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A deeper look at the Blue Jays’ 60-man roster and which prospects might actually make their way into a game

The Blue Jays, along with all of the other teams, announced their 60-man roster yesterday.

This roster represents the pool of players who can be selected to be on the team’s 30-man active roster at the start of the season, who can be called up to the active roster during the season, who can be carried around on the team’s three-player taxi quad, which prospects can participate in the organization’s off-site minor-league training camp (in Buffalo, for the Jays), and who can be traded at any point before the Aug. 31 deadline.

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Levi Weaver, a reporter covering the Texas Rangers, received clarification on the logistics of roster movement this season from Rangers general manager, Jon Daniels.

A non-40-man roster player can only be removed from the 60-man roster if they’re released. A 40-man-roster player can be removed from the 60-man roster, but they would be subject to waivers first. There’s a special Injured List for players who have COVID-19 in which case that player wouldn’t count against the 60-man roster while they’re sick.

But, when that player returns, anybody added to the 60-man roster to compensate will be subject to the aforementioned rules above. An exception is made if there’s an “outbreak” which is defined by three or more players getting sick at the same time. In that instance, teams can find replacement players to be added to the 60-man roster that wouldn’t be subject to waivers or release once the COVID-19 infected players return.

So, basically, if there’s a top prospect on a team’s 60-man player pool, they’re here for the duration of the season. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see them suit up in a game, as they could be occupying a spot in order to be a part of a trade.

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Also worthwhile to note, as explained by MLB Trade Rumours, taking players on and off of the active roster has the same rules now as always. Players must be on the 40-man roster to be added to the active roster. If a player is removed from the 40-man, they would be designated for assignment. Players with options can be moved off of the active roster to the alternate training camp as though they’re being optioned to the minors, but, players without options would be subject to waivers.

Toronto’s roster features 58 players as of right now, a handful of which are top prospects. What does all of it mean? Who might we actually see play for the team this year? Let’s go through this whole thing, position by position.

(I’ll bold the players I expect to crack the 30-man roster off the hop and I’ll italicize those who I expect are on the 60-man roster exclusively to be a part of minor-league camp)

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Catchers

  • Danny Jansen
  • Reese McGuire
  • Caleb Joseph
  • Riley Adams
  • Alejandro Kirk

We have our tandem of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire who were slated to start the season on the team’s 26-man roster back when things were normal. Veteran Caleb Joseph, who was likely headed for Triple-A Buffalo to be the top call-up option, will now serve as the clear third-string catcher.

Given the added flexibility of a 30-man roster right off the hop, we’ll probably see Jansen, McGuire, and Joseph all start the season on the Jays’ active roster. At the very least, Joseph will surely travel with the Jays as part of their taxi squad.

Riley Adams, who spent most of 2019 in Double-A and was on his way to play for the Bisons this year, would be the next catcher in line if there’s an injury to one of those three aforementioned names. Given Kirk hasn’t played above Single-A, it’s unlikely we see him make his way into a game. He’s here to be a part of the minor-league training group.

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Infielders

  • Bo Bichette 
  • Cavan Biggio
  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
  • Travis Shaw
  • Brandon Drury
  • Joe Panik
  • Rowdy Tellez
  • Rubén Tejada
  • Andy Burns
  • Santiago Espinal
  • Kevin Smith
  • Jordan Groshans

There were never really any questions surrounding Toronto’s starting infield back in spring training. Vlad Jr. was going to be at third base, Bo Bichette at short, Cavan Biggio at second base, and Travis Shaw would play first base.

The big question mark was Rowdy Tellez, whose spot on the roster ultimately came down to whether or not the Jays wanted to carry a fifth outfielder with them or not. Tellez was in a difficult spot because Shaw was slated to occupy first base while Charlie Montoyo wanted to keep the DH spot open to rotate players through on days they weren’t playing the field.

With the expanded 30-man roster off the hop, there won’t be a concern for Tellez. But he’ll have to keep himself on the roster with his bat. As time goes along, the 30-man roster will get whittled down to 26 players, in which case Tellez will be back on the bubble.

And then there’s the rest of the bench, which will likely feature veteran Joe Panik, who earned a contract and a spot on the 40-man after a strong camp, and the multi-dimensional Brandon Drury. Like Tellez, Drury will have to maintain his spot as time goes along. There was talk back in spring that Drury wasn’t a shoo-in to crack the team and that surely hasn’t changed.

After those two, the Jays have insurance options in defensive specialist Ruben Tejada and Andy Burns. Neither are on the 40-man roster, so somebody would have to be DFA’d to add them. That would leave upper-level prospect Santiago Espinal, who’s on the 40-man, as the natural choice to be the first infielder called up.

Kevin Smith, who had a miserable 2019 season, is probably here to participate in the minor-league camp. The same goes for top prospect Jordan Groshans, who missed most of 2019 due to injury. The Jays would have to burn through Espinal, Tejada, and Burns before they were in a situation in which Groshans was thrown into a game.

Outfielders

  • Randal Grichuk
  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
  • Teoscar Hernández
  • Derek Fisher
  • Anthony Alford
  • Jonathan Davis
  • Billy McKinney
  • Forrest Wall

Had you forgotten just how grim the Blue Jays’ outfield list is? Woof.

Back in spring training, there were only really two surefire outfielders: Randal Grichuk, who would play centre, and Lourdes Gurriel, who would play left. Teoscar Hernandez was also going to crack the team, but it seemed the goal was to use him more as a designated hitter than a fielder.

