Effective locks to start: Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
MLB level: Rowdy Tellez
Non-tender candidate: Brandon Drury
Out of options/bubble: Richard Ureña, Breyvic Valera
Plausible Rule 5 candidate: Santiago Espinal
What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago, surveying the infielders on the 40-man was a muddled mix of question marks while waiting for the cavalry to arrive at some point. Now it’s here, and whereas the outfield and pitching mixes are uninspiring mirrors of the infield situation last winter, the infield is both settled and populated with potential impact regulars.
It would be a stretch to call the Bichette, Biggio, or Vlad “established MLB starters” given that combined they have less than two years experiences, but they’re obviously slotted in as prohibitive favourites at SS, 2B and 3B on the left side of the infield. Will they all stay there? Perhaps not, but for 2020 there’s no reason not to give them the shot.
There will be a mix of opinion on whether to aggressively pursue an upgrade at first base, but there’s little to discuss about the Rule 5 directly when it comes to the infield. Depending how one classifies positions, there’s an abnormally low total of only 8 to 10 eligible infielders in the organization in the first place. There’s aren’t any plausible bat first candidates who could compete with Tellez.
Numerically, over the last five years the Jays have had 9 or 10 infielders on the 40-man after Rule 5 machinations, and between 9 and 11 on Opening Day with the exception of last year when it just seven (six with Devon Travis not counting towards the limit). So we’re below that range even with three or even four players who are not (or in any event shouldn’t be) locks to maintain 40-man spots, even if most will. At the least, I’d expect Valera’s stay to be short, and maybe one of Ureña or Drury.
That leaves plenty of room for additions, both for Rule 5 protection purposes and potential upgrades in the winter. But Espinal is the only plausible case to add, and first base the only plausible place to upgrade, so even that should be limited. Though if the plan were to carry a higher number of pitchers, say 22 or 23 to accommodate working through a glut of inexperienced options, this would be a logical area to correspondingly compress the numbers somewhat.
Espinal draws a lot of praise from the front office, and gives the Jays a middle infielder with options. He’s garnered a lot of praise from the front office and seems almost certain to be added. Whether he profiles as more than a bench/utility infielder who makes contact and can “handle the bat” is another matter. I’m more on the skeptical side here, and not convinced he’d be likely to be selected, but it’s not out of question he’s polished enough to stick as the last guy on the bench of a team were intrigued enough to be so inclined.
From a Rule 5 perspective, there’s literally nothing to remark upon with no eligible catcher in the organization whose so much as caught a game above low-A Lansing (and less than 100 innings at that level). That won’t the case next year, when both Riley Adams and Gabriel Moreno become eligible and would project to be added.
That could set up an interesting mix if all current options are still around. Presumably at that point Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire would have cemented roster spots. Four is basically the upper limit on how many catcher one carries on the 40-man, so one assumes Luke Maile wouldn’t figure in. It would leave the Jays without an experienced catcher if one of the top two get injured, those that can be remedied with a quality minor league signing. But there’s a lot of time between now and then, and trading from strength wouldn’t be surprising — to say nothing of something like signing Yasmani Grandal. The almost total stability at the position over the last couple years was never going to last forever.