How will the bullpen shape up?
MLB teams' bullpen are almost never guaranteed before spring training, as is the case with the Blue Jays. Still, I could say seven guys that pretty much have to be in the bullpen on Opening Day. Jordan Romano, Erik Swanson, Yimi García, Anthony Bass, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber and one of Kikuchi or White. That’s seven spots taken up by effective relievers who are major league quality, leaving one spot open for competition.
As of now, it’s Trevor Richards’ job to lose. Richards has qualities of a good reliever. Coming off of a season with a 11.5 K/9, at first glance it’s odd to think the Jays would get rid of him. But, with him having the unfortunate tendency of giving up homers and walks, there’s a chance that a lesser known reliever could prove themselves in the spring. There's a decent chance that there are other options that are just flat out better than Richards already in the organization.
One of the relievers I’d genuinely rather have, if healthy, is Nate Pearson. 2022 was a disastrous season for Pearson, who due to a number of ailments never made an appearance for the Blue Jays. Seemingly healthy now and only 25, there’s still time for Pearson to become that impact arm the Jays thought of when he was a first round pick. Having recently produced great results in winter ball, giving up zero runs over 12 innings with a lowly 3.8 H/9, Pearson should be given a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen this spring. The only barrier is the presence of minor league options. Pearson can be sent to Buffalo with zero repercussions, something to keep in mind when the roster is being assembled at the end of March.
Yosver Zulueta is another arm that is too tantalizing to ignore. The top prospect sits in the upper 90s and routinely touches 100mph. He also possess solid off-speed with the resume of a starting pitcher in the minors. I would say this is a Roberto Osuna or Miguel Castro in 2015 situation, but that bullpen had little depth compared to this one in 2023. Zulueta could show up to camp and impress, but it’d have to be a lot if he was to break camp with the team.
Outside of the young relievers with minor league options, there are some former major leaguers who could all see time in the bullpen for the Jays in 2023. Zach Pop, Trent Thornton, and Matt Gage all saw time in the majors last year, and all bring a unique element to the pen. Trent Thornton has shown flashes of thriving in a multi-inning role. Gage excelled over 13 innings last year, as well as dominating AAA, leaving many puzzled as to why he was shunned from the MLB roster for most of last season. Lastly, Pop has some of the best stuff in the organization. A bowling ball sinker in the upper 90s with a wipeout slider could be effective, he just needs to become more consistent. Recent minor league signing Paul Fry offers major league experience as well. A former Diamondbacks member and Orioles reliever, Fry has had good seasons in the past working as a lefty reliever.
The bullpen is always in a state of flux, but Spring Training should show us how it’ll shape up before March 30th.