Spring about to spring, for the Blue Jays

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - MELISSA COUTO

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

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.

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