Pitchers a Plenty

Monday, February 26 2007 @ 08:00 AM EST

Contributed by: Gerry

When spring training games start this week most eyes will be on the pitching battles.  There are at least two starting pitcher jobs up for grabs and the bullpen has three vacancies.  If we expand our view to the Syracuse Chiefs the picture gets even more cloudy, by my count there are thirty-five pitchers battling for twenty-four jobs between the Blue Jays and the Chiefs.  Most readers are familiar with the major league battles but might not be aware of the AAA ones.

Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett are guaranteed spots in the Blue Jays starting rotation.  Gustavo Chacin will probably take one of the three remaining spots leaving two jobs between Tomo Ohka, John Thomson and Josh Towers.  At this point I am assuming that Dustin McGowan will head to AAA, the Jays appear to be firm on this, and Shaun Marcum will be in the bullpen. 

BJ Ryan, Jason Frasor, Brandon League and Scott Downs have spots locked up in the bullpen.  Davis Romero, Brian Tallet, Shaun Marcum, Jeremy Accardo, Francisco Rosario and maybe Pete Walker are competing for the other three spots, with Marcum having the best shot of that group.

But when we look at AAA the picture gets even more cloudy.  Candidates for the five starting pitcher jobs include the loser of the Towers, Ohka, Thomson battle; Dustin McGowan; Casey Janssen; Josh Banks; Geremi Gonzalez; Ismael Ramirez; Michael MacDonald and Kyle Yates.  That's eight pitchers competing for five spots.  If Victor Zambrano recovers from his surgery it will be nine pitchers.

The bullpen candidates include three losers from the major league battle; plus Ty Taubenheim; Lee Gronkiewicz; Jamie Vermilyea; Ryan Houston; Tracey Thorpe; Jean Machi; Blaine Neal; Matt Roney; Jason Scobie; Jordan DeJong and Beau Kemp.  Fourteen pitchers for six or seven spots.  This assumes that Jesse Carlson and new signee Jo Matumoto head for AA.

So what will happen?  It looks like Tomo Ohka and John Thomson have the inside track for the two big league starters jobs, Josh Towers isn't even listed on the depth chart at mlb.com.  Towers will have to outperform both Ohka and Thomson by a good margin to win his job back.  In the bullpen Marcum looks to have the best shot at the fifth spot.  Pete Walker will probably not make it, he might go on the DL to continue his rehab.  Romero and Tallet will battle for a lefty spot while Rosario and Accardo will fight it out for a righty spot.  The Jays appear to like Tallet, based on their 2006 track record, and Romero has options so my assumption is Tallet gets the spot and Romero goes to AAA.  And for the righty we will assume Accardo gets it and Rosario passes through waivers and comes back to AAA.

There are four starter spots in AAA that look locked up, Casey Janssen, Josh Towers (or the other loser), Dustin McGowan and Geremi Gonzalez.  Rosario, Josh Banks, Ismael Ramirez and Ty Taubenheim are all two way guys who could start or relieve.  Rosario has moved between the bullpen and starting for the last two years, Taubenheim ended 2006 working out of the bullpen and the Jays see him as a major league reliever.  I assume they will be bullpen candidates leaving the starters job between Banks and Ramirez.  Banks and Ramirez have been used almost exclusively as starters but both have been talked about as possible major league relievers if they cannot thrive as starters.  Banks has the weapons to be a starter but has had trouble with location and home runs allowed.  Banks is reportedly working on a new pitch to enable him to work lower in the zone.  Ramirez may be more of a two pitch pitcher which might make him more suited for the bullpen.  If Josh Towers does not make the Blue Jays rotation will the Jays trade him?  A National League team could trade for Towers and the Jays would not likely ask for much if the acquiring team paid Towers salary.

Lee Gronkiewicz, Jamie Vermilyea, Davis Romero, Rosario, Taubenheim, Ryan Houston and Jordan DeJong would then be tabbed to return to the bullpen where all seven pitched at some point in 2006.  But that leaves out Ramirez or Banks, plus Tracy Thorpe who is due a shot at AAA after putting up a 2.91 ERA in AA last year and pitching well in the Arizona fall league.  With seven returning bullpen pitchers plus a couple of new players from AA the bullpen is full but the Jays signed four other minor league free agents including a couple with good AAA credentials.  It is not known what promises the Jays might have made to these free agents but I assume the free agents want to get back to the major leagues and it is much more likely you can make it from AAA than AA.

Blaine Neal has pitched over 100 major league innings between 2001 and 2005.  2006 was the first year he did not pitch in the majors since 2000 and he did spend all year at AA in Altoona putting up a 1.99 ERA.

Matt Roney also has over 100 major league innings between 2003 and 2006.  Roney also has established AAA credentials, a 2.95 ERA at Sacramento last season, a 2.00 ERA in 2005.  Roney is on the Jays 40-man roster.

Jean Machi is a 24 year old reliever and is on the 40 man roster.  Machi pitched all of 2006 in AA and would be due a promotion to AAA.

Beau Kemp pitched in AAA for Rochester between 2004 and 2006 logging over 200 AAA innings and putting up a 2.32 ERA last season.

The Jays acquired Jason Scobie mid way through the 2006 season and Scobie spent time in both AA and AAA.

This analysis assumes that Michael MacDonald, Kyle Yates and David Purcey return to AA.  I also have not assumed any players on the disabled list, other than Pete Walker.  Usually there would be between one and three pitchers on the DL.  But it does look like there will be some very disappointed pitchers heading to AA to start the season.  Earlier we reviewed nine potential home-grown pitchers for the bullpen, with four free agents and Jason Scobie to be added.  Fourteen pitchers for seven spots.  Let's assume two players go on the DL and let's also assume Neal and Machi go back to AA.  Now we have ten pitchers for seven spots.  The Jays could lose a pitcher on waivers, such as Rosario, release a pitcher or two and also keep Ramirez, Scobie and DeJong in AA. 

There will be some big battles and nervous pitchers through April 1.

As I see it:

Blue Jays starters: Halladay; Burnett; Chacin; Ohka; Thomson
Blue Jays bullpen: Ryan; Frasor; Downs; League; Marcum; Tallet; Accardo
Chiefs starters: McGowan; Janssen; Towers; Gonzalez; Banks
Chiefs bullpen: Gronkiewicz; Thorpe; Vermilyea; Houston; Romero; Rosario; Taubenheim; Roney; Kemp (2 DL spots)
Fisher Cats starters: Ricky Romero; David Purcey; Jesse Litsch; Michael MacDonald; Eric Fowler
Fisher Cat bullpen (from): Kyle Yates; Jean Machi; Blaine Neal; Jason Scobie; Jordan DeJong; Jesse Carlson; Jo Matumoto; Justin James; Paul Philips; Danny Hill; Kurt Isenberg
DL: Zambrano; Walker