Last year, I wrote about players sent back to minor league camp in a series that I called “Ode to the Fallen.” I’ve thought about and I’ve decided that, since many of the players going back to the minors (especially this early in camp) were never expected to stick with the big league club for long, my previous title was a bit too morbid, hence the new title.
Over the past few days, the Blue Jays have sent five players, all pitchers and catchers, back to the minor league camp: pitchers Tomo Ohka, Luis Perez and Juan Perez and catchers Jack Murphy and Derrick Chung.
The demotion wasn’t exactly a surprise for any of these players. None of them were expected to make the club except for, maybe, Luis Perez. Perez is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 and appears to be headed to the disabled list to start the season. Because he’s out of options, this is the only roster move the Blue Jays can make that doesn’t expose him to waivers.
The other lefty Perez, Juan, had a great showing last year with the Blue Jays before injuring his elbow and finishing the season on the 60-day DL. Following the season, Perez elected free agency which allowed him to re-sign on a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. With a very deep bullpen already, Perez’s demotion was expected and he is still recovering from the injury despite getting in some action in the Dominican winter league this offseason.
While the reason the Blue Jays signed Tomo Ohka is still unclear — some say that it was to give their minor league catchers experience catching a knuckleball while I’ve heard the Blue Jays swear that it’s because they think he can help out in the minors — there was never any doubt that the 38-year-old Japanese pitcher would play in the minors. Most people have speculated that Ohka will begin the season in Double-A New Hampshire (incidentally where some believe that “Catcher of the Future” A.J. Jimenez will start the season) mainly due to the glut of good young arms that will likely populate the Buffalo Bisons’ pitching staff.
These moves actually help clarify the Blue Jays’ bullpen picture a little bit. With Luis Perez slated to start the season on the DL, it leaves just two lefties in the bullpen to open the year. Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup are locks and now the competition for the last couple of spots for righties will need to be settled.
With Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar already locked in to their roles, the battle will be between out-of-options righties Dustin McGowan, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and Jeremy Jeffress to see who gets the last two or three spots in the pen. Neil Wagner and Mickey Storey both have minor league options remaining and that puts their chances at making the club out of spring training at close to zero. Because McGowan, Rogers and Redmond can all start (well, maybe for McGowan), there is a possibility of all four making the team although, at this point, the chances of that are slim. Of the non-roster pitchers still in camp, the one most likely to make the major league team is still Marcus Stroman but that would require the Blue Jays to remove a player from the 40-man roster but unless Stroman is lights out for the rest of spring training, I don’t see him in a Blue Jays uniform again until June or July.
As far as the reassigned catchers go, neither Murphy nor Chung were expected to come out of camp with a spot. The club always needs extra catchers at the beginning of major league camp to catch all of the pitchers and with the work being divided up more evenly, Chung and Murphy aren’t needed around anymore. The Blue Jays still have (by my count) five catchers in camp with Navarro, Thole, Kratz, A.J. Jimenez and Mike Nickeas hanging around.
Both Chung and Murphy will go back to the minor league camp and, at this point, I’m not sure which team either will end up on. Chung is certainly deserving of a promotion to Double-A this year after an excellent, breakout season with High-A Dunedin last year and some very good numbers in the Arizona Fall League. Chung is quickly getting a reputation as an excellent defensive catcher as well. That said, with the numbers of catchers that the Blue Jays have hanging around the high minors for the Blue Jays, it’s going to be tough for Chung to get the lion’s share of the reps behind the plate at any level above High-A. For Murphy, he’s likely to be a backup wherever he goes but could also contribute as a DH or play first or third base or left field. Chung, too, can fill in on the infield but I think that the Blue Jays have been really encouraged with his work behind the plate and want him to get more experience there.
Don’t forget about The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, available March 31 as an ebook at Smashwords.com, Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers for $7.99. Pre-order information coming soon!