Bad news, good news for Jays fans

Pitch­ing, de­fence big­gest pri­or­ity for Blue Jays’ Atkins

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Sports - GRE­GORY STRONG

TORONTO — The off-sea­son to-do list for Toronto Blue Jays gen­eral man­ager Ross Atkins has a cou­ple of glar­ing needs at the top as he pre­pares to head out to Las Ve­gas for next week’s base­ball win­ter meet­ings.

Pitch­ing and de­fence are two ar­eas that Atkins would like to shore up as he plans for the

2019 Ma­jor League Base­ball reg­u­lar sea­son that could see a lot of young play­ers get an op­por­tu­nity.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion is well­stocked in the mi­nor leagues but it’s un­clear when that depth will bear fruit at the big-league level. A sur­plus of mid­dle in­field­ers through­out the team’s sys­tem could give Atkins some trade bait, or he could go the free-agent route to give his start­ing ro­ta­tion a needed boost.

“What we’re try­ing not to do is put any firm time­lines on any­thing,” Atkins said Wed­nes­day. “Try to fine-tune the depth that we have. We feel so strongly about the po­si­tion player group and want­ing to com­ple­ment that with pitch­ing is a pri­or­ity.”

At the mo­ment, new skip­per Char­lie Mon­toyo has Aaron Sanchez and Mar­cus Stro­man as the key cogs in a ro­ta­tion that could see Ryan Borucki slot­ted in at the No. 3 spot.

“Young con­trol­lable pitch­ing is very dif­fi­cult to ac­quire,” Atkins said at a lun­cheon with mem­bers of the Toronto chap­ter of the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. “So we’re not go­ing to eas­ily and read­ily ac­quire more Borucki or Sean Reid-Fo­ley types. I think ad­ding at the freeagent level is more re­al­is­tic and some­thing that we’ll be look­ing to do.”

The Blue Jays are com­ing off an­other down year in the Amer­i­can League East. Toronto set­tled for a fourth-place fin­ish in the divi­sion with a 73-89 record.

More pain is ex­pected for at least a year or two. The good news for Blue Jays fans is that the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s top prospects could soon be ready for big-league ac­tion, with third base­man Vladimir Guer­rero Jr., at the top of the list.

Guer­rero is ex­pected to start the year with triple-A Buf­falo be­fore get­ting a call-up a few weeks later, which would give the Blue Jays one more year of con­tract con­trol. Atkins was asked Wed­nes­day who he ex­pected his start­ing third base­man to be on open­ing day.

“I think the most likely sce­nario would be (Bran­don) Drury to­day but we’ll see,” he said. “We have a lot of off-sea­son left.”

An­other big ques­tion mark is at short­stop. Lour­des Gur­riel Jr., and Richard Urena are in the mix and Troy Tu­low­itzki ap­pears close to a re­turn af­ter heel surgery wiped out his sea­son.

Atkins said Tu­low­itzki, who has been work­ing out with col­lege play­ers, is re­cov­er­ing well but it’s too early to say when he’ll be ready for big-league play.

“All of our re­ports are very pos­i­tive,” he said. “So it’s re­ally just a mat­ter of get­ting him in the spring train­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

The win­ter meet­ings are set for Dec. 10-13.

The BBWAA chap­ter also an­nounced its an­nual award win­ners Wed­nes­day. First base­man Justin Smoak was a unan­i­mous pick as player of the year and left-han­der J.A. Happ was named pitcher of the year.

Catcher Luke Maile took the most im­proved player nod and Borucki was named rookie of the year. For­mer man­ager John Gib­bons was the win­ner of the John Cerutti Award for good­will, co-op­er­a­tion and char­ac­ter.

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

New man­ager Char­lie Mon­toyo sees Mar­cus Stro­man, pic­tured, as a pos­si­ble main­stay in the start­ing ro­ta­tion.

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