The Toronto Blue Jays will have plenty of young talent with them when they open summer training camp at Rogers Centre next week.
But even with the minor-league season officially cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, general manager Ross Atkins says that doesn’t mean those potential future stars will make the major-league roster this year.
Toronto’s top prospect, 23-year-old right-hander Nate Pearson, was included in the Blue Jays player pool that was announced last week — a group of up to 60 players that will train with the team ahead of the shortened MLB season. Fellow pitching prospects Alek Manoah and Simeon Woods Richardson were also included on that list, as was infielder Jordan Groshans and catcher Alejandro Kirk.
Atkins says there will be plenty to think about before adding those players to their roster for a 60-game season that is set to begin July 23.
“I think our best development opportunity, as it stands right now, is going to be in the major leagues, but then it becomes balancing — is that actually what’s best for them at this time? And putting them in the best possible position to have extended success,” Atkins told reporters on a conference call Saturday.
“We’ve talked a lot about this in the past — throwing someone into the major leagues on opening day just because it seems like they’re the hottest, they’re looking the best. We always want to factor in the body of work, what it means to be there on opening day. … So the transitions are a huge part of success in our view in ensuring that a player is getting to the highest level in optimal form while (also) balancing your desire to win every single day.”
WATCH | Rogers Centre will host Blue Jays summer camp:
Toronto’s player pool will be training at Rogers Centre after receiving permission from the Canadian government this week to use the stadium for camp purposes.
Atkins said the plan is for players and personnel to fly to Toronto from their spring training site in Dunedin, Fla., on Sunday with the first team workout Monday. Players who have been cleared with two negative COVID tests have already been training in Dunedin.
Those who don’t make the initial 30-man roster for the season will continue training in Buffalo, Atkins said, though he added that the team is still finalizing those plans.
Without minor-league games, ensuring players get their reps seems like a difficult task.
But Atkins says the Blue Jays are “going to be creative as we possibly can” with developing their young players in an environment lacking any real competitiveness.
“We’ve already talked a lot about how we can create the best development opportunities while having guys primed to help our major-league team,” he said. “And then beyond that, we’ll continue to do the things we have been doing and putting guys in positions to continue to think about baseball in a different way and think about their development in different way.”
Atkins expects most MLB teams to carry a large number of pitchers on their rosters, especially early in the season, as they continue to build their arms back up after a significant layoff.
‘What we’ll focus on is competitiveness’
He says he’s happy with where Toronto’s starting pitchers are at now, with some getting up to four innings of simulated-game practice lately, but added that the team will likely have to ease them into game speed.
“What we’ll focus on is competitiveness and less on bulk as they start the season,” he said. “So if one of our starting pitchers is only able to make it four innings or three innings on his first start, we’ll be prepared to offset that.
“We would rather make sure that the effectiveness and the health is at the forefront.”
A shortened season — couple with a condensed training period — also adds much more urgency to each game.
So roster construction will become more important from the outset, Atkins said.
“There’s always the pull and tug with getting into a rhythm and guys finding that rhythm and their timing, especially for hitters,” he said. “What you don’t want is a revolving door and people just coming and going.
“I think the ultimate outcome is when you have every piece of your roster in a position to make an impact in some way, and you’re figuring out a way to maximize that.”