Blue Jays: Who could take Mitch White’s spot if he starts the season on the IL?
The Toronto Blue Jays have had a fairly smooth Spring Training so far. Some non-structural knee inflammation for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a late arrival at camp for Alejandro Kirk after the birth of his daughter, right quad tightness for Whit Merrifield and a shoulder impingement for Mitch White.
The offense has been firing on all cylinders, with younger prospects performing well so far. The news that all-time Jays great José Bautista will be added to the Level of Excellence on August 12th also is generating a ton of excitement in Jays circles.
In fact, there are very few battles for roster spots. Apart from the fifth starter, the final few bullpen spots, and two bench bats, the 26-man roster is largely set. For that last spot in the rotation, in Sunday's Blue Jays Spring Training game broadcast, Sportsnet reporter Arden Zwelling suggested that Mitch White might start the year on the injured list. That might hand the fifth starter job to southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, who has pitched four scoreless inning so far this spring with seven strikeouts over two starts.
White, acquired from the Dodgers at the trade deadline last year for pitching prospects Nick Frasso and Moises Brito, did throw a 40-pitch side session in camp on Saturday, but is clearly a couple of weeks behind schedule after arriving in Dunedin with a right shoulder impingement. His next steps will be facing hitters in a live bullpen session, and then pitching in spring training games.
Who Could Take Mitch White’s Roster Spot?
Assuming White does indeed land on the IL, the Jays have a number of potential options to take his roster spot as a long man in the bullpen. The bullpen locks currently appear to be closer Jordan Romano, along with Yimi García, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, Erik Swanson and Anthony Bass. That leaves two more spots for relievers as Chad Green recovers from Tommy John surgery and won’t be available until August or September.
The group competing for those two spots includes current 40-man roster pitchers Trevor Richards, Zach Pop, Trent Thornton, Nate Pearson, Yosver Zulueta, Zach Thompson, Thomas Hatch and Hagen Danner. Non-roster invitees Jay Jackson, Junior Fernández, Julián Fernández, Adrián Hernández, Bowden Francis, Paul Fry, Drew Hutchison, Matt Peacock, Jimmy Burnette and others are in the mix as well.
Of course, White is out of minor league options, so would need to make the team if he’s not placed on the IL, traded or placed on waivers. Trevor Richards is also out of options. All of the other 40-man players listed above still have minor league options. However, given the urgency of fielding the most competitive Blue Jays team possible, the best pitchers in camp should make the 26-man roster.
Richards has not been one of the best pitchers in camp, allowing four runs (three earned) in only 1.2 innings of work. Thomas Hatch is also in jeopardy of losing his roster spot altogether after allowing eight earned runs in only 1.2 innings. In fact, once Hyun Jin Ryu and Green are placed on the 60-day IL and removed from the 40-man roster later this month, you could potentially have four open roster spots to add pitching by either trading away or designating Richards and Hatch for assignment.
Another key consideration here is velocity. As both Houston and Phiadelphia showed last fall in the World Series, lockdown bullpens matter; it helps to have multiple relievers who can rear back and fire high-90s, “swing-and-miss” heat in high leverage situations. Guys like Bryan Abreu, Hector Neris and Rafael Montero all served as high leverage bridges to Houston closer Ryan Pressly. The Phillies countered with hard-throwing set up men like Seranthony Dominguez, as well as Andrew Bellatti and José Alvarado to bridge innings to their closer David Robertson.
So based on those considerations, the hardest throwing options for the final spots in the Jays bullpen would be two of Pearson, Pop, Zulueta, Danner, Junior and/or Julián Fernández.
Of those, only Pop and Junior Fernández pitched MLB innings last season. Pearson certainly looks like he could be a high leverage arm, as does Danner. Zulueta may be stretched out as a starter in Triple-A. What do you think Jays fans, who should fill the final two spots in the bullpen?