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Why Dalton Pompey has almost no chance to make the the Blue Jays Opening Day roster

There’s a long list of players who have to make the Opening Day roster if the Blue Jays want to keep them in the organization, and Dalton Pompey isn’t on it.

MLB: Spring Training-Canadian Jr Nationals at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to share three personal beliefs I have about Dalton Pompey’s situation with you that together should seem counterintuitive:

  1. I believe Dalton Pompey is currently the third best outfielder the Blue Jays have anywhere in their organization (trailing only Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista).
  2. I believe Dalton Pompey will NOT be on the 25-man roster when the Blue Jays open their season in Baltimore on April 3.
  3. I believe the front office should send Pompey to the minors at the start of the season.

I know, this all sounds rather ridiculous. However, it makes much more sense when you go through the motions and try to construct a 25-man roster for Opening Day, so let’s do that here.

The first piece of information we have to be aware when going through this exercise is knowing which players on the 40-man roster can be optioned to the minors and which ones can’t. Right now, the Blue Jays have 20 players who are out of options. Here’s the list:

Infielders / Designated Hitter (7)

Darwin Barney

Josh Donaldson

Ryan Goins

Russell Martin

Kendrys Morales

Justin Smoak

Troy Tulowitzki

Outfielders (4)

Jose Bautista

Ezequiel Carrera

Steve Pearce

Melvin Upton

Starting Pitchers (3)

Marco Estrada

J.A. Happ

Francisco Liriano

Relief Pitchers / Rotation Depth (6)

Mike Bolsinger

Jason Grilli

J.P. Howell

Bo Schultz

Joe Smith

Glenn Sparkman

Now in addition to all of those players, there’s at least another five guys who can be optioned, but will absolutely be a part of the major league club when the season gets underway. Here’s that list:

Roberto Osuna

Kevin Pillar

Aaron Sanchez

Marcus Stroman

Devon Travis

(If Joe Biagini is used as a reliever again, he’s certainly a part of this list too, but there’s a chance the Jays try to stretch him out and make him the sixth starter, which means there’s also still a chance he doesn’t start April on the 25-man.)

So now we’re already up to 25 guys (26 if you count Biagini), and guess what? Only one of them is a catcher. So this means that the Blue Jays are going to have to use another roster spot to fill the backup position there. For now, let’s just assume it’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia since I need practice spelling his name correctly. Perhaps somebody else beats him out, but either way, this position represents another roster spot that isn’t going to be filled by Dalton Pompey.

So with that knowledge, we now have a baseline for our roster, and already we need to do some trimming. Fortunately, MLB rules do allow for an escape clause of sorts when it comes to some players who are out of options who you’d like to keep in the organization, but don’t necessarily want on the 25-man roster right away. It comes in the form of an outright. (When a player is outrighted, they are immediately removed from the 40-man roster and exposed to the other 29 clubs. If they go unclaimed, they can be sent to the minors. However, only players with less than five years of MLB service time can be outrighted, and a player can only be outrighted once in their career.)

Right now, the Blue Jays have four guys who are out of options but can still be outrighted without the player having the option to elect free agency. Here’s that list:

Mike Bolsinger

Ryan Goins

Bo Schultz

Glenn Sparkman (However, Sparkman can’t really be outrighted by the Blue Jays because he’s a Rule 5 pickup and he has to stay on the 25-man roster all season long if the Blue Jays want to keep him.)

Okay, now that we’ve got all of those details ironed out, let’s assume the Blue Jays find a way to sneak Bolsinger, Goins, and Schultz back to the minors. Even in this scenario, there’s still no room for Pompey who can easily be optioned and stashed in Buffalo until the situation evolves.

The general breakdown of a 25-man roster tends to include five starters, seven relief pitchers, and 13 position players - And even with Goins out of the picture in this version of the roster breakdown, there’s still 13 position players holding down 25-man roster spots (Martin and Saltalamacchia at catcher, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Travis, Smoak, and Barney in the infield, Morales at DH, and Bautista, Pillar, Upton, and Carrera all getting some sort of outfield time. Add in Pearce who can play the infield and outfield, and you’ve got a full roster of everyday guys).

The only ways one of those 13 guys can come off the 25-man roster is if they are A) injured and placed on the DL, B) traded, or C) flat our released from the organization with the club eating the contract.

So here’s the deal, unless one of the outfield guys in front of Pompey has to start the season on the DL, it makes sense to start Pompey in the minors. The object of the MLB regular season is to put the best team on the field over the course of 162 games, and sometimes that means you have to put a roster out there that’s not quite your best for game one if it gives you more flexibility to work with later in the season.

Or to put it another way, the Blue Jays can call up Pompey any time they want during the season if he doesn’t start the season on the 25-man roster. However, once the front office chooses to part ways with Upton or Carrera (or even Smoak through a domino effect) to give Pompey the spot, they won’t be able to reverse that decision, even if a rash of injuries strike or Pompey disappoints.

Since almost every MLB season ends up grinding down a roster, the wise play is to force Pompey to make you absolutely sure that he’s going to stick in the majors this time, and keep as many doors open as possible for when you get to May and June (or whenever trouble happens to arise).

This shouldn’t dampen our outlook of this player in the long term. As Scott C. pointed out last week and Kevin Papetti noted earlier today, the upside is very real with Pompey when you combine his defense, base running, and on base percentage. Even in what was considered a disappointing season, Pompey still posted a wRC+ of 106 which included a .349 OBP in Buffalo last year. His career .367 OBP in the minors even suggests that he could be the answer to the team’s leadoff hitter problem very soon if he has that breakthrough season everybody’s looking for.

However, as long as the Jays come out of March with a healthy outfield, all this will have to wait. Keeping Pompey in the minors to start the season isn’t an easy decision, but with the lack of flexibility in the rest of the roster, it’s probably the right one.