Blue Jays: Biggest surprises and disappointments so far in Spring Training
The Toronto Blue Jays to this point have had an extremely productive Spring Training, identifying many future big leaguers as well as seeing some players bounce back from poor performances last season. Unfortunately, with some good, comes some bad and the Jays have definitely experienced that this spring. At the end of the day, it is only Spring Training and none of this matters until these players take the field for the 2023 regular season.
Kiermaier was a good signing for the Jays in the off season and has shown nothing but promise so far. He has put on a defensive display in center field, proving that he is the right person to replace George Springer. One thing that has been a struggle for him in his career has been hitting, but he has shown good signs at the plate. He has hit for a .556 batting average in four games and has also driven in three runs. If Kiermaier can contribute offensively while continuing to show off his excellent defense, he will certainly be a great addition for the Jays this year.
After an extremely disappointing 2022 season, Kikuchi has done everything he can to impress the coaching staff and prove why he should be the fifth starter this season. In two starts he has thrown four shutout innings and has only given up one hit. The new pitch clock rules seem to really help him because he has said he tends to overthink things such as his mechanics. Whether it’s the new pitch clock rules or the beard, Kikuchi has been really good so far and hopefully will keep up on this stellar pace.
Espinal’s 2022 season had a rough finish as he fell off from his early season All-Star form dramatically. This spring, he finds himself in what seems to be a tight competition for the starting second baseman position. Espinal has hit for a .500 batting average with five runs batted in and one home run in six games played. His competition with Whit Merrifield for the starting second base job has because a much tougher decision for manager John Schneider. His potential to be a very good player is there, which was shown early on last season. Whether he can tap into that potential is a different question, but so far this spring he has shown promising signs that he can.
Honorable mention: Cavan Biggio
Varsho was arguably the Blue Jays' biggest offseason acquisition, but to this point has not shown great signs. On December 23, 2022, the Jays traded outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and catcher Gabriel Moreno to Arizona in exchange for Varsho. So far in Spring Training, he has struggled at the plate with a .188 batting average and just one run batted in across six games. In his first five games, Varsho showed almost no life in the plate, but showed some encouraging signs in his sixth game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Against the Phillies, he had two hits and a run driven in, which basically makes up all of his stats so far this spring. Even though he has been a slight disappointment so far to some Jays fans, there shouldn’t be a doubt that he can have a hot start to the regular season. It is always difficult for players when they join a new team, which could be a reason to the rough spring that he has had.
Like Varsho, Bassitt was another one of the major Jays offseason pickups. The 34-year-old pitcher is starting his ninth season in the majors and has come out a little slow so far this spring. In two appearances and five innings pitched, he has given up three runs and five hits. These stats may not look that bad, but it is the lineups he was facing that show the most concern. In his first appearance against the Tigers, Bassitt pitched two innings giving up two hits and one run. His command looked a little bit shaky against a weak lineup. His next appearance was against the Phillies, where he gave up three hits and two runs in three innings. In this outing, he looked to be struggling against what was close to the Phillies starting lineup for Opening Day. It is extremely early on in the season, but come the regular season, the Jays will be relying on him to be lights out against top level teams. Once he gets comfortable with catchers Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk, things should definitely trend up for Bassitt.
Richards had a rough ending to the 2022 season and that has only continued into the spring. He has pitched 1.2 innings giving up four runs on six hits for a 16.20 earned run average. Considering he is in a battle for a spot in the bullpen, he needs to step up his play sooner rather than later if he wants a spot on the roster come opening day. Some may have thought that after a rather poor 2022 season, he would have tried to impress the coaching staff as quick as possible. If he continues to perform like this he will find himself on the outside looking in for a roster spot.
(Dis)Honorable mention: Thomas Hatch