In the next few days, 30 major-league teams will announce 25-man Opening Day rosters carefully designed for the specific purpose of navigating a 162-game season. None of them will do this successfully.
The rigours of baseball’s infamous grind simply cannot be weathered by the group each club begins the season with. By the time September rolls around, most teams have used an eighth starter, a seventh outfielder, or a fourth catcher far more than they would have liked.
Despite the remarkable health of their starting rotation, the Toronto Blue Jays were no exception in 2016. Prior to the season it would have been impossible to predict they’d be getting at-bats from Jimmy Paredes or innings from Dustin Antolin – but that’s the nature of the MLB marathon.
Just days away from the beginning of the 2017 season, the Blue Jays roster looks relatively set, but with injury and underperformance they will certainly have to call in reinforcements that will significantly impact the course of their season.
Here are a few of the guys who could answer the call:
2016 stats: .297/.387/.530 in 514 PA with 23 HR (Double-A)
How he factors in: Two things the Blue Jays are missing are left-handed pop and an everyday first baseman they can trust. It just so happens that Tellez takes his cuts in the right batter’s box and prefers to station himself next to the first-base bag.
That’s excellent news for Toronto, but the 22-year-old is probably a little bit undercooked at this point. He still hasn’t taken any at-bats at the Triple-A level and needs to prove himself there before the Blue Jays open up an everyday role for him.
As the season progresses, the situation could change significantly – in a hurry. It’s not difficult to envision a situation where Smoak’s first half looks like the second half of his 2016 campaign and Tellez rakes at Triple-A. The temptation to make a move will be strong should the Blue Jays offence struggle.
If Tellez performs well in Buffalo, the Blue Jays will likely bring him up in September as the type of lefty bench bat they won’t have the luxury of carrying all season.
2016 stats: 9.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9 with a 3.95 ERA and 2.20 FIP in 13.2 IP (MLB)
How he factors in: Barnes brings a modest 91-92 mph fastball out of the bullpen, but he’s been extraordinarily effective at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in recent years. What he lacks in big-time velocity he makes up for in command and a sneaky three-pitch mix.
Last season, the right-hander showed well in a limited audition by missing bats, keeping the ball in the park and demonstrating an ability to go a couple of innings when necessary. He wasn’t the same dominant force he was in the minor leagues where he posted a 0.73 ERA in 61.1 innings across two levels, but that would have been a ludicrous expectation.
If the Blue Jays have a right-handed reliever go down with injury, or fall on their face in dramatic fashion out of the gate, Barnes is the kind of depth option the team can count on.
2016 stats: .270/.349/.353 in 382 PA with 4 HR and 18 SB (Triple-A)
How he factors in: After his concussion at the World Baseball Classic, the biggest question for Dalton Pompey right now is health. It’s difficult to put a timeline on an injury of that nature – especially seeing as Pompey has been down this road before.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Pompey, he’ll likely be back knocking on the major-league door sooner than later. Whether this is “the year” for the Canadian or not depends on your definition of “the year.” However, considering the Blue Jays are rolling with a questionable platoon in left field and a 36-year-old in right, there’s plenty of room for a combination of injuries and performance issues to create a need for outfield help.
If Pompey can recover from his concussion and put together some good at-bats in Buffalo, he should be the first man to get the call.
2016 stats: .254/.335/.332 in 365 PA with 1 HR (Double-A)
How he factors in: The chances of McGuire going from a subpar hitter at Double-A to an offensive contributor at the MLB level during 2017 are exceedingly slim. Despite a solid approach at the plate, the 22-year-old has virtually no power at this point – the one home run he hit in the minor leagues last year was right down the line – and sprays ground balls aplenty:
If the Blue Jays call on their young catcher, it won’t be because they need offence. It will be because they have two catchers over the age of 31 and one of them has an injury that needs time to heal – not exactly an unlikely scenario.
McGuire is ready to provide serious defensive value now, and when it comes to catching that always has to be priority No. 1. Mike Ohlman has a more intriguing bat, but if the Blue Jays need a steady hand behind the dish, ironically, their best option is their youngest one – especially if it’s later in the season when McGuire has gotten some Triple-A seasoning.
2016 stats: 6.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9 with a 3.51 ERA and 4.40 FIP in 146.1 IP (Single-A and Double-A)
How he factors in: From a qualitative point of view, there’s no way Greene should be sniffing the major leagues this season. His minor-league production is pretty unimpressive, and the high-walk, low-strikeout combination is ugly.
However, what Greene does have is a massive arm capable of delivering triple-digit heat in short stints. In a Blue Jays bullpen that isn’t exactly overflowing with power arms, that’s a trait that could be appealing.
As it stands, Toronto wants to develop Greene as a starter, but later in the year if the relief corps needs a boost he could certainly be an option. It’s an idea that might be especially appealing to the Blue Jays if they’re trying to limit Greene’s innings as the season marches on.
Giving a pitching prospect who’s not yet ready to start in the big leagues some bullpen innings is a tried-and-true strategy, and Greene is this year’s candidate for the Blue Jays.