With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com takes a look at a different aspect of this year's Blue Jays squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.
TORONTO -- Major League Baseball is set to return next week when pitchers and catchers report to their respective teams. Now, the real fun can begin.
Following months of endless speculation and changes through the offseason Hot Stove, every team across baseball will get a first-hand look at its new squad. In Toronto, that involves a lot of familiar faces but a team that will still feel very different after the departures of Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Cecil, R.A. Dickey and others.
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In the spirit of camps opening around baseball, it's time to put on our forecaster cap and predict what the 25-man roster will look like at the end of Spring Training:
Catcher (2):Russell Martin and Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Martin is the clear starter but the Blue Jays need to make sure he gets more rest in 2017. Last year, Martin appeared in 137 games, which was his highest total since 2009 and a number that is, frankly, too high. The departure of Dickey means the club no longer has to carry Josh Thole on the roster to handle the knuckleball, and the presence of a veteran with some offensive upside like Saltalamacchia should help.
First base (2):Justin Smoak and Steve Pearce
The plan is for a platoon with Smoak starting against righties and Pearce starting against lefties. One thing to watch here is whether Smoak will be able to hang onto the job or whether Pearce forces his way into a more full-time role. Smoak formed an effective platoon with Chris Colabello in 2015 but last year he hit just .217 with a .314 on-base percentage and that won't cut it.
Second base:Devon Travis
The only question here is whether Travis will be able to remain on the field for a full season. Last year, he got off to a delayed start because of offseason shoulder surgery and he was later lost for the postseason because of a knee injury. The upside is there but Travis' bat needs to be in the lineup for it to matter. He'll likely open the season as Toronto's leadoff hitter.
Tulowitzki looked completely lost at the plate during the first six weeks of last season. He later rallied and hit .281/.335/.485 over his final 99 games but those are the numbers Tulowitzki needs to put up over a full season. The good news is that no matter what he does at the plate, the Gold Glove-caliber defense will be there.
Third base:Josh Donaldson
The Blue Jays have Donaldson under contract for the next two seasons and he has displayed no signs of slowing down. Donaldson has finished in the top 10 in voting for the AL MVP during each of the last four years and more of the same should be expected in 2017. He's the most important player on this roster for a reason.
Utility infielder:Darwin Barney
Barney enters the year without the possibility of much playing time but injuries could change that in a hurry. As of now, he's expected to make occasional starts at second, short and third but if any of the starting infielders go down then he would become the first line of defense. Barney's presence likely means Ryan Goins, who is out of options, will have to be designated for assignment at the end of camp.
Outfield (4):Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Melvin Upton Jr.
Pillar and Bautista will be everyday players in center and right but left field remains an area of uncertainty. The early expectation is that Carrera and Upton Jr. will form a platoon but Dalton Pompey might have something to say about that with a strong spring. My bet is that Carrera/Upton Jr. open the year with the big league club but Pompey becomes the starter at some point in May.
Designated hitter:Kendrys Morales
Morales might be facing more pressure than anyone else on the Blue Jays' roster. He has the unenviable task of having to replace Encarnacion and while a drop-off can be expected here Morales does come with a pretty impressive pedigree of his own. Toronto would take the 30 homers, 93 RBIs and .795 OPS he put up last season but the club is also optimistic that a change to Rogers Centre could boost those numbers even higher.
Starting rotation (5):Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano
There's usually a battle for the starting rotation in every team's Spring Training but that won't be the case here. Toronto has its five starters locked in and after leading the AL in almost every major pitching category last season the club is hoping for more of the same in 2017. That will be easier said than done, and some regression should be expected, but having a full season of Liriano over Dickey might help offset some of the downside.
Bullpen (7):Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, J.P. Howell, Joe Smith, Joe Biagini, Mike Bolsinger and Gavin Floyd
This is where the most heated competition will take place during camp. Osuna, Grilli, Howell and the out-of-options Bolsinger all likely have secure jobs heading into camp. The same likely can be said for Biagini but now that the Blue Jays have some depth in the bullpen they might consider moving him to the starting rotation in Triple-A Buffalo to preserve depth.
If Biagini does end up in the bullpen, that leaves just one job up for grabs for a long list of candidates. Floyd, if healthy, is my pick after he pitched well out of the bullpen last year, but there will be competition from Danny Barnes, Dennis Tepera, Rule 5 Draft pick Glenn Sparkman, lefty Matt Dermody and many others.