DUNEDIN, Florida – On the surface, the first cuts from the spring training of Toronto Blue Jays weren't too surprising.
None of the 11 players sent to a minor league camp seemed to have a real chance of breaking the camp with the team. In some cases, they could be years away from the majors. But the cuts could suggest how the Blue Jays will deal with some decisions that will be made later in the month when up to three 40-man duty positions need to be cleared.
On Tuesday morning, the Blue Jays elected right-handed Thomas Hatch, Elvis Luciano, Julian Merryweather, Patrick Murphy, Hector Perez and T.J. Tease the minors while catchers Alejandro Kirk and infielder Patrick Kivlehan, Nash Knight and Logan Warmoth are reassigned.
Before the announcement, General Manager Ross Atkins, Manager Charlie Montoyo, Pitching Trainer Pete Walker and Director of Player Development Gil Kim met individually with the players. The message conveyed was straightforward: continue to work in the minors and return here soon.
"Man, you have good things and you will be here in the next couple of years," Montoyo would say. "You are a big part of our future."
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At least in most cases. But every non-squad participant who creates the Blue Jays opening roster needs a place on the 40-man squad, which is currently full. This means that Joe Panik has some difficult decisions ahead of him that the team and helpers like A.J. Cole and Justin Miller also play a prominent role in the mix for bullpen spots (theoretically, placing a player on the 60-day injured list would open up a place, but the Blue Jays have no obvious 60-day IL candidates ).
"So far, I love Joe Panik as a person and as a player," said Montoyo on Wednesday. "He can do the little things. … I like everything about him. "
In other words, it would be a surprise if panic didn't break with the team. At least one place is needed, and maybe sooner or later, since Panik's contract is believed to include a spring opt-out.
Against this background, the decision to include Zeuch and Perez in the first round of cuts could be understood as an indication that they are lower on the depth map than before. This is partly speculative at this point, but Zeuch allowed 10 runs (seven of them earned) in 4.1 spring innings. As the first round winner in 2016, he threw a no-hitter at Triple-A Buffalo last year and scored an ERA of 4.76 in 22.2 innings in the big league. At the same time, he has no clear swing and miss offer and the triple-A rotation of the Blue Jays is already overflowing.
Perez, who was acquired together with Ken Giles in the Roberto Osuna trade, recorded an ERA of 4.60 as a starter at Double-A last year. While he has seen impressive strike numbers in the minor league at times, others are now positioned higher on the depth chart of the Blue Jays.
Regardless, it is also an opportunity for people like Zeuch and Perez to get more playing time. This was certainly the case with Merryweather, which at 99 m.p.h. in Grapefruit League games. While it may be tempting to see what the 28-year-old can do in a bullpen role, the Blue Jays are still intrigued by what he can do as a starter.
"We believe he can start and we want to stretch him out," said GM Ross Atkins. "We only have so many innings to do it for so many people."
TEOSCAR BACK IN ACTION
After a week on the sidelines with a painful groin area, Teoscar Hernandez returned to the outfield in Tampa on Tuesday. The rest were precautionary, according to Montoyo, who expects Hernandez to have enough time to prepare for the opening day.
"He never pulled anything, but when someone tells you to be careful in spring training," said Montoyo. "Be careful every time. Now that he's 100 percent, he's playing again. "
DOLIS NOT EXPECTED FOR OPENING DAY
A little over a week after his appendix was removed, Reliever Rafael Dolis is doing better. At the same time, Montoyo does not expect the right-hander to be ready for the opening roster.
"I wouldn't think so," said the manager. "But it's an everyday situation. He might feel great in a few days, but from now on I wouldn't believe he would be."
“Sport is a beautiful thing. Often, as executives, we fall into the category of being too objective, and the reason is that we don't follow the models and believe that there are only certain teams that really have a realistic scenario. We do everything we can to keep this envelope as close to profit as possible. Yes, injuries are definitely a very real factor. We feel very good where the organization is located. We have an incredible depth in our system and a lot of depth in our 40-man roster. We have changed a great core. We added free agent pitching that allows us to be patient with our prospects, ”said Atkins of the Blue Jays opportunities in AL East.