By: Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training and, aside from the “Best Shape of His Life” articles and tweets that we’ve already started to get (like this one about Pablo Sandoval and this one about Noah Syndergaard), the other trope of baseball writing is that we get this time of year is the “Questions” article.
Here at Blue Jays from Away, we’ve had our own questions that we’ve wanted the Blue Jays to answer as the winter rolls into spring.
With all the talk of Joe Biagini moving to the starting rotation at some point, the bullpen isn’t really settled, but when is it at this point in spring training? Last year we were talking about the Blue Jays’ bullpen being among the club’s strengths after the Jays traded for Drew Storen. Biagini was the question mark (the Rule 5 guy), but the rest of the pen? That was locked down. Oops.
So, like most years, the club will head into spring training with a bullpen that will likely be a work in progress as Opening Day approaches (and is passed). I won’t expect the real identity of the club’s bullpen to emerge until May or June.
At least to start the year, we’ll have Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Jason Grilli, J.P. Howell, and Aaron Loup. Joe Biagini is probably there. That gives us six out of a potential eight (the Jays have shown that they’re not afraid to carry an extra reliever in the past).
Out of options are Mike Bolsinger and Bo Schultz, both righties. I can’t see the Jays carrying both of these guys. On the bubble but with options remaining are righties Ryan Tepera, Chris Smith, Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone. Tepera has the inside track of these guys and if two of these guys make the club, I put Danny Barnes second. Glenn Sparkman is a special case because he’s this year’s “Rule 5 Guy.” Matt Dermody and Ryan Borucki are lefties with options remaining (neither is likely to make the big league club).
Among non-roster invitees, righty Gavin Floyd is the likeliest to earn a job while lefty Brett Oberholtzer has big league experience, as does Jeff Beliveau and Leonel Campos.
As is the case every year, the back of the bullpen will depend on health, contract status and performance.
2. Left field
I know, it’s been talked about to death. Who’s going to play left field? Probably a combination of Melvin Upton, Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera. You’re probably shouting “But what about Dalton Pompey?” (hi, Val!) I think Dalton’s time is coming but it won’t be the start of the year. If he does make the club it’ll be as a fifth outfielder/pinch runner but he could see playing increase if Upton and/or Carrera aren’t producing and Steven Pearce looks like he isn’t playing outfield well, but people have said that the Jays still want Pompey to play every day and, since he’s still only 24, he should be getting everyday at-bats somewhere.
3. First base
Who plays? Well, again, performance will work things out for us. Smoak, Pearce, Bautista? All three could spend an equal amount of time at the position. Bautista will only play a lot of first base if Pompey emerges and performs so well that the club needs to get his bat into the lineup while Smoak and/or Pearce are letting the offense down. This is a question that won’t likely be answered in spring training though.
4. Backup catcher
With A.J. Jimenez released, it’s down to three contenders (for now . . . minor league free agent signings are still ahead of us). Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the front runner despite only being signed to a minor-league contract. He hasn’t hit much in the past few years but is a respected “leader” on the field and in the clubhouse. Still, the Jays do have Juan Graterol on the 40-man, claimed off waivers this winter. Graterol won’t give you much, but hey, neither did Josh Thole. The final wild card in this hand is Reese McGuire. McGuire is a former top prospect whose defense has been ready for a while but his bat hasn’t developed as hoped. If he can hit a little bit, he might find his way to a job but since he doesn’t have to be on the 40-man roster until after this season, he might be a year away from that role.
The Jays have two other players invited to spring training but neither is really expected to stick at the big league level. Alex Monsalve has been an inconsistent bat but decent glove in the minors but has only played one game at the Triple-a level in his career while Mike Ohlman is known more for his bat than his glove and, while he’s been at the Double-A level for parts of three seasons, he only has 54 Triple-A games under his belt.
5. Who overreaches and who underperforms?
This is the going to be the biggest question to answer for the 2017 season and, ultimately, will make or break the Toronto Blue Jays’ playoff hopes. Are the Blue Jays able to generate enough offense without Edwin Encarnacion? That will entail strong years from Kendrys Morales and the Justin Smoak/Steven Pearce tandem. Which Troy Tulowitzki do we see? The one from the beginning of last year, or the one from the second half? Can Aaron Loup step up and deliver?
Can Jason Grilli keep up his excellent pitching from Toronto for another year? Is Russell Martin on the decline? Can Devon Travis stay healthy? Can Josh Donaldson keep performing like an MVP? Can Kevin Pillar continue to be Superman without dragging the offense down? And the big question. Is Jose Bautista going to return to form and stay healthy? Can Francisco Liriano pitch at the same level he pitched at in Toronto or is he going to give us what he gave Pittsburgh last year?
I know that question #5 is a big one that encompasses more individual questions but those are the ones that really drive the team’s chances for 2017, much more than the left field/backup catcher ones. The guys who are getting the big money need to play like they’re getting big money.
Notice that I haven’t written much about the Blue Jays’ starting rotation. I think we’ve seen that these guys are the real deal and, while of course there is plenty of room for decline (because how much room for improvement is there really, particularly with Aaron Sanchez), this group, particularly the top four of Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, have all shown that they can compete at a very high level.
So those are my questions. How about yours?