5 key Spring Training takeaways for Blue Jays

March 16th, 2020

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- After a season of uncertainty and unpredictability on the mound, cycling through 21 starters and a franchise-record 39 pitchers in 2019, the Blue Jays made several offseason additions with the aim of stability and success.

Through the early days of Spring Training and Grapefruit League action, Toronto got a glimpse of how a few of those new arms might make an impact, as well as seeing a couple more familiar faces take impressive steps forward.

Here’s what we learned about five of the men on the hill in Blue Jays camp this spring:

Ryu better than advertised
When Toronto signed the Korean southpaw for four years and $80 million in December, the organization knew it was getting an ace, but has already begun to exceed expectations. In two Grapefruit League games, the 32-year-old allowed one run on six hits over 6 1/3 innings, walking none and striking out six. Ryu has been an example on and off the field for his fellow hurlers.

“He’s a horse, man,” said catcher Danny Jansen, who hit .529/.600/1.353 in eight spring games. “Even if his stuff’s not working, he’s got pitches that he can control right out of bed, like his changeup and his curveball. He’s got pitches that are always going to be consistent for him. He’s a pro.”

All about that Bass
Heading into his ninth season in the Majors -- with a pitstop in Japan in the middle -- quickly turned heads in Dunedin. The 32-year-old right-hander threw only 4 1/3 Grapefruit League innings, allowing two runs on four hits with no walks and two strikeouts, but he made a strong early impression on his teammates.

“He’s a great addition,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “I didn’t know a lot about him before, but I’ve seen him pitch in the past. He’s got power sink. He’s Sam Gaviglio with power, in a way. He has a sharp slider and sinker that work well in the late innings. He’ll pitch high-leverage situations for us. He’s a huge addition in the bullpen.”

Added catcher Reese McGuire: “His pitches are definitely on the elite level. He’s one guy I really look forward to working with this year and he’s just an awesome individual.”

Roark ramping up the excitement
Coming off an unremarkable season split between the Reds and the Athletics last year, got a late start to spring action after battling the flu. The 33-year-old starter tossed six innings over two games and allowed two runs on three hits, while walking two and striking out six -- but he excited his squad in the early going.

“He brings intensity,” Jansen said. “He’s a guy who’s going to get fired up and that’s a good thing. He has a competitive edge, and he’s not the only one, but the intensity really shows with him.”

Added McGuire: “He’s a very chill, laid-back person, but on the field, he flips the switch and gets into that compete mode and we get after it. … He’s got great feel for all his pitches, too, and I like his splitter a lot.”

Thornton ready for next step
Trent Thornton provided some much-needed stability for the Blue Jays last year, getting into 32 games and making 29 starts for the club in his rookie season. The additions made to the staff left some room for doubt surrounding the 26-year-old righty’s roster spot, but Thornton has done everything he can to stay in the fight this spring.

“Building off of last year, he did a lot of hard work this offseason,” Walker said of Thornton, who allowed 5 runs over 10 2/3 spring innings. “He’s come in on a mission. He’s learned a lot, and we’re looking to see him have a breakout year.”

Pearson lives up to hype
Toronto’s No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson -- also the No. 8 overall prospect in baseball -- delivered over his seven Spring Training innings. The flame-throwing 23-year-old brought the heat, getting his fastball into triple digits while allowing just one run in his four appearances. He walked three and struck out 11, offering impressive command and the stuff that Toronto hopes to see much more of in the future.

“Nate Pearson definitely exceeded my expectations of what his stuff was going to look like," McGuire said. “He’s definitely dialed it in with his command, where he’s now commanding all of his pitches for strikes, as well as when he’s in two-strike counts, he’s putting it where he needs to put it. … He has absolutely tremendous feel right now for all of his pitches, and you can just tell when he takes the mound, he’s got a demeanor that’s different.”