Who has looked the best and has been the biggest surprise of Spring Training?
-- Tim S., Ottawa, Ontario
Right-hander Drew Hutchison has easily been one of the most positive storylines so far. The 23-year-old has looked strong since Day 1, and there have been no ill effects from Tommy John surgery. His command has been there, and his velocity has been a little higher than originally anticipated.
The Blue Jays haven't come out and said it, but there's simply no way that Hutchison doesn't make the 25-man roster at the end of camp. He's technically still competing for a job, but the official announcement is a mere formality at this point, and he'll open the year in the rotation. That leaves J.A. Happ as the favorite for the final spot, with Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond also having an outside chance.
The big question surrounding Hutchison's upcoming season was whether he would be facing an innings limit. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has since denied there will be a cap on Hutchison's workload, and he should be cleared to pitch a full season as long as he's healthy. Hutchison made 11 starts for Toronto in 2012, and he went 5-3 with a 4.60 ERA.
I read that the Blue Jays are going to use Brandon Morrow as their fifth starter. Why? Seems to me like he's the second-best starter on their staff.
-- Joel M., Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Blue Jays appear to have made the decision to use Morrow as the fifth starter in an attempt to give him more time to get ready for the start of the regular season. Putting Morrow into the fifth spot means his first start of the year won't come until April 4 in Toronto.
During Morrow's last outing this spring, he threw just 47 pitches. By comparison, everyone else in the Blue Jays' rotation has been in the 70- to 75-pitch range, while R.A. Dickey is farther along than anyone else and has already thrown 100. By putting Morrow at the back end of the rotation, it will allow him to get an additional spring start before he has to begin the regular season.
There was a theory floating around that Morrow was moved to the fifth spot simply because the team wanted him to start the home opener. That's a rather preposterous scenario, because while the first game at Rogers Centre is always a memorable event, it's also just one out of 162. There's no reason to make decisions based off of that one game, and it's hard to imagine a scenario where Toronto would actually put any stock into that.
Does Ricky Romero have a chance to make the starting rotation? He has been having a great Spring Training so far.
-- Michael S., Toronto
It's rare to say this about anyone during Spring Training, but Romero's start against the Tigers on Tuesday afternoon in Lakeland, Fla., (listen to an exclusive live broadcast at 1:05 p.m. ET) is very important. Romero is coming off a pair of strong outings, and that was enough to convince the Blue Jays to give him a start. The fact that it comes on the road is also important, because it means Detroit is expected to have most of its regulars on the field.
In Romero's previous two outings, he came out of the bullpen. He didn't have much of an opportunity to face the opposing team's best hitters and often found himself matched up against Minor Leaguers. This upcoming start will be a better opportunity for Toronto to see just how far Romero has come this spring.
Romero is still a long shot to make the rotation, but it's clear that his past two outings have made an impression with the front office. He could force his way into the discussion with a strong start vs. the Tigers or, at the very least, put himself in a position to become a surprise contributor in the event of an injury. The most important thing is that Romero appears to be heading in the right direction.
Should we be concerned that Casey Janssen hasn't pitched in a game yet? Time is running out before the start of the regular season.
-- Scott D., Waterloo, Ontario
Janssen's lack of work this spring isn't exactly ideal, but there should still be enough time to get ready for Opening Day. He's scheduled to throw live batting practice on Tuesday, and if all goes well, his next step should be a spring game.
It's a very similar situation to the one Janssen faced last year, when he was coming back from offseason shoulder surgery. Janssen appeared in only two spring games but still managed to break camp with the team and got through the entire season without requiring a stint on the disabled list.
The hope was that Janssen's shoulder woes were a thing of the past, but they resurfaced just a couple of weeks into camp. He likely could have pitched by now, but the club is taking an overly cautious approach with his preparation for the start of the season. All signs still point to Janssen being ready for March 31 at Tampa Bay.
Sanchez has looked great this spring, and there's a reason MLB.com has him ranked as the Blue Jays' best prospect. He has a very impressive sinker and one of the best power curveballs in the Minor Leagues. The fact that Sanchez generates a lot of ground balls is going to be very key to his success at Rogers Centre, which is a ballpark where fly-ball pitchers often have a lot of trouble.
There's a plan in place for Sanchez, though, and it's unlikely to change any time soon. He's expected to start the season with Double-A New Hampshire and could use some more seasoning in the Minors to improve his overall command. Sanchez has yet to pitch above Class A Advanced Dunedin, and some additional patience is required in his overall development.
Stroman is a little further along in his progress. He already has close to a full season under his belt at Double-A New Hampshire, and it's not a stretch to think he will make his Major League debut before Sanchez. Stroman has an 8.00 ERA this spring, while Sanchez has yet to give up a run, but those numbers are a little skewed. Stroman has started some games and has faced a lot of Major Leaguers, while Sanchez has entered when most of those hitters are already removed from the lineup.
Do you think the Blue Jays are going to start the year with an eight-man bullpen? I thought this was going to be the year they would finally go back to carrying seven relievers.
-- Alex W., Montreal
The Blue Jays have yet to make any official announcements, but it certainly looks like they're going to start the year with eight relievers. Toronto seems to be placing an emphasis on trying to keep some of its pitchers who are out of options, and that's going to have a major impact on who makes the 25-man roster.
Assuming Dickey, Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Hutchison and Happ start the year in the rotation, that would leave Redmond and Rogers competing for spots in the bullpen. Both pitchers are out of options on their contracts, and it looks like the Blue Jays would like to keep them in the organization.
Janssen, Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup have guaranteed jobs in the 'pen. That leaves three potential spots available, and there's a good chance those jobs will go to Redmond, Rogers and right-hander Dustin McGowan, who is also out of options and cannot be sent to the Minor Leagues without being exposed to waivers.
An eight-man bullpen would leave Toronto a man short on its bench. Infielder Chris Getz, infielder Dan Johnson, infielder Munenori Kawasaki and outfielder Anthony Gose are those being considered for a fourth spot, and each would bring a different skill set to the bench, but they appear to be facing an uphill battle to make the team. That could change if any of the aforementioned pitchers get hurt before the season starts.