Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Espinosa battles Ngoepe for backup INF spot

With Tulo out, extra infielder crucial; 2 bullpen spots also up for grabs
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have less than a week remaining until Opening Day, but there are still a couple of key battles to watch during the final days of camp.

Toronto needs to finalize two spots in the bullpen, and select either Gift Ngoepe or Danny Espinosa for its utility infielder job. Lots of questions have been answered this spring, but these three spots on the roster remain at least somewhat uncertain.

View Full Game Coverage

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have less than a week remaining until Opening Day, but there are still a couple of key battles to watch during the final days of camp.

Toronto needs to finalize two spots in the bullpen, and select either Gift Ngoepe or Danny Espinosa for its utility infielder job. Lots of questions have been answered this spring, but these three spots on the roster remain at least somewhat uncertain.

View Full Game Coverage

Here's a closer look at the roster decisions the Blue Jays will have to make before the season officially gets underway March 29 against the Yankees at Rogers Centre:

Utility infielder

Espinosa vs. Ngoepe
There are really only two candidates for this job, and it's a competition that could go either way. Ngoepe was the early favorite, but that changed last week when Espinosa agreed to a Minor League deal. Ngoepe's biggest asset here might be that he's already on the 40-man roster, and would not require a corresponding move to crack the big league roster. Espinosa would require yet another move to the 40-man roster, which already needs two vacancies for the bullpen.

What could change
At this point, not much because it does seem like the 25th spot will belong to either of these two. Even so, an argument could be made that carrying an eight-man bullpen at the start of the year, instead of an extra infielder, makes sense. That would allow the Blue Jays to promote either Tim Mayza or Luis Santos to the Majors, but it also would force Aledmys Diaz into an everyday role, because he would not have an appropriate backup at shortstop. At least to start the year, the Blue Jays seem to be more worried about infield depth than bullpen depth.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Long-term outlook
Ngoepe or Espinosa technically are only placeholders until Troy Tulowitzki returns from a bone spur in his right heel. The plan for this season was to have Diaz and Yangervis Solarte available off the bench, while Tulowitzki remained the starter, but it's anyone's guess if that configuration will ever come to fruition. Tulowitzki has been limited throughout camp, and while the Blue Jays continue to insist he's a possibility to return in late April, that may prove to be a bit optimistic.

Video: TOR@PHI: Ngoepe makes a tough charging stop, throw

The Bullpen

Locks: Roberto Osuna, Seung Hwan Oh, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, Danny Barnes

Final-two favorites: John Axford, Tyler Clippard.

What could change
The only real question here is what happens with the final two spots. Axford and Clippard are the clear favorites, but lefty Mayza and right-hander Santos remain fringe candidates. The biggest issue here is that Axford and Clippard are not currently on the 40-man roster. Toronto will have to get creative to make room for both relievers, but that's still the expected course of action.

Video: PIT@TOR: Clippard induces grounder, picks up save

Long-term outlook
If the Blue Jays go with the expected configuration, it will not leave much flexibility once the season begins. It's inevitable that at some point a starting pitcher will get knocked out of the game early, and the Blue Jays will need to call up a fresh arm. And that's where things get complicated. Unfortunately for Barnes, who enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign, he could become the odd-man out because he's the only logical reliever to be optioned to the Minors, especially considering Loup has enough service time to block a demotion.

The 40-man crunch
The Blue Jays are expected to require at least two, and possibly even three open spots on the 40-man roster. Toronto designated lefty Matt Dermody for assignment on Wednesday, but that was to make room for right-hander Sam Gaviglio, so the 40-man roster remains full. Moving Carlos Ramirez or Tulowitzki to the 60-day disabled list would open up a spot, while outfielders Dwight Smith Jr., or possibly even Dalton Pompey could be at risk. One strong possibility is lefty Sam Moll going through waivers again after he was claimed by Toronto earlier this spring.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Danny Espinosa, Gift Ngoepe