Toronto Blue Jays OF depth becoming worrisome
The Toronto Blue Jays are finally nearing the opening of spring training, and just like most other seasons on most other teams, question marks remain. While the spotlight has shone brightest on the perceived holes at second base and in the bullpen, the Toronto Blue Jays outfield depth could develop into a serious issue if it is tested.
Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey are the likely trio to start in the outfield, with Kevin Pillar the lead candidate to win the fourth job in March. Andy Dirks looked like an encouraging dark horse candidate, but he will now begin the season in minor league spring training as he continues to rehab from a back injury that kept him out for all of 2014.
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Bautista is a lock in right field, of course, but Dalton Pompey will be entering his first full MLB season and taking a lot onto his plate as the starting man in centre. Saunders, while very talented, is a career .231 hitter who managed to appear in just 78 games in 2014 due to injury. Even if all goes as planned in 2015, the fourth outfielder will become a familiar face. Pillar has hit like a pro at every level, but in 89 MLB games, he has put up 57 strikeouts against just 8 walks.
The Blue Jays will be forced to hope that Saunders stays healthy and plays above his career averages, that Pompey shines as a newborn pro and Pillar rights the ship despite limited at-bats. There’s only so much room for hope on this roster.
In spring training, the Blue Jays will invite outfielders Caleb Gindl, Ezequiel Carrera, Anthony Alford and Dwight Smith Jr. in for a look. Alford’s invite is all about getting him some reps while Smith Jr. is in the midst of a shift to second base, so their names can be crossed off immediately.
Neither Gindl or Carrera leap off the page, but as the roster stands right now, I would point to Carrera as a better candidate to fill in as the 5th man if, and when, the need arises. Carrera jumped up with the Detroit Tigers for 45 games last season, but put up some impressive numbers at AAA Toledo as a 27-year old. In 97 games there, he hit .307 / .387 / .422, stealing 43 bases along the way. He won’t be the first choice for MLB at-bats, but his legs off the bench could make an impact.
An important part of this conversation is a look back to the 2014 season. Blue Jays fans know that GM Alex Anthopoulos loves the waiver wire, and the churning of the 25th spot on the roster flooded outfielder after outfielder into Toronto last year. Here are the games-played totals for the 2014 OF: Jose Bautista (155), Melky Cabrera (139), Colby Rasmus (105), Anthony Gose (94), Kevin Pillar (53), Nolan Reimold (22), Dalton Pompey (17), John Mayberry Jr (15), Darin Mastroianni (14), Moises Sierra (13), Brad Glenn (6), Cole Gillespie (1).
What an inventory of bad memories that is. While you can wipe out a few of the bottom names, the reality remains that the Toronto Blue Jays used a boatload of outfielders in 2014. With just four OF on the 40-man roster entering the new year and limited options in the minor leagues, as we’ve seen, something has got to give.
The Blue Jays were constantly dragged down by a lineup with a 3-man hole at the bottom in 2014, one of whom who was often from the laundry list above. If everything goes right, they will be fine, but this is Major League Baseball, and these are the Toronto Blue Jays. One thing will go wrong, then another. Such is baseball. Unless there is a surprise emergence this spring, the Jays should be looking very closely at adding some outfield help.