Gaston plans to keep eye towards '09

Gaston plans to keep eye towards '09

TORONTO -- Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston plans to keep an eye toward next year as this season winds down. Specifically, he wants to give ample playing time to Travis Snider and Jose Bautista to see how they might fit within the blueprint for 2009.

With only 12 games remaining on the schedule, that means Snider will see continued action in left and right field, while Bautista will likely receive starts in a few spots to determine his value as a versatile utilityman. Both players will see plenty of time in the batter's box against left-handed pitching as well.

On Tuesday night, Snider started in left field and Bautista got the nod at second base against the Orioles, who sent left-hander Chris Waters to the hill for the opener of a three-game set. There's a chance both Snider and Bautista could make Toronto's Opening Day roster next season, so this final month continues to be an audition of sorts.

"You'll probably see Travis a lot more," Gaston said on Tuesday. "Bautista is playing second tonight, just to get a look at him to see if he can play that position as well as he plays third base -- things like that."

Snider, who is the youngest player in the American League at 20 years old, was Toronto's top selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. In 12 games since being promoted from Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 28, the left-handed-hitting Snider has posted a .316 average and a .553 slugging percentage with two home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Looking ahead to next year, Snider will be in the running for a job as Toronto's left fielder -- a spot he currently shares with Adam Lind. Gaston said that, similar to his plans for the rest of this season, Snider and Lind could potentially split time between the outfield and the designated hitter role in '09.

"I think those two kids are going to be a big part of this organization and this team," said Gaston, adding that center fielder Vernon Wells and right fielder Alex Rios could see time at DH down the stretch to provide more playing time in the outfield for Snider. "I will try to rotate those guys."

Bautista, who was acquired in a trade with the Pirates on Aug. 21, was making his first start at second since 2003, when he played three games at the position. Bautista can also man third base, providing a day off for Scott Rolen, or the outfield. In 14 games with the Jays this year, Bautista has hit .229, though he's sported a .381 (8-for-21) average since beginning his tour with Toronto in an 0-for-14 slump.

Beyond Snider and Bautista, Gaston said that he'll try to give catcher Curtis Thigpen a start behind the plate before the season is over. Thigpen, along with Minor League prospect Brian Jeroloman, could be in the running for Toronto's backup catching job at the beginning of next season.

Gaston added that pitcher Scott Richmond, who has been unused out of the bullpen since being promoted from Triple-A on Sept. 2, might make a start during Toronto's final series of the season on Sept. 26-28 in Baltimore. Gaston said the decision to give Richmond a start could hinge on whether or not A.J. Burnett (18-10) is in line to win 20 games.

"It kind of depends on where A.J. is in his quest to get to 20 games," Gaston said. "He certainly has a chance to come back and pitch on three days' rest the last day, if it comes to that, or if he chooses to do that. We don't mind that. If not, there might be a day for Richmond there."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.