Blue Jays: We’re about to find out if Spring performance matters

ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Gaviglio #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sam Gaviglio #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

You often hear that Spring Training results don’t matter, but for a young team with decisions to make on their Opening Day roster, we’ll see if that’s true.

Yesterday’s game with the Phillies was fun for a lot of reasons. First, we actually got to watch the broadcast, which has been a rare treat during Grapefruit League play for anyone not hanging out in Florida right now. Secondly though, some of the more exciting players in the Blue Jays’ system this Spring were at it again, adding to their individual cases to make the team.

The list would be headlined by Anthony Alford and the hitting clinic he’s been putting on so far. He hit his fourth home run of the Spring on Saturday, and so far he’s slashing .333/.391/.952(!) through 21 at bats. These are obviously not sustainable numbers, but it’s exciting to see Alford putting things together at the plate, especially because the rest of his skill set is so tantalizing. He’s already stolen two bases as well, and showed off his speed in the outfield, which could be a plus defensive asset.

Alford’s emergence so far has me wondering how closely Ross Atkins and company are paying attention, and how much weight they’ll be putting on the Grapefruit League performance of their roster. A guy like Alford wasn’t expected to realistically compete for an Opening Day roster spot, at least not as long as Kevin Pillar is still around. At this early stage of things though, Alford is making a strong case for making the team and earning some serious playing time once the regular season begins.

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To be fair, Spring Training isn’t about putting up numbers or even pursuing wins for a lot of veterans. It’s about getting ready for the regular season, and sometimes a players goes to the plate with only one goal, disregarding the results of the at bat. I believe we saw that from Bryce Harper early yesterday for example, as he seemed intent on hitting the ball to left field during one of his plate appearances. For a guy like that, it really doesn’t matter if he gets on base or not in early March.

For other less established players though, it’s always sold as a competition for roster spots on the team, even if they are hard to come by. Despite the fact that the Blue Jays are poised to endure a rebuilding year they do have a bit of a roster crunch going on right now, and a few players who may deserve to make the team could be left out.

To start with, there are only so many outfield spots, and if the Blue Jays plan on having Pillar, Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez get the majority of the playing time, then a talented player or two could be on the outside looking in. Alford would be the most obvious case, but both Dalton Pompey and Billy McKinney have looked good so far this Spring as well, and each of them are hard in pursuit of a roster spot. Pompey is out of minor league options and will likely be traded if he doesn’t make the team, and McKinney is looking to build off his cup of coffee last year after arriving from New York.

It’s not just the outfield where this could be an “issue” either, as the Blue Jays will have to sort out their starting rotation at some point. If everyone is healthy they’ll have six viable options for the rotation including Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Matt Shoemaker, Clay Buchholz, Clayton Richard, and Ryan Borucki. We’ve talked about the rotation situation a fair bit here at Jays Journal, but it’ll likely come down to deciding on whether they put Richard in the bullpen, or start Borucki in Triple-A.

One would hope that Borucki’s stellar rookie performance last year would earn him a job by default, but it’s possible he could start the year with a short stint in Triple-A. I’m not a fan of that idea at all, but I do understand that the Blue Jays will want to control as many pitching assets as they can, and that scenario could play out to start the year for that reason. That said, I think Richard would fit nicely as a second left-hander in the bullpen, and I think Borucki has more than earned his place on the team on Opening Day based on what he did last year.

Unfortunately the young lefty’s Spring hasn’t gone that well so far, as batters have hit .296 off of him in his first three appearances spanning seven innings. It’s a small sample size to be sure and he’s got plenty of time to turn things around, but right now his 6.43 ERA and 2.14 WHIP don’t help his case to break camp with the team.

We’ll see if it matters for Sam Gaviglio either, who has been excellent in his first 9.1 innings pitched, holding a 0.00 ERA and keeping hitters to a .161 batting average. He made 24 starts for a depleted Blue Jay rotation last year, but right now he’s probably a more likely candidate for the long-man role in the bullpen. Even that could be an uphill battle for him though, even with the strong Spring performance. We’ll see if he can keep it up, and if it ultimately factors into the bullpen decisions, because so far he’s been great.

I could go on and talk about Bo Bichette‘s strong showing (he’ll no doubt start in Triple-A regardless), or the performance of a guy like Joe Biagini (will there be room?), and with seven straight wins the Blue Jays obviously have a lot of players who are performing well at the moment. They’ve got plenty more games to play over the next few weeks before Opening Day at the end of the month, and there’s no doubt that time will correct some of the stats that pop off the page in their small sample sizes at the moment.

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However, for guys like Alford, Pompey, Borucki, Gaviglio, and many more, it remains to be seen how much stock this front office will put in Grapefruit League performance. In an ideal world everyone will be healthy to start the year, and there will be plenty of tough decisions to make.