Now that the games have officially started in The Grapefruit League, I'll share with you the remaining of my starting lineup predictions for the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays. As fun as predicting it this early is, there's always some movement in the Spring. Since I've written about their bullpen, they've signed Rafael Soriano to a minor league deal, and I would have loved to have included him as my non-roster sleeper instead of Aardsma. Also there was a trade in the works that almost saw Michael Saunders and prospects go for Jay Bruce. I had to wait a few days to be sure that deal was dead before I wrote this. I'm still not sure, but the show must go on, so........
Barring injuries or some other form of madness, here are the position players that will try to get the Jays back to the postseason in 2016
Russell Martin will be the catcher for as many games as they feel they can get him into. He IS the most important piece on this roster, mainly because if he goes down with an injury, there will be an enormous drop off. He got a huge contract before last season. Not sure I agreed with the money at the time, but he played great and the team made the playoffs. So far so good. Last year the Jays had Dioner Navarro as their primary backup, who was coming off a career year as our starter. With Navarro gone, Josh Thole returns as our backup, and knuckleball catching specialist. Thole will start the games where R.A. Dickey is on the mound. Hopefully not until September, but we may finally see A.J. Jimenez this year if he stays healthy.
If there's a controversy anywhere it will be here (until June, then it will be at second base...more on that in a minute). Justin Smoak will be the starting first baseman. The switch hitter is their best defender at that position. He hit 18 homers in around 300 ABs last year. Had he been playing every day, it would have been a monster year. The reason it's controversial is because someone else had a monster year. Chris Colabello who started the year as a depth guy in AAA got called up and had a huge year with his bat. He hit .321 with good power numbers as well. Just for fun I combined their stats since between them they had 629 ABs which is about 162 games worth if you don't take a lot of walks. They combined for 33 HRs and 113 RBIs, for a fraction of the price that they would have paid Adam Lind had they not traded him. Well done Anthopolous! John Gibbons will do his best to work both of them into the lineup as much as possible. Colabello played some LF last year, and while he was nightmarish defensively while playing out of position, he might get a chance to brush up on those skills. It would be a good way to get his bat into the lineup, providing he could show some improvement. Oh, and did I mention Edwin Encarnacion who is 32 HRs shy of 300 on his career? Yeah, he plays first base as well, and takes priority over Smoakabello if he can't play DH for whatever reason (like when Bautista got injured last year, and had to DH for a month, so Edwin played first, and Smoak rode pines).
Last year Devon Travis took the league by storm and won Rookie-Of-The-Month honours in April. Then he proceeded to have injury problems that plagued him for the duration of the season and will keep him out until June. Another opportunity was given to slick fielding Ryan Goins who hadn't shown up to that point that he could hit major league pitching. As the season went on, we were treated to highlight reel plays at second base almost every night, and then something happened. Goins actually started hitting a bit and finished with a .250 average and a .318 OBP. Those aren't stellar numbers necessarily, but they don't suck (like the ones he posted previously). Combine serviceable offence with eye popping defence, and suddenly, you find yourself never returning to the minor leagues. Darwin Barney who is a former gold glover as well, and a very similar player to Goins in a lot of ways will back up at Second and Short. The controversy will be when Travis comes back. Travis was no slouch in the field, but is known for his bat. He was limited to just over 200 ABs, but he was a .300 hitter. Most think that he will take over the job when he returns, and Goins either returns to the minors (because he has options), or stays as backup and Barney gets cut loose. I don't think that's the case. I think if Goins hits the ball like he did last year, Travis will be the one to head to the minors when he returns from injury.
Josh Donaldson the MVP will play 3rd base every single day as long as he's healthy. What can I say?
Troy Tulowitzki will play every day. They might have Goins slide over to give him a day off from time to time, but nobody will press him for playing time.
Here's where there's a bit of competition I suppose. Michael Saunders is returning from an injury that kept him out all of last year. Now that Ben Revere has been traded for Drew Storen, it seems like Saunders' job to lose. He does have the loosest grip on any job on this team. Dalton Pompey is the next guy, but management has already indicated that they'd like him to spend more time in the minors. Ezequiel Carrera played well when given the opportunity, but being a left handed hitter hurts his chances as a 4th outfielder. They'd probably like to have a platoon option for Saunders in case he struggles, and that would be Junior Lake. Lake needs to have a good Spring though, because Gibbons likes Carrera. Last but not least, they recently signed Domonic Brown as a reclamation project. He's 3 years removed from hitting 27 homers in Philadelphia. He's only 28, and has seen better days than any of these guys. I don't see him as a 4th outfielder though. I see him as a 'just in case Saunders sucks or gets injured again, we need another every day guy, but not Pompey yet' kind of option. This will be the most interesting Spring Training battle outside of the bullpen.
Who knew that Kevin Pillar would have completely cemented this roster spot going into this season. He was viewed as a 4th outfielder last Spring, and was playing in Left Field when Saunders got injured. Pompey struggled, and Pillar just took the job and ran with it. You'd be hard pressed to find a better defensive outfielder in the game. He had a strong offensive showing too.
Jose Bautista. Let's hope he stays healthy. Last year of his contract, and who knows if he'll be back. Right Field is his save for a maintenance day here and there.
Edwin Encarnacion. Let's hope he stays healthy. Last year of his contract and who knows if he'll be back........wait a minute....... I just wrote that. He might play First Base on days where they need someone else to get a partial breather at DH.
Josh Thole, Darwin Barney, Chris Colabello, Junior Lake (I think.... who knows about that one).
Can they make the playoffs again?? Ask the pitchers.