Blue Jays Spring Training Battles: Winners and Losers
With Opening Day just around the corner, the Blue Jays front office made the final round of cuts and put their finishing touches on the 25 man roster that will begin the 2015 regular season in New York. Here at Jays Journal, we’ve kept a close eye on 4 key roster spot battles throughout Spring Training. With the 25 man roster being nearly finalized, we can now look back at Spring Training and identify the standout performances that helped some players win a spot with the Blue Jays in 2015.
While it seemed as though Kevin Pillar had locked up the fourth outfielder spot early in Spring Training, there was a battle between other outfielders for a reserve spot on the roster that opened up when Michael Saunders was injured. Despite Saunders not being ready for Opening Day, the front office has chosen not to include an extra outfielder to begin the season and instead opted for Steve Tolleson to handle any outfield substitution situations until Saunders is back and healthy. Whether Tolleson, who is out of options, remains with the team when Saunders returns is another conversation…but it is interesting that the Jays decided to not go with extra insurance in the outfield to begin the year.
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The two key candidates who had a shot to win a reserve outfielder role ultimately came up short. Though posting some strong numbers (.313/.340/.412 with 9 extra base hits and 6 RBI’s), Caleb Gindl did not do enough to impress to the Jays front office to warrant carrying an extra outfielder to begin the season. I thought by virtue of hitting left he had a shot to provide some balance in the lineup, but perhaps Alex Anthopolous and co. had doubts over his defensive versatility in late game situations. Dayan Viciedo was the other contender in this battle, but he too failed to convince us that he is more than a swing-happy power hitter who offers very little defensively (anyone remember Juan Francisco?). With the Jays coaching staff having an apparent renewed focus on putting up better at bats at the plate, Viciedo didn’t show enough power (0 home runs in 43 at bats) for the Jays to think he would provide enough value offensively. Unlike Gindl, Viciedo won’t be with the Jays organization going forward as he opted for free agency after being notified that he wouldn’t be joining the big league team in April.
R.A. Dickey‘s Catcher:
Jays fans – rejoice! At least for the time being, the Blue Jays will not be forced to sacrifice a spot in their batting lineup for Josh Thole. The Blue Jays will begin the year with just 2 catchers on their roster and despite persistent trade rumours throughout Spring Training, Dioner Navarro will start the year as the backup to Russell Martin. Throughout the Spring, R.A. Dickey had nothing but praise for Martin and it should come with little surprise that the Montreal native was able to acquaint himself well enough with the knuckleball to make John Thole expendable. In addition to being known around the league for his defensive prowess, Martin is coming off a career year offensively with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Between him and Navarro, Jays fans should celebrate that every 5 days there doesn’t have to be a black hole in the batting lineup!
Other than Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro winning spots in the bullpen, Devon Travis approach at the place and subsequent offensive success may have been the biggest surprise of the Spring. Most observers had Travis at least a year away from the big leagues, but the Jays appear to be all in on the former #1 Detroit Tigers prospect. Travis has certainly earned this spot, hitting .351/.393/.456 with 6 doubles and 6 RBI’€™s while flashing the leather in the field and coming up with some impressive defensive plays. Jays fans should be particularly excited with Travis, who should be the closest thing to a complete second baseman since Aaron Hill‘s departure.
While the Jays are deciding between a 7 or 8 man bullpen, the status of Ryan Goins role as a reserve infielder remains in question. Similar to Travis, Goins impressed offensively and posted a respectable .286 batting average that reflected a far better hitting approach in comparison to his struggles throughout the 2014 season. It’s clear that Gibbons feels he is good enough defensively to serve as the extra infielder, but at this point his fate essentially is up to how many relief pitchers the Jays choose to begin the season with. As for Maicer Izturis and Munenori Kawasaki, Izturis was unable to stay healthy while Kawasaki’s time with the Jays may be coming to end with younger and better defensive players in Travis and Goins likely to contribute significantly in 2015. Kawasaki was reassigned to minor league camp today.
With Marcus Stroman going down with a torn ACL and Marco Estrada reminding us that he is best suited for a role in the bullpen, the door was left wide open for Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris to win spots in the starting rotation. Both were successful, and Jays fans should be excited that the future of the pitching staff will be on full display throughout 2015. Much has been written about the success Norris and Sanchez experienced in Spring Training and it is encouraging that the Jays’ front office has opted for the best players they currently have to be in the major leagues, regardless of age.