Even with Marcus Stroman out for the year after suffering a knee injury during a bunt drill early in Spring Training, the Toronto Blue Jays broke camp in Dunedin, Florida and headed north with a pitching staff that has observers optimistic about what they’ll be able to do this season and how good this group could be in a couple more years.
Over the course of the Grapefruit League season – and following Stroman’s injury – the Jays rotation sorted itself out and the bullpen picture became clear.
Drew Hutchison is going to get the ball on Opening Day and the 2015 season is going to be an opportunity for him to elevate his standing both in this group and overall. After missing the entire 2013 season and battling inconsistency for most of 2014, “Hutch” was sharp in September and looked very good this spring, posting a 1.50 ERA and WHIP of 1.00 over 18 innings.
While it’s tough to put too much stock into Spring Training numbers, but the 24-year-old already has 43 career starts under his belt and the team has a ton of confidence in him, making him the youngest Opening Day starter in franchise history.
Had Stroman not gone down, he probably would be in the position Hutchison currently inhabits, but that only serves as an overall positive going forward. Stroman should be back healthy and ready to roll next season, and he’s already established himself as the future ace of this staff. Now Hutchison gets the opportunity to solidify himself as a top of the rotation guy as well, which would give Toronto a very good young tandem on the bump for the next several seasons.
R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle are still going to be a reliable tandem that brings balance and consistency to the rotation – veteran guys that will eat up innings, not put themselves in too many holes and can be counted on for 12-15 wins apiece. Every team needs a couple guys like that in the rotation and if either finds a groove and has a big season, it’s a bonus.
One of the big questions heading into Spring Training was where would youngsters Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris end up? Last season, Sanchez was outstanding out of the bullpen and Norris looked very good while enjoying a September cup of coffee. As the team heads to into the season, both the 22-year-old Sanchez and the 21-year-old Norris are part of the rotation, the former filling the vacancy created by Stroman’s injury and the latter beating out veteran Marco Estrada for the fifth and final spot.
It’s going to be crucial to temper expectations when it comes to these two – they both exhibit the potential to be aces down the road, but expecting that from them this season could be asking too much; Norris has fewer than 10 Big League innings to his credit and Sanchez has never started a game at the Major League level.
That said, there isn’t anyone that would be surprised to see either or both blossom into All-Stars this season. There have been a number of young pitchers that have enjoy tremendous success right out of the chute in recent years and these two have the potential to be great.
It’s not just the rotation that shows signs of promise though; it’s the bullpen as well.
When camp started, no one expected Miguel Castro or Roberto Osuna to leave Florida with the big club, but that’s exactly what’s happening. The tandem 20-year-olds were great throughout the spring, showing poise beyond their years and the potential to line-up as end of game arms in front of closer Brett Cecil.
If one or both can be even half as good as Dellin Betances was for the New York Yankees as a rookie last season, Toronto will be laughing. And even if they’re not – even if one or both end up getting sent down – it’s fine because they’re 20 year olds that weren’t being counted on to contribute this season.
Just as Norris’ addition to the rotation gave the Jays the opportunity to use Estrada out of the bullpen, the emergence of Osuna and Castro gives Toronto more arms at their disposal and bumps guys back into more comfortable positions.
Counting on four young arms is tough and struggles from all four could lead to a long season, but regardless of how well they perform this year, there is certainly reason for optimism on the mound in the years to come.