It may be hard to believe that we’re less than Russ Martin’s Number away from Opening Day, but it’s coming like a freight train through the dead of winter, which is what those of us in Southern Ontario are in the midst of right now. However, having spent a week in the frozen historical and gastronomical wonderland that is Quebec City, I’m not one to complain.
The Blue Jays have yet to confirm when their minor league players are to report to camp at the Bobby Mattick Complex, but it’s safe to say the dates will be somewhat similar to Oakland’s. The Athletics’ Pitchers and Catchers report on March 3rd, Position Players on the 9th, and their first games will be on the 13th. If you are heading to Florida to watch the Blue Jays in action in March, a little research on your part could land you at the Mattick (or any of the other complexes in the area) for some minor league action. There are usually a pair of games going on at once, and you can sometimes catch a rehabbing MLBer in action. Admission is free.
The Blue Jays have invited 13 non-roster players to Spring Training with the big club. These players will not necessarily be auditioning for a major league job – the purpose of inviting them is to give them a taste of big league life, and to shorten the workdays for the regulars. When asked who made the biggest impression on him two years ago during his first tour of a big league camp, Anthony Alford without hesitation answered Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson. Alford was impressed with their work ethic, and how they went about their daily routine in preparing for the season.
Among the invitees this year are:
P Andrew Case – there was thought that the New Brunswick native would be added to the 40 man roster last fall after a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, but he was left off, and was not selected in the Rule 5 draft. Case is not a big strikeout guy, but the reliever finished the season at AAA, and it would not be a surprise to see him make his MLB debut this year. He just seems to get guys out wherever he plays.
P Jose Fernandez – the lefty reliever has always had command issues, and struggled at AA last year, but has LOOGY potential.
P Chad Girodo – sidewinding southpaw battled injuries in 2017, and spent the bulk of the year at AAA. Girodo appeared in 14 games for Toronto in 2016.
P Jon Harris – the 2015 1st rounder found too much of the strike zone at AA last year, and Eastern League hitters hit .292 against him. This is a huge year for Harris, as he will be Rule 5 eligible next fall.
P Sean Reid-Foley – Last season was a learning year for the 2014 2nd rounder, who was one of the youngest players in AA. His numbers for 2017 don’t look great at first glance, but he was a very effective Pitcher from mid-May to the end of the season. There are some who suggest his control issues might mean an eventual move to the bullpen, but indications are the Blue Jays have every intention of continuing to use SRF in a starter’s role in Buffalo this year.
P Jordan Romano – the Markham native has long been one of our favourite Blue Jays prospects. He was a regular correspondent during his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2015, giving insight into the process. He’s been a K/inning guy over the last two seasons as a starter, and while some suggest that with his over-the-top delivery and still-in-development secondaries, he too might profile as a bullpen arm, he’ll continue as a starter in AA this year. You don’t give up on a guy that’s missed that many bats.
P Chris Rowley – was one of the most effective Pitchers in the system last year, and completed his remarkable rise from non-drafted/missed two years due to military service guy to the big leagues last year. Rowley was DFA’d in the fall to make room for the new arrivals on the 40, but he’ll be very much in competition for a big league job this year, with AAA his likely destination. Rowley can start or relieve, and his versatility may come in handy.
P Justin Shafer – the 2014 8th rounder has risen slowly through the system, steadily getting ground ball outs along the way. Converted to relief at AA last year, Shafer has long relief potential.
C Max Pentecost – eyebrows were raised when the 2014 1st rounder was left off the 40-man last fall. The Blue Jays were crossing their fingers that Pentecost’s injury history would allow him to slip through the Rule 5, and their gamble paid off. Many have recommended that the Blue Jays turn Pentecost into an Evan Gattis-like hybrid player, but when you read between the lines of the email responses from Jays execs, the plan is continue to have him Catch on a regular (perhaps not daily) basis.
IF Jason Lebelebijian – the versatile Leb can play all four IF positions, and has spent time in the OF, although he played mostly 2nd and 3rd in Buffalo last year.
IF Tim Lopes – the 5 year MiLB vet came over from the Mariners’ organization last year, and filled a valuable utility role for New Hampshire, appearing in 128 games.
OF J.D. Davis – I have to admit: there was a moment of excitement when a publication confused Davis with underachieving 2012 1st rounder D.J. Davis, who repeated Dunedin last year. This was not the first time someone had made this error, however. DJ had a remarkable 2nd half, putting balls in play in the second half at the best rate of his career, posting a .333/381/.449 August. JD Davis, on the other hand, has risen steadily through the system, and is a get-on-base speedster who can play all three OF positions.
OF Roemon Fields – the speed merchant posted career-best numbers at Buffalo last year (.291/.351/.352), and added 43 steals. Fields’ profile is more of a bottom-of-the-order, 2nd leadoff hitter, but he has clearly established himself as a fringe MLBer.
Add in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Rowdy Tellez, and Thomas Pannone, who were added to the 40-man in November, and there will be a lot of first-timers at Spring Training this year.
RHP Nate Pearson may have been in the shadows this year due to his short season after being selected in the 1st round of June’s draft, and with the seasons Vladdy Jr and Bo had, but his rise from high school non-prospect to Baseball America‘s Top 100 is a phenomenal story. The Blue Jays did not roll the dice on Pearson so much as they had done their homework on him, and knew what they were getting. Sam Dykstra of milb.com wrote about it here: https://www.milb.com/milb/news/toolshed-blue-jays-nate-pearson-prepped-for-takeoff/c-265720346
The Blue Jays Australian Baseball League affiliate, the Canberra Cavalry, are off to the ABL final after a come-from-behind victory over Perth in their best of three semi-final.
To be honest, there hasn’t been a lot to watch from a Blue Jays perspective down under. 1B Connor Panas, fresh off a monster second half in the Florida State League, was shut down for the year at Christmas. Relievers Tayler Saucedo and Dan Lietz have been used in a limited role on a veteran-laden Cavalry staff. Saucedo did get a huge 8th inning double play as the Cavs battled for a playoff spot in their final series of the season.
Canberra hosts Game 1 of the best of three affair against Brisbane on Friday night, with the series switching to Brisbane for the remainder.