Previewing the Bluejays’s minor league depth

What a winter we’re having so far, Jays fans! When the 2013 offseason ended, the only catch was only catcher Dionner Navarro, and one could not be blamed for believing that the ninja in Alex Anthopolous had left him. This offseason, he has proven to be busy, efficient, and extremely exciting. With big names such as Russel Martin and Josh Donaldson, as well as quality gap-fillers such as Saunders and Travis, 2015 is gearing up to be one heck of a ride.

However, we’ve heard this all before, haven’t we? It was only 2 years ago that the parade was already being planned in the wake of the acquisitions of All-Stars in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and RA Dickey. What ultimately ruined that team was the complete lack of depth outside of the starting lineup, never mind the 25-man roster. With the trades of quality rotational depth such as Happ, Nolin, and Graveman, it got me feeling worried with signs of deja-vu, so I took a look at the Bluejays’s minor league depth.

Starting Pitching

I’ll get the main issue out of the way first. The rotational depth began as a strength this offseason, and double-A has leveraged that for some great deals. However, as much as 1-win pitchers such as Happ and Nolin don’t necessarily excite, they’re valuable. It must be remembered, despite the pain it causes, that in 2013 the Bluejays gave 14 starts to pitchers with negative WAR. This was an almost comedic cast consisting of a washed-up Chien Ming Wang, a broken Ramon Ortiz, a roll of the dice in Aaron Laffey, and Sean Nolin 2 years before he was ready. The final nail in the coffin for that year? Ricky Romero was given two starts.

This year, the outlook seems to be more rosy, if not even more volatile. With the top four spots locked up, the depth will come from, in some order: Marco Estrada, Todd Redmond, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and Chad Jenkins. On paper, this group seems to offer a lot more upside, with legitimate top prospects in Sanchez and Norris interdispersed within long bullpen arms that could take a start in a pinch. What’s troubling is that it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to imagine a scenario where 21-year olds and relievers fail to make an impact for a team seeking contention. They will likely not receive help from the lower minors either, as Matt Boyd, Taylor Cole, Jeremy Scrabble King III, Roberto Osuna, and Miguel Castro all have promise but none of them have succeeded class A+. Add in the fact that the starters were almost ominously all healthy last year, and either AA has some external depth in the wings or we could be in for another long summer.

Relievers

While the major league depth is down to essentially Cecil and Loup as far as dependable late inning guys, the minors offer a bevy of interesting prospects ready to step in. Most notable is Steve Delabar, an AL All-Star just last year, hoping to rediscover his command and velocity. John Stilson is a Second Rounder who shows promise, but will likely begin the year on the disabled list. There’s a gaggle of failed starters that should be able to provide 1-inning value in Kyle Drabek, Rob Rasmussen, and Ryan Tepera. Overall, while these players create nice depth, ideally the next goal is to strengthen the bullpen externally.

Position Players

Here’s where it gets dicey. While the starting lineup is next level strong, an injury really anywhere is terrifying. There’s simply no upside in any of the possible replacements. In the outfield, with Bautista and Saunders set at the corners, there is a three way competition between Canadian superhero Dalton Pompey, super slider Kevin Pillar, and… newly acquired Ezequiel Carrera. After that, there’s not much there until you get to Dwight Smith Junior all the way back in A+ ball. In the infield, everyone’s got warts. Really, the most interesting piece is Devon Travis, who could very well be the opening day starter at the keystone position. Looking for a wizard in the field who’s conjures up black holes on offence? Look no further than Ryan Goins. All-world player from one side of the plate who forgets what a bat is from the other side? Ryan Tolleson has got you covered. As far as power corners go, there’s a reason Justin Smoak is looking at extended playing time. There’s not much there, with the Matt Dean and Mitch Nay duo still at least a year away. At catcher, while AA is looking to dangle Navarro, the other backup options aren’t very reassuring. I’m definitely done with Thole, the whole personal catcher thing now obsolete with Martin, and Jiminez actually hit worse while in AAA. While 5 million is a hefty sum for backup, in Navarro’s case I think it’s needed.

In conclusion, while the pitching situation is less dire than I imagined it to be, any injury or even unexpected decline to a bat could have disastrous domino effects.

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