DUNEDIN, Fla. – Less than a fortnight away from opening day – with far less Fortnite being played in the clubhouse – the roster that the Blue Jays will take north (to Montreal, then south to Toronto) to begin the season on March 28 is becoming more and more clear.
While the oblique injury to Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. doesn’t affect the opening day roster, the injury to Devon Travis certainly does. Travis had his left knee flare up on him after a game against the Yankees on Feb. 25 and it was eventually found to be a tear in his meniscus, so he’ll be out until at least May.
Travis’ absence means that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will be the Blue Jays’ regular second baseman, as opposed to bouncing all over the field, which was the original plan, and it also means the Jays need a utility infielder. That opens the door for either Eric Sogard or Richard Urena to make the team.
Both Urena (the 23-year-old kid with a couple of big-league cups of coffee to his credit) and Sogard (the 32-year-old vet with almost 2,000 big-league plate appearances under his belt) have gotten a lot of looks from manager Charlie Montoyo this spring, playing second, short and third and even moving to the outfield when the Jays have deployed four men out there.
Both have acquitted themselves very well both offensively and defensively, though Sogard has been ahead at the plate, showing the discipline that helped him to a .393 OBP in half a season’s worth of at-bats with the Brewers in 2017. In the field, they’ve both looked good, though Urena has showed some nonchalance on a couple of routine plays, leading to mistakes. That said, Urena is also more of the highlight-play type than in Sogard, who is still a very good defender.
The advantage in this race goes to roster flexibility. While Urena still has options, he’s on the 40-man roster and Sogard is not. For Sogard to make the team, the Jays would have to clear a spot on the 40-man, when they will already likely need to make room for a couple of relievers, so the numbers game definitely favours Urena, with Sogard backing up Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and, eventually, Guerrero in Buffalo, ready to come up and help if the need arises with the big club.
That’s the only positional “battle” that still exists, and the starting rotation is set as well, so the rest of the roster comes down to the bullpen, and whether the Blue Jays will come north with seven relievers or eight.
If there’s a seven-man bullpen, that opens the door for the out-of-options Dalton Pompey to make the club and stay in the organization for at least little while longer. But with 19-year-old Elvis Luciano a more prized possession than Pompey at this point, it appears highly unlikely that the Jays go north without leaving extra room for the young righty in their ‘pen.
Ken Giles will be ready to go when the bell rings so there’s your closer, with Bud Norris and Ryan Tepera the primary set-up men. Tim Mayza has a spot, being the sole left-hander the Blue Jays will have in the relief corps. Luciano makes five, and that leaves three available. One is likely to go to John Axford, who has dominated in four of his five spring outings, and another will go to Joe Biagini, who can offer some length out of the bullpen.
The final relief spot, that will go to David Phelps when the righty is healthy (he is throwing bullpens, but has yet to appear in a game as he recovers from 2018 Tommy John surgery), should go to Sam Gaviglio, who has allowed just two runs on only seven hits over 14 spring innings, with 15 strikeouts. Danny Barnes, David Paulino and Trent Thornton are the other combatants for that spot, but with four of the Blue Jays’ five projected starters coming off seasons that were interrupted by injury, the Jays may need a lot of innings from relievers, especially early in the season. Gaviglio gives them a pseudo-starter in the bullpen.
So, barring injury over the final week and a half of spring training, here’s my guess for the 28 men (25 + 3 on the injured list) who will line up down the third-base line before the Blue Jays kick off the 2019 season at Rogers Centre against the Tigers on March 28:
John Axford (needs a spot on 40-man)
Bud Norris (needs a spot on 40-man)
Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
Injured List (3):