Blue Jays: It sounds like John Axford has a job in Toronto

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27: John Axford
DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27: John Axford /

The Blue Jays have several veteran arms in camp this spring, and it sounds like John Gibbons believes in at least one for sure in John Axford.

Like every other team in the MLB, the Blue Jays have some decisions to make before Opening Day rolls around. For the most part their team is pretty much set, save for the plethora of minor injuries they’re suddenly dealing with that could tweak things a bit.

The one battle they do have going on is in the bullpen, where several noteworthy names are vying for one of the final spots in the bullpen. Veterans like Al Alburquerque, Tyler Clippard, Craig Breslow, and others are in camp on minor league deals, hoping to show they still have what it takes to get big league hitters out. One veteran who seems to have proven that to the Blue Jays is John Axford, the soon to be 35 year old Canadian right-hander.

In fact according to John Gibbons, he’s proven enough to show he still belongs at the highest level of baseball.

"“I’ve seen, to this point, everything I need to see…. he should be pitching in the big leagues, no doubt”- John Gibbons via @MLBnetwork"

Axford spent last season with the Oakland A’s, having the worst season of his professional career. In 22 appearances he finished with a 6.43 ERA, posting an uncharacteristically high 2.095 WHIP, and walking 17 batters in just 21 innings of work. He dealt with injury issues including a shoulder strain that landed him on the DL, but even when healthy he didn’t look like himself. It was a far cry from the same pitcher who posted a 3.97 ERA in 68 appearances the year before in Oakland.

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All that said, he’s looked great in spring camp with the Blue Jays this year, and it looks as though he’s impressed John Gibbons enough to get his vote on making the team anyway. There are few weeks before the final decisions need to be made and a lot can happen, but Gibbons and the coaching staff have had a pretty reasonable amount of time to evaluate the 6’5 right-hander, and there’s good reason for them to like what they’ve seen.

He’s been hitting the mid-nineties with his fastball, and hadn’t allowed an earned run during Grapefruit League action before his outing on Tuesday. The earned run he allowed against the Braves was his first in 4.2 innings pitched this month, and he’s struck out seven batters against just two walks.

Assuming he does make the team, Axford would presumably join a group including the likes of Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Seung-hwan Oh, Aaron Loup, and likely another from the veteran group in camp on minor league deals.

The nine year veteran will also need to perform well early in the season, as non-guaranteed contracts like his can be particularly vulnerable in the first few weeks of the season, especially while teams are still sorting out their 25 and 40 man rosters. That said, if he keeps throwing the ball he has been this month, there’s a good chance he’ll stick around.

He might not be the same guy who saved 46 games for the Milwaukee Brewers back in 2011, but having another power arm in the bullpen with closer’s experience isn’t a bad thing. On a minor league deal, it could be a big time bargain for the Blue Jays, and a dream come true for the Canuck finally getting a chance to play for Canada’s only MLB team.

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