With options aplenty, Blue Jays manager Montoyo won't hesitate to tinker with lineup

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With spring training under way in Florida, Charlie Montoyo intends to keep all of his options open.

And yes, that even applies to the $150-million man, George Springer.

The Blue Jays manager said on Thursday that he anticipates a competitive camp to prepare for what Major League Baseball hopes will be a return to a 162-game schedule. And to that end, he expects his players — from those that form the young core to the off-season acquisitions — to not only compete for spots, but to prove themselves adept at different positions on the field.

There is no threat to Springer, of course, as the former Houston Astros star will headline the outfield from his spot in centre. But the third-year Jays skipper said he won’t be shy to move one of the game’s top leadoff hitters around in his batting order, to take advantage of his weapons.

“I see him anywhere in the top three, honestly,” Montoyo said on a Zoom call from Dunedin on Thursday afternoon. “And the one thing I like about him — of course he’s a good leader and we all know that he could probably be the leadoff guy on opening day — but what he said to me is he’s fine anywhere as long as he can help, which I love.”

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Montoyo joked that he’s toyed with his batting lineup almost daily and when he has the toys that he does at his disposal, why not? Springer, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio all have proven ability to hit at the top of a lineup. And the versatility that provides in terms of matchups is something that Montoyo relishes.

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“It’s been fun to make the lineups and in talking to (hitting coach) Guillermo Martinez about them … everybody’s got a different one, so that’s fun for me to do,” Montoyo said.

Meanwhile, the usually upbeat manager says he likes the enthusiasm he’s seen in the clubhouse already, one that is of a team ready to compete.

“I think you feel it, you feel the vibe, you feel like: ‘It’s OK, we have a chance,'” Montoyo said. “With the people we added, we (competed and made the playoffs) last year so we know for sure we can do it again this year.

“That’s the vibe in this club right now — that we can play play with the big dogs in this division and we can compete and we have a good chance.”

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo is having fun trying to figure out where the pieces fit following a production off-season for the team. MARK BLINCH/GETTY IMAGES
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo is having fun trying to figure out where the pieces fit following a production off-season for the team. MARK BLINCH/GETTY IMAGES

HOT CORNER, HOT TOPIC

As it will be throughout spring training and most likely into the season, the issue of how the team will handle the assignment at third base was a hot one for Montoyo in his opening meeting with the media.

Yes, Vlad Guerrero Jr. will be getting plenty of action there once Grapefruit League games begin, as will Biggio. That was to be expected and will likely take care of the bulk of the action.

But the manager revealed on Thursday that left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has also been taking ground balls at both first base and third during the off-season, opening up a possible part-time return to the infield.

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The bottom line? Montoyo wants to keep those options wide open.

Back to Guerrero, it sounds as though the team plans for the 21-year-old to see plenty of time at both third and first as it at least fulfills a promise to the former top prospect, who committed to getting fit in the off-season in order to fight for his preferred position.

“When we moved him to first base last year, we didn’t want to close the door at third,” Montoyo said. “That’s why he’s going to get reps at third, but he’s also going to get reps at first. We want to see what he looks like this spring. You don’t want to get him confused, but I want to keep our options open.

“That’s what I like about our lineup. There’s so many options.”

So through the 28-game exhibition schedule we may see Gurriel moving to the infield on occasion, a couple of years removed from his profound struggles at shortstop. Springer will see the occasional shift in right field and Teoscar Hernandez may get the call in left at times, as well as regular stints at DH.

About the only constant, at this point, is newcomer Marcus Semien at second base and  Bichette at shortstop.

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IF YOU BUILD IT

While pleased with the off-season acquisitions of Springer, Semien and others, team president Mark Shapiro acknowledged that there is still more work to be done.

“We don’t feel it is a perfect team,” Shapiro said on a Zoom call Thursday morning. “We know we are going to have to continue to make additions and improve.

“There’s a tremendous amount of positive energy and optimism around the team, which is great.”

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Shapiro seemed pleased that the build is going to plan and possibly even a little ahead of schedule. The construction will continue at the trade deadline and next off-season.

“We were determined to take the success and the belief that our players had in each other last year that transpired into a very positive step forward and continue to maintain that momentum,” Shapiro said. “We feel like we are on course in our plan to build a sustainable championship team.”

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AROUND THE BASES

Thursday marked the first workout for pitchers and catches and all but two were accounted for. Right-hander Patrick Murphy is sidelined while working through a shoulder injury while Ross Stripling has yet to report because he’s waiting with his wife for the birth of their child … Montoyo said that last year’s fan favourite, Alejandro Kirk, will be in the mix for a roster spot at catcher. Kirk will join Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in a battle for two spots.

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