Nobody has been arrested and there haven’t been any other injuries announced over the past couple of days, so we’ll talk about the topic de jour right now, which is roster battles galore. It’s the beginning of camp and everybody is so wildly rabid for actual baseball stuff to talk about that we’re going to dive deep into who the 26th man and the back-end relievers are out of camp even if they aren’t with the team beyond April. Fun stuff!
Scott Mitchell of TSN put together an excellent guide as to where Toronto’s arms stand as of Feb. 17, which very nicely puts into perspective just how much of a logjam the team has when it comes to pitching in the upper minors.
— Scott Mitchell (@ScottyMitchTSN) February 17, 2020
The plan, as of right now, is to keep as many arms stretched out in the minors as possible, which makes sense given the fact it’s much easier to compensate for injuries to the bullpen than it is for the rotation. You want to have starting pitching depth, first and foremost, otherwise, you end up with Edwin Jackson making starts for your team.
As a result, Thomas Pannone is the only starter who has officially been moved into competition for the bullpen. Given Pannone’s splits as a starter vs as a reliever last year in the Majors (11.31 ERA as a starter, 3.54 ERA as a reliever), that makes sense. Pannone is also one of the very few lefties the Jays have on their 40-man roster, though, with the implementation of the three-batter limit, having a lefty specialist isn’t really a thing anymore. Pannone will have to be able to get right-handed hitters out in order to stick.
“The three-batter rule is interesting,” Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker told Gregor Chisholm at the Toronto Star. “It could be two left-handed (batters), three lefties, one lefty. I think it’s going to be the guys who can get outs consistently, against right-handers and left-handers, so splits are looked at a little bit differently now. But I think for the most part, we’re going to take the best pitchers that we have north.”
Jacob Waguespack and Sean Reid-Foley are also competing for a starting gig with the Blue Jays rather than bullpen roles, though that’s something I suspect could change later on. As time goes along, we’ll see more of these guys shoved into the bullpen as there simply aren’t spots for them all to go. But that’s an issue for later in spring training, not for the very beginning.
My guess is still that Trent Thronton is the fifth starter, both Jacob Waguespack and Shun Yamaguchi are in Toronto’s ‘pen, Borucki starts in Triple-A, and Julian Merryweather is converted to a reliever. Reid-Foley probably isn’t far behind when it comes to a ‘pen conversion, but that would make Buffalo’s rotation Borucki, Reid-Foley, Nate Pearson, Anthony Kay, and T.J. Zeuch. Thomas Hatch would then be in line to bump Reid-Foley from his spot. Fuck, who knows. Thinking about this makes my head spin.
Then there’s the 26th man on the roster, another change we’ll be seeing this year. If this change benefits anybody, it’s probably Anthony Alford, who could have an inside track onto the roster as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner type.
“As you’ve seen, based on the construction of our 40-man roster as it sits today, we’re valuing versatility,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “We have some options. Anthony Alford, albeit limited to the outfield, can play all three (spots). Then, the potential to steal a base, the potential to obviously be a very good pinch-runner.
I imagine the starting lineup sees Danny Jansen as the catcher, Travis Shaw at first, Cavan Biggio at second, Bo Bichette at short, Vlad Jr. at third, Randal Grichuk in centre, Lourdes Gurriel in left, Derek Fisher in right, and Teoscar Hernandez as the designated hitter. That would leave Toronto with four bench spots, one of which is Reese McGuire. Brandon Drury’s positional versatility makes him a clear bench option, leaving the Jays with two more bench spots between Alford, Rowdy Tellez, and backup infielders Joe Panik and Ruben Tejada.
Given the fact Tellez has options and offers zero positional versatility, I have a hard time imagining him grabbing a spot on the team out of camp, especially if the plan is to use Hernandez as the DH. It would be odd to see the Jays try to shove Alford through waivers just to keep another first base/DH on the roster, especially when that player can still be sent to Buffalo without issue.
Speaking of Drury and utility infielders, if you had dreams of Brock Holt filling that role, you’re going to be disappointed. Holt has reportedly inked a free-agent deal with the Milwaukee Brewers and, as mentioned in a post by Shi Davidi, the Jays weren’t overly serious in adding him because they already have Joe Panik in the mix. Panik, it seems, is viewed as this year’s version of Eric Sogard.
Montoyo also offered our first look at what we could expect the lineup to look like this year. According to Hazel Mae, he likes Bo Bichette leading off with Cavan Biggio batting second and newcomer Travis Shaw down in the five or six spot. That would leave Vlad Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel in the three and four slots and then Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, and Shaw making up the five, six, and seven spots. It has the potential to be a pretty lethal lineup if everything goes right. That’s a big if, of course.
— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) February 15, 2020
One final incredibly generic spring training storyline is so-and-so player showing up in the best shape of his life. We hear it every year and so-and-so player is going to have a huge season because of it. Usually, this is a trivial report worth shrugging off as a standard practice of early spring, but, when it comes to Vlad Jr., it’s hard not to pay attention. Canada’s Large Adult Son’s body has been, well, a topic of concern since before he made his Major League debut, but a rigorous off-season has Vlad looking much different this year.
The discussion around Vlad’s body was generally geared towards whether or not he would be able to stick at third base or not. If he didn’t lose some weight, he wouldn’t be effective in the field, conventional wisdom suggested. But, per Shi Davidi at Sportsnet, the Jays are actually optimistic that Vlad Jr. getting himself into shape this winter will make a much bigger difference at the plate.
The tendency is to think all the work Vladimir Guerrero Jr., put in during the off-season to improve his strength, conditioning, agility and flexibility was primarily aimed at helping him move better defensively.
Certainly, that was a big part of it, and Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo already says the soon-to-be 21-year-old third baseman already looks “lighter” as he patrols the hot corner.
“A lot of [his struggles at the plate, and his low launch angle] had to do with him being fatigued at times, and him trying to do too much,” says hitting coach Guillermo Martinez. “There were certain pitches he would try to get to and he fought himself trying to get there. It caused him to jump at the ball – he collided with it and smothered the ball into the ground.
A big part of Toronto putting together the breakout season that everybody is hoping for will be Vlad Jr. putting together an improved season at the plate. It’s fair to say that expectations were so overwhelmingly high last year there was no way he could live up to the hype, but, now that he has his rookie tour out of the way, it’s time for Vlad to start doing his thing.
John Gibbons joining the #Braves as a special assignment scout, starting with evaluating draft prospects. Reunites with former #BlueJays GM Alex Anthopoulos, who always admired Gibbons' evaluation skills, and Dana Brown, who made the hire. @simmonssteve first with move
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 17, 2020
Finally, we’ll head over to Atlanta to check in on some old friends. The Braves are happy with the work of Alex Anthopolous, enough so that they’ve promoted him to President of Baseball Operations. This, of course, is the gig he wanted in Toronto after Paul Beeston retired that the organization ultimately ended up giving to Mark Shapiro.
What would the world be like if the Jays had promoted AA into that role after the magical 2015 run? Who knows! Fantastize away!
Also in Atlanta, former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has been hired by the Braves as a special assignment scout. Gibbons, of course, is no longer on his much-deserved paid vacation by the Blue Jays as his contract expired after the 2019 season. It’s great to see Gibby get another gig in baseball, though I wish it was on the bench somewhere. I really thought he would be an ideal fit for the Astros managerial gig, but, now that I’ve seen the absolute shit that Dusty Baker is having the mop up, I’m happy Gibby doesn’t have to deal with that.