Jays open 38th Spring Season March 3rd

By on March 2, 2015

 

 

This week marks the beginning of Spring Training play for the Toronto Blue Jays when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates to kick-off the 2015 Grapefruit League. Toronto spent the offseason rebuilding a lineup that missed the playoffs in 2014 despite high-hopes heading into the season. Acquiring top free agents like Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson and trading for Michael Saunders has the Toronto faithful excited for a huge bounce-back season in 2015.

 

Despite playing in what many consider the most competitive division in baseball, the AL East, the Blue Jays are expecting their newly acquired additions to pair well with the stars already in Toronto and seriously compete for the division title as well as the AL pennant. Paring a solid rotation, returning four of the five starters from 2014, with a lineup touting Jose Reyes, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders in the 1-7 spots looks like a recipe for success in Toronto.

 

With camp ending and play beginning this week, let’s look back at the biggest stories from Spring Training thus far:

 

Martin Catches Dickey’s Knuckleball

 

The front-end starter in Toronto is unlike any other aces in the big leagues. The veteran R. A. Dickey doesn’t dominate the mound with overwhelming power or mind-boggling stuff but instead uses a pitch few pros have ever mastered, the knuckleball. With a knuckleball throwing ace leading the rotation Tornado has had to carefully acquire catchers who can handle the pitch defensively. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, top free agent catcher Russell Martin wasn’t only acquired for his productive offense but is also considered one of the top defensive catchers in the league.

 

Toronto is hoping Martin’s stellar defense can translate to catching Dickey and his unpredictable knuckleball. This camp Martin saw some time in the bullpen to get acquainted with Dickey’s pitch. Both reported they felt comfortable with Dickey saying “he’s got a real willingness and desire to unpack what it takes to catch [the knuckleball] well, and so I don’t anticipate us having trouble. I think he’s going to be able to do it.”

 

Navarro Wants Out

 

The signing of Martin came as a surprise to some due to the fact that Toronto already had a solid catcher on their roster in Dioner Navarro. The Blue Jays told reporters they think Navarro adds needed depth to the lineup and at catcher but this wasn’t what Navarro wanted to here. Following the Martin signing, Navarro publicly asked for a trade, telling reporters he “just wants to play.” As of the beginning of Spring Training, Navarro is still on the roster but it seems unlikely he sticks around for the duration of the season.

 

Saunders’ Unexpected Injury

 

Despite a successful offseason of retooling the lineup in Toronto, not everything out of camp in Florida was positive. Newly acquired OF Michael Saunders injured this left knee in a freak accident; Saunders stepped on a sprinkler head resulting in torn cartilage that was eventually removed in surgery due to the severity of the injury. Although his recovery time is promising, Toronto will have to spend the beginning of the season without one of their big offseason acquisitions. Saunders is expected to miss five to six weeks.

 

Top Prospect and Media Darling Cuts Off Beard

 

Daniel Norris is known among Blue Jay fans as the top pitching prospect in the organization with a chance to earn the fifth spot in the starting rotation in 2015 at the young age of 22. If his performance over the next few weeks proves Norris is ready to compete at the highest level, Toronto won’t hesitate to write him in as the replacement to J. A. Happ who departed for Seattle in the Saunders trade.

 

Though, despite his popularity as a top prospect and potential phenom in Toronto, Norris’ national fame comes from his eccentric behavior and unique lifestyle. Norris is known around the US not for his pitching but instead his burly beard and choice to spend his offseason living in a van to concentrate on baseball. Norris strolled into camp clean shaven, surprising the media and his growing fan-base. Although not particularly pertinent to baseball, the newly reported exposure of Norris’ face has been big news in certain media circles.

 

Jays invite Veteran Santana to Camp

 

The Blue Jays are confident in the guys they have like Norris and other promising prospects to fill in the hole created by the departure of back-end starter J. A. Happ. But to make things interesting, Toronto has signed former Cy Young winning pitcher Johan Santana to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.

 

The 35-year-old Santana, a perennial all-star in his prime, hasn’t pitched since 2012, missing the 2013 and 2014 seasons with injury. Signing Santana to a minor league deal results in little risk for Toronto but could pay off if Santana could even perform at half of what he was when he was the ace for the New York Mets.

 

Youngster Turning Heads

 

At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, the 20-year-old Miguel Castro draws attention naturally but it’s his performance combined with his massive frame that has scouts and coaches turning their attention to the young prospect. Although not mentioned throughout the offseason as a potential candidate to earn a starting spot in the rotation, Castro’s performances in camp thus far has some Toronto personnel considering this kid as a potential impact layer as early as this season.

 

Moving Forward

 

Toronto needs to spend this Spring Training tweaking their loaded lineup and establishing the back-end of their rotation and front-end of the bullpen. Allowing the new stars and old stars the chance to mesh as a team is also vital for the potential success of the Blue Jays in 2015. Despite heavy competition in the AL East, bookmakers on Gambling.com have Toronto favored 2nd to win the division behind the only team who might have had a bigger splash this offseason, the Boston Red Sox. If the Blue Jays have a disappointing season in 2015, it won’t be for a lack of effort from the front office during the offseason and spring training.

 

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