That left Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford, both of whom were out of options and would have needed to go through waivers to be sent to Triple-A fighting for the last spot. This is still an issue. Even though there isn’t a minor-league per se, players are still subject to the same rules for being optioned off the active roster.

The Jays will have room to carry both Alford and Fisher in order to avoid exposing them to waivers right off the hop because of the expanded active roster, but as that roster gets widdled down to 26 players over time, it’ll become decision time for one (or both) of those players.

Jonathan Davis, who can be optioned, would be Toronto’s top call-up option given his excellent glove in centre field. Billy McKinney would be the next in line after Davis and prospect Forrest Wall, who isn’t on the 40-man roster, would be at the bottom.

There’s a fair chance that we see Austin Martin added to this group once he’s signed, but, like with Groshans, it’ll be so that he can participate in the Blue Jays’ camp rather than an actual Major League game.

Starting pitchers

  • Hyun Jin-Ryu
  • Tanner Roark
  • Chase Anderson
  • Matt Shoemaker
  • Trent Thornton
  • Ryan Borucki
  • Jacob Waguespack
  • Sean Reid-Foley
  • Anthony Kay
  • T.J. Zeuch
  • Nate Pearson
  • Thomas Hatch
  • Patrick Murphy
  • Julian Merryweather
  • Hector Perez
  • Joey Murray
  • Simeon Woods Richardson
  • Alek Manoah

Here’s where things start to get a bit more chaotic. There are 33 pitchers on Toronto’s 60-man roster and the organization will surely try to get as many of them as possible some work during the season given the fact there won’t be real minor-league games this year. But, since there are only 60 games to work with, there aren’t that many innings to go around. The Jays will have to get creative with their pitchers.

The starting rotation off the hop will likely be Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, and Trent Thornton. Ryan Borucki, who was injured during spring training, will be back in the mix for a starting rotation gig. There’s also Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay, Sean Reid-Foley, and T.J. Zeuch, but any of those names could also end up getting work out of the ‘pen instead.

The big question here, of course, is Nate Pearson. It’s not if he’ll pitch for the Blue Jays this year, it’s when. As we learned last week, Pearson needs to spend seven days in the “minors” in order to have his service time manipulated, so don’t expect him to crack the roster right off the hop. That said, I doubt it’ll be long before Pearson is on the team.

Maybe the Jays operate with a six-man rotation, or maybe somebody like Anderson moves to the ‘pen. As we’ve learned in recent years, pitchers get injured, so it surely won’t be long before there’s an opening for Pearson on the team.

I could see any of the names listed above getting into a game for the Blue Jays this season save for the italicized names, Simeon Woods Richardson and Alek Manoah. They aren’t on the 40-man roster and haven’t pitched above Single-A yet, so they’re here in order to be a part of the minor-league camp. But we could certainly see guys like Thomas Hatch, Patrick Murphy, and Julian Merryweather make their debuts this season.

Relief pitchers

  • Ken Giles
  • Rafael Dolis
  • Anthony Bass
  • Jordan Romano
  • Wilmer Font
  • Sam Gaviglio
  • Shun Yamaguchi
  • Thomas Pannone
  • Travis Bergen
  • A.J. Cole
  • Justin Miller
  • Brian Moran
  • Jake Petricka
  • Elvis Luciano
  • Ty Tice

Back in spring training, the bullpen appeared to be fairly close to set. Ken Giles was obviously the closer, Wilmer Font, who was excellent last year, would be back, Rafael Dolis, Anthony Bass, and Jordan Romano would be hard-throwing guys for late innings, and Sam Gaviglio and Shun Yamaguchi would be long-relief, middle-inning types. Thomas Pannone seemed to have an inside track as the only lefty reliever on the 40-man.

There were some other interesting names in spring, like A.J. Cole, Brian Moran, and Justin Miller, but none of them are on the 40-man roster, so somebody would have to be removed in order to add them to the team. That could certainly happen, especially in the event of injuries, but I’ll make my original prediction based on who’s already on the 40-man.

I would imagine that the Jays would prioritize giving relief innings to guys like Borucki, Kay, Reid-Foley, and Waguespack over adding Cole or Miller to the 40-man to have them pitch out of the ‘pen.

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What does it all mean?

So, yeah, there’s quite a bit going on here. It’s going to be a weird, chaotic sprint and we’re likely going to see a lot of random players suiting up for the Blue Jays this season.

Given the position the Jays are in as a rebuilding team, it seems as though there’ll be somewhat of a priority on using the limited amount of games available to give prospects a chance to play. I really don’t expect that to be Alek Manoah and Jordan Groshans type prospects, but finding work for upper-minors names like Thomas Hatch, Julian Merryweather, and Anthony Kay will eventually become a priority.

The absence of actual minor-league games this season means that the Jays will have to balance actually fielding a competitive team and finding opportunities for prospects to get meaningful work in this season. It’ll be an interesting juggling act.

Another thing to note is that the Jays didn’t fill up their roster to 60 players. I would guess that one of these spots is being reserved for Austin Martin, but another is there to create some flexibility in case a veteran is cut loose by another team.

Anyways, here’s my guess for the 30-man active roster right off the hop…

Catchers: Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Caleb Joseph. (3)

Infielders: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Travis Shaw, Joe Panik, Brandon Drury, Rowdy Tellez. (7)

Outfielders: Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel, Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, Derek Fisher. (5)

Starting pitchers: Hyun Jin-Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton. (5)

Relief pitchers: Ken Giles, Rafael Dolis, Anthony Bass, Jordan Romano, Wilmer Font, Sam Gaviglio, Shun Yamaguchi, Thomas Pannone, Ryan Borucki, Jacob Waguespack. (10)