Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
We’re on the cusp of February, which means that though we’re nearly through the long cold desert that is winter. We’ll soon have warm thoughts and warm reports and warm images from the Grapefruit League to get us dreaming again about those days when we’ll actually want to leave the house.
Thing is, though, the opening of Spring Training is inevitably more exciting in concept than it is in practice. It’s a mirage — an illusion we let ourselves be tricked by. “Oh look, guys dicking around a baseball field.” The reality is that Spring Training is painfully dull, and even by the time pitchers and catchers report, we’ll still have several weeks of shitty, bloody, blood-shitty winter to endure.
But the other thing is… maybe not this year?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still going to be ass cold for a while, but for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, Spring Training 2017 is not going to be short on intriguing things to watch. A quick scan of the club’s current 40-man roster, and their list of non-roster invitees, reveals this pretty quickly.
Here are the seven players I’m going to paying the closest attention to…
As their roster currently stands, the best case scenario for the Jays in left field is for Dalton Pompey to come out firing on all cylinders, especially against right-handed pitching. The bar to become Melvin Upton’s platoon partner is not set very high: Ezequiel Carrera had an ugly 71 wRC+ against right-handers in 2016, and his career mark is just 78 over 746 plate appearances in the split. Plus, it’s not like Steve Pearce will get too much consideration to platoon with Upton, given that he’ll be needed to take at-bats away from Justin Smoak. Speaking of which…
It’s a real long shot, if not an outright impossibility, that Rowdy Tellez could actually come north with the Blue Jays, but the possibility is certainly there for him to make things uncomfortable for the Jays and their weird Justin Smoak thing. The Ghost of Gabe Gross would be quick to remind us that even if Tellez looks the part in March, it’s probably not to be believed just yet (if at all), but that doesn’t mean the Jays won’t have to take a bunch of shit for demoting him, if that’s how this all plays out. And honestly? If Tellez does well enough to create such a situation, it would be a hell of a problem for the Jays to have.
The Jays hardly paid superstar money to land the 23-year-old from Cuba’s baseball royal family, but their $22 million, seven-year investment isn’t nothing. Word is that Gurriel will start at Double-A as a shortstop, but he could potentially make it to the big leagues quickly — though more likely as a corner outfielder. The big question, however, is how he’s going to fare against live pitching. The Jays obviously liked what they saw of him when he was showcased last fall, but Gurriel’s last season of Cuban pro ball was 2015. He’s not going to win a job in the majors this spring, but it should be interesting to see what’s really there.
I mentioned this in yesterday’s Duce, but Keith Law noted in his top prospects list for the Jays that Borucki — a left-handed pitcher — was added to the club’s 40-man this fall because otherwise he’d have been exposed in the Rule Five draft and taken. Does the fact that another team might have tried to stash him in their bullpen all year mean that the Jays should already be consigning him to a future in the bullpen themselves? No. And, in fact, in Chris Crawford’s excellent prospect guide for the AL East, he says that “the stuff and command just might be good enough to start someday.” But for a team that’s lacking left-handed options out of the bullpen, a guy who is already on the 40-man, has had trouble staying healthy as a starter, and has “two pitches that flash plus in his arsenal; a low 90s fastball that touches 94 with some sink, and a change that comes from the same arm speed with tumble,” is certainly intriguing. Especially if the fastball plays up, and if his third pitch, “a below-average slider that needs refinement,” comes around.
On the surface it didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense when we heard last week that someone supposedly in the know thinks that the Jays are hoping McGuire takes the ball and runs with the backup catcher spot for the Jays — especially coming, as it did, after they had added Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a minor league deal (which is still not yet official) — but it certainly vaulted him into the category of a player to watch this spring. Maybe he should have been anyway, as Crawford says he’ll be an everyday player regardless of his complete and total inability to hit. His defence is just that good. “He has a cannon of an arm; easily plus-plus and flashing 80 because of his quick release. He’s a solid receiver, does a good job of keeping balls in front of him and is learning how to frame,” we’re told. I have no idea why we should think he’s a finished-enough product to be rushed onto a big league bench, or why anybody would think making him a backup already would be good for the development of a bat that could make him something genuinely special if he found anything in it at all, but that doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario anyway.
“There are obvious flaws in his game, but those flaws can be easily masked by a good hit tool. Ramirez has a very good hit tool,” writes Crawford, who calls Ramirez the better prospect the Jays received in the Francisco Liriano deal (ranking 9th to McGuire’s 11th in the system). One flaw is a surprising lack of power for a corner outfielder, and another is the inability to take a walk, but Chris isn’t wrong that Ramirez has hit everywhere he’s gone. Even though he’s yet to play above Double-A, he’s a dark horse to break into the left field conversation, I think. Yeah, he’s a right handed-batter but he’s been better against same-sided pitching in each of the last two seasons in the minors, and (again) it ain’t like the bar is set very high.
Though he’s not listed among the non-roster invitees and is not yet on the 40-man, during Spring Training I’m preeeeeeeetty sure you’ll sometimes see players from minor league camp show up to fill in roster spots for games, even if they’re not on the 40-man or an NRI. Might the budding superstar show up at some point this spring? Bringing him to the exhibition games in Montréal could be a fun idea. Though just letting him do his thing like a regular 18-year-old prospect works too. Either way, there will be no shortage of reporters riding over to the Mattick Complex to have a look.