Dallas joins prospects providing depth for Toronto's rotation

March 2nd, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- On a roster that already feels close to being set, save for a few competitions at the bottom of the chart, the Blue Jays’ rotation depth is spending a surprising amount of time in the spotlight.

There’s been early hype and a couple of minor injuries, which always feel a bit scarier in February after a quiet winter, but the majority of the news around this group has been positive. Earning a larger share of that conversation than we expected a month ago had been , who started Friday night’s 8-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

Dallas -- who will rank No. 15 on our all-new Blue Jays Top 30 Prospects list, which will be unveiled Monday -- has been thrust into this rather suddenly. When No. 1 prospect (No. 29 overall) was scratched on the eve of the Grapefruit League opener with some minor hamstring inflammation, manager John Schneider strolled through the clubhouse, found Dallas in the cold tub and told him it was his turn.

“He’s done a ton of work on his stuff, his body, all of that, but I love his demeanor,” Schneider said. “He’s pretty professional for a young guy. He doesn’t shy away from good hitters. I think he’s learned a lot already from being around our starting staff, and it’s pretty cool to see him in a situation like this against a pretty damn good lineup.”

Welcome to the big leagues, here’s Juan Soto and Aaron Judge.

The 23-year-old Dallas looked sharp in the opener a week ago, but he allowed two runs on three hits Friday, including a deep home run to left, over 1 2/3 innings. These are the nights Dallas can learn from -- “inexpensive experience,” as Alek Manoah recently called them -- and the Blue Jays are confident he’s capable of doing that after the growth he’s shown in the past 12 months.

Dallas still has to master Triple-A, where he’s likely headed to start 2024, and the health of those around him will determine whether Dallas is the Blue Jays’ No. 8 starter or something closer.

Tiedemann represents the “good news” of the day after his bullpen session Thursday went well. Tiedemann felt great coming out of it and will move on to facing live hitters next, potentially as early as Sunday at the Blue Jays’ complex. This would put him on track to return to his five-day routine immediately after and build up to a comfortable workload by the end of camp.

Combine that with , the presumptive No. 6 and possibly the most underrated pitcher on this 40-man roster, and the Blue Jays’ depth is in a fine spot.

“We have seven big league starters,” said earlier in camp, praising both Tiedemann and Francis. “I’m impressed with everybody because of their maturity. It’s hard. Those back-end guys, it’s going to be a long shot for them to make a team, but how mature they are and how they’ve been about being around us trying to learn. They’re not upset about anything or having a negative attitude. They’re more waiting their turn and doing their thing.”

, on the other hand, may be trailing this group after some recent back spasms cost him a few days. This is a minor issue, and Rodriguez is expected to be back on the mound Saturday, but even the briefest setbacks matter while he tries to build back up after not pitching professionally in 2023. Rodriguez will throw a bullpen and then move on to facing live hitters next week if all goes well, but there’s a ticking clock in Spring Training, even on March 1.

“It’s not overly concerning and he’s feeling 100% right now,” Schneider said. “That was kind of our plan a little bit, to take it slow and really get him acclimated. He should have enough time, hopefully, to get ramped up into multiple innings when he does get in games.”

It’s still possible that Rodriguez opens the year as a multi-innings reliever in the big leagues, stretching out over the course of the season in a hybrid role, but a stint in Triple-A to open the season is very much an option.

These pieces are all encouraging when you put them in one place, though. Tiedemann represents the ace-level upside organizations crave while Dallas represents the homegrown rotation depth the Blue Jays have needed for years. Francis and Rodriguez, in whatever role, make the Blue Jays’ rotation depth something that can raise this club’s ceiling, not just protect its floor.