We’re halfway through the 2019 Spring Training schedule and the composition of the 25-man roster of the Toronto Blue Jays is beginning to take shape. With such a young team, there is a little more uncertainty than in years past. The fifth spot in the rotation is technically up for grabs, as is the backup catcher position. The bullpen is in a state of flux with a number of arms competing for a big league role. There is even an outside chance for a surprise fourth outfielder.
The Starting Nine
- Billy McKinney LF
- Randal Grichuk RF
- Justin Smoak 1B
- Kendrys Morales
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 2B
- Danny Jansen C
- Brandon Drury 3B
- Kevin Pillar CF
- Freddy Galvis SS
This patchwork of a lineup will be constantly changing throughout the season with the addition of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Devon Travis’s return from injury. Billy McKinney will probably be the leadoff hitter, as he has a .348 career OBP in the minors. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Lourdes Gurriel Jr. fill the role only to give him a few extra at-bats over the course of the season. Other non-candidate candidates include Kevin Pillar (career OBP of .298, .282 last season), Randal Grichuk (.298) and Teoscar Hernandez (.303). I actually don’t think Teoscar is going to make this team but more on that later. The bottom third of this lineup is scary bad, but thankfully this lineup is only temporary. I hope.
On the Bench
Devon Travis (10-day DL)
*Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (coming soon)
This is going to be a thin bench as the Blue Jays will opt to carry as many arms north with them as they can. It is my view that Anthony Alford is going to beat out either Billy McKinney or Teoscar Hernandez for the fourth outfielder role, and my money is on Hernandez being sent down to work more on his defense. While spring statistics mean less than nothing, Alford has proven that he’s healthy and displays considerable upside – moreso than Hernandez. When (if) Devon Travis returns from the DL, Ureña is out. When Vlady arrives, wave goodbye to Brandon Drury.
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On the Outside Looking in
Teoscar’s defense is ugly-bad. Glaringly awful, despite the love he’s getting from his coaches. One season of winter baseball is not enough to remedy what ails him. I could look past Hernandez’s shortcomings if he absolutely crushed it at the plate. But he does not. He needs more work to be a Major League baseball player.
Reese McGuire will be the Buffalo Bisons’ starting catcher. While both Jansen and McGuire are well-versed defensively, Jansen is far ahead of McGuire with the bat. McGuire just needs regular at bats to develop and he’ll get them at Triple-A. Tellez will join him and I doubt he’ll sniff the roster until September. Look for Pompey to be DFA’d at the conclusion of the spring. Davis will be back in Buffalo.
The Starting Rotation
- Aaron Sanchez
- Marcus Stroman
- Matt Shoemaker
- Clayton Richard
- Ryan Borucki*
The front-end of the rotation looks strong, with the former super-friends handling #1 and #1A duties respectively. After that it gets ugly real quick. Matt Shoemaker has a lot of question marks for a team’s third starter, mostly centred on the health of his forearm. Clayton Richard occupies the fourth spot because Rogers Inc. needs to justify to its shareholders the $3 million expenditure on the 35-year old left-hander.
On the Outside Looking in
It’s March 11th and I’ve not heard word of Clay Buchholz having even set foot on a mound yet. I expect Buchholz to be stretched out slowly, placed on the 10-day disabled list and gets his work in at the Blue Jays’ extended spring training camp. The Blue Jays open the season with 11 games in a row, so Borucki will be the de-facto fifth starter. Once Buchholz is ready, Borucki is back to Buffalo. There’s no chance Buccholz is used in the bullpen.
Ken Giles CL
Ryan Tepera SU
There’s not a lot of surprises here. Despite all the hand-wringing over Bud Norris’s character, he’s in this bullpen unless he implodes like his name is Brad Penny. Feel-good Canadian content story John Axford will be back for another go-round. Tim Mayza will be the conventional left-handed reliever. Giant flame-thrower David Paulino will get a look. Sam Gaviglio will be the long man in the pen, and, of course, Elvis Luciano will be carried along for the entire season the way fellow Rule 5 picks Joe Biagini, Aquilino Lopez, and Corey Thurman were before him. Although he’s only 19 years old, he has considerable mound presence and a sense of calm. While it’s not ideal for his development to be thrown into the fire of the AL East, the consequences of being lit up aren’t as dire when pitching for a rebuilding team.
On the Outside Looking in
Speaking of Joe Biagini, his days as a Major League pitcher are likely done. At least with the Blue Jays. He’s bad. Very bad, in fact. He has no place on a rebuilding team like the Blue Jays when he’s surrounded by higher-ceiling pitching prospects such as Yennsy Diaz, Trent Thornton, and Hector Perez. With a bottom-of-the-basement finish in the AL East a foregone conclusion, Biagini offers little to no value.
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How this Lineup will Evolve
This team is going to be a lot less fun to watch than Blue Jays teams of recent memory. The roster decisions in 2019 will be guided with a view toward 2022, or 2021 if we’re being optimistic. That means extracting value from current assets in whatever way possible. If Clay Buchholz performs well, he’s gone for assets. If Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman perform well, at the very least, one of them is gone for assets. When the Vlady service-time manipulation clock runs out, we may see Brandon Drury jettisoned. It’s going to be an audition – sold to fans as a showcase – of players as they are evaluated all season long. The goal of 2019 will be to give GM Ross Atkins a better sense of his inventory of prospects and how they perform in various situations at the big league level. He’ll then have a sense of the areas of strength that he can deal from, and the areas of weakness which need to be addressed. This, of course, doesn’t generally make for compelling baseball, but is strategically important to ensure the Blue Jays’ core of young talented will be complemented by impact talent. It will, however, be fun to see Vlady crush bombs at the homer dome, Bo Bichette play like his hair is on fire, and Nate Pearson pump 100mph fastballs in the coming years.
Featured image credit: Kevin Mazur/HBO