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Four Spring Training predictions for Toronto

@KeeganMatheson
February 15, 2020

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There was a sense of newness on Wednesday as pitchers and catchers officially reported for Spring Training at TD Ballpark, which is in the final days of its extensive renovations. The Blue Jays still have a week until they open their Grapefruit League schedule, but it’s never

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There was a sense of newness on Wednesday as pitchers and catchers officially reported for Spring Training at TD Ballpark, which is in the final days of its extensive renovations.

The Blue Jays still have a week until they open their Grapefruit League schedule, but it’s never too early for some predictions.

1. Pearson emerges as the King of spring
There’s a classic narrative that hitters need to “catch up” to pitchers each season, even through April and May. In Spring Training, that can be much more obvious as hitters readjust to live pitching.

Enter Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect who is, in nearly every conceivable way, the prototypical modern pitcher. Pearson touches 100 mph with ease and has the secondary pitches to keep even veteran hitters honest, so it won’t be surprising to see the 23-year-old dominate in his spring outings. Workload management is still a factor for Pearson in 2020 after throwing 101 2/3 innings last year, but the glimpses of him this spring will be must-see TV.

2. All eyes on Shaw
With so much focus on the young core and Toronto’s boom-or-bust outfield group, Travis Shaw’s name hasn’t been mentioned much since his signing. That will soon change.

Shaw’s performance -- and whether he rediscovers the 2017-18 version of himself -- might just be this lineup’s single biggest variable. If Shaw hits, then the first-base/designated-hitter mix is drastically simplified, allowing manager Charlie Montoyo to cycle players through the DH spot and even move Shaw around the infield. But if Shaw struggles, then the Blue Jays would be looking at Rowdy Tellez as their only option at first base. For what it’s worth, Shaw is confident that he’s figured things out after a poor 2019 with the Brewers.

“I feel like I’m in a really good spot right now, back to where I was before,” Shaw said earlier this offseason. “I’ve looked at a ton of video, I’ve tried to dissect my swing back to 2017 and 2018 form. Right now, it’s just the process of picking it up again.”

3. Press the Panik button
Veteran infielder Joe Panik, who will be in camp on a Minor League deal, looks a lot like a player who would fit on a Montoyo roster. That’s if the Blue Jays are comfortable with Panik playing more than just second base, though, as he hasn’t played shortstop professionally since 2014 in Triple-A. Call it an indirect competition, perhaps, but he’ll be considered alongside Brandon Drury and Santiago Espinal as the Blue Jays look to solidify their infield depth.

4. New fan favourites
Say hello to Alejandro Kirk, the highly regarded Blue Jays catching prospect who is straight out of the Willians Astudillo School of Baseball.

Kirk hit .290 with an .868 OPS between Class A Lansing and Class A Advanced Dunedin last season, including more walks (56) than strikeouts (39). The Mexican catcher is still just 21 years old -- which you’d never guess if you bumped into him outside the ballpark -- and is listed at 5-foot-9, 220 pounds. Evaluators love his bat, and the Blue Jays do, too.

“We’re excited about that because we feel confident that he’s a well-rounded hitter,” said Gil Kim, the club’s director of player development. “He’s not just all power or all contact or just a guy with a good eye. He’s able to combine all of those things together.”

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.