If the Blue Jays decide to keep Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano, they could roll with eight arms in the bullpen, and their three-man bench would probably be fine for at least a while.
Now that Spring Training has actually gotten underway, it’s a little easier to start speculating on who could make the Opening Day roster. A lot could change before the season’s first pitch of course, but for a team unlikely to add much, if anything more in free agency, the roster is starting to take some shape.
One of the big questions for Ross Atkins and the front office this spring will be whether or not Elvis Luciano looks ready to pitch against big league hitters. The 19 year old has never pitched above Rookie-ball before, but he has enough talent that Atkins and company saw fit to take him from the Royals in the Rule 5 draft, and if he doesn’t make the team and stay on the big league roster he’ll have to be offered back to Kansas City,
Normally I wouldn’t think the Blue Jays would push a kid into the big league picture this quickly, especially given the status of their current rebuild. However, Luciano’s situation is unique in that they must include him if they want to protect his roster spot, so there’s a good chance he’ll at least get an extended audition as long as he doesn’t look overwhelmed.
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Without seeing him in game action, my guess is that he’ll at least get an opportunity to start the year in Toronto to see if he’s ready to contribute. In order to do that the Blue Jays may feel the need to keep him out of higher leverage situations to protect his development, and one of the easiest ways to avoid that is to carry an extra bullpen arm. That comes at the expense of another spot on the roster of course, but their bench may be set up to handle the task, at least to start the year.
Knowing that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is almost certain to start the season in Buffalo, the Blue Jays probably have a lineup that looks like this:
- C- Danny Jansen
- 1B- Justin Smoak
- 2B- Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
- 3B- Brandon Drury
- SS- Freddy Galvis
- LF- Teoscar Hernandez
- CF- Kevin Pillar
- RF- Randal Grichuk
- DH- Kendrys Morales
I could have listed Devon Travis at second base and put Gurriel Jr. in the “utility” spot, but I think he’ll start most of the time, somewhere on the diamond. That said, the Blue Jays have mentioned that they’re going to try both Gurriel Jr. and Travis in the outfield this year, with the former having experience on his MiLB resume. With Gurriel being able to cover shortstop, second and third base, as well as the outfield corners, that gives the Blue Jays a lot of depth with one player.
Even once Guerrero Jr. arrives, the Blue Jays do have the option of using Drury in the outfield as well, as he’s played there in the past. He can also provide depth behind the young phenom after he arrives, and also at second base. Knowing all of that, the Blue Jays could use their third bench piece in whatever way they deem the most necessary, and that could even change after Vlad Jr’s arrival.
The expectation is that the last roster spot or two would come down to a battle of depth outfielders like Billy McKinney, Dalton Pompey, Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr., and possibly several others. That could very well end up being the case, especially after McKinney’s strong performance last year, and the fact that Pompey is out of minor league options. However, the Blue Jays might be wise to consider taking another infielder like Richard Urena, especially given the added positional flexibility from Gurriel Jr., Drury, and potentially Travis.
Add it all up, and the Blue Jays can likely survive with a three-man bench, at least as long as their key pieces are healthy. That would change drastically if someone like Gurriel Jr. or Galvis were to hit the disabled list, but hopefully the young roster will enjoy a good season of health and development at the highest level.
And if the Blue Jays decide to hang on to Luciano and even roll with an eight-man bullpen, there will be even more playing time for the youngsters to split up. At least to start the year, that should work just fine.