2023-03-05 · 4 min read · MLB/Baseball
Nate Pearson and Vinny Capra

MLBStatic via MLB.com | TSN

It’s been just over a week’s worth of Spring Training games for the Blue Jays, with plenty of storylines developing over the club’s first nine games. Sure, it’s important to remember that wins and losses are irrelevant in February and March - but individually speaking, the impressions made over this first portion of the camp will have some real impact.
Some good, some bad, let’s take a look:
  • ALEJANDRO KIRK - Originally slated to be a part of Mexico’s WBC squad, the Blue Jay All-Star recently withdrew his commitment to the team following a prolonged absence from camp due to the birth of his child. The new father reported to Dunedin recently, and although he hasn’t seen game action yet, all reports are that he is on pace to be ready for Opening Day. Veterans Rob Brantly and Stevie Berman have both had quite a look thus far, and are viable depth options if needed - though neither are currently on Toronto’s 40-man.
  • VLADDY GUERRERO JR. - Likewise with Kirk, Guerrero Jr. was signed on to participate in this month’s World Baseball Classic. Following his removal from Toronto’s game two days ago due to “right knee discomfort”, Vlad announced he will no longer be playing for the Dominican Republic in order to focus on preparing for this upcoming season with the Jays. His removal, although purely precautionary, is reminiscent of prior discomfort Toronto’s star has had in the past.
  • WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC DEPARTURES - A rare Spring off-day tomorrow, eight Blue Jays will be departing camp to meet with their respective WBC squads. Otto Lopez, Damiano Palmegiani, and newly-added Dasan Brown will join Team Canada, Jose Berrios and Luis Quinones will join Team Puerto Rico, Spencer Horowitz will join Team Israel, Yimi Garcia will join Team Dominican Republic, and Jiorgeny Casimiri will join Team Netherlands. Brown was added as a replacement for Andy Yerzy, who recently withdrew from the tournament.
  • THE OFFENSE - Yes, these games don’t matter. Yes, teams aren’t necessarily trying to win. Yes, many of these players will not be in the MLB. I don’t care, it’s still fun to witness thirty-four runs scored over the last two games. Up-and-down the lineup, and then up-and-down the replacement lineup halfway through, there appears to be an almost endless stream of quality ABs. Beyond the everyday regulars, a plethora of lesser-known talent has been on display. The aforementioned Otto Lopez has been on a tear. Vinny Capra, the now-26 year old who debuted with Toronto last season, had a 7-RBI game against Detroit. Nathan Lukes and Wynton Bernard - more on them later - have shown their ability to be MLB-caliber. Prospects Addison Barger and Leo Jimenez are becoming even more recognizable, and Andres Sosa has pronounced himself as a depth option. Zach Britton too, whom the Jays are very high on. All told, it hasn’t been hard to leave a mark on management with the bat this Spring.
  • NATE PEARSON - Good ol’ Nate Pearson. Having some control issues thus far, though the big, flamethrowing righty has looked confident and comfortable. He’s already touched 101 mph, and now that he’s seemingly transitioned into a purely-bullpen role, there’s hope he’ll be healthier now too. Although I wouldn’t be against Pearson’s addition to the Opening Day roster, I have a feeling he’ll begin in AAA to open the year.
  • YUSEI KIKUCHI, THE BEARDED ONE - Forget being known for a good or bad performance, is there anyone on Toronto as polarizing as Kikuchi right now? Deep down, I think we all felt sympathy towards him as his ‘22 was miserable. That said, the Jays’ lefty has looked fantastic in Spring. Good command, a quality changeup, and Pete Walker’s endorsement of Kikuchi bodes well for him to - at least until this point - claim the fifth spot in the rotation. If he can keep his pace, however unlikely it is, then Kikuchi will play an important role for Toronto moving forward.
  • DEPTH ARMS - Going into camp, I was a big fan of the depth (roster and non-roster) Toronto had brought in. Not every move was going to be a surprise, but taking chances on guys allows for a good story or two every once in a while. Jay Jackson and Julian Fernandez have looked really good, both of who face an uphill battle to be added to the 40-man, but have done everything thus far to be considered. Drew Hutchison has been OK, with Casey Lawrence and Matt Peacock likely filling roles on a AAA staff, with emergency call-ups as necessary. Luke Bard and Paul Fry have all but secured a Minor League assignment (no disrespect to either, however it shows how loaded Toronto’s depth is at the moment). In Fry’s case, should something happen to Tim Mayza then the now-Gageless Jays will turn to him as another lefty.
  • OUTFIELD DEPTH - Perhaps the deepest part of the roster, Toronto has accumulated enough Outfield depth to create a AAAA team - too good for AAA, but not good enough to start in the Majors. Nathan Lukes, who peaked Toronto’s interest with a great Spring in 2022, picked up where he left off with another good showing so far. Further ahead than others, Lukes is on the 40-man roster - a sign that he is first up, should anyone be needed. Others like longtime Jays’ prospect Vinny Capra have a tougher path ahead, though he too has been on fire. He’s older - 26 - but is this close to putting it all together. Wynton Bernard, Colorado’s feelgood story of 2022, has also looked terrific. Ten seasons in the Minors, Bernard finally debuted with the Rockies last season and performed well - he hit .286 over 12 games with the club. Now 32, he’s once again showing what he’s capable of. If Toronto is forced to let him go, he will surely be a quality depth piece for another squad. Not to mention promising youngsters like Zach Britton and Dasan Brown, who’ve both impressed in camp.
  • OPENING DAY BULLPEN - Now this, this is a toughie. Thomas Hatch and Trevor Richards have both been underwhelming, to say the least. Trent Thornton has looked OK at best, and Adam Cimber has struggled too. Now, I stand by what I said earlier - Spring Training means very little. Adam Cimber will be in the MLB, guaranteed. Besides longevity and familiarity, I’m not sure what the case can be to have any of Hatch/Richards/Thornton taking an active roster spot. There’s still time to turn it around, and Richards has been highly effective in the past - but when’s the line drawn for previous success as a factor? Fellow 40-man arms Yosver Zulueta and Hagen Danner - neither of which have debuted yet - have looked mighty good, albeit a short sample size. Pearson has looked promising too, and Zach Thompson certainly serves a purpose. Mitch White is headed, likely, to the IL which removes him from the equation for the time being. And like I said, Julian Fernandez and Jay Jackson are making a push as non-roster invitees. It’ll be interesting to see if the organization continues to put trust in Hatch and Richards, both of whom have drawn the ire of fans.
As Spring Training continues, the World Baseball Classic begins in a week’s time. A highly regarded off-day will allow those who are heading out to do so, with the Jays’ next game coming Tuesday against Pittsburgh.
Three and a half weeks remain before Opening Day in St. Louis, and the ever-revolving door of who’s to watch shall continue throughout the Spring until the highly anticipated March 30th finally arrives.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Gus Cousins


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