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Meet Your 2017 Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have named their 25-man Opening Day roster. Now, remember, this is just the group of guys who will suit up on April 3rd in Baltimore. There’s going to be some flux all season due to performance and injury. But the players insist it’s a huge honour to be named to the roster for the first day of the season.

The big news is Roberto Osuna heading to the 10-day disabled list, and Melvin Upton Jr, being outright released.  Let’s take a look at all 25, highlighting both the positives they bring to the club, and the issues that uncertainties that surround them.

BATTERS

C – Russell Martin – #55

Upshot: Even in a down season, Martin still ended up posting good numbers. Having a more capable backup this year to give him extra rest should lead to less irregularity in his production.

Question Mark: He’s another year older, and needed to have a procedure done on his knee over the winter. At what point does his body catch up to him?

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Photo c/o John Lott

C – Jarrod Saltalamacchia – #10

Upshot: He’s a switch hitter who will give the team more production than Josh Thole could ever dream of. He had more home runs (3) in Spring Training than Thole did in his three seasons as a Blue Jay (2)… He seems to have taken to the pitching staff very quickly. There should be a less obvious drop-off when Martin needs a day off.

Question Mark: Not known as a terrific defender, there’s already rumblings the brass is unimpressed with his throwing arm. Baltimore stole three bases off him in one game last week. The concern is legitimate enough that they kicked tires on Derek Norris before he signed in Tampa. If someone better comes along, how quickly will they move to replace him?

1B – Justin Smoak – #14

Upshot: Another switch hitter who can put a charge in the ball, and he’s also an excellent defender. Probably better suited for a bench role, but they see something there and are intent on giving him a shot.

Question Mark: Will he ever cut down on the strikeouts? He doesn’t need to be an MVP in this lineup, but more consistent on-base production will be necessary. How long will his leash be? If he’s under .200 at Victoria Day, will we see a Rowdy Tellez sighting?

1B/OF – Steve Pearce – #28

Upshot: He absolutely destroys left-handed pitching, and is no slouch against righties either. Whether it’s at first or in the outfield, he’s likely going to be playing close to everyday, sheltered in the bottom half of a strong lineup.

Question Mark: How does his body withstand playing everyday in the outfield on turf? He hasn’t been particularly durable (his career-high games played is 103), and running around on the carpet consistently doesn’t seem like an ideal way to protect him. Is probably best suited to play first more often than we’re going to see out of the gate.

1B/DH – Kendrys Morales – #8

Upshot: Hey! Another switch hitter! Morales has legit pop, and considering the power numbers he put up in pitcher-haven Kansas City the last few years, it’s easy to envision him dropping a 35 home run, 100 RBI season in his debut north of the border.

Question Mark: Will the pressure of being Edwin’s replacement hold him back? Everyone knows this is the guy they picked over the franchise icon, and if he starts slow, how does he keep that narrative from snowballing? From everything I’ve read, I highly doubt this will be an issue… Hasn’t played a lot of first base the last few years. Will he be able to adequately get out there 25-30 times a year to let someone else DH?

2B – Devon Travis – #29

Upshot: The best candidate on the team to hit .300, and the most logical fit for the leadoff spot. Injuries have slowed him through the first two seasons of his career, but I wouldn’t rule out a 20 home run campaign if he can play the whole year.

Question Mark: For the second year in a row, he had to deal with injury rehab in his offseason. Both were relatively freak occurrences so I don’t want to call him injury-prone just yet, but at what point does this become a concern? He didn’t get a ton of at-bats in Spring Training—will that lack of work hinder his start to the season?

SS – Troy Tulowitzki – #2

Upshot: 25 other cities would love to have a lineup deep enough to bat Tulo fifth. Despite an awful April, he finished with a very strong offensive season, and could have been even better if he didn’t miss time with a quad injury. While he’s not what he used to be, he’s still an absolute delight to watch defensively. Probably the best on the team.

Question Mark: There have been signs the offence will continue to slow down. Is this the year that happens? There’s not a lot to criticize with this player.

3B – Josh Donaldson – #20

Upshot: Despite numerous injuries, still put up video game numbers in his second year in Toronto, and if not for his physical constraints, might have been the MVP again. He’s certainly got an opportunity to win the award again this year if everything clicks for him.

Question Mark: Is the calf injury behind him? Like Travis, he didn’t get a lot of work at the major league level in camp. But then again, how much work does a guy with his pedigree need? The sky is the limit for JD in ’17.

IF – Darwin Barney – #18

Upshot: He’s not a guy you want playing every day, but was an above average bench player last year. He can play anywhere on the infield, is a former gold glove short stop, and didn’t embarrass himself when playing left field in a pinch last year. I’ve got room for him on my bench any day.

Question Mark: Can he repeat last season’s offensive success? It was his best year since hitting .276 with the Cubs in 2011. He won’t get nearly that much playing time, but needs to be productive enough to remain a viable bench option.

CF – Kevin Pillar – #11

Upshot: You can count on one hand the number of guys who can play centre field better than him—and you probably wouldn’t even need the whole hand. His highlight reel speaks for itself. Great baserunner, good base stealer, and makes hard contact. His goal this year is to get more selective … nothing wrong with him as your number nine hitter.

Question Mark: Will his commitment to plate discipline bear fruit? It’s not necessarily about increasing his number of walks, but swinging at better pitches for him to hit. He can hit it pretty hard when he gets it right—the goal seems to be swinging at those pitches more often and laying off the junk he can’t do much with.

 

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Photo c/o John Lott

RF – Jose Bautista – #19

Upshot: #BatFlip

Question Mark: Was last year really just an aberration and result of freak injuries? Will this year be the year he has a “contract year” like we were expecting in 2016? Is his arm strength back? So far, it looks like the answer is yes to all of those. I expect Jose to mash this year.

OF – Ezequiel Carrera – #3

Upshot: He’s scrappy, a spark plug, a firecracker! Pick your adjective for a guy who isn’t very good but tries hard and occasionally gets results, winning over the fans. He was solid in the playoffs last year, and showed he can get on a roll, but the valleys dip far too low to expect him to be a regular contributor.

Question Mark: Does he stick with the team all season? If he can’t produce (especially against right-handed pitching), when will they find someone to take his job? Dalton Pompey, when he gets healthy, is knocking at the door. So is Darrell Ceciliani. Upton’s release makes his job much more secure.

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Photo c/o John Lott

UTIL – Ryan Goins – #17

Upshot: A fantastic defender at every position they’ve asked him to cover, which this spring has expanded to include both left and right field. He’s morphing into a super utility guy that is really useful to have on your bench.

Question Mark: Is he ever going to be able to hit big league pitching? Outside of August 2015, when that team could do no wrong, he’s been pretty much a black hole at the bottom of the order.

PITCHERS

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Photo c/o John Lott

SP – Marco Estrada – #25

Upshot: He’s been outstanding the last two seasons, despite working through a back injury all of 2016. He’s been Toronto’s best pitcher in the postseason and, in a contract year, appears poised to transfer that over to another full season.

Question Mark: Has he just been lucky? Is BABIP has been remarkably low for two years in a row, and some question whether the weak contact he induces is sustainable. It’s always a risky proposition to bet on a change-up specialist.

SP – J.A. Happ – #33

Upshot: Has transformed himself into one of the best left-handed starters in the league, almost over night. He was a 20-game winner a year ago, but much of that was attributed to his great run support. Like Estrada, he’s likely still got to prove the last year and a half weren’t an accident.

Question Mark: If the run support dips (6.06, 2nd in MLB last season), how does that change his effectiveness?

SP – Marcus Stroman – #6

Upshot: Hmm. Pitched great in the wild card game. Won the MVP of the World Baseball Classic for Team USA with another dazzling performance. Has won pretty much every big start he’s made since arriving in Toronto.

Question Mark: Can he approach every game like a must-win? There hasn’t been a lot said about him this preseason (outside of the WBC), and he might want to stake his claim as staff ace. I’ve got high hopes for StroShow in 2017.

SP – Francisco Liriano – #45

Upshot: If you’ve watched his starts this spring, you’d think it was the middle of July. He’s looked on point with all of his pitches, both in terms of velocity and command. He had a sub-3.00 ERA in his time in Toronto last year, and seems to have been invigorated by his reunion with Martin.

Question Mark: Can Russ Magic last the whole year? With Drew Hutchison failing to make the Pirates opening day roster, this trade already feels like a huge win.

SP – Aaron Sanchez – #41

Upshot: Working through the constant distraction of an innings limit and potential move to the bullpen, Sanchez led the AL with a 3.00 ERA last season, earning some Cy Young consideration. With the shackles off and a year under his belt, the expectation is he takes another step forward to being the ace everyone has envisioned since he was drafted in 2010.

Question Mark: How does his arm respond to the stress of the increased workload last year? As a guy who still really only throws two pitches, does he have enough to stay ahead of the adjustments hitters are going to make on him? Or will his change-up emerge as the third pitch that pushes him from star to superstar.

RP – Ryan Tepera – #52

Upshot: This one is a bit of a surprise, as all signs pointed to Mike Bolsinger taking the last spot as a guy who could add some length in the middle innings. But after Bolsinger’s rough outing in Montreal, he was placed on waivers in lieu of Tepera, who is familiar with the club.

Question Mark: He’s not an overly impressive reliever, and that’s evident in the fact he was sent up and down six times last year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see more of that in 2017.

RP – Dominic Leone – #51

Upshot: He impressed in camp, but was a victim to the numbers crunch, having options and able to be sent to Buffalo. He gets the call to replace the injured Roberto Osuna, hopefully only for the first week of the season.

Question Mark: Is a rebound finally in store for him? He hasn’t had impressive big league numbers since 2014 with Seattle. The Jays hope their coaching staff can harness the raw talent in his powerful right arm.

RP – Aaron Loup – #62

Upshot: The velocity and movement both returned for the lefty this spring, which is great news for a guy who’s been dreadful the last two years. But when he’s on, he’s nearly untouchable for left-handed hitters, so he can be a tremendous weapon in a bullpen that’s far from a sure thing.

Question Mark: Can he transfer his spring success into summer? It’s one thing to do it in the comfy Florida sun, but another entirely when the lights come on for opening day. Considering his track record, he won’t have a long rope.

RP – J.P. Howell – #56

Upshot: This veteran southpaw takes over for Brett Cecil, providing a lot of the same intangibles. If you remove a couple of bad outings, his 2016 numbers look much better than the grand picture.

Question Mark: Will his mid-80s stuff play in the AL East? This isn’t the NL West, where hangers don’t always turn into bangers. But he wanted the challenge of coming back to this division (he spent six seasons in Tampa Bay, four as a reliever), so he’s got confidence in himself, at least.

RP – Joe Smith – #38

Upshot: He’s a wicked, side-winding righty who can give hitters nightmares. After his second stint on the DL last year he appeared to come back strong to finish the season, but was left off the Cubs’ postseason roster. He’ll be used in the 7th inning to bridge to Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna.

Question Mark: Is last season fully behind him? When side-armers aren’t effective, it can get really ugly. Given the history of seventh inning relievers around here the last few years, it won’t take long for fans to lose their patience with him if it doesn’t pan out.

RP – Joe Biagini – #31

Upshot: Was fantastic as a rookie last year, exceeding all expectations as a Rule 5 pick from San Francisco. He hit a blip in the middle of the season which caused John Gibbons to back him off from high-leverage situations, but by the time the playoffs came around, he was one of the few guys who could be counted on. This year, he’ll likely be asked to appear over multiple innings in his outings, and some have even suggested he could be used as a ninth inning option when Osuna needs a night off.

Question Mark: Will there be a sophomore slump? Similar to Sanchez, there’s a chance the league makes adjustments to him, and it will be up to Biagini to adjust back and make himself difficult to hit off.

RP – Jason Grilli – #37

Upshot: He was (for the most part) magnificent after arriving from Atlanta in May. He really was the face of the bullpen transformation.  The velocity looks good, the slider looks good. All he needs to do is replicate 2016 and Jays fans will be giddy.

Question Mark: Uhh, everything. The dude is 40 years old. The entire year might be spent waiting for the other shoe to drop for Canada’s favourite Grill Master.

RP – Roberto Osuna – #52* (10-day Disabled List)

Upshot: He’s been so dominant at such a young age, and there’s reason to think he can keep improving. He very well could be Toronto’s closer for the next decade and beyond.

Question Mark: His only appearance at the WBC was awful. He’s missed time in spring with a neck/back problem. He hasn’t pitched on back-to-back days yet.  Should we be alarmed? I say no, but these are all red flags that would make a rocky start unsurprising. Ultimately, I think he’ll be okay.

***

So these are the 25 men we ride into battle with at the start of April. It’s a group with legitimate championship aspirations, and hopefully we’re here at the start of October debating the playoff roster.

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