Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Blue Jays Ready For 2017
The four-month-long wait that seemed like it would never end is finally over. Blue Jays baseball is back for another season.
Spring Training officially opens this week at Toronto's Minor League complex in Dunedin, Fla. That's where the work begins for a journey the Blue Jays hope results in a third consecutive postseason appearance.
Toronto made a lot of changes this winter, but this team still looks strikingly similar to 2016's model, and that's probably a good thing. Jose Bautista re-signed, the starting rotation remains intact and Josh Donaldson isn't going anywhere. The loss of Edwin Encarnacion will hurt, but wholesale changes for a team that still has unfinished business might have stung even more.
Here's a closer look at some things you need to know with Toronto's Spring Training set to open at the Bobby Mattick Training Center at Englebert Complex.
Pitchers/catchers report: Tuesday.
First full-squad workout: Saturday.
First Spring Training game: Feb. 25 @ Atlanta, 1:05 p.m. ET.
New faces: DH Kendrys Morales, 1B Steve Pearce, LHP J.P. Howell, RHP Joe Smith.
Morales faces the toughest task of having to replace Encarnacion. But the role isn't exactly new, as the 33-year-old has spent most of his 10-year career as a middle-of-the-order bat. He's coming off a season in which he posted a .795 OPS, but the Blue Jays believe a switch to the hitter-friendly ballparks of the American League East will help Morales get closer to the .847 mark he put up in 2015.
Pearce is the type of player that every contending team would love to have. He can play all over the field, but most of his work is expected to take place at first base in a platoon with Justin Smoak. Even though Pearce was signed primarily because of his numbers against lefties, if Smoak struggles, he could move into more of a full-time role.
Toronto's additions to the bullpen came very late in the offseason, but the club found a way to plug its holes at a relatively cheap price. Howell and Smith should be expected to pitch a lot of high-leverage innings in middle relief, but if one of them doesn't work out, the $3 million price tag means the club still has the ability to look elsewhere. Low risk, with the upside of some moderate reward.
Interesting non-roster invitees: IF Gregorio Petit, RHP Gavin Floyd, RHP Lucas Harrell, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, LHP TJ House.
Petit won't make the team out of camp, but he could serve as an important depth piece if the Blue Jays eventually lose Ryan Goins on waivers. Goins is out of options and cannot be sent to the Minors without clearing waivers, which seems to be the likely course of action, given that Darwin Barney is projecting to be the backup infielder.
Floyd, Oberholtzer and House are competing for a job in the bullpen. Floyd has a pretty good chance at securing a spot, and while Oberholtzer and House are more longshots, that could change if anything happens to Howell. Harrell could also be in the mix for the bullpen, but more realistically, he provides some much-needed starting depth at Triple-A Buffalo.
Prospects to watch: OF Anthony Alford, 1B Rowdy Tellez, RHP Conner Greene, RHP Sean Reid-Foley, IF Richard Urena, IF/OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
None of these prospects are a threat to crack the Opening Day roster, but how they perform this spring will say a lot about their future development. Alford needs to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2016 campaign, Greene needs to re-establish himself as a top pitching prospect and Urena needs to continue his development as a reliable switch-hitter.
Tellez might be the most interesting prospect on this list to follow over the next few months. Pearce and Smoak will open the season in a platoon at first, but if that plan doesn't work out, then Tellez could enter the mix later on with a strong start to the year. Guerrero is still years away from the big leagues, and he'll spend Spring Training on the Minor League side, but it shouldn't be long before he becomes Toronto's top prospect. The club might even reward him with a temporary call-up for an exhibition game this spring.
The Blue Jays play their first spring game against Atlanta on February 25 with their season opener April 3 in Baltimore.
(Toronto Blue Jays)