In his attempt to force his way onto the Blue Jays 40-man roster and into Toronto’s bullpen, A.J. Cole is off to a hot start this spring.
The bullpen is a work in progress. Unlike the rotation, which now has proven starting pitching options, the bullpen will be made up of several question marks. The Blue Jays have Ken Giles (proven closer), Anthony Bass (waiver wire pickup), Rafael Dolis (returning after 4 years in Japan), Wilmer Font, and Sam Gaviglio. If Yamaguchi fails in his attempt to secure the 5th spot in the rotation he will also be added to this mix. Jordan Romano, who has impressed this spring will also get consideration.
What do these names all have in common?
The 40-man roster. All the pitchers above are already in possession of a spot on the 40-man roster. This makes performing well in Spring Training even more important for non-roster invitees (NRI), as a 40-man roster spot must be cleared in order for an NRI to be added.
A.J. Cole finds himself in this situation. Signed to a minor league contract on November 25th, A.J. had his name mentioned as a possible bullpen option. Manager Charlie Montoyo mentioned Cole as a possible back of the pen option back on February 19th.
“I’d love to have the power arms at the end,” he said. “Anthony Bass has done it, Giles is going to bed at the end. A.J. Cole will be competing for a job and if he makes the team, he’ll be at the end, too, because he’s got a good arm also and then of course you have Sammy (Gaviglio) and the other guys fighting for the other spots earlier in the game.” (full article)
A.J. Cole has looked good in his five appearances this spring. He picked up the win in the Blue Jays 1st Spring Training game back on February 22nd, pitching one hitless inning with a strikeout against the New York Yankees. He faced Kyle Higashioka (possible backup catcher), Erik Kratz (possible backup to the backup catcher), and Rosell Herrera (jack of all trades, possible bench).
His next outing came against the Philidelphia Phillies on February 29th. He pitched the 9th innings, allowing one hit and picking up the save. Obviously, he wasn’t facing any regulars in the 9th inning of a spring training game. He retired Phil Gosselin (31-yr-old minor vet), Luke Williams (.238BA, 11HR in AA), and Austin Listi (.252, 19HR in AAA).
Cole finished another game with a no-hit, one strikeout 8th against Tampa Bay on March 4th. In a game that saw Anthony Kay surrender 4 runs on a hit and four walks before being lifted with one out in the inning and Patrick Murphy allowing 4 runs over a 1.1IP. Cole’s clean inning was good way to end the game. However, he wasn’t really tested, facing Ryan LaMarre (31-yr-old MiLB vet), Randy Arozarena (really good possible 26th man candidate), and Lucius Fox (speedy infield prospect, .221BA with 37SB in AA).
In his most recent appearance, March 8th, A.J. Cole pitched a hitless 7th inning, striking out 2 Phillies. He faced a little bit of a stiffer test in this outing, facing Josh Harrison (former Pirates standout, vying for a bench job), Nick Williams (Split 2019 between MLB and AAA, 4th outfielder), and Kyle Garlick (23HR in AAA and off to a hot spring).
A.J. Cole has not allowed a run, walking one, and striking out 4 while surrendering two hits over 5.0IP. He’s held opponents to a .125BA and owns a 0.60WHIP to go along with his 0.00ERA.
It’s true, Cole hasn’t faced many regulars this spring. This isn’t uncommon for bullpen arms. Most regulars are pulled after two at-bats which is typically the section of the game when relievers enter the game. This will start to change the closer we to Opening Day.
There is a scenario where A.J. Cole pitches a perfect Spring but doesn’t make the team. At which time, he will head North but not to Toronto. Cole would remain in the minors, joining the Buffalo Bisons. If he continues to pitch well in Triple-A, I’d expect he would be the first callup if one of the bullpen arms head to the IL.
Another scenario is the Blue Jays take it slow with oft-injured Ryan Borucki. In this scenario, Borucki would start the year on the 60-day IL and Cole would slide into that spot. Unfortunately for Cole, this spot might already be going to Joe Panik.
Cole will get a few more opportunities to impress the Blue Jays staff before Opening Day. At this point in camp, I’d give him a 80/20 chance of pushing his way onto the 40-man roster and breaking camp with the big league club.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of R.Mueller
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Lover of all things Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays MiLB fanatic. I strive for average while stumbling onto above average. Rogers isn’t cheap. Baseball is a business. Your right, but I’m more right.