The Toronto Blue Jays are coming off a successful and exciting offseason. Here are some of the things I’ll be looking for in the next month at Training Camp.
New Faces Pt. 1 – Bats
The Jays were one of the busiest teams in the majors this Winter. They brought in George Springer and Marcus Semien, who instantly improved the roster and provided contender credibility. Both players will also provide a veteran presence for a young team.
Springer is universally considered a top 10 hitter in baseball and will add power, length, and protection to the lineup. That should help the youngsters hitting around him. He also gets on base at a high clip (.361 career OBP) and is considered an above-average defender in centrefield.
Also, now that he’s a member of my team I’m willing to forget about the whole cheating thing.
The signing of Semien surprised many but it makes a lot of sense. Although he hasn’t played second base regularly since 2014, he seems comfortable at that position. He has the versatility to play shortstop or third and adds experience to a very young infield. In four full major league seasons, Semien has hit .257, .238, .255, and .285.
Semien hasn’t come close to his magical 2019 campaign but the fact that it occurred so recently is an encouraging sign.
He’s also worked extremely hard to improve his defense. He went from 35 errors in 2015 to 21, and then 9 over the next two seasons. He went back up to 20 miscues in 2018, but then back down to 12 in 2019.
New Faces Pt. 2 – Arms
Toronto also added to its rotation in former Mets lefty Steven Matz and to the bullpen with 2019 All-Star Kirby Yates. Tyler Chatwood and David Phelps (who was briefly with the club in 2019) are expected to compete for bullpen roles.
Matz will look to bring some stability to the pitching staff and will likely slot in the middle of the rotation. Trading for him didn’t come without some risk, though. He’s coming off a season in which he pitched to a 9.68 ERA over 30.2 innings.
He’s been effective more often than not throughout his career with solid performances in 2016, 2018, and 2019. He experimented with his sinkerball last season, and although it had increased velocity, it lacked movement. Being in a new environment, with veteran pitching coach Pete Walker should help get Matz back to his winning ways.
Yates only pitched 4.1 innings last season and will be looking to regain the form that saw him lead the National League in saves in 2019. He may not reach that year’s total of 41 but will be part of Jays’ relievers trusted to pitch high-leverage innings.
Chatwood has started 143 out of 197 games over his career but only ten over the last two seasons. The Jays have indicated that he’ll pitch out of the bullpen. He’ll need to keep his walks down in order to be effective.
Phelps is also coming off a forgettable 2020 (6.53 ERA over 20.2 innings) and his spot on the team is less sure. Between 2016-2019 his ERA ranged between 2.28 and 3.41. He’s also started 65 games over his career and could be a bulk-relief type.
RHP David Phelps, LHP Anthony Kay, LHP Robbie Ray pic.twitter.com/fZFJlPBPyN— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) February 21, 2021
Jays Camp Young Guns
The Blue Jays are the only MLB team with two top-seven ranked shortstop prospects and both will be in camp. It will be the first extended action for both Austin Martin and Jordan Groshans in Spring Training.
Martin, the fifth pick in the 2020 MLB draft, signed the largest draft bonus in team history and is considered to have star potential. Hitting is his greatest strength, his power is expected to develop and he has positional versatility. Toronto has talked about moving him around the infield and he could even play centrefield.
2020 No. 5 overall pick Austin Martin taking some cuts at Blue Jays camp today pic.twitter.com/xrtCGKcQey— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) February 21, 2021
Groshans was the team’s first-round (12th overall) selection in 2018 and could be closer to reaching the big leagues. He projects better as a third baseman and his power and arm are two of his best attributes.
Neither player is expected to make the team this season. It will be fun and interesting, however, to see what they can do against big league pitchers.
Pitcher Simeon Woods-Richardson, the Jays’ other top-100 prospect, will be another one to keep an eye on. Although he’s only 19 years old, he’s expected to pitch in Double-A this year and could make his debut sooner rather than later.
Also looking forward to Alek Manoah, who will be attending his first camp. The 2019 first-rounder is a big-bodied (6’6”, 260 lbs.) power pitcher who can hit 97 mph with his fastball.
So we know the rotation will be led by Hyun-Jin Ryu. He will likely be followed by, in some order, Robbie Ray, Matz, and, as long as he has a decent camp, Nate Pearson. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Most people seem to think Tanner Roark will get the first chance and I’m OK with that, but he should have a short lease.
This was me watching Tanner Roark pitch last season.
There should be a pulling you hair out emoji because that is how I feel on the DAILY pic.twitter.com/hmQFauCmTf— laura (@lozzaAnn) February 17, 2021
Ross Stripling has starting experience or could pitch out of the ‘pen. Trent Thornton made 29 starts in 2019 and will be in the mix. Jacob Waguespack made 13 starts in 2019 but none in 11 appearances (8.15 ERA) last season.
GM Ross Atkins on zoom call says he “feels good about the group (pitchers) in place.”— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) February 19, 2021
“I’m excited about (Robbie) Ray, (Tanner) Roark, (Ross) Stripling and (Steven) Matz….” pic.twitter.com/F8sHM8ZzYs
Anthony Kay and Thomas Hatch both have the look of future starters. The rotation looks like it will have three lefty starters so Kay will probably have to earn his spot in relief. Hatch looks like the most starter-ready young pitcher on the staff. A strong Spring performance will make Manager Charlie Montoyo have to make a tough decision.
One final, somewhat surprising name I’ll throw into the stater’s competition: Julian Merryweather. He made his debut in 2020 and pitched well (4.15 ERA) in a limited sample size (13 IP) which included three starts. His starts were more like openers, pitching one or two innings, which is something the Jays could explore.
I recently wrote down a list of players I believed would be in the bullpen to start the season. Jordan Romano, Yates, Rafael Dolis, Phelps, Chatwood, and Ryan Borucki. If those six players all make it, that means only two other relievers will start the year on the big-league club.
That should make for an extremely competitive next month or so. Can’t see the team carrying more than four left-handed pitchers so that will be something to monitor. Ryu, Ray, Matz, Chatwood, Borucki, and Kay are all lefties.
So, in other words there will be a lot of competition and Blue Jays camp could end up looking like this.
When the trade for Springer was consummated it did two things; Galvanize the fan base and create a logjam in the outfield. The odd man out appears to be Randal Grichuk and that’s actually a good thing.
At first, I thought that they should try to trade Grichuk as soon as possible. He could bring back a starter and his contract is the most tradeable. However, if he is the fourth outfielder and occasional DH that means the overall depth of the team has improved.
The other outfielders, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernández will also likely be part of a DH and outfield rotation. Gurriel appears to have found a home in left field and Hernández was Toronto’s most dynamic offensive player last season. Grichuk is the most capable backup center fielder if Springer needs a break.
It should be a close battle for starting spots and the player who starts on the bench will still have an impact.
Unless a trade is pending the Jays will keep the four outfielders. Danny Jansen is the primary catcher, so he’ll need a backup. Alejandro Kirk was called up late last season and instantly became a cult hero. The 22-year old from Tijuana recorded 9 hits in 24 at-bats and showed great discipline and comfortability at the plate.
There has been some question as to whether or not the roundish, 5’8”, 265-lb Kirk can stay behind the plate. If he can continue to hit the way he’s shown he can, a spot on the roster is his to lose.
Finally, a primary backup infielder will need to be established. The favorite is Santiago Espinal, who looked like he belonged in limited action in 2020. Joe Panik was brought back on a minor league deal to provide a push.