Blue Jays have spots up for grabs as spring opens

Blue Jays have spots up for grabs as spring opens

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are less than a week away from pitchers and catchers officially reporting to Spring Training in what will be the start of a six-week odyssey to construct the 25-man roster.

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Sunday, with position players joining the group on Feb. 25. Toronto will hold team workouts until the Grapefruit League season gets underway on March 1 with a game against the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET.

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Projecting the 25-man roster always seems relatively easy in February, but the Blue Jays know all too well how quickly plans can change. Toronto lost right-hander Marcus Stroman and outfielder Michael Saunders to serious injuries a year ago, and more than anything else this spring, the goal will be keeping everyone healthy.

With that caveat in mind, MLB.com is projecting its best guess at what the 25-man roster will look like at the beginning of April.

Catchers: Russell Martin, Josh Thole
This spot on the roster is extremely easy to project. Toronto has very little depth behind the plate, and while that might be OK at the start of the season, if either Martin or Thole goes down with an injury, it could spell trouble. Prospects Max Pentecost and A.J. Jimenez haven't been able to stay healthy in recent seasons, and veteran backup Humberto Quintero is the only viable emergency option.

Outlook: Martin, C, TOR

Infielders: Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello, Justin Smoak, Ryan Goins, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Darwin Barney
The Blue Jays eventually are going to have to make a difficult roster decision with their infield, but it won't happen until Devon Travis returns from a left shoulder injury. That isn't expected to happen until at least May, possibly June, but when Travis is healthy, he'll likely take over the starting duties at second base.

Toronto will then have to pick either Goins or Barney to be its primary utility infielder. Barney signed a guaranteed one-year deal worth $1.05 million this offseason, while Goins has an option remaining on his contract and could be sent to the Minors without having to clear waivers. That might give Barney the edge, but a lot will depend on how Goins starts the year.

Goins' second sliding stop

Outfielders: Saunders, Kevin Pillar, Jose Bautista, Junior Lake
The notable omission here is Dalton Pompey, but if Saunders ends up starting in left, then it would make a lot of sense for Pompey to receive regular at-bats with Triple-A Buffalo. Pompey will have an opportunity at some point this year, but until a starting job opens up, his development should take priority.

That would leave the fourth-outfielder job up for grabs, and a more popular pick might be Ezequiel Carrera, but Lake could serve as a right-handed platoon partner for Saunders. The sample size is small, but Lake has a career .280 average with a .771 OPS in 186 at-bats against lefties, while Saunders has a .226 average and .640 OPS in those situations.

Carrera's leaping grab

Starting rotation: Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez
The only spot that is up for debate here is the fifth starter. Sanchez will be competing against Drew Hutchison, Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd, but there's still a possibility that he will be used out of the bullpen. Out of all the options, Sanchez has by far the most upside, but his presence as a starter also drastically improves the organization's depth.

Hutchison could begin the year in Triple-A Buffalo with Chavez settling into a long reliever's role before transitioning if there's an injury to someone on the staff. If Sanchez starts out in the bullpen, he'll likely be stuck there all year, regardless of what happens to the other starters.

Outlook: Stroman, SP, TOR

Bullpen: Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Floyd, Ryan Tepera, Chavez
Toronto has yet to officially announce its closer, but the job will belong to either Storen or Osuna. Cecil, Loup, Floyd and Chavez also appear to have guaranteed jobs on the 25-man roster, which leaves one spot up for grabs. There's a long list of candidates in the mix, but the early favorites include Tepera, Steve Delabar, Bo Schultz, David Aardsma and Pat Venditte.

Delabar possibly enters as the favorite, because he's out of options on his contract and cannot be sent to the Minors without clearing waivers. Even so, it's hard to ignore the contributions Tepera made in 2015. The 28-year-old posted a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings and showed an ability to limit both right- and left-handed hitters. He also possesses the type of versatility Toronto cherishes, and if Tepera has a strong camp, it will be difficult to justify keeping him off the roster.

MLB Now on Blue Jays' closers

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.