Starter Joe Biagini or reliever Joe Biagini?

Joe Biagini fields a comebacker. Photo: Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports.

Joe Biagini fields a comebacker. Photo: Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports.

By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Shortly before Joe Biagini was scheduled to make his first appearance of the spring, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters not to read too far into the fact that the 26-year-old righty was starting Toronto’s Grapefruit League home opener. 

Of the many noteworthy items around camp this spring, one of the most intriguing story lines involves the former Rule-5 selection and whether he will start the 2017 season in the Blue Jays bullpen, or as a member the Bisons starting rotation.

“It’s something that we’re playing with because I think everyone’s intrigued about what he can do as a starter,” said Gibbons. “Right now he’s so valuable to us in the bullpen, so we’re just going to play with it a little bit.”

Having never appeared above the double-A level prior to 2016, Biagini pitched to an ERA of 3.06 with 62 strikeouts against only 19 walks during his rookie campaign as a reliever with the Blue Jays last season.

“He established himself last year” added Gibbons. “ He’s on the team. The idea down here is to stretch him out a few innings more. We’re not going to get carried away and stretch him out too far unless an injury should occur to one of the five guys (in the starting rotation).”

With a repertoire that includes both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, in addition to a 12/6 curveball and a steadily developing changeup, there’s no doubt that Biagini has the stuff to start games in the big leagues. In fact, all but three of his 89 career minor league appearances came out of a starting rotation.

His 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame and pitch heavy arsenal helped Biagini throw multiple high-leverage innings in 2016 en route to posting an impressive ground-ball rate of 52.5% and allowing only three home runs on the year, the first of which came in his 50th appearance on September 3rd.

Biagini’s dominant first-year showing, coupled with the recent addition of veteran right-hander Mat Latos, has the Blue Jays brass contemplating their decision on the hard-throwing righty. 

Signed to a minor-league deal earlier this month, the 29-year-old Latos could conceivably compete for that same spot in the Blue Jays bullpen this spring. 

“(Latos) is going to go out there and get his work in,” Gibbons said. “It’s not like he’s a young kid that has to go and prove anything right out of the gate. You look at his history and he’s been one of the better pitchers out there.”

Although he’s on a minors pact, there’s still a potential hang up for Toronto as Latos’ deal comes with a pair of opt-outs, one of which can be exercised at the end of spring training. This means that the former National League Cy Young candidate could seek a major league job elsewhere should the team view him as more of a depth piece when finalizing their big league roster.

As for Biagini, he has options and can be dispatched to the minor leagues without consequence.

Both hurlers saw action in Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. 

Biagini worked 1 2/3 inningss while racking up three strikeouts and a walk. Although a pair of his base runners scored, both runs were unearned due in part to some shaky glove work from Richard Urena, who celebrated his 21st birthday by going 1-for-2 with two errors and was forced to leave the game with a minor leg injury on Sunday.

Latos fired a pair of frames while striking out two, walking one and allowing three hits, one of which -a 2-2 fastball to Andres Blanco - left the yard. 

Having now dropped their first four exhibition contests, the Blue Jays resume Grapefruit League action on Tuesday with a 1:05 PM game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton.

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Andrew Hendriks

Born in southern Ontario during the late 1980's, Hendriks had a front row seat to watch the Blue Jays reach the pinnacle in '92/'93 as a child, an experience that only bolstered this Canadian's love for the "American Game." Having played since before his memory allows access too, his passion for Baseball grew over years of emulating his heroes on the local sandlots, memorizing the backs of chewing gum scented cards and travelling across North America to experience as many aspects of the game as possible. In 2009, Hendriks began volunteering at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a Weekend Tour Guide. By 2010, he was hired on to help curate for the museum & Instruct the fundamentals of the game along side such legends as Tony Fernandez, Roberto Alomar and Jim Fanning during the Hall's annual Kids On Deck program. Following the 2011 season, Hendriks began blogging and co-hosting a weekly podcast for www.BackInBlue.ca, a Blue Jays themed website ran by fans, for fans. Looking to continue connecting with baseball fans across the country, Hendriks is excited to join such a strong team at the Canadian Baseball Network and looks forward to chipping in.