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Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training: Berrios, Turner give cause for optimism

The Toronto Blue Jays suffered playoff heartache last season as they lost the Wild Card to the Minnesota Twins, and they will be hoping to bounce back with another strong year in a stacked AL East.

Blue Jays' fans will be counting down the hours until opening day, when they visit the Tampa Bay Rays, and we have picked out some key points from Spring Training so far.

Berrios back on top 

One of the most talked about decisions of last year’s playoffs was the Toronto Blue Jays’ call to remove starter Jose Berrios just one batter into the fourth inning of their crucial Game 2 against the Minnesota Twins.

Berrios had been impressive, giving up one earned run from three hits and a walk across three full innings of work in which he threw five strikeouts.

The starter had one of the lowest ERAs in the major leagues last year, 3.65, and was a key aspect of the Blue Jays’ rotation, which was among the best in the American League.

Toronto failed to score in that 2-0 loss to the Twins and while cold bats were the primary reason for that, the decision to pull Berrios was widely criticised.

However, the Puerto Rican insisted at spring training that he had moved on from the decision and the subsequent fall out and had been part of a number of productive conversations with the Blue Jays’ staff about it.

La Makina threw two innings of scoreless, two-hit ball in the Blue Jays' 5-0 loss to the Phillies in his first start of spring training and looks ready to be a workhorse once more for his ballclub.

Turner looking to hit the ground running

After the departure of Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt to free agency, it was clear that the Toronto Blue Jays needed a power bat at the corner to complement Vladimir Guerrero Jr at first base.

They subsequently signed veteran Justin Turner to a one-year deal, hoping the former Los Angeles Dodger can be a key piece of their lineup this year.

Turner’s key strengths are his versatility and his ability to produce in pressure situations, as he did when named National League Championship Series MVP in 2017 with the Dodgers.

The 39-year-old has plenty of playoff experience, including winning the World Series in 2020, and Toronto will be hoping that his veteran bat will be the key to getting over the line in the postseason.

At his age, it’s clear that Turner will mainly operate as designated hitter, with the versatile Isiah Kiner-Falefa likely to take the majority of the reps at the hot corner.

A veteran bat who can feature across the infield will be a key component for the Blue Jays this year and Turner has already impressed at spring training.

Prospects may disrupt infield picture

Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr are safe at their spots in the infield for the Blue Jays but there are plenty of contenders for the other positions.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa is likely to play third base on opening day but the 28-year-old can play anywhere across the diamond, giving opportunities for John Schneider to be flexible with his lineups.

Santiago Espinal, Cavan Biggio and Davis Schneider could all play big roles across second and third base this year but there are a number of top prospects who could make an impact.

Orelvis Martinez, the club’s No. 2 prospect and a big power hitter, will likely be playing second base in the big leagues sooner rather than later while Addison Barger, Leo Jimenez and Damiano Palmegiani could all have a major say on the Blue Jays’ fortunes this season.

With so many options to choose from, expect the Toronto infield to look different from one day to the next for much of the season.

Rotation aiming even higher

The Toronto Blue Jays’ top four starters gave them 742 1/3 innings in 2023, the most of any quartet in MLB.

The rotation is aiming to be even better this season with the return of Alek Manoah to the picture.

Manoah had a tough first outing at spring training, hitting two of the first three batters he faced and only managing to throw 18 strikes from his 38 pitches.

He allowed three hits and four earned runs and failed to last two innings, getting the hook after retiring just five hitters. 

If Manoah can put that behind him, the Blue Jays may have one of the best rotations in baseball.

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