With a day off Tuesday and a night game on Wednesday, we have some time to stop and assess what we’ve seen so far at Blue Jays camp. Opening Day is now just 10 days away, and many slots on the roster are accounted for. But there are a few that aren’t. While it’s not yet official, the expectation is that rosters will expand from 26 to 28 players for April to help account for the shortened spring training.
Remember, the roster on the first day of the season is rarely still the roster by even the fourth day of the season. There will be injuries and transactions galore! Nevertheless, let’s take a look at how the roster projects to shake out.
Catchers (3): Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Alejandro Kirk
The trade of Randal Grichuk to Colorado opens up a lot of DH at-bats for Kirk. There was always a question of whether the club would carry 2 or 3 catchers, and this move helps solve that. Remember, McGuire was put on waivers at the end of camp last year to carry Kirk as the backup. That was in a season where the expectations to be competitive were slightly lower than they are for 2022. I think Kirk was always going to make the team over McGuire again, but the trade and the expanded roster mean more defined roles for the three backstops.
Infielders (6): Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman, Santiago Espinal, Greg Bird
All-Stars at first base, third base, and shortstop make this an easy conversation. Biggio and Espinal will form a loose platoon at second base, with Espinal providing backup at short and third, while Biggio provides cover at first and in the outfield. Bird is the only member of the list who isn’t certain has to make the team, but he’s had a very impressive camp as a minor league invite. He would be the primary backup at first when Vlad needs a day off or DHs, while also being a powerful left-handed pinch-hitting option. At the moment, I don’t believe the Jays have plans to carry any additional infielders, meaning Otto Lopez and Gosuke Katoh are highly unlikely to break camp with the team unless there’s an injury in the next few days.
Outfielders (4): George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Raimel Tapia
This is again a pretty straightforward group. Springer, Hernandez, and Gurriel are locked-in everyday players. Tapia will probably get a couple of starts a week in left and centre to allow Springer and Gurriel to DH. His starting assignments will be chosen selectively to maximize his skill set as a high-contact, high-speed player who hits from the left side. As mentioned above, Biggio can function as the team’s fifth outfielder, which means it’s unlikely Josh Palacios, Mallex Smith, or Nathan Lukes get a shot right away. All three will be in Buffalo as potential call-ups as injury replacements.
So as we finish the position player section of the roster, 13 of the 28 spots are accounted for. Under this configuration, the team will be carrying four bench players. Should the team feel the need for a firth bench player, Katoh and Palacios appear to be the front-runners. But I think there will be a desire to carry as many pitchers as possible.
Starting Rotation (5): Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah, Yusei Kikuchi
Again, no head-scratchers here. The order listed is the order I expect them to begin the season in, with Berrios getting the ball on Opening Day against the Rangers. The depth behind these five includes Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson, Thomas Katch, and Anthony Kay.
Here is where things get interesting (finally!)
The Jays will likely use the two extra roster spots on bullpen arms. That means 10 relievers to start the year, in part because the starters are not going to be ready to throw 100+ pitches in the first couple of weeks of the season. That’s going to lead to some extended nights for the bullpen, depending on how deep into the game those 85-90 pitches from the starter can take you.
So let’s break down the 10 spots into locks and bubble candidates.
Locks (7): Jordan Romano, Yimi Garcia (pronounced Jimmy, FYI), Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, David Phelps, Ross Stripling.
This is basically the nucleus of the bullpen late last season. Phelps, though not currently on the 40-man roster, is expected to be added (there are currently two open spots, and it’s presumed they will go to Phelps and Bird). He pitched to a sparkling 0.87 ERA in the early portion of 2021 before a lat injury ended his campaign. He’s been good in camp, and manager Charlie Montoyo views him as a dependable veteran, which a team can never have too many of.
The veteran Stripling is first or second in line to make a spot start if a starter needs an extra day of rest, or in case a rainout forces a doubleheader.
Bubble Boys: Julian Merryweather, Nate Pearson, Ryan Borucki, Andrew Vazquez, Taylor Saucedo, Trent Thornton, Joe Biagini
Three of these seven individuals will form the remainder of the roster. The biggest question mark is what the team wants to do with Pearson. There are two options–he can be optioned to Triple-A Buffalo to continue working as a starter, or he can be used as a second “long man” in the bullpen with Stripling. There’s a compelling case to be made for each option.
He showed late last season how effective he can be as a reliever. His starter background means he can throw multiple innings–either in mop-up duty if a starter is knocked out early or to bridge the middle innings from starter right to closer. His first appearance in Spring Training was very effective. His second was less so. Because injuries the last two seasons have limited his innings, the team will be cautious in how far they increase that threshold this season. Having him make 70-80 appearances to the tune of 120 innings out of the bullpen at the Major League level would be a good way to control those innings, and maximize their value to the organization. Will he and the team really be better served for him to make 20 starts in the minors and then transition to the bullpen again late in the year? Probably not. I’ve talked myself into putting him in the bullpen to begin the season. That leaves two spots.
It stands to reason one of the spots will go to a second left-hander. Borucki is out of options and therefore must be exposed to waivers. He was injured and mostly ineffective last year and hasn’t been sharp in camp. But I don’t think the team is ready to lose him for nothing, so my money is on him making the team to start the year, but having a very short leash. Vazquez and Saucedo both have options, increasing the likelihood they’ll begin in Buffalo and compete to be called up if Borucki falters.
Biagini is a minor-league invitee and hasn’t done enough in camp to earn a spot, but will likely accept an assignment to Buffalo. Thornton was pretty bad last year. Merryweather was so good in April last year he briefly was the closer, but then got injured. Then suffered a setback. Then he was so-so in his return to the team in September and hasn’t looked great in spring training games. But he’s still got the power arm and strikeout ability that can make good bullpens great, so it feels safe to assume he’ll get a shot to start in Toronto in low-leverage innings to see if he can work his way up. He can still be sent to the minors, so if things aren’t going well through April and rosters shrink back to 26 in May, he’ll be an easy cut to make.
That means the final bullpen group looks like this:
Jordan Romano, Yimi Garcia, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, David Phelps, Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson, Julian Merryweather, Ryan Borucki
See anything you disagree with? Let me know in the comments section!