Five Blue Jays spring train­ing sto­ry­lines

Pitch­ers and catch­ers re­port Tuesday

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY MELISSA COUTO

Pitch­ers and catch­ers are set to re­port to the Blue Jays’ spring train­ing fa­cil­ity in Dunedin, Fla., on Tuesday. Here are five sto­ry­lines to watch as the pre­sea­son un­folds.

AN­OTHER RULE 5 SPARK?

The Blue Jays se­lected righthander Glenn Spark­man from Kansas City at De­cem­ber’s Rule 5 draft with the hopes he could be a re­peat of last year’s suc­cess story, Joe Bi­agini. As a Rule 5 pick, Spark­man must re­main on the ma­jor league ros­ter for the en­tire sea­son or be of­fered back to the Roy­als at US$50,000 — half the cost they paid for him in the draft.

Spark­man, 24, was drafted by the Roy­als in the 20th round in 2013. He hasn’t pitched above dou­ble-A, but spent time at four lev­els last sea­son in his first full year since hav­ing Tommy John surgery in 2015. He was 2-7 with a 5.22 earned-run av­er­age over 60 1/3 in­nings split be­tween rookie league, sin­gle-A, high-A and dou­ble-A.

Spark­man posted a Carolina League-lead­ing 1.56 ERA for Wilm­ing­ton in 2014 in his sec­ond pro sea­son, earn­ing both Wilm­ing­ton and Carolina League pitcher of the year hon­ours.

Bi­agini was a linch­pin in the Blue Jays bullpen last sea­son, pitch­ing 67 2/3 in­nings with a 3.06 ERA. The right-han­der didn’t give up a sin­gle run over 7 1/3 post-sea­son in­nings.

WBC BOUND

Toronto will lose two of its top start­ing pitch­ers and its star slug­ger for at least one week, and pos­si­bly two, as the fourth in­stal­ment of the World Base­ball Clas­sic kicks off in March. Mar­cus Stro­man and J.A. Happ were named to the United States ros­ter on Wed­nes­day while Jose Bautista will play for the de­fend­ing cham­pion Dominican Repub­lic.

Dal­ton Pom­pey was named to the Cana­dian team while right-han­ders Marco Estrada and Roberto Osuna are on Mex­ico’s ros­ter as des­ig­nated pitch­ers. Osuna will be avail­able for the first round while Estrada can be added later if the team ad­vances.

The Blue Jays had six ma­jor league play­ers leave in the mid­dle of train­ing camp in 2013: Ed­win En­car­na­cion, Jose Reyes, Moises Sierra (Dominican Repub­lic), Brett Lawrie (who got hurt while train­ing with Canada and missed the tour­na­ment), and R.A. Dickey and J.P. Aren­cibia (U.S.).

COACH HALLADAY?

This spring train­ing could see the re­turn of renowned ace Roy Halladay in a Blue Jays uni­form. Halladay, who will be in­ducted into the Cana­dian Base­ball Hall of Fame this sum­mer, told re­porters re­cently that he wants to get in­volved in coach­ing with a ma­jor league team.

The 39-year-old Den­ver na­tive signed a one-day con­tract with Toronto to re­tire as a Blue Jay in Dec. 2013.

The Blue Jays have a his­tory of giv­ing their alumni roles within their or­ga­ni­za­tion. Roberto Alo­mar, Pat Hent­gen, Car­los Del­gado and Sal Butera, who also played for the Ex­pos, are all in­volved with the team. For­mer Mon­treal out­fielder Tim Raines, re­cently voted into the Base­ball Hall of Fame, is also with the or­ga­ni­za­tion as an out­field/baserun­ning coach.

STRETCH IT OUT The Blue Jays start­ing ro­ta­tion is likely set with Aaron Sanchez, Fran­cisco Liri­ano, Estrada, Stro­man and Happ slot­ting in to those spots. But depth play­ers that could fill ro­ta­tion rolls if needed don’t seem as clear cut.

Toronto cur­rently has righthander Mike Bolsinger on its 40-man ros­ter while Gavin Floyd and Brett Ober­holtzer are listed among non-ros­ter in­vi­tees who will have a chance to prove them­selves this spring. Re­liever Bi­agini, who was a starter be­fore join­ing the Blue Jays last year, could also be stretched out.

Toronto’s pitch­ing staff en­joyed a re­mark­ably healthy 2016, al­low­ing the team to use just seven starters all year — Liri­ano, a late-sea­son ac­qui­si­tion made eight reg­u­lar-sea­son starts while Drew Hutchi­son slot­ted in for two spot starts dur­ing the year. Sanchez, Estrada, Stro­man, Happ and Dickey ac­counted for the rest.

BACK IT UP

Toronto fi­nal­ized its mi­nor­league deal with catcher Jar­rod Sal­ta­la­mac­chia on Mon­day, ad­dress­ing the lack of depth at the po­si­tion left by the free-agent de­par­tures of Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole.

Sal­ta­la­mac­chia, who has 10 years of ma­jor league ex­pe­ri­ence most re­cently with the Tigers, will have to learn a whole new pitch­ing staff for a third straight year. The 31-yearold signed a free agent deal with Ari­zona in 2015, then signed with Detroit prior to the 2016 sea­son. He played 92 games with the Tigers, bat­ting .171 with a .284 OBP.

A.J. Jimenez, once thought to be the catcher of the fu­ture, was des­ig­nated for as­sign­ment Thurs­day to make room for newly signed re­liever Joe Smith on the 40-man ros­ter. Juan Graterol, claimed off waivers last month, is the other catcher cur­rently on the 40-man while 26-year-old Mike Ohlman is a non-ros­ter in­vi­tee.

Reese McGuire, who was ac­quired along with Liri­ano in a trade with Pitts­burgh last sea­son, and Max Pen­te­cost, the 11th over­all pick in the 2014 draft, are Toronto’s top catch­ing prospects.

CP PHOTO

Toronto Blue Jays re­lief pitcher Joe Bi­agini throws against the Cleve­land In­di­ans dur­ing the sixth in­ning in Game 2 of base­ball’s Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries in Cleve­land in Oc­to­ber 2016.

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