Spring about to spring, for the Blue Jays
TORONTO — Pitchers and catchers are set to report to the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., on Tuesday. Here are five storylines to watch as Major League Baseball’s pre-season unfolds. ANOTHER RULE 5 SPARK? The Blue Jays selected right-hander 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 $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. He 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. 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 U.S. 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. COACH HALLADAY? This spring could see the return of Roy Halladay in a Jays uniform. Halladay, who will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, told reporters recently 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 who could fill rotation rolls if needed don’t seem as clear-cut.
Toronto currently has right-hander Mike Bolsinger on its 40-man roster, while Gavin Floyd and Brett Oberholtzer are among nonroster invitees who will have a chance to prove themselves. 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 lateseason 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 minor-league 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 31year-old 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 nonroster 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.
Jose Bautista, who languished on the market for months before signing a one-year, $18.5-million deal to return to Toronto, will play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.