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Toronto Blue Jays to rely on key veteran additions and plenty of youth in 2015

04/01/2015 12:58 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The Blue Jays opened training camp with a roster full of question marks.

"As strong as we are and as good as we feel about this team, there's some questions that need to be answered in spring training,'' Toronto manager John Gibbons said.

More than five weeks later, they come north with answers. Fans are about to find out if Gibbons and general manager Alex Anthopoulos ticked the right boxes.

The 2015 Blue Jays showcase some key veteran additions in catcher Russell Martin, third baseman Josh Donaldson and (currently injured) outfielder Michael Saunders — and a whole lot of youth.

The starting rotation includes Aaron Sanchez (22) and Daniel Norris (21) while the bullpen could feature 20-year-olds Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna. Devon Travis, 23, starts at second base while Dalton Pompey (22) patrols centre field.

Drew Hutchison, 24, will open the season on the mound for the Jays in his 44th career start.

Sanchez has 24 games of big-league experience, Pompey 17 and Norris five. Castro, Osuna and Travis are true rookies.

Castro is a six-foot-five Dominican flame-thrower who has not pitched above Class-A ball. But the Jays organization loves his ability to find the strike zone at pace — Anthopoulos said the first time he saw Castro pitch in Vancouver, he thought the speed gun was stuck at 98 m.p.h.

Mexico's Osuna also has Jays officials enthusing.

According to Sportsnet Stats, Castro and Osuna could become the first Blue Jays born after Toronto's last World Series win in 1993.

The 25-man roster is not set in stone. The Jays have said they are still mulling over the merits of a seven- or eight-man bullpen. Should they decide on seven, infielder Ryan Goins is likely to be the benefactor although that decision may not be made for some weeks.

The Jays kick off the season Monday in New York against the Yankees. Five games and a stop in Baltimore later, they host the Tampa Bay Rays. The April 13 home opener is the first of 10 games in 11 days at the Rogers Centre.

Hutchison, Sanchez and Norris will be joined in the starting rotation by veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle.

While right-fielder Jose Bautista continues to be king of the Jays castle, the clubhouse seemed more accessible this spring with the arrival of the affable Martin. The US$82-million catcher chatted in English and French, openly discussed the challenges of catching Dickey's knuckleball and even showed off his many gloves.

When Bautista looked around the room early in pre-season, he saw a group that was "maybe an uptick or two more competitive than some guys that have been here in the past."

Bautista, 34, likes teammates who wear their hearts on their sleeve. A fierce competitor, he knows time is running out.

"The personal success has been great in the last five or six years but you crave to win," he said. "I've never experienced it but I guarantee you it's a better feeling sacrificing some personal success for some team success. I just haven't been in that position ever before but I would make that trade any day."

Right-hander Marcus Stroman will be missed in the clubhouse. Set to be one of the stars of the starting rotation, the fun-loving 23-year-old ripped up his knee in pre-season.

The Stroman injury had a domino effect, ending the Sanchez as closer experiment. Left-hander Brett Cecil will occupy that role this season.

Spring training was hard on the Jays.

Saunders, who is due back soon, had 60 per cent of the meniscus in his left knee removed after stepping on a sprinkler head indentation. Cecil and first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion also missed part of camp due to injury.

Martin (a Toronto native who grew up in Chelsea, Que.), Saunders (Victoria) and Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) up the Canadian quotient on the Jays.

Kevin Pillar will occupy left field, at least until Saunders returns. Veteran infielder Maicer Izturis also starts on the disabled list.

Donaldson will hold down third with Jose Reyes at shortstop and smooth-swinging Travis at second.

Encarnacion is expected to serve primarily as DH this season to preserve his body although he may see time at first base. Newcomer Justin Smoak will play first base and designated hitter with Dioner Navarro, last year's starting catcher, also getting time at DH.

This season marks the swansong of president and CEO Paul Beeston, the franchise's first employee. The future of Anthopoulos and Gibbons will likely also be decided in 2015 as the Jays, third in the AL East with an 83-79 record last season, look to reach the promised land of the playoffs

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