Blue Jays Spring Training: Roster Spot Battles Update

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Aug 10, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) watches during batting practice before a game against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

As we inch closer to the half-way mark of Spring Training, there have been several developments in Dunedin that have continued to provide more clarity as to what the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays opening day lineup may look like. This past week, there have been  some key injuries, notable performances by fringe players and impressions made by prospects who were considered to be at least a year away from the big leagues. Here at Jays Journal, we continue to monitor 4 key roster battles and the status of a few positions that are up for grabs in the Grapefruit League.

Fourth Outfielder:

Although sidelined with an oblique strain for the next week, Kevin Pillar remains the front-runner to win the fourth outfielder spot. With Michael Saunder’s Opening Day’s status still up in the air, Pillar appears to be the favourite to be the left fielder when the Jays’ season kicks off on April 6th in the Bronx. Appearing in 9 games for the Jays, Pillar is second in at bats with 26 after Devon Travis; the Jays appears to be giving him plenty of opportunities at the plate to ensure his bat is ready for the beginning of the regular season.

Mar 14, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Kevin Pillar (11) singles during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In those 26 at bats, Pillar is hitting .269/.296/.462 with a couple of doubles, one home run and a team-leading 5 RBI’s. As pointed out by Buck Martinez and co. in the broadcasts, Pillar looks to have developed a stronger two-strike approach and more willing to work deeper into counts. This is a good sign for Pillar, who has struggled with plate discipline thus far in his early Major League career. Though Pillar has only struck out 3 times, his improved approach at the plate hasn’t necessarily translated into a leap in on-base percentage – Pillar has only walked once thus far in Spring Training. Pillar’s development as a hitter is still a work in progress, but so far continues to be the favoruite to be the fourth outfielder when Michael Saunders returns. Combined with his strong defensive skills and flexibility to play all 3 spots in the outfield, the Jays appear to have a pretty capable reserve outfielder in 2015.

With Chris Dickerson scratching at the plate (.125/.263/.250 in 16 at bats) and Dayan Viciedo struggling to get into games with a foot infection, Caleb Gindl has turned heads with impressive performances at the plate. If Michael Saunders remains injured come opening day, Gindl should be taken seriously as someone who could break with the big league team as the reserve outfielder. The former Milwaukee Brewer leads the Jays with 9 hits, 7 of them being for extra bases and accounting for 4 RBI’s. Although Gindl has primarily been a right-fielder, he’s shown the ability to consistently put bat on ball and has worked his way into consideration as a potential platoon partner with Kevin Pillar to open the season. Gindl has the added advantage of being a left-handed hitter with the Jays’ projected lineup being very right handed dominant. If he continues to hit well, it shouldn’t a surprise if he makes the Jays out of camp or at least is one of the final cuts before the regular season begins.

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R.A. Dickey’s Catcher:

Not much has changed since last week, as Martin’s progress as a knuckleball catcher remains a work in progress. Martin caught Dickey for his second start of the spring on Tuesday and while it wasn’t a great outing for the knuckleballer, it’s encouraging that there haven’t been any alarms set off that would require Josh Thole’s assistance…at least so far. Though Thole is having a nice start to his Spring at the plate (4 hits in 11 at bats with 3 walks and 2 RBI’s), the plan continues to be for Martin to be Dickey’s everyday catcher. While there have been a few rumours swirling around Dioner Navrro being part of a trade with the Diamondbacks, unless he is in fact traded Josh Thole’s spot on the roster continues to be in question.

Next: 5th Starter and Second Base