Well Toronto Blue Jays fans, our long winter may be over very shortly, with Spring Training peeking at us on the horizon. For the Blue Jays, pitchers and catchers are due to report to Dundedin, Florida by Sunday, February 16th, with the full squads following just a few days later on the 20th.
With that in mind, it is a great time to start thinking about spring around these parts, hopefully warming (to this team) us all up a little along the way. To get us started, let’s take a look at the non-roster invitees that will invade Blue Jays camp this spring. We’ll break things down in a series of posts, starting with the pitchers and the catchers, and then finishing up with the infielders and outfielders.
In terms of NRI’s, the second largest contingent that the Blue Jays will bring to camp will be pitchers. Of the nineteen players extended invites to camp, seven of them will be pitchers.
The Blue Jays inked the soon-to-be 38-year-old Ohka to a minor league contract on December 16th and extended him an invite to camp. But the Japanese import doesn’t come to the team with much hope of making any impact on the 2014 squad, especially after having not pitched in the United States since 2009. However, a conversion to a knuckle-baller has made Ohka a decent commodity to the Blue Jays, in so much as he can spend time in both camp and the minors, helping to prepare Toronto’s next crop of catchers to handle the knuckleball. Specifically, that means getting A.J. Jimenez up to par with the pitch, in case the young backstop needs to be called on this season to catch R.A. Dickey.
Regardless of what Ohka can contribute as a guinea pig for learning catchers, he is unlikely to build up on his lifetime 51-68 record, his 4.26 ERA, and his pedestrian 5.0 K/9 ratio.
After six seasons in the minors, the 25-year-old Walden will finally get his first invite to the big-boy camp. A bit long in the tooth for a prospect, Walden finally reached Double-A ball in 2013, throwing 162.1 innings for New Hampshire while posting a 6-14 record, a 3.71 ERA, and a 4.9 K/9 ratio
Bringing Walden to camp may be just a quick look for the Blue Jays, one where they are getting an idea of what they can expect from the right-hander against advanced competition. In terms of seeing Walden in Toronto in 2014, something would have to go drastically wrong with a lot of other arms in front of him, and it may be just as tough for him to crack the rotation in Buffalo as well.
The 34-year-old lefty is somewhat of a known quantity for the Blue Jays, as they got a good dose of him in 2013. The results were pretty good too, with Perez tossing 31.2 innings of relief with a 3.69 ERA and a solid 9.4 K/9 ratio. Unfortunately, his season ended on August 10th with an elbow injury that many thought would require Tommy John surgery. Perez opted to rehab the injury instead and inked a minor league contract with the team on November 5th.
Perez could be an option for the bullpen if the need arises. However, he’ll likely be stashed in the minors unless he is light’s out in camp.
Everyone’s favorite top prospect was featured by the Blue Jays in the Arizona Fall League and wowed scouts and fans alike. He’s been the most asked for name in trade talks all winter, and now he’ll get his first tastes of Major League hitters.
The 21-year-old went 4-5 in 22 appearances for Single-A Dunedin in 2013, posting a 3.34 ERA and a 7.8 K/9 ratio. He followed that up with a stellar run in the AFL, going 1-2 with a sparkling 1.16 ERA in 23.1 innings pitched. He still struggles a bit with control, but there is no doubting that he has the stuff to be an ace. The Blue Jays are expected to take the kids gloves off of him this year, so 2014 could be an exciting time to watch Sanchez.
Is he a starter or a reliever? Will he start in Triple-A or is he good enough to make the team out of spring training? Those are just a couple of questions that face Marcus Stroman this spring.
The former Duke Blue Devil raised some eyebrows around baseball with a strong performance during his first full year of professional baseball. In 20 starts at Double-A New Hampshire, Stroman posted a 9-5 record with a 3.30 ERA and an outstanding 4.78 K/BB ratio.
According to John Gibbons, Stroman is good enough to do some real damage in 2014, and will get a look to make the team in some capacity out of spring training. With an open competition for the rotation in place, maybe Marcus Stroman will be the underdog winner of one spot.
The 23-year-old Texan has a lot of upside as a reliever for the Blue Jays and enjoyed an excellent 2013 campaign. Across two levels, Stilson posted a 2.17 ERA with a 6-2 record, a 2.7 BB/9, and a 9.6 K/9 ratio in 35 appearances and 49.2 innings of work.
However, the road may be a tough one for Stilson. After not using any of their bullpen depth as trade bait this winter (Brad Lincoln doesn’t really count, does he?), the club’s biggest strength will remain as much, and could likely keep Stilson down at Buffalo until something opens up for him.
What more can you say about Romero? The 29-year-old lefty struggled with everything in 2013, posting a 5-8 record, a 5.52 ERA, and a 4.7 BB/9 ratio in the minors last season, and the results were only worse during his few appearances in Toronto. With that said, Romero has found himself as the forgotten man this spring, invited out of sheer obligation and unmovable due to his salary and production levels. He’ll come to camp looking for redemption, but also completely outside of the clubs intentions for this season.
Maybe a full winter of time to clear his head and put the past behind him will do Romero good. He could be the shocker of this group with a good camp, but for right now, that seems like a long, long shot.