Which Blue Jays prospects do you see being able to make the next step this year and contribute at the big league level?
-- Tim S., Calgary, Alberta
Left-hander Sean Nolin is often brought up by Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos when he's posed this type of question. The 23-year-old began last season with Class A Dunedin, but he eventually received a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire and proceeded to allow just two earned runs in three starts.
Nolin is set to enter just his third season of professional baseball and will need more time to develop in New Hampshire, but he could become a factor in the middle of the year if a need for another starter surfaces in Toronto. Nolin possesses an above-average changeup and a slider which has the potential to be an effective putaway pitch in the big leagues.
Outfielder Anthony Gose and first baseman David Cooper will be at Triple-A Buffalo, and they will get the call in the event of injuries. Right-hander Chad Jenkins also could receive consideration at some point, while former No. 1 Draft pick Deck McGuire will need a bounce-back season before he enters the mix.
How do the options work with J.A. Happ? Can he be sent down to the Minor Leagues or would he have to go through waivers?
-- Justin D., Halifax, Nova Scotia
Happ has an option remaining on his contract, but since he spent the past three years in the Majors, he must pass through optional waivers before being sent down. Another team could put in a claim, but the Blue Jays would then be able to pull Happ off waivers and keep him on the Major League roster.
That may sound somewhat problematic, but Anthopoulos doesn't foresee it being an issue if that's the route he opts to take. Anthopoulos couldn't recall seeing a player claimed during this type of scenario. It seems that all teams have to do this at some point, and they don't want to create conflict by stopping another team from sending a player down.
Happ could avoid this situation entirely by beating out Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup for a spot in the bullpen, but it's a very realistic possibility he could begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo in a starting role.
The easy answer here is that it gives the Blue Jays more depth behind the plate. That wasn't an issue a couple of months ago, but it became one after the club dealt top prospect Travis d'Arnaud as part of a package to New York for R.A. Dickey.
The absence of d'Arnaud left a clear void behind the plate in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. Thole was expected to be the backup in Toronto this season, but he has an option remaining on his contract and now becomes a candidate to start the year in Buffalo.
Before that happens, though, the 41-year-old Blanco will need to prove he still has enough left in the tank to play in the Majors. He has caught Dickey in the past and could become a good mentor to starting catcher Arencibia. The battle between Blanco and Thole will be one of the few competitions at Spring Training, but it seems as though the veteran heads in with the clear edge.
Was it a mistake for Arencibia to accept an offer to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic? It seems like he would be better served staying in camp and working with all of the new pitchers.
-- Josh M., Moncton, New Brunswick
Well, there's no question that, from an organizational standpoint, the Blue Jays would have been better off having Arencibia at Spring Training. But it's also extremely hard to blame a guy for volunteering to represent his country in a tournament of this magnitude. I don't think there are very many Canadians upset at the fact Russell Martin is leaving the Pirates' facility to wear the maple leaf.
That being said, Arencibia will have to work extra hard during the time he has with his Blue Jays teammates. Arencibia has already started catching Dickey, which is a good start, but building relationships with Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle will prove to be just as important.
Arencibia prides himself on watching a lot of video and doing the necessary homework it takes to make these type of adjustments easier. He'll be fine by Opening Day, and it's possible the experience with Team USA will help his overall development.
What type of role will Rajai Davis have on this year's team? There doesn't appear to be much playing time available.
-- Gino M., Toronto
Davis will begin the season in almost the same role he started last year. Davis is currently the fourth or fifth outfielder on the roster, but he should find his way into the lineup against left-handers and in late-game situations as a pinch-runner.
The 32-year-old Davis and utility man Emilio Bonifacio both have the ability to play center and should start against lefties while at the same time providing rest to Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind. There won't necessarily be a lot of playing time, but there should be enough to keep Davis active and ready in the event of an injury. It's a valuable platoon option to have.
Manager John Gibbons has yet to really come out and say with any kind of certainty that Janssen is the closer. That's somewhat surprising, considering the way Janssen pitched last season, but there are enough clues from Anthopoulos and the coaching staff that Jansen will go into camp with an early advantage in the competition.
Santos is just hoping for an opportunity to win the job. It remains to be seen how much of a shot he'll actually get, but at the very least, Santos will play a key role in the eighth inning. The only doubt surrounding Santos is his ability to stay healthy following last year's right shoulder injury. For now, Santos appears ready to go, and he recently told MLB.com that his shoulder feels better than ever.
Is it too soon to assume this will be the last season we see Colby Rasmus manning center field in Toronto, with Gose lurking in Buffalo?
-- Tyler Y., Beaverton, Ontario
Yes, it's premature to make that type of assumption. Odds are, the Blue Jays will have to pick between the two next offseason, but a lot can change between now and then.
Rasmus has yet to put it together for an entire season, but he showed flashes last year. For a stretch of six weeks, he was one of the best outfielders in baseball. Maybe he won't be able to figure it out, but then again, Edwin Encarnacion was nearly run out of town until July 2011 and now finds himself as a core piece.
Gose is ready for the Majors, but it's better for his overall development that he will play an additional year in Triple-A. He can continue to work on his mechanics at the plate away from the pressure of the big leagues and round himself into a better ballplayer. Gose's time will come in 2013, and it likely will be in Toronto, but he could just as easily be used for trade bait at some point.