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Opening Day Roster Projection, Issue II

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(This post has been edited from its original version to include pregame updates from Montreal.)

Last week, I took a look at how the Blue Jays roster was on pace to shape up for Opening Day, which now just sits three days out. Needless to say, a lot has happened in camp since then, with several arm injuries forcing the pitching staff into disarray.

As the Blue Jays head to Montreal tonight for their annual two-game preseason series, this year against the Milwaukee Brewers, there are still a few question marks. Manager Charlie Montoyo will be using the next two days to try and find some answers.

Here’s how the roster looks right now:

  1. Danny Jansen, C
  2. Luke Maile, C
  3. Kendrys Morales, DH
  4. Justin Smoak, 1B
  5. Lourdes Gurriel Jr, IF
  6. Freddy Galvis, IF
  7. Brandon Drury, IF
  8. Kevin Pillar, OF
  9. Randall Grichuk, OF
  10. Teoscar Hernandez, OF
  11. Billy McKinney, 1B/OF
  12. Marcus Stroman, SP
  13. Aaron Sanchez, SP
  14. Matt Shoemaker, SP
  15. Clayton Richard, SP
  16. Ken Giles, RP
  17. Bud Norris, RP*
  18. Joe Biagini, RP
  19. Tim Mayza, RP
  20. Daniel Hudson, RP
  21. Utility infielder (Richard Urena or Eric Sogard*)
  22. 5th starter (Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, Trent Thornton, Sam Gaviglio)
  23. 6th bullpen arm
  24. 7th bullpen arm
  25. 8th bullpen arm

*indicates player not on 40-man roster

Let’s start with the utility infielder. As I said last week, I think it ends up being Urena’s spot. His switch-hitting offers more versatility, and he’s already on the 40-man roster. The Blue Jays will need to clear spots for both Norris and Hudson, at minimum, and possibly for a third bullpen arm as well. One of those spots may come from Devon Travis being on the 60-day Injured List to start the season, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet. Dalton Pompey’s injury also muddies the waters about trading him or putting him on waivers to clear a spot as well. Based on spring performance, the job probably goes to Urena anyway, (.300 average vs .214, roughly 45 plate appearances each) but the roster mathematics are also stacked against Sogard.

Ryan Borucki was slated to be the fifth starter, but some elbow pain will force him to miss at least one start, which opens the door for the list of candidates above. Thornton pitched Saturday against the Yankees, and Montoyo seemed to be pleased with the outing, save for the early 3-run home run. The club seems adamant on him remaining a starter, either in this spot or down in Buffalo. Since it’s only supposed to be one start, he may get the nod given the momentum of his spring performances. Reid-Foley was roughed up in two innings against the Tigers on Sunday, struggling with some of the same inconsistencies that plagued him at both levels last year. Gaviglio had actually pitched well this spring until a rough outing against the Phillies last week, but he gets his final audition tonight in Montreal. Even with a strong showing, he’s still in the mix for a bullpen spot, and they might need his length in that role. Pannone will get the ball in the spring finale on Tuesday to make his final bid. As of this writing, I predict Thornton wins this job, but a strong outing from Pannone Tuesday could sway the decision-makers.

The signing of Hudson on Sunday leaves the club with three bullpen openings, assuming they’ll carry eight relievers to begin the season. Given the recent rash of injuries, and the nature of early-season starting pitching performances and the fact they start the year with 11 consecutive games without an off day (the first 7 in the dome), the eight reliever option seems prudent. Elvis Luciano is not a lock at this point, but he’s on the 40-man roster and can’t be sent down without first being offered back to Kansas City, and I think the coaching staff has seen enough flashes of his high-end stuff to at least bring him north to start the season. And if it’s a total disaster, they go from there. So I’m betting the 19-year old gets one of those three spots. As I mentioned above, I think Gaviglio gets another spot if he’s not the fifth starter, so there’s two. Which means one spot for Danny Barnes, Jason Adam, Javy Guerra, or Justin Shafer. All four of these candidates need a 40-man roster spot to be opened for them to make the team. I won’t bore you with all the spring stats for each candidate, but I’ll mention that Guerra has 201 career MLB appearances, with 31 saves to his credit. I think that type of experience will appeal to Montoyo, who will struggle to find reliable veterans early in the season with the absences of Ryan Tepera and John Axford, and some uncertainty around Norris, who has thrown just three innings so far.

So, the final predictions for the final five spots:

21. Richard Urena, IF
22. Trent Thornton, SP
23. Sam Gaviglio, RP
24. Elvis Luciano, RP
25. Javy Guerra, RP

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