It appears that Robbie Ray will miss at least his first start of the season after a freak accident at home that led to bruising his elbow. The Jays will need to fill Ray’s spot in the rotation and manager Charlie Montoya stated that he “wouldn’t commit” to who will be taking the ball in place of Ray after Saturday’s loss to the Yankees.
The Jays have already been forced to dive into their pitching depth, with Nate Pearson scheduled to start the season on the sidelines, which seems to have thrusted veteran right-hander Ross Stripling into a rotation spot, leaving him out of the mix to fill in for Ray. With other depth arms like Thomas Hatch on the IL, and Julian Merryweather lacking innings this spring, the two likely candidates to take Ray’s turn rotation are Anthony Kay and Trent Thornton.
After an up and down spring that concluded with Kay getting hit around by a Yankee lineup that was largely made up of AAA hitters, it appears that Thornton is in the driver seat to claim the final rotation spot after a sharp, but brief spring. Thornton appears to be the Jays best option talent wise, but having him fill in for Ray also makes sense for this team long term.
Thornton is set to be arbitration eligible next offseason, so ideally, the Jays would like some clarity on where Thornton stands in the organization as they may have to make a decision around whether he will be part of the club beyond 2021. Seeing him pitch will help with that.
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The Jays are going to have some tough 40 man roster decisions to make in the next year. They’ve got players like Anthony Castro, Tim Mayza, Francisco Liriano and Logan Warmoth who are close to the big leagues and will probably be called upon at some point this season to contribute when injuries occur. Being arbitration eligible means that Thornton is in line for a raise in salary next offseason, which may be something that the Jays are apprehensive about.
All of these factors could put Thornton in position to become a mid-season DFA candidate, or a non-tender candidate next offseason if the Jays need to free up a 40 man roster spot, or simply just want to save some cash. Being able to see what the right hander looks like against big league competition will help GM Ross Atkins come to a conclusion on Thornton, and determine what his future with the organization looks like.
Thornton wasn’t given much of an opportunity to pitch last year due to an elbow injury that required season ending surgery, after making just three starts. Working such a small sample size in 2020 will make it hard for Atkins to part ways with Thornton before seeing what he looks like this season.
We saw the Jays use a similar tactic with Anthony Alford last year. Alford was a former top prospect in the Jays system who was having trouble staying healthy and putting it together at the big league level. The Jays gave Alford one final shot at the beginning of the last season, but after an underwhelming start to the 2020 campaign, he was DFA’d to create an opening on the 40-man. A similar tactic would definitely be beneficial in Thornton’s case and could provide some closure if he continues to show little development, which would make it easier for the front office to move on from him.
Trent Thornton’s time with the Jays may be running out. Being given the fifth starter spot to open the season may provide him one last opportunity to show management that he’s someone who is worthwhile holding on to.