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.