- The Blue Jays opened Summer Camp in Toronto, but one of their players tested positive for the coronavirus at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., Bob Nightengale of USA Today was among those to report. As a result, the Blue Jays left 12 players in Florida who had “direct contact” with the person who tested positive, Nightengale writes. This isn’t the first time the virus has posed a significant problem for Toronto, which had to shut down its spring complex last month because of positive tests. And COVID could prevent the Jays from playing their regular-season home games in Toronto this year, though they continue to hope that won’t be the case.
Blue Jays Rumors
The Blue Jays have reached a deal with first-round pick Austin Martin, reports Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae (Twitter link). The former Vanderbilt shortstop/third baseman will need to pass a physical before his deal with the club becomes official. Bonus details aren’t yet known, but Martin’s No. 5 overall draft slot is valued at $6.18MM.
Considered by some to be the best all-around player in this year’s draft, Martin went a slight bit later than was generally expected after the O’s cut a deal with No. 2 pick Keston Hjerstad, thus saving some pool space for harder signs further down the line. The Marlins and Royals opted for pitchers with the next two selections, suddenly leaving a player who at times was in the conversation at No. 1 overall for the Jays to scoop up at No. 5.
Martin doesn’t have the massive power that top pick Spencer Torkelson possesses, but he’s a left-side infielder or center field option, giving him more defensive value. And he’s still a high-end offensive prospect in his own right. MLB.com gives Martin a hearty 65-grade hit tool and 50-grade (solid-average) power, while FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen gives him a 60 future hit tool and 55 power.
Martin’s natural hitting ability was on display for all to see throughout his NCAA career, as he posted video-game-esque numbers dating back to his freshman season. In all, his Commodores career comes to a close with a ridiculous .376/.479/.521 batting line. He also struck out in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances between his sophomore and junior seasons.
The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked Martin as the best all-around prospect in this year’s draft “due to his combination of performance, athleticism and all-around quickness.” Baseball America, MLB.com and ESPN all ranked him behind Torkelson only, while FanGraphs had him third behind Torkelson and eventual No. 4 pick Asa Lacy (a lefty out of Texas A&M).
There’s some debate as to Martin’s final position, but it’s not for lack of defensive aptitude. Rather, most scouts seem to think he could handle any of third base, second base or center field, with shortstop not entirely out of the question. Toronto hopes to have Bo Bichette installed there for years to come, of course, so perhaps one of the other spots on the field is likelier. Regardless, the consensus on Martin is that he possesses elite bat-to-ball skills with still-developing power, speed, raw athleticism and a broad range of potential defensive homes. For a Jays club that saw Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio all graduate to the Majors this past year, with Nate Pearson sure to follow in 2020, Martin represents yet another potential core piece to bring the club back to prominence in the ever-competitive AL East.
The Blue Jays have received authorization to hold Summer Camp in Toronto. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca first reported the news on Twitter; his colleague Ben Nicholson-Smith has further details (Twitter link). They broke things down in a chat with Hazel Mae (video link).
This was the anticipated outcome, but it didn’t come easily. The relevant Canadian authorities waited until the last moment to give the nod of approval to a quarantine plan that the team will utilize.
For the July training period, the Jays will only bring players that have tested negative for COVID-19 infection. The whole team and key personnel is presently gathered at the organization’s spring facility in Dunedin, Florida.
Once the club is brought by charter up to Toronto, it’ll be limited to Rogers Centre grounds. They’ll stay in the adjacent hotel, with food and other necessities brought into the facility. In addition to regular testing of players and personnel, they’ll be isolated even from hotel staff to the extent possible.
As the Sportsnet crew discusses, this is in many respects a dry run for the forthcoming regular season. The Jays are hoping to utilize their usual home park to host games, but convincing the relevant authorities that it’s wise could represent a significant challenge. That would require comfort with the idea of the Blue Jays and their competitors criss-crossing the border.
The Blue Jays have claimed infielder Breyvic Valera off waivers from the Padres, per an announcement from both teams. In addition to Valera, the Jays announced that they’ve added right-hander Bryan Baker, outfielder Josh Palacios and infielder/outfielder Patrick Kivlehan to their 60-man player pool.
Valera, 28, was carried on the Blue Jays’ roster for most of the offseason but was lost to the Padres on a waiver claim back in February. He spent time with both the Jays and Yankees in 2019, though he appeared in just 17 games and took just 52 plate appearances. Overall, Valera has appeared in the Majors with five teams but played in just 54 games, hitting .223/.294/.298 in 138 trips to the plate.
