This past week, I was in Dunedin, Florida for Blue Jays Spring Training. I attended 3 home games, all of which featured some regulars that are a lock for the MLB roster, as well as some up and coming prospects and Minor League players. Each game had some things to take away from it, so in this article, I’ll take about some of those things that I noticed from my time in Dunedin.
Game 1: Tigers 3 Blue Jays 6
This game was the first one of my trip, and it got off to a great start for the Blue Jays, as they followed up a scoreless top of the 1st inning from Jaime Garcia with a 5-run bottom half of the inning. First, it was Curtis Granderson hitting his 4th home run of the Spring to the lead off the inning. Then later in the inning, Teoscar Hernandez hit a grand slam, which put the Jays up 5-0 early. They never looked back from there, as the pitchers were able to hold the lead in the end. The Blue Jays used 8 pitchers in total in this one, most notably Jaime Garcia, who made his spring debut. He went 3 innings, giving up 3 hits, but not allowing any runs. He also had 2 strikeouts. Other notable pitchers in this one included Al Albuquerque, who threw a scoreless inning and Canadian John Axford, who struck out the side in his inning of work.
Granderson as the leadoff man? Yes, it’s only Spring Training, but Curtis Granderson is swinging the bat extremely well right now. It may just be me overreacting, but I think Granderson would look good as a leadoff hitter. A left-handed bat at the top of the order is something the Jays have been searching for and if Granderson keeps up the hot bat, why not put him there? It’s something you can try for a few games, and if it doesn’t work, you can easily plug someone like Devon Travis in there instead.
The Jays have a crowded bullpen. You know the old saying “You can never have enough depth?” Well, that applies to this years Blue Jays. They’ve quietly signed a lot of veteran relief pitchers, like Tyler Clippard, John Axford, and Seung-Hwan Oh to name a few. Obviously all of them won’t make the team, but the Jays are set up much better to deal with injuries this year than in years past.
Game 2: Pirates 5 Blue Jays 0
This game was about as boring as the score indicates, but there were still some things to take away from a Jays’ perspective. As for the game, Joe Biagini struggled in this one, giving up 5 earned runs in 1.2 innings, including 2 home runs. He gave up one run in the top of the 1st on a Josh Bell sacrifice fly, and then gave up 4 in the top of the 2nd. With 2 outs in the inning, Kevin Kramer brought in a run with a triple, and then the next batter, Adam Frazier, hit a 2-run home run. After that, Gregory Polanco hit a solo home run, which made the score 5-0, and knocked Biagini out of the game. Nothing much happened after that, although we did see some good outings from the Jays in the bullpen. Most notably, Luis Santos, who threw 2 perfect innings, including 2 strikeouts.
Can we please keep Biagini in the bullpen? Please? Biagini’s outing in this game will have no impact on his future with this team, but it was another reminder that he’s probably not ready to be a full-time MLB starter just yet. He might make a start or two in April, depending on how much time Stroman misses. But once Stroman’s back, I really don’t see a reason to start Biagini, even in the minors. His most effective outings have been in the bullpen, and as long as there’s no injuries to the rotation, I really don’t see a reason to keep experimenting with Biagini as a starter.
Luis Santos could be a dark horse for a bullpen spot. This outing was one of many good ones for Santos this spring. Overall, he’s given up 3 hits in 7.1 innings of work thus far, to go along with the 2.70 ERA he posted with the Jays in September last season. I don’t see Santos making the team right out of camp, but if there was to be an injury to the bullpen early in the season, Santos would be a guy I look at as a potential call-up.
Game 3: Red Sox 6 Blue Jays 4
Yes, it’s only spring training, but watching Boston sports fans celebrate things is equally as annoying after a spring training win as it is after a playoff victory. For some reason, they just won’t shut up, especially when beer is involved. Anyway, to the game, this was actually a pretty exciting one. Both teams scored in the opening frame. The Red Sox went up 1-0 on a Rafael Devers RBI Triple in the top of the 1st, and then the Jays took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 1st when Justin Smoak hit a 2-run double. Then, in the top of the 2nd, Sandy Leon took J.A. Happ deep to left for a solo home run, which tied the game at 2. The scoring continued in the bottom of the 3rd, when Smoak hit an RBI double, which gave the Jays the lead back, 3-2. The rest of the game saw Sandy Leon hit another solo home run, while Blake Swihart and Aledmys Diaz also went deep. The final score ended up being 6-4 in favour of Boston. I have to say this game was the most exciting out of the three that I went to. Not only was there a lot of offense, but I was able to see some more regular Blue Jays out of the bullpen. Tyler Clippard, Roberto Osuna, and and Ryan Tepera all pitched in this one, and all three of them threw shutout innings.
Kevin Pillar is hot at the plate. He had a perfect day, offensively, in this one, going 3-for 3 with a walk. This wasn’t a one-time thing though, as Pillar has been swinging a hot bat all spring. He currently owns a .448 average in 29 at-bats, including 4 doubles. We obviously can’t expect him to hit this well in the regular season, but if Pillar can anywhere in the .270 to .290 range this season in terms of batting average, it will help out the Blue Jays big time. Pillar will likely slot in near the bottom of the order this season, so if the Jays can get some production from him, that will be huge. It will mean his speed is one base away for Donaldson and Smoak at the top of the order.
How will the Jays structure the bullpen? With so many pitchers being brought in that are used to pitching in late-game scenarios, the Blue Jays are going to need to figure out who pitches in what spots. Roberto Osuna is a lock to close games, but other than that, it’s kind of a mystery. Seung-Hwan Oh had 20 saves last year, Clippard saved 32 games in 2012 and John Axford saved 46 games way back in 2011. We obviously can’t have 4 closers, so the Jays are going to have to decide who pitches in the late innings. What I would do is use Biagini in the middle innings, use Clippard or Oh against righties in the 7th, Loup against lefties, and then use Tepera and Osuna in the 8th and 9th innings respectively.