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Getting to know the 50 guys coming to Blue Jays spring training (Part 1 – Pitchers)

Pitchers and catchers! They’re reporting in under a week! Baseball games! They’re being played in like two weeks! Holy hell!

The Blue Jays will have 50 guys at spring training this year, everyone from their 40-man roster and 10 other non-roster invitees. I’m so bored so excited that winter is almost over and baseball is around the corner that I’m going to introduce you to all 50 of those players.

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We’ll also see a handful of prospects make their way into games, but they’ll be attending Toronto’s minor league spring training, so I’ll just focus on the 50 guys who could feasibly break camp and travel north with the club.

Anyways, here they all are. No, not all of them at once, you lunatic. Here are the pitchers. I’ll go through the position players later.

RHP Chase Anderson: Toronto’s first major acquisition of the off-season, Anderson was picked up as a salary dump from the Milwaukee Brewers. Even if he doesn’t rebound from his mediocre season in which he posted a 4.21 ERA over 139 innings, Anderson is a nice depth addition to Toronto’s starting rotation.

Non-roster RHP Phillippe Aumont: Here’s some Canadian Content for you. Aumont is a nice feel-good story as he earned a minor-league deal with the Jays after a good 2019 season pitching in Indy Ball in Ottawa. The 31-year-old Aumont has a boatload of experience and figures to be a veteran mentor for Toronto’s young arms in Buffalo.

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RHP Anthony Bass: A waiver claim from the Seattle Mariners, Bass was the first addition of the off-season. He was a journeyman starter who converted to the bullpen a couple of years ago and has posted pretty good numbers sense. Between 2018 and 2019, Bass posted a 3.41 ERA in 63 1/3 Major League innings while striking out 8.1 and walking 2.8 per nine. Bass With a wide-open bullpen, the hard-throwing sinkerballer could be a hidden gem.

LHP Ryan Borucki: After putting together a breakout season that was perhaps the top bright spot of an otherwise miserable 2018 season, Borucki had virtually his entire sophomore season derailed due to injury. Borucki pitched just 24 2/3 innings between Toronto and Buffalo last year and will be competing with Trent Thornton and Shun Yamaguchi, and perhaps others for Toronto’s No. 5 starter gig.

Non-roster RHP A.J. Cole: It’s honestly pretty shocking Cole was only able to net himself a minor-league deal after the 2019 season he had. Cole tossed 26.0 innings for Cleveland, posting a 3.81 ERA while striking out 10.4 and walking just 2.8 batters per nine. He doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man, but it’s a pretty good bet he’ll have one by the time the season starts.

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RHP Yennsy Diaz: A middling starter prospect who has put up good-not-great numbers the past couple of years, Diaz could likely be shifted to the bullpen this year due to Toronto’s logjam of starters at Triple-A. Diaz posted a 3.74 ERA over 144 1/3 innings in Double-A last year, but his 7.2 strikeouts to 3.3 walks per nine weren’t inspiring.

Non-roster (???) RHP Rafael Dolis: I think Dolis is a Blue Jay? The Jays reportedly signed him last week, but there hasn’t been anything else about it being official nor has anyone been removed from the 40-man roster in a corresponding move. Anyways, Dolis has posted some impressive numbers as a reliever in Japan the past few seasons, so he could be another sneaky addition to Toronto’s bullpen.

Non-roster RHP Ryan Dull: After being non-tendered, Dull earned himself a minor-league deal and an invite to spring training later on in the off-season. His brilliant 2016 season in Oakland seems like ages ago as Dull posted a 12.79 ERA between three Major League teams last season. Still, there’s upside there, so there’s nothing wrong with taking a risk.

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RHP Wilmer Font: If there’s one thing this front office does well, it’s finding random, good relievers out of the bargain-bin. Wilmer Font was purchased from the Mets in July and ended up becoming Toronto’s best bullpen arm not named Ken Giles. Over 39 1/3 innings for the Jays, Font struck out an eye-popping 12.1 batters per nine. A role at the back (or, perhaps, the front if they keep using the opener strategy) of Toronto’s ‘pen is his to lose.

RHP Sam Gaviglio: After spending 2018 as a starter for the Blue Jays, Sam Gaviglio rightfully moved into a long-man out of the bullpen gig for the team in 2019. Gaviglio has a seemingly rubber arm as he pitched a whopping 95 2/3 innings in relief last year. With a much stronger starting rotation, the mop-up duty should be cut down to a manageable amount for Sammy G this year.

RHP Ken Giles: The off-season is nearly here and Ken Giles is still a Blue Jay. The only thing, I imagine, that’ll stop him from getting dealt come trade deadline time is the Jays massively overperforming expectations.

RHP Thomas Hatch: The starter that came back from the Cubs in the David Phelps trade, Hatch pitched well enough in Double-A to force his way onto the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft. Hatch posted a sparkling 2.80 ERA over 35 1/3 innings for New Hampshire and boasts a fastball with a lot of spin on it. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in Buffalo, if there’s room for him there.

LHP Anthony Kay: Part of the return in the Marcus Stroman trade, Kay had a great showing in Buffalo and earned himself a September call-up to the big league club. He had one good start, one bad start, and a solid four-inning relief appearance in Toronto and will be one of many arms competing in Buffalo for an opportunity.

RHP Elvis Luciano: Last year’s sneaky Rule 5 grab from Kansas City, Luciano fulfilled his obligation on the Blue Jays” Major League roster last season and can now be optioned to the minors. He jumped from rookie ball to the Majors so he could be starting as low as Single-A Dunedin this year. It’ll be interesting to see.

RHP Julian Merryweather: Is he even a real person? Honestly, it’s hard to say at this point. The infamous Josh Donaldson return has pitched just six innings over the past two seasons. It’s difficult to say if Merryweather will continue as a starter as he did in the Arizona Fall League or if he’ll be transitioned to the ‘pen, but, now at the age of 28, he needs to show something this year. More injury trouble or a poor showing could put his spot on the 40-man at risk.

Non-roster RHP Justin Miller: The journeyman reliever Miller has bounced around throughout his career but posted back-to-back solid seasons for the Washington Nationals in 2018 and 2019. Over 68 innings for the Nationals, Miller struck out 9.4 batters while walking 2.8 per nine. Miller is yet another intriguing zero-risk arm coming to spring training.

RHP Patrick Murphy: The 4.71 ERA produced in Double-A by Murphy last season doesn’t really do his talent as a prospect justice. Murphy was told his delivery was against the rules and he had to go back to the drawing board to change it, resulting in some pretty ugly results. Hopefully, he can get back on track this season as he has some of the best stuff in the system.

LHP Thomas Pannone: Pannone has put up some good numbers in Triple-A for the Jays, but it hasn’t yet translated to the Majors. At this point, it seems Pannone might be best served as a lefty out of the ‘pen, which was mostly his role last season. Of Pannone’s 37 Major League appearances in 2019, 30 were as a reliever. He had a 3.54 ERA as a reliever vs an 11.31 ERA as a starter.

RHP Hector Perez: After a mediocre season in Double-A, Perez finds himself in a similar position to fellow Fisher Cat Yennsy Diaz as a prospect who could be converted to the bullpen. Over 121 1/3 innings in Double-A last year, Perez walked 5.0 batters per nine, which is worrying. Command has always been an issue for Perez, so it might be time for a change.

RHP Sean Reid-Foley: Yet another name we’ve talked about as possibly transitioning to the ‘pen, it seems SRF will get another shot as a starter. The fireballer had a rough time in 2019 in both Toronto and Buffalo mostly due to his lack of command. He’s a fireballer with an interesting mix of pitches that could profile as a closer. It’s just a matter of how long the Jays want to keep trying him as a starter at this point.

RHP Tanner Roark: An off-season signing, Roark brings Toronto’s rotation some much-needed veteran stability. He isn’t spectacular by any stretch, but he logs innings year after year. After watching Edwin Jackson serve batting practice last year more than once, I’m fine with that.

RHP Jordan Romano: We’ve talked a lot about guys who might get converted to relievers this year, so here’s one that already has been. The hard-throwing Romany got claimed in the Rule 5 draft but ended up being given back to the Blue Jays, so they turned him into a reliever in Triple-A where he struck out a ridiculous 12.3 batters per nine.

LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu: The free-agent splash everyone was waiting for. The Blue Jays signed one of the best starters in baseball over the past couple of seasons in December to a four-year deal, immediately giving the team the ace it so badly needed. Ryu has posted a 2.21 ERA between 2018 and 2019. Everyone knows he’s good. All it comes down to for him is staying healthy.

LHP Matt Shoemaker: Though he only made five starts for the Jays last season, Shoemaker did enough to warrant another contract. In those five starts, Shoemaker was dominant, posting a 1.57 ERA before suffering a season-ending injury while running a guy down on the bases. A spot in the rotation is his to lose as the only thing holding him back is his ability to stay healthy.

RHP Trent Thornton: Thanks to injuries to other pitchers, Thronton was given an opportunity in his first season with the organization and he capitalized on it, posting a 4.84 ERA over 29 starts. You have to assume that he has the inside track to Toronto’s No. 5 starter gig at this point.

RHP Jacob Waguespack: Another pleasant surprise from last season, Waguespack posted a 4.38 ERA across 16 appearances (13 starts) for the Blue Jays last year. The question now is whether he goes back down to Buffalo to keep working as a starter or if he competes for a job as a long-guy out of the bullpen.

RHP Shun Yamaguchi: After a brilliant season in Japan in which he posted a 2.91 ERA over 170 innings, Yamaguchi earned a two-year deal worth over $6 million. Yamaguchi has been a starter and closer throughout his career, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s used in Toronto.

T.J. Zeuch: Toronto’s first-round pick in 2016, Zeuch made his Major League debut in September after a nice season with Triple-A Buffalo. The highlights for Zeuch was his no-hitter, but he also posted a solid 3.74 ERA over 15 starts, though his 5.3 strikeouts per nine is concerning. Zeuch seems destined for another year at Triple-A, buried behind guys with higher upside.

What does it all mean?

Barring injury, the Blue Jays’ starting rotation is pretty easy to predict. Hyun-Jin Ryu is the ace and veterans Tanner Roark, Matt Shoemaker, and Chase Anderson all have roles after that. The fifth spot is the only one up in the air, but Trent Thornton likely has the inside track after pitching the entire 2019 season with the big league club.

The bullpen is more up in the air, but it isn’t that hard to guess how it’ll end up. Ken Giles is you closer unless he inexplicably traded during spring training. Shun Yamaguchi, who cost the team $6.350 million, will be there too. Wilmer Font, Anthony Bass, and Rafael Dolis will also likely be there since they don’t have options. A.J. Cole and Justin Miller are other names without options, but he neither currently has a spot on the 40-man, giving them a bit more of an uphill climb. Add the steady Sam Gaviglio and a lefty in Thomas Pannone and you have eight guys already.

After that, it gets a little more complicated. There are 10 guys on the 40-man who could conceivably start for Triple-A Buffalo and that doesn’t include the non-roster veterans or top prospect Nate Pearson. The 10 names are Ryan Borucki, Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch, Sean Reid-Foley, Hector Perez, Yennsy Diaz, Julian Merryweather, Patrick Murphy, and Thomas Hatch.

Assume the veteran Phillippe Aumont is a starter in Buffalo. Pearson will be one of the guys in the Bisons’ rotation, as will Borucki, Kay, and Zeuch. That’s already four starting pitchers. You can slide Murphy and Hatch to Double-A again and send Diaz and Perez with them or to the ‘pen. Merryweather, I’m guessing, will also be a reliever. That still leaves Waguespack and Reid-Foley with just one rotation spot in Buffalo between the two of them. You can see why I keep talking about moving guys to the ‘pen.

And these are just the guys who are here now. We could certainly see even more relievers added as time goes along. Pitching depth! It’s a great problem to have! You have to assume, though, that something will eventually give. The Jays have so many pitchers at the Triple-A level that it’s going to be difficult to find spots for all of them. That’ll cause a ripple effect all the way down their system. It wouldn’t be surprising if we saw them deal from a position for strength, which is pitching, to address an area of need, which is the outfield.