DUNEDIN, Fla. – First baseman Daric Barton seems to be a legitimate candidate to make the Blue Jays out of camp, competing with Justin Smoak for a job that will determine whether Edwin Encarnacion plays regularly in the field or as the DH. Danny Valencia and, if he’s still on the team, Dioner Navarro are also impacted.
“It really depends what you get out of Barton and Smoak, Anthopoulos says of how playing time will get divided up. “Valencia we know, we view him as a platoon bat, so it really comes down to how well those guys play. Right now, if the season started today, and if those two guys aren’t playing well, Encarnacion is playing first base and [at] DH you see what happens. Could be Navarro, could be someone else, it depends. Those guys are going to have to earn a spot on the team.
“If they do well and look good, they bring defensive value, Barton is a tremendous defender, Smoak’s got a big reach and is very good at picking balls in the dirt, maybe short in terms of range but the other things are very good. The offence is going to be important for them as well. It all depends on how they perform if they make the team.”
More news and notes from around the diamond
If you’re still hoping the Blue Jays add a reliever or two to the mix during spring training, it sure sounds like that won’t be happening any time soon, if at all. “If we were to add right now, I don’t see it being in free agency,” says GM Alex Anthopoulos. “I would think if something were to come together it would be in trade. But we’re not actively having any discussions and those normally occur at the end of spring training. … I wouldn’t anticipate any free agent signings.”
Wilton Lopez struggled through two miserable seasons with the Colorado Rockies before signing a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, who have liked the right-hander since his days with the Houston Astros. “We actually tried to trade for Wilton Lopez before he was traded to Colorado and the deal ended up falling apart,” says Anthopoulos. “What we like about him is he pitches 70 innings every year, he’s a strike-thrower, and he gets groundballs – those things are great for our park. He’ll have to earn a spot, he had some health problems along the way [elbow], but we definitely think he’s got quite a bit of upside to make the team. If he’s the guy he’s been, he’ll have a very good chance to make the team.”
Blue Jays prospect Miguel Castro’s bullpen sessions are must-see stuff. The 20-year-old right-hander left catcher Josh Thole muttering some unmentionables in awe during their session Tuesday. “Aside from the velocity, he was commanding not even his fastball, more his breaking ball. All the sliders he threw – they’re a different slider,” says Thole. “They’re hard, they’re sharp and he’s not just chucking it up there. Very much on the plate, around the plate, down in the zone and his changeup, too. I made a comment to somebody, ‘It’s a hard changeup, but I guess when you throw 100 what’s hard?’ Guys are gearing up for 100 and it’s 89 to 91, that’s quite off your fastball. I was impressed at how he was around the plate – it wasn’t a buckshot wherever.”
Looking at Castro’s six-foot-five, 190-pound frame, I asked a Blue Jays official for a physical comparison and he threw out NBA star Kevin Durant. Asked how it looks from behind the plate, Thole said: “It’s an effortless mid-90’s for sure. The ball is on you because he’s got the long arms, so essentially, he’s handing the ball to the catcher and it explodes, aside from it being 100 or whatever it is.”
Anthopoulos says of Castro, “if we were to start the season today, he’d be down here in the Florida State League, but that’s not to say he can’t come quick.”
Thole also caught Steve Delabar. “Ball was coming out good from his hand and that’s always a good sign because I always feel a guy like that is getting back to his old form,” says Thole. “He’s healthy this year, kind of a fresh start for him. Pretty much the same from a couple of years ago.”
Daniel Norris is going to get a long look as a starter this spring, but if Aaron Sanchez or Marco Estrada end up in the fifth spot, it doesn’t sound like the lefty will end up in the bullpen. “We view him as a starter but we wouldn’t rule it out,” says Anthopoulos. “In a perfect scenario if he didn’t make the team as a starter he’d be in the minors being stretched out. We wouldn’t rule it out if he’s throwing the ball that well and Sanchez or Estrada are throwing the ball that well that he could start in the bullpen as well. He’s going to have a chance to make the team.”
What happens if it looks like the rotation and bullpen need Sanchez equally at spring’s end? “The priority is that rotation, you build everything else off of that,” says Anthopoulos.
Brett Lawrie’s energy is frenetic. So too is that of Josh Donaldson. “You love those guys that bring energy,” says manager John Gibbons. “Baseball, you’re playing it every day, these guys get worn down and you don’t want a bunch of dead-asses. You need some guys that got some spunk.”
Sal Butera, who worked with the catchers and handled replay reviews as a coaching assistant last season, is returning to scouting. Advance scouting co-ordinator Ryan Mittleman and Harry Einbinder, co-ordinator advance scouting and video, will tell Gibbons whether to issue replay challenges or not this season
Gibbons, the coaching staff, and the front office met with Joe Torre and his team about the new pace of game initiatives Tuesday. Jose Bautista was used as an example of a player who keeps one foot in the box the way the rule is intended. Once position players report, Gibbons says, “We’ll talk to them, [Torre] wants us to clarify it with those guys. It’s pretty simple but they need to know what’s going on.”
As colleague Ben Nicholson-Smith reported first last week, Blue Jays first-rounder Max Pentecost recently underwent a second shoulder surgery. Anthopoulos described the procedure as “a clean out of his shoulder. He was back throwing and they weren’t finding anything, they had MRIs and so on, so he went to see Dr. [James] Andrews, he had a clean out and they feel like this is going to resolve it, finally. I guess he’d been playing with it the entire time. He’s young, he’s getting his career going, we want to make sure he gets those things taken care of. He should be back throwing in three months, maybe sooner, and expect him back in games in July. Hopefully we’ll get him plenty of playing time and it should be completely behind him.”