Heading into Spring Training, what conclusions can we jump to about the Toronto Blue Jays as camp opens?
Spring is finally here as the Blue Jays Spring Training Camp officially opens. Pitchers and catchers started camp on Feb 14th and had plenty of company. The team is clearly still hungry after getting knocked out of the playoffs in the ALCS for the second year in a row. As camp opens there are obviously plenty of questions, but we are here to talk about things that appear ready for opening day.
The starting rotation is set
The Blue Jays pitching staff is ready for the first time in ages prior to the start of the Spring. The Jays will be very happy to see a staff that was one of the best in the American League be brought back, and one could argue it is even better this season.
Over previous years, the Jays have only had a few spots set in stone for their rotation. Heading into this season it appears that all 5 spots are good to go. This is a welcome strength for the team after years of hoping a last ditch free agent or a rookie standout will take the 4th or 5th starting spot and stick. I don’t need to remind people that Aaron Laffey and a Ricky Romero impostor were in our rotation just a few years ago, do I?
This season we will have Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, and Marco Estrada returning to the rotation. That is a solid group of pitchers right there. After the departure of R.A. Dickey the remaining job will fall to a former ace in Francisco Liriano. This great ensemble of pitching talent will be on full display this season.
There are few questions that come out of this collection of arms. The main one might be depth of the starting pitching. After the main 5, you get an unsure group of rookies and players like Joe Biagini that are being stretched out this Spring. So where do the Jays go past the big guns for a spot start? That will be the one question concerning the starters this Spring.
Catching depth is looking thin
The Blue Jays have one of the best leaders in baseball behind the dish in Russell Martin. Martin has been solid since joining the Blue Jays and has continued to lead teams to the postseason, as he is known for. Looking at the Jays roster and Minor League system behind Martin you see a group of average catchers.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays have had trouble developing catchers throughout their history. You have to reach back to Pat Borders for a standout everyday catcher that was developed within the organization.
The Jays have been forever looking to the future or the free agent market for a starting catching. Over the years prior to Martin, there have been plenty of good catchers to wear Jays uniforms but they all had come from other organizations.
We have had plenty of high upside catchers that were expected to see the show and take over the spot. We have had the Kevin Cash and J.P. Arencibia‘s of the world come through the system in previous seasons. The Jays just released A.J. Jimenez, but still have Juan Graterol and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. These two are going to be fighting for the back-up role behind Martin this spring.
Behind them there top are prospects Reese McGuire and Max Pentecost. Reese McGuire was acquired as part of the Liriano trade this past season. He debuts this season on the Jays Top 30 Prospects at #4 according to MLB.com. Max Pentecost is not ranked too far behind him at #14. Both players have high upsides at the position and the Jays would be wise to watch their development closely. With the pair you have polar opposites. McGuire is regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the minors and Pentecost is known as a hitting machine.
This will be a close competition to watch this Spring.
The bullpen could be a surprise strength
At the beginning of the past season the Jays started with what they thought to be a solid bullpen. They traded for Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez, along with having talent from within like Brett Cecil. The combination ended up starting as a disaster. Storen got off to a terrible start and never truly found the form that made him a staple in the Nationals bullpen. Chavez and Cecil also struggled out of the gate.
The rough start led the Blue Jays front office with a problem they needed to solve before it got out of hand. They brought in veteran help with Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit. The pair helped to stabilize the bullpen, which had a far better finish to the season. The pen still had some issues but they were minor compared to how awful they were in the beginning of the season.
Heading into 2017, the front office has built up a decent core of pitchers for John Gibbons to use. He still has a lights out closer in Roberto Osuna, who has been maturing right before our eyes as he gets better and better. Jason Grilli returns and will once again provide the veteran presence. “Papa cheese” also provides some fire and swagger for the pen. Also returning is rookie stud and late night TV guest Joe Biagini.
There is also a great set of arms joining the fold in Joe Smith and J.P. Howell. The pair signed free agent contracts and will help anchor the bullpen. There also are plenty of surplus arms that could break into the pen conversation. There could be a dark horse candidate laying in the Minor Leagues as well. The Jays have the benefits of having a talent rich system. Regardless of who fills out the pen, the Blue Jays are not short of options and they have a much better foundation than they have had in previous years.
What do you think are some early conclusions we can take away as camp opens?
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