Getting to know the 50 guys coming to Blue Jays spring training (Part 2 – Position Players)

I took a look at the pitchers who will be headed to Dunedin in the next little bit yesterday, so, today, I’ll finish off by talking about all of the position players.

OF Anthony Alford: Once a top prospect of the Blue Jays, Anthony Alford has struggled with injuries and consistency at the plate, resulting in him falling down the depth chart the past couple of seasons. Alford is out of options, so if he doesn’t crack the team out of spring training, he’ll have to be exposed to waivers.

IF Bo Bichette: Toronto’s No. 2 prospect behind Vlad Jr. came up and stole the spotlight last August, slashing a .311/.358/.571 line over 46 games. Bichette is this year’s starting shortstop, the bigger question is who backs him up.

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IF Cavan Biggio: One of last year’s pleasant surprises was how well Cavan Biggio performed in his rookie season. Biggio never had the same hype as Bo or Vlad but you’d have never known that based on how he played in 2019. He’ll be the team’s starting second baseman this year but we’ll also see him move around the diamond as he grows into Toronto’s jack of all trades.

Non-roster IF Andy Burns: A former 11th round pick from the 2011 draft, Burns spent six years in Toronto’s system before heading to Korea for two seasons. Burns came back to the Blue Jays last year on a minor-league deal and played well for the Triple-A Bisons in a multi-position veteran role. That’ll be his gig again in 2020. He has an uphill battle to beat out one of the glove-first infielders for a 26-man roster spot.

Non-roster C Patrick Cantwell: A journeyman minor-league catcher, Cantwell has spent the last two seasons in the Blue Jays organization serving as a mentor behind the plate. He spent 2019 with Triple-A splitting time with Reese McGuire, but we could see him down in Double-A New Hampshire mentoring top prospect Alejandro Kirk if the Jays decide to have Riley Adams play with Caleb Joseph in Buffalo.

OF Jonathan Davis: A prospect with virtually zero fanfare, Davis has sneakily climbed the organization’s depth chart the past couple of years due to solid numbers in Buffalo and an excellent glove in centre field. Given the fact he still has options, Davis cracking the team out of spring training is unlikely.

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UT Brandon Drury: Though he had a miserable season at the plate last year, Drury still provides the Jays value with his solid glove and positional versatility.

IF Santiago Espinal: The guy who came back from Boston in the Steve Pearce trade, Espinal performed well enough last season to be put on the 40-man ahead of the Rule 5 draft. Espinal is likely the best true backup shortstop to Bichette on the roster, but he only has 28 games at Triple-A to his name, so using him in a bench role wouldn’t be ideal.

OF Derek Fisher: It’s sink or swim time this year for Derek Fisher, last year’s reclamation project who was acquired in exchange for Aaron Sanchez. Fisher has hit well in Triple-A but he’s done nothing at the Major League level in his career. The organization seems to love him because of his hard-hit ball percentage, so he’ll surely get a lot of chances to prove himself this season.

OF Randal Grichuk: The Jays invested in Grichuk last year, giving him a four-year contract extension that indicates they view him as part of the core long-term. He responded by having a mediocre season at the plate, slashing a .232/.280/.457 line. The team needs Grichuk to hit like he did in 2018, not like he did in 2019.

IF Vladimir Guererro Jr.: It’s fair to say Vlad Jr. didn’t live up to expectations last season. It’s also fair to say those expectations weren’t reasonable. Regardless, Vlad has worked hard this off-season to get into better shape, so we’re going to be seeing a different player this year than we did in 2019.

OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.: After a brief stint in Buffalo last year, Lourdes Gurriel had a breakout showing as an outfielder. Though his season was cut short due to injury, he did enough to pencil himself in as the Jays’ starting left fielder. I wonder if he’ll get any reps in centre field.

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OF Teoscar Hernandez: Speaking of stints in Buffalo, Hernandez went down to Triple-A to adjust his swing and absolutely mashed after he came back up. If he hits as well as he did after his recall, it’ll be easier to justify using Hernandez mostly as a DH. That would be ideal, given what we know about his glove.

