Blue Jays begin full-squad workouts with increased internal expectations

Cavan Biggio explains to the media why he is not worried about getting into a sophomore slump in his second year in the MLB.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Charlie Montoyo kept his comments brief ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays’ first full-squad workout Monday, giving his players more of a logistical rundown of the spring than a big rah-rah talk.

“My main message was how excited we are for this year’s team and that was about it,” he said. “We’re going to have a bigger talk whenever we have our 26 guys, but today, everything was quick, telling them about the schedule and everything else.”

The Blue Jays ran their pitchers through the usual array of side sessions and fielding practice while position players did some base-running, defensive work and took batting practice over at the new fields at the club’s still-under-construction training complex.

For a Jays team seeking to emerge from three years of descent and rebuild, the expectation this season starts at “building from the end of the year last year, how we got better in everything we did,” said Montoyo.

But given that 2019 was essentially an open internal tryout to see who was going to factor longer-term, 2020 needs to be about growth, too, not just development.

“That’s the same thing I wanted to do last year, but of course I know what you’re saying,” said Montoyo. “Yeah, we’re going to go out there and play to win. The good thing about it is most of the guys already know the league, they know who they’re going to be facing. But yeah, we’re going to play to win, for sure.”

Comparing the current roster to last year’s group, centre-fielder Randal Grichuk says there are “guys at positions that the organization sees they’re going to be long-term.”

“We went out and signed some arms that have proven themselves at the big-league level,” added Grichuk. “Obviously everybody has to go out there and perform, but I’m excited about the roster and the way it looks on paper and the way guys have played in the past. But it’s a new year, everybody’s got to go out and do it again.”

ROSTER RACES

The race for the fifth starter’s spot is the most defined but the overall roster picture for the Blue Jays is very much in flux. Here’s how things shape up on the path to 26 right now:

Catchers (2): Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire.

Keep an eye on: Non-roster invitee Caleb Joseph may very well find some opportunity if McGuire encounters complications related to his arrest.

Infield (4): 1B Travis Shaw, 2B Cavan Biggio, SS Bo Bichette, 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Keep an eye on: Barring an injury, this is the most locked in portion of the roster.

Outfield (3): LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., CF Randal Grichuk, RF Teoscar Hernandez.

Keep an eye on: It would take a monumental spring to alter this mix but with both Anthony Alford and Derek Fisher out of options, they could force their way into an opportunity.

Bench (4): UTIL Joe Panik, UTIL Brandon Drury, OF Fisher, OF Alford, 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez.

Keep an eye on: That’s five names for four spots and right now, the player most likely to end up on the squad is Panik (the Blue Jays were interested in Brock Holt but have backed off due to their commitment to Panik). Drury and Tellez both have an option remaining while Alford and Fisher do not, so the final tally here will be determined in part by roster fit, in part by asset management. Panik could make Drury redundant, which opens up a path for Tellez to DH or come off the bench and slug.

Starters (5): 1. Hyun-Jin Ryu, 2. Tanner Roark, 3. Chase Anderson, 4. Matt Shoemaker, 5. Trent Thornton/Shun Yamaguchi/Ryan Borucki.

Keep an eye on: Thornton is the incumbent and Yamaguchi will need to impress this spring to dislodge him. Borucki will be playing catchup after being shut down with elbow tightness. Young arms like Anthony Kay, Sean Reid-Foley, Jacob Waguespack and T.J. Zeuch are technically in the mix, but they’re very much on the outside looking in right now.

Relievers (8): Ken Giles, Anthony Bass, Sam Gaviglio, Rafael Dolis and Wilmer Font are, barring a surprise, on the team with three spots up for grabs between top contenders Yamaguchi (if he’s not in rotation), Waguespack, Jordan Romano, Thomas Pannone and non-roster invitees A.J. Cole and Justin Miller.

Keep an eye on: Pannone is the only left-handed pitcher with a real shot at making the club and that may help break a tie for him. Cole and Miller are both non-roster invitees but are the likeliest relievers on minor-league contracts to break through. The Blue Jays scouted Cole heavily out of high school but the Washington Nationals got to him first, selecting him in the fourth round.

SHIFTING LANDSCAPE

The trading of Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers continues to reverberate for the Boston Red Sox, whose owners issued a statement and addressed media on Monday trying to ease fan discontent.

The deal has also shifted the landscape in the AL East.

“It’s a tough division, it’s always been tough, it’s always going to be tough,” said Grichuk. “Yankees are the Yankees, they’re a very good ballclub, obviously with Boston making some trades, it helps us out so to speak, I don’t know what you want to say exactly. But it’s a tough division and we played a lot of those guys tough last year. I think a lot of the young guys were happy with the way we matched up well against them, even when we weren’t supposed to. So that’s definitely positive and encouraging going into this year.”

SHORT HOPS

John Gibbons is reuniting with several former Blue Jays on the Atlanta Braves, for whom he’ll work as a special assignment scout. He’ll be reporting to Dana Brown, former GM Alex Anthopoulos’s special assistant in Toronto who is Atlanta’s vice-president of scouting. Gibbons’s bench coach with the Blue Jays, DeMarlo Hale, is a special assistant in the Braves system. … Right-hander Tanner Roark did some throwing in the morning before being sent home with a fever. … Outfielder Jonathan Davis missed the club’s first workout so he could be home with his wife as she delivered a baby girl. … Reliever Rafael Dolis had his visa issues resolved and is expected in camp Tuesday.

QUOTABLE I: “The first year in the big leagues was a dream come true. Now I’m just looking to become the best player that I can possibly be.” – Cavan Biggio on next steps for him.

QUOTABLE II: “It’s one of those things that I think MLB probably should have punished the players a little bit more – but other than that, it is what it is. Eventually it’s going to pass. But we’re here getting ready for us and letting that take care of itself.” – Randal Grichuk on the Astros’ apology for the sign-stealing scandal.

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