Esmil Rogers starting experience and pure stuff puts him in a good position to win the fifth rotation spot out of spring. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jays Rotation and Bullpen Predictions

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With the Blue Jays Grapefruit schedule beginning on Wednesday in Clearwater against the Phillies, the competition for available bullpen and rotation spots will commence.

With a plethora of candidates in the running, including everyone from veterans to rookies to converted relievers, it should be an interesting spring.

There’s a pecking order that’s already been made by the coaching staff, and they’ve made it clear that minor league options will be considered in the final decision, but whoever comes out an performs in the spring will give themselves the best opportunity to make the club out of spring training.

The coaching staff and management made it clear at the beginning of last years spring training that Ricky Romero would make the 25 man roster out of spring, and that J.A. Happ would begin the year in a bullpen role or in Buffalo.

Obviously the original plan was blown up. Romero couldn’t find it and Happ impressed, which led to Romero being left in Dunedin and Happ making the squad. Last year’s spring was far different than this years, but it can be used an example that anything can happen depending on how players perform.

The top four spots in the rotation are pretty much set in stone, unless an injury or an absolute disaster occurs for one of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, or J.A. Happ. The fifth spot is where it gets interesting.

I see the group of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, and Dustin McGowan as the front-runners right now.

If McGowan performs well and shows the staff he can lengthen out, keep his electric stuff late into starts, and stay injury free during spring, it’s his job. Obviously a lot has to go right for him, but it would be very hard to keep him out of the rotation if he proves he can do those things.

Consistency was an issue for Rogers, but I believe he has the stuff to be an MLB starter. His 4-seam fastball can get up to 96-97, but it will sit at 92-94 when starting. His 2-seam fastball he introduced last year is a legitimate pitch, and with further development it can become a plus offering. He flashes a plus slider, and mixes in a curve and a change. His arsenal is deep and he possesses strikeout stuff. He posted a measly 6.28 K/9 in 2013, but I think there’s room to grow there. Unless he really struggles in spring, he makes the 25-man roster; either as the fifth starter, or as a long reliever.

Despite having a good showing last year, I’m not high on Redmond. He’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher, and that doesn’t bode well for him to be a starter for an extended period of time. If he really impresses and proves me wrong in spring, he could end up with the fifth spot. Redmond needs to win the spot, or he starts in Buffalo, unless he’s picked up off waivers when he’s inevitably sent down.

Ultimately, I think Rogers ends up with the fifth spot. It’s easy to see he has good stuff, he kept his control in check last year, he’ll be easier to stretch out than McGowan, and he has starting experience. McGowan has so many factors against him, and I don’t see all of them being sorted out before the end of spring. You might see him in the rotation at some point in 2014, but he’ll start in the pen.

There are plenty of young candidates gunning for that fifth spot: Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Kyle Drabek, Sean Nolin, and even former first rounder’s Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins. I’d love to see Stroman or Hutchison win that job, I’m cheering for them, but I just don’t see it happening.

For one of the aforementioned names to make the 25-man roster out of spring they would need blow people away and force their way on the squad. I’m a believer in Stroman’s stuff and his starting ability, and Hutchison’s ability to rebound from TJ surgery, but I think the Jays will let them start the year in the minors before giving them a chance.

Gibbons and company will go with the safe choice out of spring and will go with Esmil. I think he’s going to have a good spring and he’ll be in the rotation until he shows he can’t handle it anymore. It’s not what I would like to see happen, but this is my prediction.

There will be a number of arms available for the AAA rotation, and some capable arms might even need to head to AA because of a lack of space. Whoever pitches well early on will put themselves in a good spot to be the first guy called up. Hutchison will be that guy. He dominated every minor league level, including A-, A+, and AA in 2011, before getting the call in 2012, and I expect him to dominate AAA now that he’s healthy.

Stroman will be next in line. His stuff is lights out, and he commands all four pitches he throws. He’ll pitch well in AAA and be next in line. But I don’t see the Jays recalling him until June to avoid burning a year of his entry-level contract, unless he forces management to call him up with exceptional pitching.

I’m not confident in Drabek. He had serious control issues before getting his second TJ surgery, and despite putting up excellent walk total last year in the minors after returning, I can’t see it being that low again over an extended period of time. His stuff can be dominant, but consistency and control issues don’t bode well for him and his chances of landing a consistent spot in the Jays rotation.

Nolin will also be a guy that can put himself in a position to get a call. He already did last year, proving the Jays faith in his ability, and with more seasoning in AAA he could become a contributor.

Whoever gets called up first will be the guy who pitches the best, and I think those pitchers will be Hutchison and Stroman. If the Jays need a spot start, I see Redmond or Romero coming up.

Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, and Aaron Loup are locks to make the bullpen out of spring unless injuries occur. I also see McGowan as a lock if he doesn’t win the fifth spot, which I don’t think he will. That leaves two extra spots, assuming they go with an 8-man bullpen, which has been reported that they will, at least for the early going.

Neil Wagner and Jeremy Jeffress are my picks. I love their stuff, and they both showed the ability last season to be legit back of the bullpen arms. Juan Perez, Luis Perez, and Chad Jenkins will be in the running as well, but neither of them possess the power arms that Jeffress and Wagner do. Both Luis and Juan would be good options, but Loup and Cecil already occupy the two main lefty roles.

A bullpen of Janssen, Santos, Delabar, Cecil, Loup, McGowan, Wagner, and Jeffress has the potential to be dominant.

I’d love to see Stroman or Hutchison pitch well enough to win the fifth spot, but I think the staff will go with the safe route and go with someone who has more experience.

If Esmil struggles in the rotation, I see him going back to the bullpen to be the long man, or if he really struggles, he could potentially be on his way to Buffalo.

There are so many moving parts, for both the rotation and the bullpen, which makes it nearly impossible to predict what’s going to happen. A number of different scenarios could play out, and a number of arms could end up surprising everyone.

I’ve got Rogers winning the fifth spot in the rotation, and McGowan, Wagner, and Jeffress taking the last three bullpen spots. I think eventually at some point after May, Stroman gets the call and makes a serious impact. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I’m a huge Stroman fan.  How do you think it’s going to play out?

 

 

 

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