Spring training still has almost three weeks to go but the roster picture is starting to get clearer based on front office decisions, injuries and player performances. At the beginning of spring training the battles were for starting pitcher spots, four of the bullpen jobs, the right handed DH and the one of the bench jobs. Some of the spots have been decided and the list of candidates for the others are getting shorter.
The Jays began spring training by naming these five pitchers to start spring training games: Shaun Marcum; Ricky Romero; Brandon Morrow; Marc Rzepczynski; and Brian Tallet. At this point in spring training the first four of these appear to be well on the way to locking up spots in the rotation.
Marcum is the most experienced of the starters and the only question for him is his health. Marcum was back from Tommy John surgery last August and was working his way back to the major leagues when he developed a sore back in his rehab which finished his year. Marcum has shown his old form this spring and the rotation lines up for Marcum to make the opening day start in Texas.
Romero pitched well last season, albeit better in the first half than the second. This spring Romero has resumed where he left off last season and looks to have the #2 spot locked up.
Morrow came over in the Brandon League trade and the Jays have committed to make him a starter after Seattle shuffled him between starting and relieving. Morrow pitched well in his first two starts but was a little wilder Sunday. Nevertheless Morrow also appears to be a lock for the rotation and if he has to learn on the job, so be it. Morrow has the major league arm but needs to work on his off-speed pitches. Morrow is optimistic that he has improved those pitches but the hitters will really let him know.
Rzepczynski surprised some fans with his 3.67 ERA in 11 starts. Readers of batters box weren't so surprised as the Jays minor league pitching instructor Dane Johnson had told us what he thought of Zep earlier last season:
His stuff is every bit as good as, if not in some ways better than Cecil. I am taking nothing away from Brett but Zep is as accomplished. Zep does have electric stuff, it moves and it's hard. And it moves down, he has sink on the two-seamer, he has a terrific slider and very good movement on the change-up and sometimes it is hard to keep his stuff on the plate it is moving so much. He can embarrass hitters with his stuff.
Cito has been quoted a couple of times saying how much he likes Zep and how Zep would have to pitch himself off the team. Zep has done no such thing so far and is getting close to a lock for the #4 spot.
That leaves the #5 spot with Tallet as the favourite. Tallet appears to have one major competitor for the spot, Dana Eveland. The other competitors have not taken a step forward. David Purcey has been inconsistent as usual. Brad Mills had a couple of good starts, one in a B game, but he already been sent down. Scott Richmond is injured and on the 60 day DL. Jesse Litsch and Shawn Hill are also on the DL. The Jays did not give serious looks to Kyle Drabek, Bobby Ray or Lance Broadway so they are out of the picture. Brett Cecil hurt his hand, missed an appearance, and then wasn't allowed to throw his curve in the next. Currently he is a few starts behind the others. Cecil was inconsistent in 2009 and appears to be headed for AAA for more seasoning.
The Jays have been taking a very careful approach to Dustin McGowan. McGowan has pitched in several bullpen sessions and simulated games and is scheduled for his first game action on Friday, the 19th of March. The Jays have been treating McGowan as though they expect something bad to happen. Technically McGowan could make it up to five innings before the end of spring training but in my opinion the Jays will take it slow, start McGowan with some minor league appearances in April as they review how he feels and decide how to handle him. The Jays have no reason to rush McGowan and as he missed all of 2009 he will probably have an innings limitation in 2010.
So that leaves Tallet or Eveland. If Eveland does not make the team the Jays will likely lose him to a claim by another team as long as he continues to pitch well. Tallet could slide to the bullpen but the Jays have given him a shot at the job so it is his to lose. Eveland could also go to the pen but things are crowded over there too.
Jason Frasor, Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg are on the team according to Cito. I assume these pitchers who have pitched in relief this spring will be shortly dispatched to minor league camp: Zach Jackson; Zach Stewart; Rommie Lewis; Steven Register; Willie Collazo; Sean Henn; Casey Fein; Rey Gonzalez; and Luis Perez. Also Dirk Hayhurst's injury has removed another competitor.
That leaves eight pitchers battling for four spots. The eight are: Shawn Camp; Merkin Valdez; Jesse Carlson; Jeremy Accardo; Casey Janssen; Jason Roenicke; Zach Zinicola; and either Tallet or Eveland. Roenicke came over last season in the Rolen trade and will likely return to AAA to work on his control. Camp and Carlson have lots of experience with Cito and Cito has spoken well of both. On the basis that you make the team based on last season, rather than spring training, I expect Camp and Carlson to make the team.
Now we are down to two spots for five pitchers, Valdez; Accardo; Janssen; Zinicola and Tallet/Eveland. Zinicola and Eveland would likely be lost if they were optioned down so if there is a close race the Jays might keep them for that reason. Valdez might be in a similar spot. Janssen had a mixed 2009 and I expect him to be sent to AAA.
If I had to bet today I would expect Valdez and Eveland/Tallet to get the last two spots but there is still time for an injury or a trade.
Ten players are virtual locks for opening day: Buck; Molina; Overbey; Hill; Gonzalez; McDonald; Encarnacion; Lind; Wells; and Bautista. Encarnacion has not played yet but all indications are that he will play in the next few days. Encarnacion has been taking BP and if he plays next week he will have over two weeks to get himself in game shape.
Travis Snider started the spring "on the bubble" as Alex Anthopoulos said he did not have a guaranteed spot. Recently Cito was quoted as saying that the Jays might as well get Snider some major league experience as they are not playing to win in 2010. Snider struggled a bit in week one of spring training but appears to have been playing better lately. So I will assume Snider is on the team.
I also assume Randy Ruiz is on the team, Cito also appears to like him and Ruiz hit well last season and has been hitting well in spring training. Ruiz's main competition has been Brian Dopirak and Ruiz has been hitting better, and with more power, than Dopirak.
That leaves one spot between Mike McCoy, Joey Gathright and Jeremy Reed. Cito has spoken well of McCoy but the Jays do need a backup outfielder. McCoy has played some outfield but we don't know if he is major league standard out there. The Jays will also look for lefty/righty matchups in making their decision. Molina, McDonald and Ruiz are each righthanded. That gives the edge to Gathright and Reed who are left handed.
The AAA rotation will come from these pitchers: Zach Stewart; Brad Mills; Bobby Ray; David Purcey; Brett Cecil; Lance Broadway and Sean Henn. I assume Drabek is going to AA and Chad Jenkins to Dunedin. If Broadway and Henn go to the pen then the rotation will consist of five prospects, assuming Purcey still qualifies as one.
The AAA bullpen has these candidates in addition to Broadway and Henn. First the last cuts from the major league team such as Roenicke, Janssen and Accardo would be in the pen. With Broadway and Henn that is five spots. Zach Jackson; Rommie Lewis; Steve Register; Willie Collazo; Casey Fein; Rey Gonzalez and Luis Perez are battling for the last two spots.
Whatever the opening day rosters we have to acknowledge that there could be significant turnover of the roster by July 31st. Jose Molina; Lyle Overbey; Alex Gonzalez; Jason Frasor; Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg should be elsewhere by then. That will give opportunities to AAA players like JP Arencibia, Brett Wallace, and several of the AAA pitchers. The team for the last months could be very young but very interesting.
As we move through the next three weeks of the spring watch Tallet/Eveland; the bullpen preformances and the Gathright, Reed, McCoy battle.