C Danny Jansen: Though he had a disappointing season at the plate, Jansen remains a key player for the Blue Jays. His defence was good enough to earn him a Gold Glove nomination and it’s reasonable to expect a bounce-back offensively now that he’s acclimatized to the Major Leagues.

Non-roster C Caleb Joseph: The Jays don’t currently have a third-string catcher on the 40-man, so Caleb Joseph will be that guy. Joseph has plenty of experience in the Majors, mostly as the guy who backed up Matt Wieters in Baltimore. I imagine he won’t be added to the 40-man until (if) there’s an injury to Jansen or McGuire.

Non-roster OF Patrick Kivlehan: Purchased from the Pirates organization last season, Kivlehan will again serve as veteran depth for the Blue Jays in Buffalo. Given the outfield logjam that already exists on the 40-man, it would take a monumental disaster for him to reach the Majors.

C Reese McGuire: Though he’s never hit in the minors, McGuire has been shockingly good at the plate across a 138-game sample size the last two seasons. He’ll split the catching duties this season with Danny Jansen.

OF Billy McKinney: It’s difficult to say where McKinney fits at this point. With Gurriel moving to the outfield and the acquisition of Fisher, there’s even more blocking McKinney from grabbing a corner outfield gig than before. He hit well in Triple-A last year, but the fact he doesn’t play centre field holds him back.

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Non-roster IF Joe Panik: A former All-Star, gold glover, and World Series champion in San Francisco, Panik now finds himself fighting for a job as a backup infielder on the Blue Jays. The difficulty for Panik is that the Jays need a backup who can play short while he’s pretty much exclusively a second baseman. He’s played short in the minors, but never the Majors.

IF Travis Shaw: This year’s reclamation project, Shaw is looking to rebound after a miserable 2019 in which he was the worst hitter in the Majors. Apparently, Shaw made an adjustment to his swing in 2019 that sent everything to hell, so he’s switched it back to before when he was a borderline All-Star. If the Jays get the same Shaw who slashed a .258/.347/.497 line between 2017 and 2018, that would be a huge win.

Non-roster IF Ruben Tejada: Probably the best bet to be added to the roster as a bench player, the long-time New York Met offers a quality glove at short, though virtually nothing with the bat. But that’s still better than using a non-shortstop at shortstop.

IF Rowdy Tellez: Another guy in sink or swim territory is Rowdy Tellez. Tellez had an up and down season with the Blue Jays last year, but the .366/.450/.688 line he slashed while down in Buffalo makes his bat hard to ignore. Tellez still has options so he’s going to have to hit consistently to stay up.

UT Breyvic Valera: Finally, we have Breyvic Valera, who, for whatever reason, continues to survive cuts on this roster. A multi-position infielder and outfielder, Valera played short for the first time in the Majors last year with the Blue Jays. He’s hit well at Triple-A and the Jays seem to see something there.

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What does it all mean?

Barring injuries, the Blue Jays’ starting lineup will feature Bo Bichette at short, Cavan Biggio at second, Vlad Jr. at third, Lourdes Gurriel in left, Travis Shaw at first, Teoscar Hernandez as the designated hitter, Randal Grichuk in centre field, Derek Fisher in right field, and a platoon of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire at catcher. Brandon Drury will also be on the bench, so that leaves two more spots on Toronto’s 26-man roster for these other guys.

Who might that be?

Alford, as we know, is out of options and will be subject to waivers if he doesn’t make the team. That gives him a leg up on guys like Billy McKinney and Jonathan Davis right off the hop. Alford could serve as Toronto’s fourth outfielder as he provides speed and a good glove.

Valera is another one without options. He’s Toronto’s defacto backup shortstop on the 40-man right now, though he’s actually more of a utility outfielder. Still, as I said earlier, he keeps surviving cuts to the 40-man, so the Jays must see something here. If he doesn’t work at the Major League level, Ruben Tejada will likely be next in line in Buffalo.

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That’s a four-man bench right there. The guy who ends up on the outside looking in is Tellez, who has the uphill battle of having options and battling Shaw, a veteran lefty bat, for playing time at his one position. Shaw also has the added advantage of playing positions other than first base, which Rowdy doesn’t.

Plenty can and will change between now and the end of spring training, of course. It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds.