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Opening Day Roster Projection: Issue I

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We’re just ten days away from the start of the 2019 MLB season, so naturally the rosters are taking shape, with only fringe battles remaining. And projecting who will be lining up along the baselines for player introductions on March 28 is all the rage right now. So I’m adding my two cents as well.

As has been reported, there aren’t many jobs up for grabs for this Blue Jays club. And the ones that are available aren’t all that sexy. I’ll break it down by area of the roster to isolate where the final few battles remain.

Starting Rotation (5)

  1. Marcus Stroman
  2. Aaron Sanchez
  3. Clayton Richard
  4. Matt Shoemaker
  5. Ryan Borucki

This is likely the order the starters will appear in the first four games against Detroit, and the fifth game of the season against the Orioles. The intrigue will come a few weeks into the season when Clay Buchholz is ready to join the club. At that point, assuming full health, a decision will need to be made on whether to send Borucki to Triple-A, or Richard to the bullpen.

Positional Locks (11)

6. Danny Jansen (C)

7. Luke Maile (C)

8. Justin Smoak (1B)

9. Kendrys Morales (1B/DH)

10. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (2B/SS)

11. Freddy Galvis (SS)

12. Brandon Drury (3B)

13. Kevin Pillar (CF)

14. Randal Grichuk (RF)

15. Teoscar Hernandez (LF)

16. Billy McKinney (OF)

This features the starting nine players, plus two bench spots (backup catcher Luke Maile, and platoon/reserve outfielder McKinney. Nothing’s been said for sure about McKinney, who is able to be optioned to Buffalo to start the season, but since manager Charlie Montoyo has said he’s a candidate to hit leadoff when in the lineup, one has to assume they’re reaching for the pen to ink his name on the roster. Which is bad news for another versatile outfielder who was hoping to break camp with the club. More on him in a moment. McKinney has value in being able to play all three outfield spots (though when Pillar is out, it’s more likely Grichuk slides to centre, with McKinney in right), and he’s been given a brief look at first base this spring. Given how much emphasis the new regime has placed on improving the defence, it’s doubtful they want to see Morales playing first base on Smoak’s off days. McKinney and Gurriel are candidates to fill in, though by my recollection, Gurriel has not seen any game action there this spring.

Bullpen (6)

17. Ken Giles (closer)

18. Ryan Tepera

19. Bud Norris

20. Tim Mayza (lefty)

21. John Axford

22. Joe Biagini

Both Axford and Norris are in camp on minor league deals, and need a 40-man roster spot to be opened in order to be added to the team. But based on comments from the manager, both seem poised to be in Toronto later this month.

Utility Infielder (1)

23A – Eric Sogard

23B – Richard Ureña

Both players are getting a long look in camp, but in my eyes the battle seems more cosmetic than anything else. Ureña is a switch-hitter, and though younger and possessing options, also holds a 40-man roster spot. Sogard has been around the block, but would require a roster spot being opened for him. The Jays already need to clear space for Axford and Norris, as mentioned above, and just might not have the roster flexibility, or desire to subtract from that group, to make space for a career backup who will receive minimal playing time during the first month of the season. The club needs to see what it has in Ureña, who has has hit .257 in 167 big-league plate appearances over the last two seasons. Ureña will likely be pushed out of the picture when Devon Travis and/or Vladimir Guerrero makes their way to the MLB level. Both are currently sidelined with injuries, and in Guerrero’s case, service time manipulation.

The Final Two

24A – Sam Gaviglio

24B – Danny Barnes

24C – Elvis Luciano

24D – Dalton Pompey

Two members of this group will head north to start the season, and there’s a compelling case for each player.

Gaviglio – was a serviceable member of the staff last year, but he doesn’t hold prospect-level status. He could be the leader of what’s going to be a young rotation in Buffalo (with Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, and Jacob Waguespack), but the length he offers is a skill set the other members of the bullpen don’t possess. He has the ability to pitch 3-4 innings of relief in the event of a short outing from the starter, or a lengthy extra innings affair.

Barnes – Has been on the roster for most of the last three seasons, and while he struggled a bit last year (career-high 5.71 ERA in 47 games), he’s a proven commodity. He cleared waivers in the offseason and is currently not on the 40-man rosters, two factors that don’t work in his favour.

Luciano – The 19-year old prospect was selected from Kansas City in the Rule 5 draft. If he doesn’t remain on the roster all season, he must be offered back to the Royals. From an asset management standpoint, he seems a lock to at least begin the year with the big club, though it comes with risk, as he’s never pitched above the A level. He offers far more upside than Gaviglio or Barnes.

At least one of those three will be selected to make the team, bringing the number of bullpen arms to seven. We’re currently at a three-man bench. So the 25th spot will also present a philosophical dilemma for the coaches and management staff. Do they go with a fourth bench player and second reserve outfielder in Pompey? Or do they add an eighth bullpen arm, to insulate themselves against poor starting pitching, and give themselves the ability to shelter young Elvis?

Unfortunately for the kid from Mississauga, it seems it’s going to be the latter. While on principle, I despise the three-man bench, the way this roster is constructed I’m not sure I quite see the need for a fourth member. It’s going to be difficult enough as it is to keep Hernandez/McKinney/Morales all playing consistently, and other than a rest day for an infielder, I don’t see much need to see all that much of Sogard or Ureña. It limits the potential for late-game strategic maneuvering, but this is a group of players I want to see get extended playing time. Ironically, for a team that has spoken at length all offseason about wanting to add versatility to the roster, the group that’s going to head north is pretty traditional, at least to start.

That will change when Guerrero gets healthy and promoted, as it’s going to force Drury off of third base, perhaps over to second more permanently, perhaps into the outfield a bit. The ripple effect will move Gurriel around the diamond some, as well. But as things stand now, the fielders will be pretty much locked into their positions every day, with just small occasional tinkering.

As for Pompey, the next 10-15 days hold a lot of intrigue and mystery. He’s performing well in spring training appearances, and can’t be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers. It seems at this point the Blue Jays will try to sneak him through if they can’t find a trade partner. I don’t have knowledge of the outfield situation for every team, but all it takes is one late camp injury for a team to take a shot at a guy who’s played well to begin the year, and still possesses curious potential given his natural abilities. He’s a switch hitter with speed who can play all three outfield spots adequately.  Asset management would dictate Toronto find a spot for him on the roster in the first week of the year, and then perhaps try to sneak him through in the first couple of weeks once rosters have settled and teams are less likely to pluck someone from the scrap heap.

I’m pulling for Pompey to make the club. I think he’s still got lots to give, and it’s a shame he’ll be mostly remembered for flaming out at the start of the 2015 season (though his pinch running  in that year’s post-season won’t be forgotten). However, given the Blue Jays have four guys currently competing for three starting positions, with Anthony Alford also waiting in the wings, it’s difficult to see Pompey getting much of a shot, even if the club retains his services.

Injured List (3)

  • Clay Buchholz
  • Devon Travis
  • David Phelps

Things have been pretty quiet around Buchholz’s status. He had arm surgery at the end of last season and has yet to appear in a spring game so far, so a timetable for him to jump to the big club remains unseen. The same can be said for reliever Phelps. Much can happen between now and when both are ready to make their way to Toronto, so it would be a fool’s errand to project at this point whose spot they will assume when their arrival is imminent.

On Sunday it was announced Devon Travis had a procedure to fix the injured meniscus in his left knee on March 13, and he’ll be re-evaluated in 4-6 weeeks. The back end of that timetable brings us to April 24, nearly a month into the season. Assuming he’s ready to begin a rehab assignment at that point, the maximum time afforded is 20 days, which would bring us to May 14. At that point, if there’s no clear path to playing time for him on the big league roster, he can still be optioned to Triple-A. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him begin the season on the 60-Day Injured List, which would clear a 40-man roster spot for one of the relievers.

So, my prediction for the final three spots? Richard Urena, Sam Gaviglio and Elvis Luciano. Let’s play ball!

Coming up later this week, we’ll take a look at how Charlie Montoyo might set his batting order. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @jaysbalk.

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