By Cole Parkinson
The weather outside is finally turning for the better which means the Boys of Summer are just about ready to take the field for the regular season.
Much like last year, expectations for the Toronto Blue Jays are low, which isn’t really a bad thing.
The highest expectations coming from the fanbase are for MLB’s best prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who won’t join the team until late April or early May at the earliest due to an oblique injury.
That will at least stop the service time talks that have been prominent since late last year, so at least we won’t have to hear about that for a while.
With Vlad not on the Opening Day roster, the lineup card is a lot less dangerous looking, though there are some players who I see doing some damage when at the dish.
I know outfielder Randal Grichuk was below average to start the season last year, but I like what he brought in the final half of the year, so much so that I expect him to have a breakout year.
Hitting in the Rogers Centre for 81 games will once again help his offensive numbers and to top it off, he is a plus defender.
Justin Smoak is another guy who I expect will be a good offensive option in the middle of the lineup for Jays manager Charlie Montoyo.
Smoak and Grichuk both hit 25 dingers last year and with them both projected to be in the top half of the order, I expect to see similar, if not better numbers.
Throughout the rest of the field, things have basically already taken shape for what the Opening Day roster will look like.
Russell Martin, the best catcher the Blue Jays have had in forever, was dealt in the offseason to the Dodgers which leaves Danny Jensen to assume most of the starts behind the dish.
Jansen got into 31 games last year and while the Jays were not high on the list in terms of must-watch sports TV, it was nice to see some of the future get shot.
While not necessarily a power-hitting catcher, you can see he has some pop and he controls the bat extremely well, so while the home run totals may not blow you away, at least he’ll be getting on base.
In 81 at-bats, Jansen had an On-Base Percentage of .347 with three home runs and eight RBI, all of which I think he will expand upon in a full season.
Luke Maile will be the backup catcher while Reese McGuire will be waiting in the wings down in AAA Buffalo.
Second base may see the most movement as Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Brandon Drury and Devon Travis (who is currently injured) will all be options.
On top of second base, don’t be surprised to see any of those three get some outfield time as well as Montoyo has stated he wants to get their bats into the lineup.
While Drury is projected to be the Opening Day third baseman, we all know who will man that position for the majority of the season.
Finally, it’s basically been confirmed by the skip that recently signed Freddy Galvis will see the majority of the starts at shortstop.
I really liked this signing as it gives the Blue Jays a steady fielder in the most important position on the diamond.
His offensive production is average at best, but the defence he brings is not only a benefit for the pitching staff, who have seen plenty of makeable plays roll through the infield. He is also a visual for the younger players on how to play solid defence.
Much of the top level of the Jays farm system has shown they have the ability to hit, but there is nothing more frustrating than watching poor defence lose you games.
Much like Drury keeping third warm, Galvis is holding down the fort until Bo Bichette is ready for the big leagues, which may be sooner than later if his spring was an indication.
The outfield, along with Grichuk, will feature Kevin Pillar in centre and a platoon of Billy McKinney and Teoscar Hernandez.
Outfielder Dalton Pompey is out of options and may soon be on another team as his spring wasn’t impressive enough to warrant a spot for him once he comes back from his concussion.
Speaking of running out of runway, I think this may be the last year we see Kevin Pillar as a Blue Jay.
Anthony Alford had a very good spring training and seems to have fixed the issues he had last year which is a really good sign for the Blue Jays.
Look for Alford to take over an outfield spot late in the season, though I would expect Grichuk to slide to the middle if Pillar is moved.
On the left side, McKinney and Hernandez will platoon in a mostly left/right split depending on the pitcher on the mound, though a hot streak may make their spot more cemented.
The easiest position lock is Kendrys Morales who will spend the majority of the time DHing, while also getting a few starts here and there at first base when Smoak needs a day off.
As for Blue Jays starters, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Clay Buchholz, Matt Shoemaker and Ryan Borucki will make up the starting five, in my opinion.
While the first four are pretty much guaranteed, there is still a battle between Borucki and Clayton Richard for the fifth and final spot.
Borucki more than proved he can handle big league hitters laster year when he pitched in 17 games to the tune of a 3.87 ERA.
So while the Jays could go with the veteran in Richard, I think throwing Borucki a bone for a good performance in the spring and late 2018 would be more than suitable.
Stroman and Sanchez have the been topics of trade discussions all offseason long, but I’m glad the Jays opted to keep the pair.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want them traded, I just think it makes more sense to hold on to them to see if they can bounce back after injury-riddled and under-performing seasons.
Shoemaker and Buchholz offer a good veteran presence in the rotation, but the biggest concern is always whether or not they stay healthy.
If they have productive seasons, I would expect the Jays try to offload them at the deadline for younger assets.
Out in the bullpen, it looks like Ken Giles will close, Tim Mayza will crack the roster as a lefty, Joe Biagini will pitch in higher leverage situations and Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano will start with the big squad unless the Jays want to hand him right back to the Royals.
Recently signed Bud Norris will also most likely be a bullpen arm after he signs a big-league contract and gets over whatever arm ailment he’s currently dealing with.
Injuries to Ryan Tepera and John Axford have made the bullpen a little murkier, but that also opens the door for others vying for a big league job.
Javy Guerra, Daniel Hudson, Sam Gaviglio, Thomas Pannone and Danny Barnes could all be considered for bullpen jobs as well. While this 25-man roster may not have much star power to begin the 2019 season, it is coming.
While obviously Vlad and Bichette highlight the Blue Jays farm system, players like Cavan Biggio, Kevin Smith, Nate Pearson, Jordan Groshans, Adam Kloffenstein and Rowdy Tellez are all players that could be prominent Blue Jays in the coming years.