What questions remain for Blue Jays as spring training comes to an end?

Arden Zwelling and Ben Nicholson-Smith discuss how pitcher Chris Bassitt is going to utilize the PitchCom device, plus the major questions for the Toronto Blue Jays as the training camp nears the end.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – While the best seasons are memorable, the best springs are forgettable. In that respect, the Blue Jays are right where they want to be.

With one date remaining on the Grapefruit League schedule, they’re essentially ready to play games that count. In fact, as manager John Schneider joked Monday morning, they’ve been ready for at least a week.

To be fair, there was at least one big question in Blue Jays camp when spring began: who would round out the starting rotation? But after posting a 1.00 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 18 Grapefruit League innings, Yusei Kikuchi provided a definitive answer.

Notwithstanding a brief Vlad Guerrero Jr. injury scare and some ongoing elbow inflammation for Mitch White, the roster’s healthy. In the bullpen, all eight jobs are spoken for. And yes, there’s one bench spot remaining, but even on that front, there’s a pleasant lack of drama. Otto Lopez? Nathan Lukes? Vinny Capra? They’ve all played well, but none would be candidates to play all that much – at least to start.

So, are there any major questions left?

“No,” Schneider said with a smile. “Everyone’s where they should be and where we had hoped they would get to. So it’s been it’s been nice to sit back and say, ‘okay, all quiet here,’ which is a good thing. Kikuchi, in particular, I think has been awesome, taking changes he made in the off-season right into camp. So yeah, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to watch it unfold and hit the season.”

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Realistically, then, these last 24 hours are all about staying healthy and leaving Florida behind. But in baseball, there are always questions – even for good teams, even after strong springs. With that in mind, let’s take one final look at the biggest questions facing the Blue Jays …

Are Yusei Kikuchi & Jose Berrios really fixed?

Give Kikuchi credit. He pitched with more pace and confidence, challenging hitters to make contact with his plus stuff. This was the spring the Blue Jays wanted. After some command issues at the World Baseball Classic, Jose Berrios looks to be locating his fastball better, too.

But it was just last year that this duo combined to post a 5.22 ERA in 272.2 innings, so it’ll take more than exhibition games to remove all doubt here. The real challenge begins when the games count, and the two pitchers slated to make their season debuts against the Royals next week. That’s a nice way to start the season, but the tests will intensify soon afterwards with the Angels next on the schedule for both.

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Still, at this point the Blue Jays feel good about their starting rotation, and why not? Few teams have five former all-stars in their rotation, and some clubs with good rotations on paper are now facing major health questions – case in point, the Yankees.

Who’s next in line?

At some point, the Blue Jays will turn to triple-A for rotation depth and when they do, Zach Thompson figures to be first in line. Casey Lawrence, Drew Hutchison and Bowden Francis will also be a call away in Buffalo while prospects Ricky Tiedemann and Sem Robberse test themselves at double-A.

If one or two of those pitchers can stabilize things when called upon, that’ll make a big difference. Not only would it save the big-league bullpen and prevent long losing streaks, it’d allow the front office to proceed more deliberately at the trade deadline.

What’s on second?

Between Whit Merrifield, Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal, the Blue Jays have more than their share of options at second base. But since there’s no need to declare a starter at the position, the Blue Jays will mix and match – at least to start the year. Then, if someone plays so well they can no longer be denied, the Blue Jays will adjust.

“Ideally, in a perfect world, someone is kind of just saying, ‘hey, I’m playing every day’ based on performance, but there are so many ways to do it,” Schneider said. “There’s going to be contributions from all of them. I don’t think that we have a real set rollout of who’s going to be where how many times. It’s a good problem to have when you have three good guys in a certain spot. So they’re all going to be called upon in different ways.”

If the Blue Jays need defence, expect Espinal in the lineup. If there’s a lefty on the mound, Merrifield (career .807 OPS vs. LHP) will see plenty of playing time and Biggio (career .749 OPS vs. RHP) figures to play regularly against righties. But again, no one’s talking about a strict platoon here as Merrifield and Biggio will contribute in the outfield mix, too.

How will the Blue Jays adjust to the new rules?

Friday’s game against the Phillies showed that Alejandro Kirk still hasn’t fully adapted to MLB’s new rules. Clearly, that’s an adjustment that he must make before the games count, because no pitcher wants automatic balls called needlessly. Yet all involved say the necessary adjustments are happening behind the scenes.

Along those lines, there will be adjustments to the new technology permitted for pitchers with starter Chris Bassitt planning to call his own games by transmitting signs to catcher Danny Jansen’s earpiece using a PitchCom device worn on his glove.

“I don’t think there’s a way to throw that many pitches and not do it,” said Bassitt, who uses seven distinct pitches. “I would love to have Jano call the game, but there just isn’t time.”

In his final start of the spring Monday, Bassitt was still seeking a rhythm that works for him. Typically, he prefers to punch in the pitch while on the infield grass before transitioning into attack mode.

“When I step onto the mound, I need to compete rather than worry about it,” he said.

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Who will round out the Blue Jays’ roster?

This much is worth keeping in mind whether it’s Lopez, Lukes or Capra who breaks camp with the Blue Jays – there’s realistically little job security for the 26th man on the roster. Still, there’s an interesting question to consider here if Lopez is indeed the leading contender for the job: would taking Lopez and limiting his at-bats impede his development? Or would the chance to continue learning in a big-league environment off-set any potential disadvantages?

Either way, Schneider said the Blue Jays are expecting to promote internally here instead of making a last-minute acquisition via trade or waivers.

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