Last time I did a scuttlebutt roundup we dove deep into fascinating topics such as who the 26th guy on the Blue Jays’ roster would be to start the season. Would it be Anthony Alford, finally earning a shot to make good on his former top prospect status? Or, perhaps, would it be the savvy veteran Joe Panik, looking to salvage his career? Who knows!
Today, we’ll take a look at possibly even more riveting material, such as which of the random lightning-in-a-bottle arms is going to crack Toronto’s bullpen at the end of spring.
As we know, Ken Giles is going to be the team’s closer. Everyone knew that was the case, but Charlie Montoyo confirmed it, just to be safe. Otherwise, Montoyo noted that he would like to have some fireballers at the back of the ‘pen, mentioning newcomers Anthony Bass and A.J. Cole along with Jordan Romano.
“I’d love to have the power arms at the end,” he said. “Anthony Bass has done it, Giles is going to bed at the end. A.J. Cole will be competing for a job and if he makes the team, he’ll be at the end, too, because he’s got a good arm also and then of course you have Sammy (Gaviglio) and the other guys fighting for the other spots earlier in the game.”
The bullpen is obviously something that’ll totally up in the air. There are many options competing for spots and, with relievers being as volatile as they are, a lot of it will come down to the hot hand. This time last year, nobody saw Daniel Hudson becoming a lock-down guy for the Jays and eventually making the final out for the World Series. Who knows who that guy could be this year.
If I had to venture a guess, which I don’t but will anyway, I would guess that we see Giles, Bass, Rafael Dolis, A.J. Cole, Wilmer Font, Sammy G, Thomas Pannone, and Shun Yamaguchi travel north with the team. The wrinkle will be adding Cole to the 40-man roster.
Anyways! Much more interesting than this hypothetical stuff is Montoyo’s comments about The Opener…
Charlie Montoyo said he wouldn't entirely rule it out — never say never — but #BlueJays do not intend to use the opener strategy this season. He likes his set rotation.
— Gregor Chisholm (@GregorChisholm) February 19, 2020
We’ve come a loooooooong way from this…
#Bluejays manager Charlie Montoyo on who will start tomorrow in Atlanta. "We honestly don't know. An opener and a guy."
— Rob Longley (@longleysunsport) September 2, 2019
Montoyo used The Opener a lot last season, mostly because he had to, not because there was any kind of strategy involved. The fact of the matter for the 2019 Blue Jays was getting through nine innings was really, really difficult and using the opener could help insulate whatever rookie or mop-up guy was coming in to pitch the brunt of the game.
But with the additions of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Chase Anderson this off-season, Montoyo has a much more stable starting rotation, so there shouldn’t be a need to use an opener. I mean, if we saw Wilmer Font open a game for, say, Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay, or T.J. Zeuch in the middle of summer because of injuries, then sure, but we aren’t going to see Font making 14 starts again.
Could we see an opener start the game for Nate Pearson when he inevitably makes his debut this summer? Fuck, that would be really anticlimactic. Pearson has received a lot of hype early on in his first-ever big-league training camp, as his arm dazzled Montoyo into a point in which he channelled his inner desire to be a character on King of the Hill.
Charlie Montoyo on #BlueJays No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson:
"I saw his bullpen the other day and I said… Yup."
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) February 18, 2020
Pearson is the guy at camp this year. Bo and Vlad made their debuts last season, so Pearson is now the new CALL HIM UP guy in the minors everybody is going to be keeping an eye on. It’s only been throwing sessions so far, but Pearson is already getting everyone excited in Dunedin.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) February 15, 2020
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) February 20, 2020
Speaking of Toronto’s new-and-improved rotation, Tony Wolfe over at FanGraphs suggests that having actual Major League pitchers could play a role in the Blue Jays being surprisingly good this season. Well, that would be part of it. The big thing for a 2018 Atlanta Braves style explosion out of the blue for the Jays would be their lineup.
Specifically, the core of their lineup, which is something we hardly saw last year. Think about the number of times you watched Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel, and Vlad Guererro Jr. play in the same game. Bo came up in August and Gurriel got injured a few days later. He made a brief return in September, but, all told, there were only a handful of games in which all four were in the lineup. FanGraphs’ article actually expands it to a core five which features Danny Jansen, pointing out that only six times did all five of them play together.
If all of those guys are healthy and playing on a regular basis? We could see some major improvements from this team…
When at least four of Vlad, Bo, Biggio, Gurriel Jr., and Jansen were active, the Blue Jays raised their average run production by nearly one and a half runs and won more games than they lost despite the average pitching performance being close to what it was for the season. And 57 games is not that small of a sample size for something like this — if a team were 31-26 at the end of May and scoring nearly six runs per game, we would at the very least take them seriously. If that team then went out and added four starting pitchers at the start of June, we would almost certainly think of them as contenders.
It’s not a perfect way of looking at how improvement will work and this is far from an exact science, but, the logic is certainly there. As bad as the Jays were last season, there really wasn’t a point in which their best lineup was consistently out on display. Bichette didn’t get called up until late in the second half of the season and Gurriel missed half the year with an injury. Throw in some improvements to Vlad Jr. and possibly guys like Randal Grichuk and Travis Shaw along with actual Major League pitching and… hey, this team might not be bad!
If you ask Mark Shapiro, they’ll be much better than last year. In an interview with Rob Longley, Shapiro said he would take the over on the 75.5 win mark set by Las Vegas oddsmakers this year.
“I think over. We have ourselves higher than that,” Shapiro said. “We do run our own projections multiple times in the off-season in order to get an understanding of what that means for framing everything from budgets to planning, but we have ourselves better than that.”
In a somewhat Shapiro-related thing, the Blue Jays posted a nearly five-minute video on Twitter touring and detailing their state-of-the-art Player Development Complex, which was a key part of the renovations done in Dunedin. It’s actually really cool if you’re into prospect stuff, development, and sport science.
Something special is on-deck in Dunedin.
Take a 👀 at our new Player Development Complex! pic.twitter.com/5t1hlrAk5U
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) February 19, 2020
Finally, we have some negative news when it comes to the Rogers Centre. Over at The Athletic, Eno Sarris did a deep dive into which stadium has the best craft beer options of the 30 Major League teams. The Blue Jays came in last, ahead of only the Texas Rangers, who couldn’t be ranked because they’re opening a new park this year.
I could list the beers, but I’m not trying to shame anyone. Let’s just say there’s not really any local craft beer in this park. It’s sad, too, because they’re leaving money on the table in Toronto, as they are in New York. Toronto has Bellwood’s, Left Field, nearby Collective Arts — there’s a great beer scene in Ontario. There are people who will spend more on craft beer. There are people who will walk down the concourse to get to craft beer. There are people who will come to a craft beer night at the park. I promise. They read this post, they represent a thirsty coalition, and they are being let down.
Craft beer may or may not be your jam, but it’s hard to argue with what Sarris is saying here. Anybody who’s been to a Jays game knows that options for cracking open a cold one are fairly slim as your standard names are the only ones available. It’s a shame because there are plenty of great craft brews around Ontario that would make for a much better outside ball game beer than Bud Light.