The Blue Jays lost a thrilling, ejection-filled, controversy-driven game to the Yankees last night. So what are we going to do? Answer a bunch of questions almost entirely unrelated to Aaron Judge's ninth-inning dagger and Toronto's loss in the Bronx.
Last time we opened up the mailbag for one of these articles I was answering questions about post-lockout transactions. One labor agreement and five months later, we've got a new round of Blue Jays concerns and questions. Thank you to everyone who wrote in, here are some mailbag answers on Toronto’s outfield mix, Yusei Kikuchi’s recent adjustments, bullpen depth, and more:
Do you think it’s possible that Nathan Lukes gets called up at some point? -Ruthiedu
Lukes was a spring training standout, making it to the final round of cuts with a 1.147 spring OPS before the Jays elected to go with the now-departed Gosuke Katoh's versatility. There was certainly buzz around Lukes grabbing a spot on the roster at that point, but as a non-40-man roster guy now, the task is tough.
There were plenty of questions about Toronto's current outfield mix in this round of the mailbag, with Chris and David raising concerns about Ramiel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer's recent play and also suggesting potential Triple A replacements, like Lukes and Logan Warmoth.
Neither Lukes or Warmoth are on the 40-man, but both have more well-rounded skillsets than what we've seen from Zimmer, so far. Lukes' left-handed bat and the ability to play all three outfield positions are exactly what Toronto wants in a fourth OF option right now and multiple people around the Bisons have mentioned Warmoth's work ethic and offseason athletic improvements to me, unprompted. The pair are probably next-man-up options, but I'd slide Otto Lopez (who has played 2B, LF, CF, SS this year) ahead of them both.
Is Yusei Kikuchi fixed? -J.R.
Well J.R., I hope you watched Wednesday's game against the Yankees (at least the first six innings). With the benefit of a few more innings of sample size, Kikuchi certainly looks like a different starter these past two outings.
With a smoother delivery and amended pitch mix, the 'new' Kikuchi now lives and dies with fastball command. It's still been imperfect and he can lose the zone at times for walks, but with 11 called strikes on Tuesday on the four-seamer, Kikuchi's new three-pitch mix seems to have a perfect combination of unpredictability and reliability.
Coming from the same release point as his heater, the slider/cutter combo plays off the four-seamer to miss barrels and the changeup is a nice third wrinkle. Though the Robbie Ray comparisons seemed (and seem) lofty, Kikuchi's 91% fastball/slider rate from last night certainly brought shades of the 2021 Cy Young winner.
Who are the next relievers up from Triple A? -Sean
Does Nate Pearson count?
Beyond guys like Julian Merryweather, Bowden Francis, and Andrew Vasquez—who have already made the trip up and down the QEW—there aren't many other guys on the 40-man roster who are likely to make an immediate impact.
Non-roster righty Sean Anderson nearly earned his way back to the big leagues a few weeks ago, joining the team on a brief taxi squad appearance, and standout Graham Spraker is posting high strikeout numbers with Buffalo.
Another name to keep an eye on is 22-year-old Adrian Hernandez, who has already earned a promotion from Double A to Triple A early this season. With a killer changeup (think Trevor Richards) as his primary pitch, the young righty has struck out 16 batters in 10 innings this year, allowing just one run.
Are Jansen and/or Collins expendable and if so will either of them get traded? -Madison
The Blue Jays really like Danny Jansen, if that's not already abundantly clear. At 27 years old, he's the veteran backstop on this roster and they paired him off with the 'more difficult' pitching assignments during spring training, trusting him to learn the new arms.
The problem is they like Alejandro Kirk too. And Gabriel Moreno. And Zack Collins.
Though they can roster three catchers right now, when Moreno inevitably pushes the big leagues, there will be too many cooks in the kitchen. With Collins owning an option year, I wouldn't rule out the Jays continuing to roster three catchers if that Moreno call-up happens before September, sending Collins down briefly.
Though the backstop situation seems busy, all four options have enough versatility to work for the rest of this year. The catching future decision for the organization likely comes next offseason, with a commitment to true tandem. When that decision is made, it's hard to see both Jansen and Kirk remaining in the organization.