Early impressions from camp

I’ve been in Florida for less than a week and I’ve already changed my opinion on several key issues surrounding the Blue Jays during this year’s Spring Training. There are only a handful of jobs up for grabs this spring but those competitions should be rather interesting to watch as these next few weeks unfold.

I arrived in Dunedin with a few predictions in mind. The first was that Drew Hutchison was going to win the final spot in the rotation and that Josh Thole would be the back-up behind the plate with the main purpose of becoming R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher.

Unlike previous springs, it hasn’t taken very long for me to change my tune and here are some of the reasons why:

  • When the Blue Jays acquired catcher Erik Kratz from the Phillies during the offseason my assumption was that he would provide depth in the Minor Leagues. There seemed to be too much uncertainty with his ability to catch a knuckleball and after last year’s Opening Day debacle with J.P. Arencibia I didn’t think that was something the club would experiment with again this year. I very well could be wrong as there has been lots of talk around the team this week about Kratz not only having a shot to make the team, but possibly being the favorite over Thole. Kratz spent a week during the offseason working with Dickey and the two were paired up on the first day of camp. Kratz won’t be able to make the team unless he proves capable of handling the knuckleball but if he can overcome that obstacle he’s going to head north. The organization loves the upside of his bat and will be looking for a reason to keep him on the 25-man roster.
  • The early quotes from Spring Training with regards to the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation have been rather telling. Gibbons said on Tuesday that it would be ideal if both Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek started the season in the Minor Leagues after not pitching much at all in 2013 following Tommy John surgery. Pitching coach Pete Walker declined to get into specifics but admitted he had a depth chart in mind and added: “I have my opinions, I think the organization has their opinions too but there’s definitely guys that were with us last year and definitely pitched some quality ballgames.” It’s the first week of camp but I think it will take an awful lot for Hutchison/Drabek or prospect Marcus Stroman to change the mind of the Blue Jays. Rogers and Redmond also are out of options on their contracts and that will be a factor here as well.
  • Ricky Romero’s name is never mentioned as a candidate for the rotation until his name is specifically brought up a reporter. This was the case during the offseason when Alex Anthopoulos went over his roster and the trend has continued in recent scrums with both Gibbons and Walker. The club always seems to list off at least five or six guys in the mix for the job but Romero is always noticeably absent. When a reporter calls them on it, the response is always something to the effect of “Oh, he’s definitely a contender” but to me the fact that the media has to be the one to bring him up is rather telling. It’s hard not to root for a guy like Romero considering his personality and everything he has gone through the past two years but I’m not liking his chances this spring.
  • I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on Twitter and on the bluejays.com comments section about how I’m wrong that J.A. Happ has a guaranteed job this spring. I’ll respectfully disagree as everyone in the organization has said from Day 1 that there is only one job up for grabs. Debate among yourselves whether this is a good thing or not, but no one I have talked to has even hinted that Happ is competing for a spot. Could this change? I suppose so, it certainly did last year with Romero but those were special circumstances and Happ would have to either fall on his face or suddenly forget how to throw any strikes for him to lose a spot.
  • A lot of people ask, who is looking good in camp? The answer is that it’s far too early too tell. All pitchers should be looking relatively impressive during a side session by the time they reach this level and if they’re not, then there’s a serious problem. We won’t really know more until hitters start getting into a box — that’s when the real test begins. But if you really want an answer: Kyle Drabek seems to be more in control this season and isn’t falling off to the side like he did in the past. Marcus Stroman throws with a lot of ease and seems to generate a lot of velocity in an effortless delivery. Dickey’s knuckleball looked better on Day 1 than it did at any point during camp last season. Will those trends continue though? We’re going to need at least a few more weeks before anything can be determined on that front.

That’s all for now but on the bluejays.com site you’ll soon find today’s notebook which includes items on Dickey being named the Opening Day starter, Gibbons responding to Jimenez signing with the Orioles, and a very minor change to the Blue Jays’ Spring Training workout schedule. There’s also a feature on Morrow where I take a closer look at his injury history and the early impressions others in camp have of him.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I will be posting some pictures, breaking news, and random tidbits throughout the spring.

10 Comments

im surprised there aren’t more questions being raised about second base. the Jays had awful pitching in 2013 but with the depth the Jays have this year and just being able to avoid the awful seasons of JJ, Romero, Wang, Laffey means the Jays rotation is going to be alot better.

but second base is a black hole. Ryan Goins couldn’t even hit in the minors, as a 25 year-old in AAA, he’s going to have to be the best defender at 2B in baseball to justify a full-time spot and that’s just a huge risk to take with a roster that already has so many question marks (Catcher, LF, 4th OF/ righty DH, 5th starter). i dont mind the Jays passing on Ubaldo and Santana but going into camp with Goins and Izturis and letting Infante sign with the Royals (without a qualifying offer) really makes me question AA’s judgment

I get that you don’t want to let guys go for nothing, but it will be a travesty if they don’t go north with the best 5 starting pitchers. I don’t give a sh*t that Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers are out of options. If I have another guy in the organization that gives me a better shot at winning games, he gets a rotation spot. This isn’t a “building” year, this is a year in which the team has to win as many games as it possibly can. If performance dictates its Todd Redmond then great, if not, I am prepared to lose him. Also, I would hope there is a short leash on the 4/5 spots if you end up having Hutchison, Stroman and Drabek beating down the door in AAA.

I cannot stress how upsetting it will be if we have another Jo Jo Reyes situation on our hands where a guy gets a rotation spot because he’s out of options. You’ll recall all the terrible innings he gave us. Can’t afford to give away any games this season.

You say that now, but you’ll be crying later in the season if too many Blue Jays fall by the wayside and there aren’t enough arms to fill in. The team has to make sure it keeps as much depth and that starts with prioritizing guys who are out of options. And with the contributions made last year by Rogers and Redmond, it’s not like they don’t deserve to be front-runners.

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I would like to hear more about the bench players, I think they should sign Kendry Morales and Stephen Drew. Drew would play 2nd making Goins the back up at short and 2nd. Morales could do some play some first, outfield and dh. He would also be a real asset coming off the bench.

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