With Spring Training now officially under way for the Blue Jays, right-hander Alek Manoah recently spoke to reporters as he looks to put a brutal 2023 campaign behind him. As noted by Shi Davidi of Sportsnet, Manoah is looking to put last year behind him.
“When your team is going to a playoff and you’re not there, it’s tough,” Manoah said, per Davidi. “but talking about 2023, for me is kind of not worth it. It’s in the past right now for me, which is really good.”
It’s not a surprise that Manoah prefers to leave his 2023 in the past. After a breakout season in 2022 where the right-hander pitched to a 2.24 ERA in 196 2/3 innings of work en route to an All Star appearance and third place finish in AL Cy Young award voting, Manoah struggled to a 5.87 ERA with a 6.01 FIP across 19 starts for the Blue Jays last year. Rather than reflect on his disastrous season, Davidi notes that Manoah spent the offseason overhauling his training regime and nutrition plan.
While it’s anyone’s guess how the game’s latest “best shape of his life” rebound candidate will perform on the mound this year, the 26-year-old hurler is seemingly to be penciled into the fifth spot in the club’s rotation behind Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt, and Yusei Kikuchi. Manoah has gotten rave reviews from others around camp this spring, including Gausman. The veteran ace told reporters (including Davidi) that his teammate “looks a lot more like himself than he ever did last year,” adding that he believes Manoah may not have been fully prepared for the impact his 2022 workload would have on him the following year.
Even as Manoah appears to be the primary candidate to round out the club’s rotation, he’s not without competition. Most notably, the Blue Jays signed right-hander Yariel Rodriguez to a five-year deal this winter. Rodriguez, 27 next month, was dominant as a reliever in Japan’s NPB but spent the 2023 campaign building himself back up to be a starting pitcher, with Toronto brass suggesting that his presence provides the club with “starting depth” that can fill multiple roles on the team. While those comments hardly indicate that Rodriguez is a favorite for a spot in the Opening Day rotation, it’s fair to wonder if the Jays could reconsider their stance if Manoah’s struggles continue throughout the spring.
Another possible alternative to Manoah in the rotation is Ricky Tiedemann, the club’s top pitching prospect. The 21-year-old southpaw made just 15 starts last year across all levels of the minor leagues, posting a 3.68 ERA in 44 innings of work, but managed to reach the Triple-A level and has long been seen as a possible contributor at the big league level for the club this season. Club manager John Schneider recently confirmed that to reporters (including MLB Network’s Jon Morosi), noting that the Jays already have a plan in place regarding Tiedemann’s workload for 2024 and that the club’s preference is for those innings to come at the big league level, provided Tiedemann proves himself ready for the opportunity.
Despite his limited workload as a professional since being drafted by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 2021 draft, Tiedemann enters the 2024 campaign as a consensus top-30 prospect in the sport and on the shortlist of the game’s very best pitching prospects alongside the likes of Andrew Painter of the Phillies, Cade Horton of the Cubs, and Kyle Harrison of the Giants. While it seems unlikely the Blue Jays would lean on Tiedemann for anything close to 30 starts this year given his minimal experience, it’s certainly possible that Tiedemann could force the issue and make it to Toronto fairly early in the season if the Jays want to maximize his big league opportunities.
Also looking to establish himself at the big league level this season is infield prospect Orelvis Martinez. The 22-year-old enjoyed a solid season in 2023 as he slashed .243/.340/.496 in 125 games split between the Double- and Triple-A levels last year. While Martinez has spent the vast majority of his professional career on the left side of the infield, he saw increasing time at second base last year and Morosi adds that Schneider has indicated he’ll continue to focus on the keystone headed into the 2024 season. There should be opportunities for Martinez to work himself into the club’s infield mix, as following the departures of Matt Chapman and Whit Merrifield via free agency the club has no certain starter at either second or third base. The likes of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Justin Turner, Davis Schneider, Cavan Biggio, and Santiago Espinal all figure to spend time on the dirt for the club this winter alongside stars Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
While the likes of Manoah, Tiedemann, and Martinez all figure to impact the club for years to come, the same can’t currently be said for catcher Danny Jansen, who’s entering his final year under club control in 2024. Jansen recently spoke to reporters (including MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson) regarding his future, noting that he and the club have “had conversations” about the possibility of him remaining in Toronto following the 2024 campaign. While Jansen made clear that “he’s not closing any doors” on a return, his focus is on the coming season at this point.
The backstop, who turns 29 in April, has enjoyed something of a breakout over the past two seasons, slashing .242/.324/.493 combined with strong defense behind the plate. That offense is good for a 127 wRC+, a figure which ranks fourth in the majors among catchers over that timeframe behind only Adley Rutschman, Willson Contreras, and William Contreras. That being said, Jansen has appeared in just 158 games over the past two seasons due to a combination of injury woes and the presence of 25-year-old backstop Alejandro Kirk, who has gotten the lion’s share of playing time each of the past two seasons in Toronto.