Lack of MLB track record aside, the switch-hitting Valera is the owner of a .302/.374/.442 slash in 1550 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Coupled with his defensive versatility –he’s played second base, third base and all three outfield positions — it’s easy to see why so many clubs have been intrigued by his skill set and taken brief looks at him. He’s out of minor league options, though, so the Jays will have to either carry him on the roster to open the season or else once again place him on waivers.
Turning to the three players added to the 60-man pool today, it’s feasible that any of the bunch could emerge as an MLB option. Kivlehan, 30, has logged 132 games in the Majors and tallied 242 plate appearances — albeit with a lackluster .208/.302/.401 slash in that time. Palacios, 25 later this month, spent the 2019 season in Double-A and turned in a .266/.371/.416 slash in a very pitcher-friendly setting. The 25-year-old Baker split last season between the Jays’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, pitching to a 3.17 ERA with 11.8 K/9 in 54 innings. Baker, however, also averaged six walks per nine frames and piled up 10 wild pitches, illustrating that control is an issue for him.
Toronto originally announced a player pool with 58 names, so the addition of these four will put them over the limit. However, as Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi tweets, a team can exceed 60 players if exceptions need to be made due to positive COVID-19 tests. It’s likely, then, that the Jays either have had additional positives in the organization that will remove some players from the 60-man pool or that additional transactions are coming today. Notably, the MLB.com transactions page does list Brandon Drury, Elvis Luciano, Hector Perez and Jonathan Davis as players to have been recently placed on the 10-day injured list with no reason given, though it’s not clear there’s any correlation to today’s moves.
Every MLB club faces a difficult task in launching and sustaining a 2020 season. But the Blue Jays face some unique challenges as the only affiliated organization located outside of the United States.
The Toronto organization announced today that it will gather its players and personnel at its facility in Dunedin, Florida. The club says it will “begin the intake screening and isolation process” there.
[RELATED: Blue Jays 60-Man Player Pool]
The Jays’ next step will depend upon the views of the relevant Canadian authorities. If approval is granted, the club says it’ll charter a flight to train in Toronto “under a modified quarantine, isolated from the general public.” Otherwise, it’ll keep its employees at the Dunedin facility and undertake Summer Training there.
It was just ten days ago that the Blue Jays halted activities at its spring complex as coronavirus cases hit the neighboring Phillies facility and soared in the state of Florida generally. There was indeed cause for concern, as several players and staff members ended up testing positive for COVID-19 infections.
That mini-outbreak served to highlight the need for strict measures if this campaign is to occur in a reasonably safe manner. That’s all the more true for the Jays. With cases within the organization already, and the situation in Florida only continuing to worsen, gathering in Dunedin will have to be done carefully.
No doubt the Blue Jays are aware of all that and planning accordingly. The team’s stated preference is to train and play in Toronto, which will mean convincing the Canadian federal, provincial, and local governments that it can be done without unreasonable risk. As Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reported earlier today on Twitter, it seems as if that process is moving towards a favorable outcome for the Jays.
Today marks the deadline for teams to submit to Major League Baseball their initial spring training player pools, which can comprise up to 60 players. Players are not eligible to participate in either a spring training or regular season game until they are included in the pool. Teams are free to change the makeup of the pools as they see fit. However, players removed from a team’s 60-man (for reasons unrelated to injury, suspension, etc.) must be exposed to other organizations via trade or waivers.
Not all players within a team’s pool are ticketed for MLB playing time, of course. Most teams will include well-regarded but still far-off prospects as a means of getting them training reps with no intention of running them onto a major league diamond this season. A comprehensive review of 2020’s unique set of rules can be found here.
The Blue Jays’ initial player pool consists of the following players.
- Chase Anderson
- Anthony Bass
- A.J. Cole
- Rafael Dolis
- Wilmer Font
- Sam Gaviglio
- Ken Giles
- Thomas Hatch
- Elvis Luciano
- Alek Manoah
- Julian Merryweather
- Justin Miller
- Patrick Murphy
- Joey Murray
- Nate Pearson
- Hector Perez
- Jake Petricka
- Sean Reid-Foley
- Tanner Roark
- Jordan Romano
- Matt Shoemaker
- Trent Thornton
- Ty Tice
- Jacob Waguespack
- Simeon Woods Richardson
- Shun Yamaguchi
- T.J. Zeuch
- Bo Bichette
- Cavan Biggio
- Andy Burns
- Brandon Drury
- Santiago Espinal
- Jordan Groshans
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
- Joe Panik
- Travis Shaw
- Kevin Smith
- Ruben Tejada
- Rowdy Tellez
5:01pm: The Blue Jays have asked the Canadian government to allow them to play their season in Toronto, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets (1, 2). Doing so would also enable them to conduct their spring training there. The government should provide an answer within the next two days, per Rosenthal. If it’s a no, the Jays would hold spring training in Dunedin, Fla., with Buffalo as an alternate site.
