Blue Jays: Looking at the first wave of reinforcements
With final rosters set and Opening Day come and gone, for the better part, players know where they will be playing and in what type of role.
Players have been optioned, assigned, or released, and we are finally left with our Toronto Blue Jays 2016 season opening 25-man roster. That is in no way saying that these same 25 players will be the same through the entire season down to the dire end. Injuries happen, players underperform, everything you plan for will find a way to mess with your plans.
For these reasons, the depth that Mark Shapiro has built (something he admits was a high priority upon taking the job with the Blue Jays) will surely play out as vital over the course of a 162-game season. So with that said, let’s take a look at who those players might be getting the call should a need arise at the big league level. We’ll be looking at pitchers later in the week, but first up, Toronto’s positional depth…
The former New York Mets prospect continued to show why there have always been expectations surrounding him with a red-hot spring. With his bulldog approach and maturity with the bat, Cecialini lit up spring training pitchers to the tune of a .417 batting average to go with 4 home runs and 10 runs batted in. If the best players were to make the opening roster each year, it is clear that on the merits of his play that Ceciliani would be a Blue Jay at this time. But that isn’t always how it works out, as Ceciliani found himself on the short end of the stick because of his options remaining, allowing him to be shuttled between Buffalo and the Blue Jays.
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For many coming into this spring, the writing was on the wall for Dalton Pompey. He had won a starters job out of the gate last season, but struggled to keep up and was sent down. This year it was expected that Pompey would find himself starting the year with the Bisons, with an eye on continuing his development into the star of the future that many within the Blue Jays organization have seen in him for quite some time. That isn’t to say he won’t play his ways into the Blue Jays 2016 plans somewhere down the line. If injuries pile up, or Pompey dominates the triple-A level, look for him to get a shot at a call up.
Like Ceciliani, Junior Lake is a former top prospect that just didn’t work out with his original franchise. So after flaming out with the Chicago Cubs, Lake found himself in spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays, with an eye on winning the backup outfield job. And many out there thought he had the backup job. For one he was capable of handling all three outfield spots with aplomb. On top of that he had speed, and the ability to hit the ball over the wall if called in to pitch hit. But one thing seemed to push Lake over the top, and that was the fact that he is right-handed (allowing him to spell Michael Saunders against tough lefties). Eventually he was beaten out for the job by Ezequiel Carrera, despite Carrera being left handed and unable to handle centre-field very well. Keep an eye on his numbers for the Buffalo Bisons, because if he heats up you better believe the Blue Jays will take notice.
Keeping up with the trend, Domonic Brown is another flamed out top prospect. In Brown’s case he came from the Philadephia Phillies, although with an All-Star year on his resume. Despite the power binge he went on in 2013 (28 home runs), Brown’s game began to devolve following that year, leading all the way to the low of being released by the Phillies. Finding himself in camp with the Blue Jays, Brown did not show much for his case in spring. His lack of impressive play, in addition to the fact that the Jays did not need him to clear waivers to go to Buffalo, led the Blue Jays to send him down to triple-A for the start of the year.
When it came time for Toronto to make their final decisions, Andy Burns made it as hard as possible on the Blue Jays brass. Using his red-hot spring stats, as well as his spectacular flexibility (has the ability to play 1B/2B/SS/3B/LF/RF) just about forced John Gibbons‘ hand to earn himself a bench spot for Opening Day 2016. While the job eventually went to Darwin Barney (although that in itself could be temporary with Devon Travis set to return in May or June), Burns most definitely put himself on the map with .286 batting average to go with one home run, one triple and four doubles. If Burns continues to keep up his play with the bat, he may end up finding himself in a poor man’s Ben Zobrist–like role for the Blue Jays later in the year.
Along with Ceciliani, Brown and Lake, the triple-A Buffalo Bisons have another former top prospect in Matt Dominguez. Once a player capable of hitting over 20 MLB home runs, albeit with a terrible batting line, Dominguez also finds himself in a career low. Without having done anything of significance in camp, Dominguez will find himself with the Bisons to start 2016. If he can regain the power he once possessed, he may have a shot at filling a bench spot should the need arise.
Like the player just mentioned, Mier was a former top prospect of the Houston Astros. Unlike Dominguez though, he has never had that great offensive season to keep himself in the back of management’s mind as a possible rebound candidate. While he plays fine defence, his bat leaves much to be desired (albeit with great plate discipline). With a career slash line of .239/.333/.340 in the minor leagues, Mier may need a breakout year with Buffalo to improve his chances to become a Major League baseball player. Even without the uptick in his offence, he may still have a shot at a backup infield eventually.
In a group full of former future stars, Casey Kotchmann finds himself the odd one of the bunch, the black sheep if you will. A veteran of 939 games across twelve major league seasons, Kotchman is a well travelled and well learned journeyman. Brought in to provide stability and depth for the Blue Jays, Kotchman could see time with the big league squad should a need arise. As a veteran player, he will be relied on to tutor the younger players, while still holding his own as a player on the field. While he will begin the year doing this for the Buffalo Bisons, he very well could end up in a similar role with the Blue Jays before all is said and done.
Going into the 2016 season, many people thought that Montero had a spot locked up with the Seattle Mariners. But new management in place with Seattle was looking to make the team their own. And with that out the door went Jesus Montero. Originally brought over from the New York Yankees in a trade that was seen as one future star for the other, things did not work out for either side.
Following seasons littered with lacklustre results and complaints about his ability to stay in shape physically, Montero was finally shown the door before being picked up on waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays near the end of camp. With no time to show what he could do, Montero was sent down to Buffalo with the hope that he would make it through waivers on the second go. The risk paid off and Montero will now have his opportunity to make an impression on the decision makers within the Blue Jays organization.
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While he technically hangs in DFA limbo at the current moment, depending on the coming days he could find himself back in triple-A with the Buffalo Bisons. As he has for much of his career, Jimenez has continued to show that at his best he may still just be a back up catcher. With a career minor league slash line of .272/.314/.381 Jimenez may never amount to much of anything with the bat. And while his defensive abilities are strong he may never see big league time without a bit of improvement at the plate.
Just as we started this list with a top prospect (did we ever really get off them, though?) we shall end it so. In this case it is Tony Sanchez, once seen as the future catcher of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Sanchez has put together some decent seasons in the minors with the bat. While his career slash line in the majors is a respectable .259/.303/.378, it has not been enough to keep him in The Show.
As his bat struggled in spring training this year, signs of weakness began to show in his play behind the plate. This has all added up to many questions about his future potential as a major league catcher, although he will serve as useful depth for a team with very little behind Russell Martin and Josh Thole on the depth chart.