Scott MacArthur is the new host of Blue Jays Talk on the Sportsnet Radio Network. He’ll also be a regular contributor to sportsnet.ca throughout the season, starting with this column.
DUNEDIN, Fla. – Unbelievably, the Blue Jays’ Grapefruit League schedule is less than a week from wrapping up. We’ll be in Montreal for the exhibition season’s final two games next Monday and Tuesday, and then it’s home to Toronto for opening day on March 28.
So, there’s enough of a sample size to begin making some assessments and predictions based on, with apologies in advance for speaking in the third person just this once, what Scotty Mac Thinks:
BO BICHETTE IMPRESSES
“He’s been our best player in camp,” a Blue Jays executive told me of Bichette during a chance encounter over runny eggs and soggy bacon at our mutual hotel’s continental breakfast.
There’s no disputing the comment.
Bichette has been on base in 19 of his 40 springtime plate appearances, a .475 clip, and he’s showing considerable pop: seven of his 15 hits have been for extra bases (four home runs, three doubles). On Saturday against the Yankees, Bichette went 2-for-2 with a walk, including an opposite field double off vaunted closer Aroldis Chapman in the sixth inning.
Like everyone else his age, Bichette is the product of an era obsessed with pitch velocity so it’s no surprise he shrugged his shoulders when asked what it was like to step in against Chapman.
“It’s a baseball crossing the plate, no matter who’s throwing it,” said Bichette. “If you start thinking about who’s on the mound, you get yourself in trouble. I’m just trying to focus on the release point and get a good pitch to hit.”
You’re going to enjoy watching this kid play. He’s supremely skilled, an advanced offensive player for his age, and he’s developing defensively. There’s a flair to his game–an unmistakable style.
Bichette’s father, Dante Sr., retired after the 2001 season. Bo was too young to remember being in the clubhouse. But he’s got fond memories of the 2013 season when Dante Sr. returned to Colorado as the Rockies hitting coach. Then 15, Bichette would take batting practice and hit balls as far as some of his father’s big league proteges. He took ground balls with the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and D.J. LeMahieu.
“That summer was huge for me. That’s when I realized that this was the game I wanted to play,” said Bichette.
Despite the impressive spring showing, Bichette will most likely begin the season at triple-A after spending 2018 at double-A New Hampshire.
TRAVIS SNAKE BITTEN
Quick, name for yourself a Toronto athlete who’s had a worse run of injury luck than Devon Travis.
The list of injuries is lengthy for Travis and given his obvious talent and gregarious personality, it’s also sad. We’re getting close to “what could have been” territory; that is if we haven’t already arrived. He was poised to be a standout player on the field along with a positive and respected voice in the clubhouse.
After winning the American League Rookie of the Month award in April, 2015, Travis has dealt with a serious shoulder injury, near-chronic issues with his right knee and now the arthroscopic procedure to deal with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Travis will start the season on the injured list, and will be evaluated for game readiness in a month to six weeks. Because of that timeline, the Blue Jays will have to consider opening up a spot on the 40-man roster by placing Travis on the 60-day injured list, a scenario which would result in Travis being ineligible to return to the Blue Jays until, at the earliest, their Monday, May 27th game at Tampa Bay.
DOES LUCIANO FIT IN THE BULLPEN?
If I was a betting man – and thank goodness I’m not – these are the eight relievers, as of today, I’d wager on heading north with the Blue Jays:
Ken Giles, Bud Norris, Tim Mayza, Ryan Tepera, Joe Biagini, John Axford, Sam Gaviglio, and Elvis Luciano. Luciano is only 19 but the club’s hand is forced by his Rule-5 status. If at any point the Blue Jays wish to send Luciano to the minor leagues they first must offer him back to the Kansas City Royals, the team from which he was claimed.
There have been plenty of hints, including lots of talk about Luciano’s make-up; he doesn’t seem rattled by bad outings. Plus, general manager Ross Atkins has stated publicly the challenge isn’t carrying Luciano through the first month of the season, it’s whether the club can afford to allow Luciano to absorb a roster spot all season long.
On this matter and many more you’re going to hear me utter three simple words: “Time will tell.” It’s a phrase which could become repetitive, so apologies in advance, but with such a young group there are a lot of players for whom there are no definitive answers just yet.