2:44pm: Multiple Blue Jays players and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports (Twitter thread). The positive tests are tied to the circumstances that led to the shutdown of the Jays’ spring complex in Dunedin, Fla. last week. The closure of the facility was brought about by a 40-man player displaying symptoms after interacting with Phillies players who eventually tested positive. The exact number of positive tests isn’t publicly known, though The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath tweets that “several” members of the organization tested positive.
The Blue Jays’ circumstances are particularly unique. As MLB’s only Canadian team, it’s not yet clear just where the Jays will host their games. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau recently extended the U.S./Canada border closure for non-essential travel until July 21. That means that while players can travel into the United States, they wouldn’t be able to travel back into Canada without going through a 14-day quarantine process. If those restrictions are relaxed after July 21, the Jays could conceivably still host games at the Rogers Centre (dependent on additional regulations of course), but they’d surely need more notice than a mere two to three days’ advance notice. MLB currently hopes to start the season on July 23 or 24.
However, while most would assume that the league has been in contact with the city of Toronto or the province of Ontario about the possibility of staging games there, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of Ontario, told TSN’s Scott Mitchell just yesterday (Twitter link):
The Major League Baseball proposal, I’ve seen it and read it. It deals with a lot of aspects there. It doesn’t mention anything about travel to Canada at this time, so if there was some interest in that we’d have to get a proposal from them to see how they would undertake the uniqueness of bringing the team, and if they’ve thought about bringing other teams (to Toronto), how they would work with that up until such time the federal government reduces or eliminates their quarantine law. But that’s still in place at this time. We have ways that we worked with the NHL to consider that. I have not seen anything specific with Major League Baseball at this time.
Perhaps that’s telling, then, that the league’s ultimate plan for the Jays is for games to be staged in the United States — at least in the season’s early stages. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal has previously suggested that sharing Tropicana Field with the Rays could be a possibility, and Davidi reported recently that there’s been work at TD Ballpark, the Jays’ Dunedin stadium, to bring the lighting up to MLB’s standards for night games. Of course, the recent positive tests in Dunedin aren’t a good first step toward staging regular-season games there.
Meanwhile, agent Rafa Nieves, who represents Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, tells Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes that Hernandez has been told by the team that playing games at the Blue Jays’ Triple-A site in Buffalo, N.Y., is also an option (Twitter link). Both Davidi and Rojas (via Nieves) indicate that the Blue Jays’ hope is understandably to play home games at the Rogers Centre, although at this point it’s clear that there’s no logistical plan in place just yet.
Major League Baseball has now made clear its hope for players to report to a rebooted training camp on July 1 and a July 24-26 opener. ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted last night that the league expects the MLBPA to respond to those dates and the health and safety protocols by 5pm ET today.
Exactly what the final iteration of those health-and-safety protocols will look like isn’t yet clear, although there are some standing indications of what to anticipate. There’s been plenty of back-and-forth about what changes might be put into place for the 2020 season, and while it’s all subject to change until the two sides have a formal agreement, it’s worth taking a pass through where things stand.
The Athletic’s Jayson Stark tweeted yesterday that a universal DH in 2020 was included in the initial version of health and safety protocols. The lack of a formal agreement means that the arrival of the universal DH in 2020 isn’t yet official, but MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that “both sides see value” in its implementation — at least for this season. The two parties will presumably discuss its implementation in future seasons this winter.
Also likely to remain in place, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, will be the realignment that sees each team play only within its own division and against the five teams of the corresponding division in the other league. The exact permutations of that scheduling arrangement could take a variety of forms (e.g. a pair of three-game series and one four-game series against divisional opponents, plus one four-game series against each of the five teams in the opposing league’s corresponding division), but the goal will be to generally limit travel schedules to the extent possible, not that it’s a perfect setup for all clubs. It’s not as though Seattle and Arlington are exactly next door, for instance.
