TORONTO -- The Blue Jays wrap up Summer Camp in Toronto on Monday, which will be the last time they take the field at Rogers Centre until their home opener in 2021.
While their 2020 “home” is still up in the air, the past couple of weeks in Toronto have been an opportunity for the club to round out competitions left over from Spring Training and get a better feel for the health of several players who were battling injuries earlier in the year.
Fans only saw snippets, including two televised intrasquad games, but from inside the ballpark, here’s who stood out:
RHP Nate Pearson
Soon enough, Pearson will simply be a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and we can start topping these lists with someone else. Until that time comes -- whether it’s Opening Day or, more likely, the second trip through the rotation -- the Blue Jays' top prospect will enjoy a few more days of being Toronto’s next big thing.
Pearson used the shutdown to refine his breaking pitches, and the specificity of Pearson’s work tends to yield tangible results quite quickly. What he does on the mound is set up by what he does off the mound, and that, as much as his rare physical gifts, is why the Blue Jays believe in his sky-high ceiling.
“Nate doesn’t have to do anything to impress us,” said pitching coach Pete Walker earlier in camp. “He’s really in a great place right now, and he’s continuing to refine his stuff. He’s got a power arm as we all know. His secondary stuff is really coming along nicely. He doesn’t have to do anything different than what he’s doing right now.”
RHP Jordan Romano
Romano’s name has generated different levels of buzz over the past 18 months as a potential back-end bullpen arm, but it’s finally started to come together recently. After fading late in 2019 following his MLB debut, Romano has entered '20 looking stronger. He’s also narrowed his focus to two pitches: his fastball and slider.
In past offseasons, Romano had focused on developing a changeup. That’s always a goal for a pitcher, but it’s also good to know when to pull the parachute. With a fastball that Romano intends to use up in the zone more often and a slider that Walker calls “devastating”, the door is wide open for the Canadian.
UTIL Santiago Espinal
Blue Jays fans tend to have a soft spot in their hearts for utility infielders, and Espinal is stepping right into that. Acquired from the Red Sox for Steve Pearce in 2018, the 25-year-old Dominican can play all over the diamond while still providing some value at the plate with his line-drive stroke. He’s given himself every opportunity to impact this roster this year, but starting next season, he could be a legitimate and full-time part of this club with more value than many will expect.
RHP Rafael Dolis
Dolis had his appendix removed in Spring Training and was likely to miss the original Opening Day, but now he’ll get his shot. If manager Charlie Montoyo needed three outs ahead of closer Ken Giles in a one-run game today, it’s likely he'd turn to Dolis. The highest praise for Dolis actually might have come from Giles himself.
“I’ve watched every one of his outings and his bullpens since we got him here,” Giles said. “His stuff is just electric. It’s stuff that I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s going to be a great tool for our team to have someone like that in the back end of our bullpen.”
LHP Ryan Borucki
Borucki will be on the edge of that fifth-starter competition over the next couple of days, but could just as easily impact this roster as a bulk reliever or spot starter down the road. Regardless, he’s finally healthy, which is evident in his voice just as much as it is his pitching. With that confidence back, Walker is reminded of Borucki when he broke through in 2018.
“He’s right there right now. He does look good and he feels good,” Walker said. “He’s got a lot of life in his fastball and we’ve shortened up his slider into more of a cutter. His delivery is sound right now.”