Inbox: Will spring slugging earn Bird a role?

Blue Jays beat reporter Keegan Matheson answers fans' questions

March 29th, 2022

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Just over a week remains until Opening Day at Rogers Centre, the start of what the Blue Jays hope will be a return both to normalcy and to the postseason.

There’s still work to be done, of course. A handful of bullpen jobs are up for grabs, and given the two additional roster spots that clubs will carry through April, the Blue Jays have some options with their positional depth as well.

Looking ahead to that and much more, here are your questions for this week’s Blue Jays Inbox:

What are the chances both and make the Opening Day roster? If not both, who is more likely?
-- FrenzyManS45

Greg Bird led the league in “Inbox Questions” this week, and rightfully so. Bird has opened camp by going 6-for-18 with two home runs, five walks, and just one strikeout. The 29-year-old has checked off every single box so far. This will hinge on roster construction and 40-man roster spots, but if the season started tomorrow, I see Bird on the roster as a backup first-base and DH option who gives Toronto a lefty bat off the bench.

Katoh is still looking at some crowded depth in front of him given the presence of Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal, plus the versatile young Otto López already on the 40-man roster, but I’d expect him to get a shot at some point in 2022. Katoh has looked great on defense, which has long been a strength of his, and offers the Blue Jays depth at several positions.

Hi Keegan, tell me more about who you think will make up the Buffalo rotation and starting depth there. Will and be stretched out should an injury arise, or will the Jays tap into some other names from the Bisons? What do you see as the pecking order there?
-- @james_in_to

The Triple-A Buffalo rotation looks nice. The Blue Jays should have Bowden Francis, , , Joey Murray and in that picture. Shaun Anderson is also being stretched out as a starter, while Maximo Castillo could soon be due for a taste of Triple-A. Veteran Casey Lawrence could also slide in and out of that rotation as needed.

This group will be needed to support the MLB club too. Hatch still has real potential, and the Blue Jays’ belief that he can be a big league starter hasn’t gone anywhere. Francis might be flying under the radar a bit as well; he’s looked sharp in camp so far. In terms of Pearson, I think he’s an arm too talented to be waiting in Triple-A for a team in win-now mode.

What do you see as 's role? Will he be a roving starter, or just a fourth outfielder when one of the starters plays DH?
-- @DJGuarenasB

At this point last year, we were wondering where Randal Grichuk’s reps would come from. Then he got into 149 games. A healthy season from George Springer will close the door on a number that high, but this is a long way of saying that there are always more opportunities than we expect for a fourth outfielder or extra infielder. Tapia can back up all three outfield spots, so I expect you’ll see him in the lineup a few times a week and coming off the bench often when he’s not starting.

In your opinion, who is the Blue Jays’ best under the radar prospect?
-- @DavidtheDeuce

Let’s define "under the radar" as a prospect who isn’t quite known yet by an average Blue Jays fan, but soon should be. Leo Jimenez (No. 5) is a good name on the top end, with a .517 on-base percentage last season and good odds of being a big leaguer, but No. 18 prospect Adrian Hernandez is a name to watch lower down the list. The 5-foot-10 reliever doesn’t stand out physically and won’t overpower anyone, but his changeup has the potential to be an elite MLB pitch. It’s already one of the best pitches in the organization.

What prospects do you see making their MLB debuts for the Jays this season?
-- @JaysKid_RHP

Looking through our new Top 30 list at MLB Pipeline, our 2022 ETAs include: Gabriel Moreno (No. 1), Otto López (4), Bowden Francis (15), Samad Taylor (16) and Joey Murray (24). There’s always a chance that a young arm makes that jump into a late bullpen role, though, so I’d keep an eye on Hagen Danner (17), Hernandez (18) and Yosver Zulueta (19). A dark horse? Hayden Juenger (26).

Berríos, Kikuchi, and Ryu haven’t looked great in their starts. Also, some of our relievers have been giving up lots of home runs. Is this just “pitchers working on specific pitches and not trying to get guys out,” or is there any reason for concern?
-- Mike F.

I always try to consider the pitcher and the situation. Pitchers like , and aren't competing for jobs, so they have the luxury of using Spring Training as a workshop if they choose. If you’re the 10th or 11th reliever on the depth chart, though, it’s more likely you’re trying to get outs any way possible and make a positive impression. Outside of significant dips in velocity or mechanical changes gone awry, I don’t typically read much into spring numbers unless they’re part of a true competition for a roster spot.

Do you think that Orelvis Martinez will receive a call-up to the bigs this year?
-- Christian S.

Never say never, but I’ll stick with “sometime in 2023” for now. Martinez has looked fantastic in camp and has matured over this past year. Double-A and Triple-A pitching will be great tests for a young power hitter, so let’s see how quickly he adapts to pitchers who know where their breaking balls are going. You might see Martinez taking the odd reps at second base, too, which is very interesting given that Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette are locked in on the left side. Having Martinez take over from Chapman at third full-time in ’24 still lines up conveniently, but his bat will push its way into the lineup before then.