Spring performance suggests Jose Bautista’s in for big year

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has been impressed with what he's seen so far at the dish from free agent acquisition Kendrys Morales.

SARASOTA, Fla. – There’s little to be gained from looking at spring training standings, spring training boxscores or spring training leaderboards. Too much noise gets involved to take those results all that seriously.

That’s not to say spring training itself is meaningless, though. Players demonstrate new skills, or lose abilities they once had. Teams show preferences for some players, less interest in others.

So, at the risk of reading too much into games no one will remember a few months from now, here are some observations on the Toronto Blue Jays after spending two weeks covering the team in Florida…

•At this rate, the Blue Jays won’t have anything to worry about with Josh Donaldson. He’s recovering quickly from the calf strain that’s delayed his spring debut, so there really doesn’t appear to be much reason for concern here.

•The outlook’s not as promising for Devon Travis, though. John Gibbons spoke about Travis Tuesday in a way that suggested the 26-year-old could start the season on the disabled list. That would open the door for Ryan Goins to crack the opening day roster.

•Speaking of injuries, the Blue Jays are being cautious with Steve Pearce, who won’t play the field until March 19. Because he hasn’t been doing much throwing (at least visibly) it’s still a little hard to envision him in left field early on, but then again it’s not as though left fielders need big arms.

•Pearce was among the many Blue Jays players who spent parts of the off-season in Dunedin, Fla., to work closely with the team’s high-performance department in preparation for the season. The department has recently added five staff members, with improved nutrition among the focal points.

Jose Bautista’s spring performance suggests he’s in for a big year. He’s not about to read too much into spring results considering how much the quality of competition can vary this time of year, and it’d be wise for the rest of us to follow suit. But let’s be honest: that’s not easy at a time that he has more hits (nine) than outs (seven).

•There’s not as much optimism in left field, where Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera are also in the mix for playing time along with Pearce. Dalton Pompey has made some impressive plays in the outfield and he hit an opposite-field home run in his spring debut, but he’s expected to open the season at triple-A nonetheless.

•Behind the plate, the Blue Jays will have Jarrod Saltalamacchia backing up Russell Martin. While it took a couple of years for Saltalamacchia to embrace the challenges of being a part-time player, he now appears comfortable in that role.

•The starting rotation looks like a real strength, with five healthy starters including Marco Estrada, who says his back feels strong. If the Blue Jays need a sixth starter Mat Latos would be a leading candidate, with the likes of Casey Lawrence on hand at triple-A.

•Realistically, Buffalo’s rotation doesn’t include much upside, but the Bisons’ bullpen could include some intriguing arms. Chris Smith, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera all have options, so they can (and will) be shuffled up and down throughout the season. One level down, hard-throwing left-hander Tim Mayza will look to build on a big spring that’s opened the eyes of many in the organization, including Russell Martin and John Gibbons.

•Of course there’s still a chance for those optionable relievers to break camp with the Blue Jays. Neither one of the Blue Jays’ out-of-options relievers, Bo Schultz and Mike Bolsinger, has had a strong start to the spring. If that trend continues, a legitimate case could be made for taking the best collection of arms available and exposing Schultz and/or Bolsinger to waivers. If they’re claimed, so be it—you then have an open 40-man spot to use for a claim of your own.

•Lastly, the prospects stand out on a team with most of its MLB roster already accounted for. Rowdy Tellez looks to be closest to the big leagues, not only because of his powerful left-handed bat, but because of his improved defence and baserunning. Conner Greene’s not as close despite his 100 mph fastball and big-league confidence, but he’s among those on the club’s radar along with shortstop Richard Urena and catcher Reese McGuire.

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