The Blue Jays finally made some rotation investments this winter. Most of the money went to Hyun-jin Ryu, but Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson (the latter acquired via trade) each also enjoy sizable guarantees that lock them into the starting staff. With a $4.2MM arbitration deal, Matt Shoemaker is also slated for a rotation spot.
So what of all the arms the Jays have been accumulating of late? The club has loaded its roster with options. They’re now engaged in a sort of battle royale in camp, all striving to impress the Toronto brain trust. The fifth rotation spot is certainly the top prize to be claimed. But the bullpen mix is anything but settled, offering additional paths to the majors. And the Jays will also be lining up their depth chart in the upper minors. 40-man roster pressures could force the club to drop a few players, so the competitors face downside scenarios as well.
Here’s the slate of candidates …
- Trent Thornton: The 26-year-old held down a rotation spot last year, ultimately throwing 154 1/3 innings of 4.84 ERA ball in his debut campaign. He entered camp as the odds-on favorite and is probably the sturdiest candidate with a solid-but-not-exceptional minor-league track record, varied pitch mix, and full season of durable MLB work on his resume.
- Shun Yamaguchi: The long-time Japanese star will be on the MLB roster in some manner after signing a two-year deal. He was a highly effective starter in Nippon Professional Baseball just last year, but also has spent a lot of time working at the back of a bullpen.
- Anthony Kay: The well-regarded lefty had a nice showing at Triple-A last year after coming over via mid-season trade and was rewarded with a late-season promotion. His full 2019 totals from the upper minors — 133 2/3 innings, 2.96 ERA, 9.1 K/9 vs. 3.8 BB/9 — suggest that Kay is just about ready for a full big-league audition.
- Jacob Waguespack: Yet another recent acquisition who got his first shot in the majors last year with the Jays, Waguespack had to be pleased with his initial showing (4.38 ERA, 63:29 K/BB in 78 innings). His deep pitch mix and general track record present a profile roughly similar to that of Thornton.
- T.J. Zeuch: Yep, Zeuch also just saw his first MLB action last year, though he’s a homegrown product and only threw 22 2/3 frames in the majors. The sinkerballer spent most of the year at Triple-A, where he worked to a 3.69 ERA in 78 frames while generating a 57.1% groundball rate but just 4.5 K/9. Zeuch did show that he can get some swings and misses (9.9%) in the majors, it’s fair to note.
- Sean Reid-Foley: The former second-round draft pick has struck out 10.1 batters per nine in his minor-league career. Unfortunately, he has never really sorted out his walk issues, having dished out 86 free passes in 120 2/3 total innings last year. Reid-Foley spent most of 2019 at Triple-A, where he coughed up 6.47 earned runs per nine over 89 frames.
- Ryan Borucki: Still just 25 years of age, Borucki had a nice 2018 big-league debut. But after 17 starts of 3.87 ERA ball in his rookie campaign, the southpaw stumbled through an injury-limited 2019 season. Borucki surely would’ve been given every chance to make a run at a rotation job in camp but has unfortunately been halted by ongoing elbow issues. He’ll need to get healthy to put himself back on the map.
- Wilmer Font: Font is something of a grizzled journeyman already at 29 years of age. He has already appeared with seven MLB clubs, including five in the past two seasons. Font started 14 games last year for the Jays but threw only 39 1/3 innings in his 23 total appearances in Toronto. While he has plenty of experience in the minors as a true starter, Font likely factors as a possible opener or spot start candidate rather than a true competitor for the fifth rotation opening.
- Yennsy Diaz: Diaz was rewarded with one MLB appearance last year after a strong season at Double-A (144 1/3 innings, 3.74 ERA, 7.2 K/9 vs. 3.3 BB/9). The 23-year-old would need to wow in camp. He’s likelier to continue developing in the minors.
- Tom Hatch, Hector Perez, Patrick Murphy, Julian Merryweather: These four righties all hold 40-man roster spots and have yet to debut in the majors. The first three haven’t yet reached Triple-A, while Merryweather is coming off of an injury riddled 2019 season.
- Nate Pearson: Soon enough. Other non-roster players in camp include MLB veterans Phillippe Aumont and A.J. Cole, though neither seems likely to have a realistic shot at a rotation job out of the gates.