What non-roster invitee has the best chance of cracking the bullpen?

Feb 21, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Casey Lawrence (59) throws a ball for a photo at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Casey Lawrence (59) throws a ball for a photo at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

The battle for the final two, maybe even three spots in the bullpen is the most heated competition in spring training for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Left field is also quite a battle but nowhere near the amount of options to choose from like there is for the bullpen. It is very likely that none of the non-roster invitees crack the Opening Day roster, save for Mat Latos, but I do believe Latos will be in AAA. Let’s examine the three likeliest candidates (outside of Latos) who could step up and surprise in spring.

3. Jeff Beliveau

I’m ranking Beliveau at three but I actually feel like he has the potential to come into camp and wrestle the 2nd left-hander in the bullpen job away from Aaron Loup. That is obviously assuming the Blue Jays add a 2nd lefty to the bullpen, but  I do feel that John Gibbons will want a second left-hander to be strictly a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy).

Beliveau was last in the majors in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Die-hard fans of the Blue Jays might even remember Beliveau from his time with Tampa. 2015 was a season to forget for Jeff Beliveau but that is because he was injured and his season ended after just 2.2 innings pitched.

The most recent sample size that one could go off of was 2014. Beliveau appeared in 30 games that season totaling 24.0 innings. It is by no means a large sample size, but the numbers were quite good:

  • 10.50 K/9, 0.38 HR/9, 2.63 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, 0.5 fWAR
  • Vs Left-handers: 47 batters faced, .143 BA, .239 OBP, .244 SLG

Right-handers had quite a bit of success against Beliveau but if he is kept to be a LOOGY, he can be quite the effective arm to use in the 6th and 7th innings for John Gibbons to save J.P. Howell.

Beliveau did not pitch in the majors at all in 2016 with the Baltimore Orioles, mainly due to the fact he was working his way back from his injury. In A+ ball, Beliveau pitched in 45.0 innings and posted a 12.80 K/9 but with a pretty ugly 5.00 BB/9. Some encouraging signs for a guy coming back from injury even if it was only A+.

If Beliveau is to make this team, he will have to outperform the likes of Loup, Danny Barnes (right-hander with better splits vs. lefties), Ryan Borucki and Matt Dermody, all of whom are on the 40 man. While the chances are long for Beliveau to make this team, I do think he is a strong darkhorse to win a job.

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2. Gavin Floyd

A familiar name is back. Gavin Floyd was in the 2016 bullpen and it’s crazy to think now but Floyd almost won the 5th starters job away from Aaron Sanchez last spring. Floyd was brought back on a minor-league deal to compete for a spot in the bullpen. Personally, I do not like Gavin Floyd despite the apparent love from Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro, but he does have potential to be a somewhat effective long man in the bullpen.

Floyd’s career has been derailed by injury after injury after injury, and 2016 was much of the same. He was having himself a nice little start to the season before being shut down after 28 appearances (31.0 innings). At the time he was shut down, Floyd’s numbers looked as follows:

  • 8.71 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 1.16 HR/9, 4.06 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 4.26 xFIP, 0.3 fWAR

Floyd’s splits do favor him against left-handers more so than right-handers a season ago. Right-handers demolished Floyd while left-handers only hit .111 against him.

The Blue Jays front office seem to be very high on Gavin Floyd. Floyd has been employed by Mark Shapiro run teams for each of the past 4 seasons. Despite his injury history, Shapiro and Atkins likely see a guy who can be a semi-effective long man. Based on 2016, that could be true. Whether or not Floyd stays healthy is another story.

It is likely Floyd will not make this team. There are much better options than Floyd, even some other non-roster invitees. However, the Blue Jays brass seem to really like him, making him the 2nd likeliest non-roster invitee to crack a spot in my mind.

1. Casey Lawrence

It was announced today that non-roster invitee Casey Lawrence would be starting the Blue Jays Grapefruit opener on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves. Lawrence is seen by many to be a top candidate to maybe come into camp and pitch his way onto the roster.

Lawrence is 29 years old and has been in the Blue Jays organization for 7 years now. He has worked his way up slowly from Low A ball to AAA Buffalo. Lawrence made 15 starts for Buffalo last season going 5-6 with a 3.83 ERA and 3.51 FIP. His K/9 wasn’t too impressive at 6.00 but he has never been a strikeout arm.

Why is a guy who has spent so long in the Blue Jays system suddenly a potential breakout candidate and bullpen candidate? Well, Lawrence made a mechanical adjustment to his delivery last season and it really sparked a bit of a resurgence for him. The adjustment added a few ticks to his average velocity on his pitches.

As evidenced by a career 5.9 K/9, Lawrence is a control pitcher, very similar to how Mark Buehrle was a control pitcher during his career. The mechanical adjustments Lawrence made to his delivery gave him improved command of his sinker. After the adjustment, the results came back all positive and it led to a new minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

It would be a feel-good story if Lawrence made the team out of spring. He is likely destined for Buffalo in 2017 to be AAA starting depth with the likes of other non-roster invitees in Brett OberholtzerT.J. House, and Lucas Harrell. However, a strong spring will put him on the radar more than ever before and will all but solidify us seeing Lawrence make his MLB debut in 2017.

Next: Blue Jays were too hasty according to Encarnacion

While there are lots of candidates, I ultimately see none of these three featured here making the Opening Day roster. Beliveau is my darkhorse to take a left-handed bullpen spot, I feel Floyd likely will not be kept around, and Lawrence starts as AAA depth in Buffalo. However, hopefully,\ this piece shed some light into some arms that aren’t often talked about and one’s we should be keeping our eyes on during February and March.