Inbox: Will Pompey crack the Opening Day lineup?

Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers fans' questions

Inbox: Will Pompey crack the Opening Day lineup?

Why isn't Dalton Pompey being considered as a potential outfield solution? While his power is limited, his on-base percentage at Triple-A Buffalo last year (.349) would have been fourth on the Blue Jays.
-- John K., Toronto

Pompey is definitely being considered for left field, but he'll need a strong Spring Training to unseat either Ezequiel Carrera or Melvin Upton Jr. Manager John Gibbons is a loyal guy, and that might give Carrera, who is out of options, the first crack at the job after last year's success down the stretch. Throughout his career, though, Carrera has been much better off the bench, and that might open the door for Pompey.

The only way Pompey will make the team is if he's going to play on a regular basis. It might seem a little hard to believe because he was rushed to the big leagues in 2014, but Pompey is only 24 years old. He needs regular at-bats to continue his development, so he won't be coming off the bench. But a strong showing this spring would warrant consideration for the starting job. Even if he doesn't break camp with the team, Pompey might get his long-awaited second chance early in the year if the current platoon struggles.

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Is Lourdes Gurriel likely to get a serious look this spring? His name hasn't appeared in the speculation around either outfield or infield depth. Is he a ways off at the highest level?
-- Adrian W., Winnipeg, Manitoba

The reason Gurriel hasn't been mentioned in a lot of the articles leading up to Spring Training is because he's another year away. He definitely won't crack the 25-man roster, and while it's possible Gurriel will make an appearance at some point during the season, the realistic expectation is that he won't be ready until 2018.

Plans can change, but even with a strong camp, Gurriel will need to bide his time. He has the ability to play the infield and outfield, but the Blue Jays will need to get him acclimatized to a more permanent spot on the field, and he'll need to adjust to Triple-A pitching before any final determinations can be made.

Gurriel Jr. signs with Blue Jays

Max Pentecost had injuries early in his career, but he's coming off a great season in Lansing/Dunedin, and I was thinking that since he's now 23, he would start to move up in the system to Double-A or Triple-A. I was wondering if the new additions of Juan Graterol and Jarrod Saltalamacchia will keep him in A-ball as opposed to moving up and hurt his development?
-- Mickey, Niagara Falls, Ontario

Pentecost was likely going to begin the year at Class A Advanced Dunedin regardless of what the Blue Jays did this offseason. He appeared in 74 games last season and played well, particularly at Class A Lansing, but all of his at-bats came at designated hitter. Pentecost was still recovering from multiple shoulder surgeries and the Blue Jays did not want to risk any setbacks, but they needed to find a way to develop his bat.

That will change this season, and Pentecost should be expected to return behind the plate, but patience will be required. Prior to 2016, Pentecost had appeared in a grand total of 25 Minor League games despite being drafted in '14. He has had very little time to develop, so his current age can be a little deceiving. Pentecost remains an intriguing candidate, but his development won't be harmed with a slow approach; it can only be helped.

Blue Jays bolster catching depth

Do you see any of the prospects cracking the Opening Day roster?
-- Darren G., Toronto

Pompey isn't considered a prospect anymore, so the only area where this might happen is the bullpen. Rule 5 Draft pick Glenn Sparkman, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody and others will be in the mix, but it won't be easy. Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini, J.P. Howell and the out-of-options Mike Bolsinger should all be on the team. That leaves two spots for the previously mentioned group and other pitchers, such as Gavin Floyd and Aaron Loup.

Rowdy Tellez might get a shot at first base sometime this season, but it's not going to happen right out of Spring Training. He'll begin the year at Triple-A, and then wait to see what happens with the platoon of Justin Smoak and Steve Pearce. The same patient approach is expected to be taken with other notable names, including Conner Greene, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire.

Top Prospects: Tellez, TOR

Is J.P. Howell the answer for the lefty in the 'pen?
-- Kurt W., Edmonton, Alberta

Howell is someone I've been mentioning for the past couple of months as a potential fit, so I like the move. He's not going to solve every problem, and it's certainly possible the signing won't work out, but it's a low-risk deal that comes with a decent amount of upside, especially considering the cost and talent of the alternatives.

This really boiled down to whether the Blue Jays would end up with Howell or someone like Boone Logan or Jerry Blevins. An argument could made for each, but regardless of what Toronto did, it was going to be a downgrade from Brett Cecil. Howell was the cheapest option of these three, and there are reasons to believe he could enjoy a bounce-back season.

Howell hasn't been on the disabled list since 2011, has made at least 64 appearances over the past four seasons, and from '13-15, he posted an ERA of 2.39 or below. The 33-year-old had a down season in '16, but the cost isn't prohibitive, so if he doesn't end up working out, the Blue Jays can look elsewhere. It's a worthwhile gamble to take and a hole Toronto really needed to fill before Opening Day.

Howell reportedly to Blue Jays

It was [former club president] Paul Beeston's promise, I believe, so it may have been "plowed under," but I am curious if an all-grass playing surface in 2018 is still part of the plan?
-- Kozak A., London, Ontario

The Blue Jays haven't officially ruled anything out, but it doesn't really seem like an all-grass playing surface is in the cards. The results from a study at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, have yet to be released, but the belief is that the cost for such a transition would be prohibitive.

When the Blue Jays hired Andrew Miller as their executive vice president of business operations last year, one of his top mandates was to explore upgrades to Rogers Centre. He oversaw extensive renovations at Progressive Field in Cleveland, and a similar approach is expected to be taken here, but it likely won't include a natural playing surface. The Blue Jays instead have been talking about modernizing the fan experience, which could include everything from seats with built-in technology, new bars/restaurants and creative open spaces similar to the WestJet Flight Deck.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.