Bautista slated to debut Thursday vs. Yanks

Bautista slated to debut Thursday vs. Yanks

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista will make his spring debut on Thursday afternoon in a road game against the Yankees.

Toronto manager John Gibbons confirmed the news Sunday morning. Bautista has yet to appear in a game this spring but it's not because of an injury. Toronto simply wanted to give him a delayed start following last year's deep run into the postseason.

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Edwin Encarnacion also has yet to appear in a game, but he did make his return to Toronto's workouts on Sunday morning. The veteran designated hitter missed the last several days after he had an abscessed tooth pulled last week.

The battle for fourth

Toronto's outfield appears set with Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar and Bautista as the projected starters. Each outfielder is expected to play on a regular basis and won't require a platoon partner, which should impact what type of player the Blue Jays keep on the bench.

The Blue Jays seem to be prioritizing speed and someone who has the ability to play all three outfield spots. That would appear to give the edge to either Ezequiel Carrera or Junior Lake, while Domonic Brown may be on the outside looking in because the club prefers him at the corner spots.

"You're looking for maybe your runner, your best defender late in games, that kind of thing," Gibbons said. "You want a guy, too, if Pillar needs a day off, you can throw somebody in center field. We did that with Jose a couple of years ago, but that's not ideal.

"Michael has done it before, but we don't know how he's going to run around a month from now anyway. He can get through a game, don't get me wrong, but if it's a few days, you look at it totally different."

Pompey still on the radar

One outfielder who won't be considered for the backup role is Dalton Pompey, but that doesn't mean he has become the forgotten man. Toronto wants Pompey to play every day, and that's not going to happen this season with the Blue Jays unless there is some kind of injury.

Pompey will instead begin the year at Triple-A Buffalo to continue his development. Once there, the native of Mississauga will have to not only develop the bat but also show more consistency in the field, where Pompey has experienced a few issues this spring with poor routes to fly balls.

"He's still a work in progress there," Gibbons admitted. "He has tremendous range out there, but it's something he has to keep working on. One thing, guys struggle with the bat in this game, I don't care how good they are, but the one thing that has to be a given is defense. You shouldn't have to worry about that. You might struggle at the plate, but you still go out there and make the plays. He's concentrating hard on that."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.