1
Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of bullpen spots up in the air

I think we have a very good idea of how Toronto’s position players and starting rotation is going to shake out this year. The one place that’s totally up in the air, though, is the bullpen. According to Ben Nicholson-Smith, Charlie Montoyo has identified three guys (four if one guys is healthy) who have jobs in Toronto’s bullpen, while the rest are open for competition between a fairly large group of contestants.

As Nicholson-Smith said, three of those are already accounted for. Ken Giles will be the team’s closer, Ryan Tepera, the longest tenured arm of the group, will presumably be the set-up guy, and Tim Mayza, who has been up and down from Toronto to Buffalo over the past couple years, will be the primary lefty. There’s also veteran David Phelps, who may or may not be ready for the beginning of the season as he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery.

With players like Lourdes Gurriel and Brandon Drury who offer a lot of positional versatility (very, very likely) on the roster, the Jays could opt to roll with eight relievers to start the season. Let’s say the Jays roll with eight relievers and Phelps isn’t ready at the end of March. Who could we see crack the roster?

I assume that veteran John Axford has an inside track on one of those jobs. Axford was decent for the Jays last season, tossing 51 innings while striking out 8.8 and walking 3.5 batters per nine. He would serve as a depth arm and veteran presence who sits out in the bullpen and drinks black coffee and tells stories, and there’s definitely a lot of value for that kind of player on a staff with so many young arms.

Elvis Luciano is another guy with an inside track on a job in the bullpen. Despite the fact he just turned 19 and hasn’t tossed a pitch above rookie league, the Jays need to keep Luciano on the 25-man roster for the entirety of the season and he can’t spend more than 90 days on the disabled list. I have a feeling the Jays will use those 90 DL days to dance around actually having to use Luciano for the entire season.

After that, it’s anybody’s guess, really.

Toronto’s starting rotation, barring injury will include Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker, and Clayton Richard. Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, and T.J. Zeuch will be behind them in Triple-A pushing for call-ups. Trent Thornton and Jacob Waguespack could be used in Buffalo as starters or they could be vying for bullpen roles. Same goes for Sam “Sammy G” Gaviglio, a guy who saw a lot of starts last year thanks to a decimated Jays rotation but probably serves better as a long-reliever.

Other pitching prospects on the 40-man roster include Yennsy Diaz, Patrick Murphy, Hector Perez, and David Paulino. Diaz, Murphy, and Perez have yet to reach the Triple-A level, so you can probably count them out. Paulino saw seven relief appearances with the Jays last September, but has mostly been a starter otherwise in his career.

Joe Biagini and Danny Barnes have kind of fallen down the depth chart over the past couple years. Biagini hasn’t really been effective since his excellent 2016 season. He was jerked around in 2017 and 2018 as the organization tired to stretch him out into a starter, but it’s pretty obvious that experiment has failed. Barnes was designated for assignment in the off-season and isn’t currently on the 40-man roster. Some more names not on the 40-man who could be in the mix are Mark Leiter, Justin Shafer, and knuckleballer Ryan Feierbrand.

Soooo… yeah! It’ll be an interesting thing to follow. If I had to venture a guess, I imagine the Jays will begin the season giving opportunities to veteran arms so they can bring along their younger arms slowly in the system. That’ll give the prospects a chance to thrive in the minors and push their way onto the team rather than starting with the big club and fizzling out.

My guess is we see, barring injury, Giles, Tepera, Mayza, Axford, Biagini, Luciano, and Gaviglio crack the team at the end of March, while Phelps would be there if he’s healthy. If Phelps isn’t healthy, and the Jays do decide to go with eight arms, I imagine a veteran like Leiter or Feierbrand could have inside track.

But then again, I don’t know anything. What would you do?