TORONTO -- Expectations are high as the Blue Jays open Spring Training in Dunedin, Fla., after adding star talent to their young core over a busy offseason.
The signings of outfielder George Springer to a six-year deal for a club record $150 million, along with infielder Marcus Semien on a one-year, $18 million deal move this Blue Jays team from a fringe contender to a legitimate threat in the American League East. Needs remain, but with a lineup this talented from top to bottom, Toronto projects to be one of baseball’s most exciting clubs in 2021.
Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?
The Grapefruit League schedule was recently revised to limit travel, so the Blue Jays will play their 28 exhibition games against the Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, Tigers and Orioles. You’ll see players following health protocols on the field, in the dugout and around the complex, but the day-to-day workings of Spring Training and the players in camp will be different, too.
For the Blue Jays, this means a heavy dose of top prospects in camp. Each of Toronto’s top eleven prospects will be in Major League camp, headlined by Nate Pearson (No. 1), Austin Martin (No. 2) and Jordan Groshans (No. 3). This will be a valuable development tool for many young players, especially coming off a missed 2020 Minor League season.
In a typical Spring Training, many of these prospects would be across town at the club’s training complex, which is separate from TD Ballpark. Having them over on the Major League side to start camp will provide a clear look at the Blue Jays’ young talent, and should make the latter innings of exhibition games worth watching as they get some reps.
What are the key roster/position battles to watch?
So much of the Blue Jays’ rotation competition will depend on the club’s broader pitching strategy, especially when it comes to younger arms like Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, Trent Thornton and Julian Merryweather. Jumping from a 60-game season to 162 games will strain rotations across baseball, and while Toronto is set up well to weather that, the potential of a piggyback strategy or having multiple long arms out of the bullpen will impact this conversation. That being said, the No. 5 job is one to watch. Tanner Roark projects in that role and is due $12 million in 2021, but there’s plenty of young depth vying for a job.
In the bullpen, keep an eye on Kirby Yates. As long as the right-hander can prove he’s healthy and effective, he’s expected to win the closer’s role, which would simplify things for the Blue Jays. That would allow manager Charlie Montoyo to use Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, Ryan Borucki and others in earlier high-leverage spots.
Positionally, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s campaign to regain some third-base reps will be a story, but he’s still expected to see the majority of his games at first. The outfield picture needs some clarity, as Springer was added to a group that already includes Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk. Behind the plate, Danny Jansen remains the starter, but top catching prospect Alejandro Kirk looms and could begin to eat into his playing time.
Who is the likely Opening Day starter?
Hyun Jin Ryu is the ace of the staff, and if the Blue Jays plan on making the postseason push many expect, they’ll need him to pitch like it. The left-hander certainly did in his first season with Toronto, posting a 2.69 ERA over 12 starts in 2020. There are questions further down in the Blue Jays’ rotation, but Ryu is a lock at the top and may be the club’s most important player in '21.
What is the likely Opening Day lineup and rotation?
Cavan Biggio, 3B
George Springer, CF
Bo Bichette, SS
Teoscar Hernández, RF
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
Marcus Semien, 2B
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
Rowdy Tellez, DH
Danny Jansen, C
Hyun Jin Ryu, LHP
Nate Pearson, RHP
Robbie Ray, LHP
Steven Matz, LHP
Tanner Roark, RHP
Kirby Yates, RHP
Will the Blue Jays make any more moves prior to Opening Day?
Naturally, you can expect a couple of depth signings through late February and early March, which is standard practice as clubs add to Spring Training competitions and fill out their depth in the upper Minor Leagues. Coming off the offseason that was, though, Blue Jays fans will understandably be watching for something bigger.
The starting rotation remains the Blue Jays’ biggest need, and they still have several ways to address that. Free agency has thinned, though, and beyond an internal breakout, the Trade Deadline might make more sense for Toronto. By July, there will be new names available on the trade market, and with financial flexibility and a strong prospect pool to trade from, the Blue Jays could make another big splash.
When is the first Spring Training game?
Toronto opens its Grapefruit League schedule at 1:05 p.m. ET on Feb. 28, against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner field in Tampa, Fla. This will be the first chance for Blue Jays fans to see Springer and Semien in their new uniforms, and it could be a preview of a tight race in the AL East in 2021.
Who are the prospects to keep an eye on in camp?
The Blue Jays’ camp will be stocked with top prospects, headlined by Pearson (No. 1), Martin (No. 2), Groshans (No. 3) and Simeon Woods Richardson (No. 4). Add in Alek Manoah (No. 5), Adam Kloffenstein (No. 10) and CJ Van Eyk (No. 11), and the Blue Jays’ next wave of pitching talent will be on full display. Infielder Orelvis Martinez, the club’s No. 7 prospect, will be in camp and is a name you should get used to hearing, too.
Are there any injuries entering camp?
The Blue Jays are a fairly healthy organization entering camp, which is a great way to start. One injury storyline to watch is left-hander Tim Mayza, who is making his return after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019. Mayza has posted a 4.67 ERA over parts of three Major League seasons, and while it will be an uphill battle for him to win a job out of spring, Toronto has always liked Mayza’s potential and his comeback is worth tracking through camp and into the season.
When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?
Toronto opens its regular season the same way it opens Spring Training, with a road matchup against the Yankees. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET on April 1, at Yankee Stadium, and these matchups should feature plenty of offensive firepower through the season given the strength of the two lineups. After the Blue Jays finish up their three-game set in New York, they travel to Texas for three games against the Rangers, before their home opener on April 8 against the Angels.
Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?
The Blue Jays haven’t made an official announcement yet, but the club will use TD Ballpark for the first two homesteads of the season, taking them through to May 2. At that point, the club will reevaluate, with the goal of returning to Rogers Centre when they are cleared to do so. Last season, the Blue Jays were denied approval by the Canadian federal government to play their games in Toronto, and eventually called Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., home for the regular season.
Toronto recently announced that it is welcoming fans back to TD Ballpark at 15 percent capacity for spring games, with tickets sold in pods of two or four, physically distanced through the stadium.