TORONTO — After a quiet few days of private workouts in Toronto, unmentioned COVID-19 cases in Dunedin and a whole lot of home field uncertainty hovering over the organization, the Toronto Blue Jays were busy when they peeked their collective head out of their Rogers Centre bubble Wednesday.
Charlie Montoyo addressed the media for the first time since April in the afternoon, relaying that he had delivered an important message to his team about their hotel quarantine situation and the upcoming 60-game season.
“There’s going to be two types of teams,” Montoyo said on a conference call, revealing the Jays’ first of many intra-squad games will go Thursday night at 7 p.m. “There’s the team that’s going to work together, they’re going to follow the guidelines, they’re going to work as a group and they’re going to stay healthy. And that’s going to help them win more games. And then there’s going to be the team that’s going to complain about everything, lose focus and get sick and not be healthy. And they’re not going to do very well and it’s going to be a long 60 games.”
It’s a sound message, and there’s a lot on the line for the organization, too, after being granted a federal exemption from the Canadian government to come north.
As Montoyo was offering his thoughts on landing safely in Canada from his home in the Corona hotbed of Arizona, avoiding the same in Dunedin (for now), and how he and his coaching staff will shape workouts, intra-squad games, bullpens and live batting practice sessions over the next two weeks, GM Ross Atkins was busy, too.
With spots available in the 60-man player pool, the Jays inked Austin Martin, the fifth-overall pick in last month’s 2020 MLB Draft, to a contract that will see the versatile Vanderbilt product get the second-largest bonus in the entire draft at $7,000,825, well above the slot value of about $6.2 million.
They then finished off the entire draft class by signing Loyola Marymount right-hander Nick Frasso, taken 106th overall in the fourth round, to a slightly under-slot deal at $459,000.
The fact the Blue Jays had to engineer over-slot deals to sign Martin, as well as second-rounder CJ Van Eyk and third-rounder Trent Palmer, left them with a maxed out bonus pool, including their five per cent overage leeway which took them from a pool of $9,716,500 to a little more than $10.2 million.
It’s likely Martin will be added to the player pool in order to get some work this summer, but the team could choose to wait and send him to the alternate training site in Buffalo once the regular season begins to mitigate any potential passport or COVID-19 testing issues.
With no minor leagues now, it’s anyone’s guess as to how fast Martin could get to the big leagues, but the polished Vanderbilt product could’ve been in Triple-A by next season in a normal scenario.
“We do feel that Austin will complement us very well and in talking about that young core, that’s alluding to a relatively fast transition,” Atkins said at the draft. “We’ll see. It’s hard to put any concrete timelines on that, but we do think it’s realistic to talk about him playing with Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio and Vladdy Guerrero and Lourdes Gurriel. That’s exciting to think about.”
Right around the time the Jays front office was finalizing that paperwork, catcher Danny Jansen spoke to the media on a Zoom call in the evening, marking the first time the organization has made a player available since May 8.
Quarantined inside the Marriott City Centre Hotel, the 25-year-old has a room overlooking the playing surface he hopes to stay on all summer, a decision that’s looming possibly as early as next week.
“We all pretty much agree that we have an advantage being in Canada and being here at the stadium,” said Jansen, who slashed just .207/.279/.360 last season, but graded out tremendously defensively and is capable of much more with the bat. “Everybody’s obviously taking the protocols extremely seriously. We’re staying in our rooms, we’re working out when the schedule tells us to, and we’re doing all those protocols. It’s definitely nice to get back here, have the roof open and feel that weather, and now we’re doing some live batting practices and simulation games are coming up. We’re really turning it up a notch and getting going. It’s nice.”
The Jays are facing a condensed spring training and they’ve already had to leave 12 players behind in Dunedin after an unknown player tested positive last weekend, giving Montoyo 46 players to work with and a 30-man roster to put together in two weeks.
“The guys who stayed behind (in Dunedin), we’ve got coaches over there and they’re going through all the things and having their workouts and stuff,” Montoyo said. “They’re going to be OK. We’re communicating every day with our coaches down there in Florida.”
Light will be shed on who some of those 12 missing players are when the media is allowed in the building Thursday, following three days of closed workouts.
The simulation game setting will be all about the reps, with Jansen saying veteran right-hander Matt Shoemaker is slated to pitch, along with a host of others.
“This is not a typical spring training,” Montoyo said. “This is going to be a spring training where you work with guys individually. Whatever they need. Pitchers, whatever innings they need and they need to face hitters. Same with the hitters. Playing these intra-squad games, they could get five at-bats, six at-bats, whatever they need. So it’s going to be different when it comes to that.”
Getting the starters built up to a normal workload of 100 or so pitches will take time, and Montoyo added they’re all on different schedules.
“We’re trying to build guys up,” Montoyo said. “The one thing about the intra-squads, when you can control it you can stop an inning and you can send a guy back. That’s why it’s going to be an individual kind of deal. And, also, we’re trying to build a lot of guys because you never know what could happen. It’s not only going to be five guys, we’re building more than that to make sure we’re covered in case something happens.”
As the players get ready for a unique 60-game season, club president Mark Shapiro is attempting to convince health authorities and the federal government that it’s safe to play their 30 home games in Toronto, with visiting teams flying in and out and the Jays landing in places like Tampa for road games in just two weeks.
But the safety and validity of MLB’s entire plan and testing system is also being questioned, and rightly so after numerous hiccups in the first week and ongoing positive tests, even if the overall numbers aren’t out of control.
Montoyo will be reminding his players what’s at stake on the field, too.
“You’ve got to remind them,” he said. “It’s two months so you’ve got to keep talking to the guys to follow the guidelines because, again, the teams that stay healthy are going to have a pretty good chance to do well this year.”