Who will be the fifth starter?
The GOAT of all position battles, which starting pitcher will step up during Spring Training? The Jays all of a sudden have an abundance of riches as far as depth starters go. You start the conversation with Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White, both of whom disappointed during their times as Blue Jays last season.
These two both offer a double-edged sword when considering the best options for their usage in 2023. Both have experience starting at the big league level, but both also offer intriguing skillsets should they be stored in the bullpen.
A glance at Kikuchi’s splits from last year are kind of baffling. One of baseball’s best pitchers in May, Kikuchi would crash and burn from then on, and find himself in the pen. The 18.1 innings as a reliever saw him produce a 16.2 K/9! I think potential is there for Kikuchi to be a decent starter, it’s just reliant on him honing his arsenal that can obviously produce swing and misses.
White has done both in the past as well, albeit neither particularly effectively last season. However, White’s past success with the Dodgers is what the Jays are looking to see come spring. A career 3.58 ERA over his Dodgers tenure, while being versatile to boot, offers a glimpse of what White could provide. With Kikuchi and White leading the conversation, there’s also a handful of dark horses to look out for.
Veteran Drew Hutchison might be worth keeping an eye on. Since being traded to the Pirates back in 2016, the former Jays Opening Day starter has bounced around multiple organizations. After spending time in the Pirates, Dodgers, Phillies, Rangers, Yankees, and Tigers system, Hutch has come home on a minor league deal. Hutchison was serviceable over his 28 appearances as a Tiger last year, pitching to a 4.53 ERA. Nothing here jumps out at anyone, but he’ll be worth watching.
Newly-acquired Zach Thompson is worth keeping an eye on as well. Having started 36 games between the Marlins and Pirates, Thompson brings a versatile right handed arm who, when on, can limit hard contact with a deep arsenal of pitches.
Bowden Francis and Hayden Juenger are the last names to watch as far as battling for the rotation goes. Francis made his MLB debut last year, a stint that only lasted two thirds of an inning. He’d be very inconsistent in AAA Buffalo, but show promise in producing strikeouts. He’s produced gaudy winter league numbers as well, as over nine starts he’s pitched to a 1.51 ERA with a 4.8 H/9 and 11.9 K/9 in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Juenger is the lesser known of the two but he’s worth learning about. He made it to AAA as a 21-year-old last season, and had a 3.76 ERA and 10.2 K/9 through 88.2 minor league innings last season.
Ricky Tiedemann and Yosver Zulueta will be worth looking at as well, but I don’t see starting games being their role should they break camp with the team.
In summation, I’d say anyone besides Kikuchi or White is a long shot. Both of them have experience and were given chances as recently as last season. Both are closest to tapping into their potential as well. Regardless, competition in the spring is always a good thing, and Spring Training should solve the fifth starter question, with these guys battling it out.