 spent mostly with Minnesota (5.23 ERA and 1.61 WHIP with just 18 strikeouts in 31 innings) but he was used a lot against righties and is probably a true LOOGY.
Breslow's competing with Mayza, Dermody and Girodo but I think Girodo is the odd man out. As a lefty, he's going to able to pitch in Buffalo and if he regains his touch this year, he can find his way to Toronto at some point but he's got at least three guys ahead of him on the depth chart and another non-roster invitee, Jose Fernandez, has a ton of potential and another big arm.
So what do I think the bullpen looks like to start the year? If we assume the Jays carry eight relievers I think the following pitchers are on the club:
That said, I think the leash will be short for the three non-roster pitchers and I have a feeling that at least one of them will not make it to May.
What do you think? Who do you think breaks camp with the club?
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