Inbox: Who to watch in Blue Jays' camp?

Beat reporter Keegan Matheson answers fans' questions

February 12th, 2021

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are less than a week from pitchers and catchers reporting to Dunedin, Fla., for Spring Training, and will soon begin their revised, 28-game Grapefruit League schedule, which was released Friday.

Under this new setup, which limits team travel, the Blue Jays will play all of their games against the Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, Tigers and Orioles.

Toronto opens with a road game against the Yankees on Feb. 28, before their home opener at TD Ballpark on March 1 against the Pirates. The Blue Jays announced Friday that they will welcome fans back to TD Ballpark at 15 percent capacity, with past Spring Training season ticket holders having first access to the sale on Feb. 22 and the public sale beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Feb. 24.

Tickets will be sold in pods of two or four seats spaced a minimum of six feet apart, with face coverings required to enter the stadium and symptom screening upon entry, among many other safety protocols.

With baseball around the corner, here are your latest questions in the Blue Jays Inbox:

Hi Keegan. With a lack of Minor League Baseball last year and a lot of work being put in by players behind the scenes, who are you most intrigued to see during Spring Training from a development point of view?
-- Blue Jays New Zealand (@selwyn42550990)

I’ll be most interested to see the progress of younger prospects who missed an age-18 or age-19 season, because at that age, there’s still so much physical growth and maturation to factor in. No. 7 prospect Orelvis Martinez is a great example. Now 19, Martinez played just 40 games in the Gulf Coast League in 2019. He’ll be a name you hear often in the near future. I think No. 4 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson will turn some heads, too, and further down the list, I’ll be watching for the strides made by No. 12 prospect Eric Pardinho, who is returning after having Tommy John surgery one year ago.

What kind of role will we see from Rowdy Tellez this season?
-- James T

Tellez believes he’s one of the strongest hitters in baseball, and I don’t disagree. When Tellez barrels it up, the ball either goes over something or through something. His problem in the past has been doing that consistently, but his 35 games in 2020 offered a more encouraging look at Tellez. Was that small sample size a sign of things to come?

Right now, Tellez is looking at the majority of designated hitter reps with some first base mixed in, as the Blue Jays will likely continue to give Vladimir Guerrero Jr. some days off his feet. The outfield picture might overlap with the DH spot too, though, so Tellez will still need to hit. Tellez is still just 25 and should be on your short list of names to watch in Spring Training. On days when he’s not in the starting lineup, he’ll be that powerful left-handed bench bat this roster needs.

I was wondering about the label of "utility" or "super utility" player as applied to players like Cavan Biggio and if players appreciate that role. Is there evidence of how that affects their future salary values as opposed to having a primary position? Or do players ever mention if they are able to focus more at the plate when they have a regular position?
-- Trevor B

Great question. The numbers are difficult to compare, because stars signing long-term deals are typically locked in at one position where they excel, which brings us to the debate of being good at several positions versus being great at one. In Biggio’s case, though, let’s look back at some recent examples.

Ben Zobrist is the first name that comes to mind with a super utility role, and the four-year, $56 million deal he signed with the Cubs back in December 2015 set a nice bar. This past offseason, we’ve seen Kiké Hernandez get $14 million over two years and Jurickson Profar get $21 million over three years. Marwin Gonzalez, who went to the Red Sox, according to a source, was coming off a two-year, $21 million deal with the Twins. These are all different players than Biggio, who is one of the game’s more unique offensive profiles, but there’s clearly value out there for utility players. Chris Taylor of the Dodgers will be a great comparable to keep an eye on as he approaches free agency.

Some players embrace the role, because in many cases, positional versatility is what gets a player into 80 or 100 games over a season instead of 40 to 50 as a single-position backup. Biggio is smart, and he knows where his value lives. I also trust Biggio’s baseball instincts enough to prevent this all from impacting him at the plate. He just needs to bring a few extra gloves to the field most days.

Who do you think are the most likeliest breakout candidates to be great starters from the group of Thomas Hatch, T.J. Zeuch, Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, Julian Merryweather and Patrick Murphy?
-- Farzad (@farz_in_da_6)

Give me Hatch. The right-hander looked like he belonged in 2020, posting a 2.73 ERA over 26 1/3 innings, and the combination of his fastball with the depth of his arsenal offers some real reasons for optimism. The next step for Hatch will be controlling the zone just a bit better, hitting his spots with pinpoint accuracy. When that happens, his changeup will be even more valuable to keep hitters off balance.

I could see a Merryweather breakout, too, but likelier in a bullpen role at some point. If he can stay healthy and maintain velocity, his stuff plays in the back end of a Major League 'pen.

What’s the current catching pecking order with the five who are currently on the 40 man?
-- Chris L. (@lamarche1717)

Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk make sense as the Major League tandem, and even though an argument could be made for rounding out Kirk’s development in Triple-A, his bat is ready. Reese McGuire needs to rebound in a big way from a rough 2020 and Riley Adams is ready for Triple-A, but they’ll both be pushed by 20-year-old Gabriel Moreno, who should make some noise this season. Given the value of young catchers across baseball, Kirk and Moreno have been hot names among rival clubs looking to deal. If the Blue Jays swing big for a starter at the Trade Deadline, for example, keep an eye on this position.

Name the Blue Jays' bullpen that will start the season please.
-- Jax (@PenroseEN5)

I expect Kirby Yates to win the closer’s role with Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis pitching high-leverage innings. Add in Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps and Ryan Borucki, and manager Charlie Montoyo has another trio of arms capable of pitching in high-leverage spots. That brings us to six. A selection from the group of Ross Stripling, Merryweather, Hatch, Kay and Jacob Waguespack should round out the bullpen, with much of that depending on what happens with the No. 5 job. A.J. Cole will push for a spot, too, and should be given every opportunity to win one after 2020.