The travel schedule impacts the Blue Jays, in particular. The lone Canadian club in MLB, the Jays’ scheduling would appear to be up in the air after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau extended the U.S./Canada border closure for non-essential travel until July 21. Non-essential air travel into the U.S. is still permitted, but returning to Canada would not be so straightforward.
Toronto’s Triple-A club is housed in nearby Buffalo, N.Y., so perhaps that could be deemed an acceptable alternate site, but that remains speculative. The Blue Jays last week closed down their spring facility in Dunedin, Fla. indefinitely after a player who’d been in contact with some of his Phillies peers displayed COVID-19 symptoms. The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond suggests that the Jays could share Tropicana Field with the Rays.
Other changes may well be on the horizon. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote over the weekend that the league and union had already agreed to begin extra innings with a runner on second base in an effort to avoid marathon games. (Pitchers would not be charged with an earned run if said runner scores.) They’ve also discussed the possibility of allowing already subbed-out players to reenter the game once it reaches extras and even discussed the possibility of ties in 2020, per Nightengale.
None of that is set in stone until the MLBPA formally agrees to the league’s health and safety protocols. While the ridiculous length and contentious nature of the scheduling half of return-to-play negotiations should caution against any assumptions that they’ll be approved without any pushback at all, we’ll get a better sense of where things stand by 5pm ET today.
The Blue Jays have shut down their Spring Training facility in Dunedin, Fla. after a player displayed symptoms of COVID-19, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com reports (Twitter thread). There’s no positive test yet, but Passan notes that the player in question is on Toronto’s 40-man roster and had recently spent time with players in the Phillies’ system. The Jays’ Dunedin complex is just six miles from the Phillies’ spring facility in Clearwater, where eight people — five players and three staffers — have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past three days. Another 32 tests of Phillies players and personnel are still pending results.
Scott Mitchell of TSN tweets that about 20 players have been working out at the Jays’ spring facility, including about 10 players who are on the 40-man roster. Passan adds, however, that multiple players have yet to even be tested at all — despite GM Ross Atkins telling him the team has been “overly precautious with testing.” Should reopening the Dunedin facilities untenable, that’d create problems for the Jays even if a 2020 season can come together. As Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith points out, Dunedin has been a fallback option in the event that government regulations prevent the Jays from hosting games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays’ Dunedin closure adds to a growing list of concerns as professional sports teams have sought to begin play after months of shutdowns. Beyond the positive tests in Clearwater and the symptoms in Dunedin, it’s also important to note that the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning have shut down their facilities after three players and a pair of staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The NFL’s 49ers also had a player test positive in Nashville, Tenn. earlier today, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. A member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coaching staff has also tested positive.
Taken together, it’s all a sobering reminder that the largest roadblock to return to regular-season play in any sport is not (and has not been) finances or length of season but the ongoing pandemic. Even if the players in question make full recoveries — which obviously is not a given — they still have families to consider, more at-risk members of the coaching and training staffs surrounding them, umpires, team personnel, etc. Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported this morning that positive infections have already spread to multiple members of the infected members of the Phillies organization. Similar instances of spreading are likely to occur — particularly with positive cases on the rise not only in Florida but also in Arizona, Texas and California, among other states.
The Blue Jays have made some important strides in sealing up their draft class. As Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link) and Jim Callis of MLB.com (Twitter link) report, the Toronto organization has agreed to terms on slightly over-slot bonuses with its second and third-round choices.
While the Blue Jays had to go a bit over the respective pick allocations to get these deals done, it seems fair to assume the club won’t have any trouble finding the extra availability. The club saved quite a bit with its fifth and final selection, Zach Britton, and still has some of that available to use as needed to structure deals with top choice Austin Martin and fourth rounder Nick Frasso.
Van Eyk was viewed by most major pundits as a top-fifty overall prospect. Keith Law of The Athletic was especially bullish, ranking him 23rd among all draft-eligible players. While it sounds as if there are still some things to iron out, the FSU standout is said to possess three promising pitches and a real chance at carving out a career in a MLB rotation.
It so happens that Law was also the chief proponent of Palmer. All other major rankings graded him in the 100+ range, but Law placed him 76th. The enthusiasm is dampened by Palmer’s lack of a projectable frame and occasionally wavering command. Even if he ends up in a relief role, it sounds as if Palmer will warrant a long look as a starter on the Jays’ farm.