Mar 9, 2015; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers outfielder Rajai Davis (20) slides into second base as Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis (77) waits for the throw in the third inning of the spring training baseball game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
An already hotly debated roster spot battle became even more unclear with the very unfortunate news of Marcus Stroman’s season being over due to a torn ACL coming earlier this week. Now, this battle is for two spots in the rotation and opens up possibilities for new candidates to make their claim for a starter job. The eventual winners of these two spots will be decided in part by the discretion of the front office and what direction they take, but we can analyze performances in the past week that may have had some impact on the competition for the now two spots.
For me, Daniel Norris continues to be the favourite to win the fourth starter spot in the rotation. When not having to chase down R.A. Dickey to recover his now famous Volkswagen, Norris has put himself in the lead in the race for a spot in the rotation so far in Spring Training. Although Norris struggled against Detroit on Monday, he recovered strongly on Saturday by pitching 3 and 1/3rds innings of shutout ball against a Yankees’ lineup that included names Ellsbury, Gardner, Rodriguez and Beltran. This performance included 4 strikeouts (including a very sweet three pitch K against A-Rod) to go with only 1 walk.
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Though his outing included a few loud outs to the warning track and at times, the young south-paw struggling to get on top of his curveball, Norris appeared to be very much in command against a pretty tough lineup. What impressed me the most was his ability push his fastball right in on the hands of right handers and to follow up his 95 MPH heater when a much, much slower curveball to keep hitters off balance. Norris is certainly benefiting from having the experienced Russell Martin throwing down signs for him and with the vacancy in the rotation created by the Stroman injury, should see significant time as a starter for the Jays in 2015.
The fifth starter position will be decided in part by performances over the next 3 weeks, but will also give us an idea of what the Jays’ long term strategy is for the ball club. If the Jays are willing to accelerate the careers of prospects like Miguel Castro and Robert Osuna and aim to have them pitching out of the bullpen, then Aaron Sanchez may slide into the fifth starter role. However, if they determine that either Sanchez is not ready for a starting role or that they don’t want to rush some of their prized young arms to the Majors, this spot could be taken by Marco Estrada (who looked awful in an outing against the Rays this week) or some combination of pitchers who were originally slated to begin in AAA. Either way, this is probably the battle that’s most up for grabs and a probably the most worth keeping an eye on.
Whether or not the Jays see Devon Travis as their everyday second basemen on 2015, he certainly is getting every opportunity to impress during Spring Training. He leads the team with 27 at bats and has improved at the plate over the last week, raising his batting average to .259. With Ryan Goins getting most of his playing time at shortstop, it looks the Devon Travis has become Maicer Izturis’ main competitor for the job. Although Izturis has had far fewer chances at the plate thus far, this could be an indication that the Jays really want Travis to get experience facing major league pitchers, rather than him actually being considered as their everyday second basemen.
This is another intriguing battle to keep your eye on as Spring Training continues as it offers up a good chance to debate the merits of different approaches on how exactly to move along prospects to the big leagues. There certainly isn’t a lack of interesting story lines developing in Dunedin, so continue to keep an eye on who’s performing well in the next few weeks as it may give a sneak-peak into John Gibbon’s starting lineup come opening day.