I don’t need to tell you that spring training is a lot more of a snooze-fest than how it is presented. Given the structure and pace of the games, the most competitive thing MLB players do after reporting to camp is golf. And unfortunately that includes the World Baseball Classic, too.
So while spring training might not be the exciting return of baseball that we hope it would, don’t worry; it does signify that real baseball is less than two months away. And like any team, the Blue Jays do have a few stories worth following this spring, stories that don’t involve Jose Bautista playing only three innings at a time.
Position Battles – Left Field and Marcus Stroman’s Best Friend
Given the many veteran players on the Blue Jays roster, Toronto enters camp with very few starting positions available to be won over the course of spring training. With the lineup and rotation almost entirely locked in, only two major positional battles remain: Who will play left field and who will be Marcus Stroman’s new best friend?
While Aaron Sanchez and Stroman will remain entrenched atop the Blue Jays’ staff, an alleged offseason falling out/drifting apart has left the position of Stroman’s best buddy vacant. The battle for the left field job will revolve around which of the Jays’ in house options (Ezekiel Carrera, Melvin Upton Jr., Dalton Pompey, Darrell Ceciliani) can provide value on defense and at the plate. The battle for the best friend position will centre on which player posses the strongest social media engagement and grasps Stroman’s many core philosophies, such as “if you don’t grind, you don’t shine”.
Ideally, in an effort to optimize the 25-man roster, a left fielder like Dalton Pompey or Melvin Upton Jr. could also fill the Stroman best friend vacancy. That way, the team can avoid carrying someone exclusively to serve in the best friend role (like Josh Thole), and use the roster spot on another reliever instead. Shi Davidi is reporting from camp that it is believed Devon Travis and Steve Pearce currently have an inside track on the best friend job.
Josh Donaldson’s Right Calf
The only thing more terrifying to a Blue Jays fan than not selling beer in the 500- level seats is hearing that Josh Donaldson is injured. And that is exactly what we heard last week when Donaldson tweaked his right calf doing some “sprint work”. Everything we’ve heard sounds like it isn’t a big deal and the calf will be completely healed before the regular season starts. Unlike past spring training injuries to Michael Saunders, and Maicer Izturis, it is not believed that the spring training facilities themselves acted as accomplices in straining Donaldson’s calf. While the prospect of an injured Donaldson is legitimately terrifying, we shouldn’t get too worked up just yet.
John Gibbons’ Contract Extension
What has two consecutive League Championship appearances and no long-term contract to show for it? This guy (points to Gibby).
If it were up to me, I’d file this under the spring storylines you don’t need to worry about. Even if John Gibbons were signed to a Sea Org-esque billion-year contract, he would be just as likely to lose his job if the team were to start underperforming. It really doesn’t matter how long the manager is under contract.
As Gibbons was signed to a series of one-year rolling contracts under the previous regime, he’s used to working with some degree of uncertainty. I wouldn’t mind working year-to-year either if I was getting paid something in the million dollars-per-year range. Well, at least until I found out what they were paying Buck Showalter to not use Zach Britton.
The self-represented Texan (is there anything more John Gibbons than that?) doesn’t seem the least bit worried about his contract status, even with the conspiracy theory that
future-manager player development adviser, Eric Wedge, is lurking in the shadows of the Bobby Mattick Complex in Dunedin.
Rule 5 Watch: Glenn Sparkman
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every December, there was a draft that took place and you just pick up a free 1-win reliever for next year’s team? That’s kind of what it feels like after Joe Biagini sauntered into our lives. Come for the cheeky comedy, stay for the four-pitch repertoire!
A year later, we are all hoping that Glenn Sparkman will be this year’s Joe Biagini. The odds of hitting on a Rule 5 draft pick are long. Hitting on two Rule 5 picks in two years is even longer. Sparkman will be someone to watch this spring, as he needs to show enough to make the opening day roster and remain on it all season long. Given the recent additions of the effective-but-soft-tossing J.P. Howell and Joe Smith, having another bullpen arm that can throw over 90 mph would go a long way in making the Jays’ a competitive team in 2017.
How Committed to the First Basemen Are We?
Aversion to Justin Smoak playing first base is the great unifier in the Blue Jays’ community. Whether or not you have a problem with Jose Bautista, think the bullpen acquisition of J.P. Howell was a savvy move, or believe that Kendrys Morales is a decent replacement for Edwin Encarnacion, there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on: Justin Smoak might not be that great.
We are all a little bit scared of Smoak getting at-bats on the strong side of a first base platoon. Even if you think his defense makes up for some of his deficiencies and that the Jays’ other lineup pieces means he won’t kill them (all good points), watching Smoak strike out 35 percent of the time and lumber around the bases like a young Adam Lind has Jays’ observers watching this spring to see who might be able to sneak into the first base mix and relegate Smoak to a utility role. And speaking of young players…
A couple of potential offseason downgrades to the roster have many openly wondering when some of the Blue Jays minor league players will be able to answer the bell and help the big league club. With memories of Roberto Osuna fresh in our minds (and Miguel Castro tucked away in Colorado to help us forget the counterpoint), many are asking when the next batch of early- twenty-something’s can come up and take playing time away from Justin Smoak or Aaron Loup.
Under Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays organizational philosophy was to use every asset available to improve the Major League team. Roberto Osuna had already locked down 56 major league saves BEFORE he got his braces put on.
Fearing a Justin Bieber-like breakdown from one of the Jays’ top prospects, Mark Shapiro favors a more deliberate and gradual approach to player development. This spring, we will find out how committed the new regime is to slow and steady progress with players like Rowdy Tellez and Sean Reid-Foley, both of whom could challenge some of the less-than-productive veteran players for jobs should the executive team allow it to be so.
So there you have the stories to watch. And even if you’re already bored to death with spring training baseball and baseball coverage, here’s to the start of another season!
Lead Photo: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports