Blue Jays could go young in rotation with Drew Hutchinson, Marcus Stroman

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With J.A. Happ struggling and reportedly dealing with back issues, the number of openings in the Toronto rotation has increased from one to two. According to MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, Drew Hutchinson is now looking like a good bet for one of those spots, with Happ, 2012 first-round pick Marcus Stroman, Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers in the mix for the other.

Stroman’s inclusion would be quite the surprise, even after his excellent performance last season in Double-A (9-5, 3.30 ERA, 129/27 K/BB in 111 2/3 innings) quieted those who doubted he’d make it as a starter. However, GM Alex Anthopoulos said service time won’t be an issue delaying his arrival and that he’s prepared to pick the best five.

Hutchinson likewise figured to open the season in the minors after returning from Tommy John surgery late last year, but he’s turned some heads with his performance this spring.

“He’s off to a great start, he’s definitely opened some eyes, he’s a strong candidate to make the rotation but he’s got to make it. But I love what I see,” Anthopoulos said.

Given the Jays’ struggles the last couple of years, Anthopoulos probably can’t afford to be particularly concerned with delaying arbitration and free agency eligibility with his prospects. If Stroman looks like one of the five best starters, it’s worth carrying him. After all, Anthopoulos isn’t likely to be around for the bill coming due unless the team starts to turn it around.

Rays sign lefty Ryan Merritt to a minor league deal

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The Tampa Bay Rays have signed lefty swingman Ryan Merritt to a minor league contract. Nah, it’s not a big signing but we’ll take anything today.

Merritt, who has spent his entire career in the Indians organization, spent the entire 2018 season at Triple-A Columbus. It wasn’t a bad year for him — he posted a 3.79 ERA and a 52/2 K/BB ratio in 13 starts and two relief appearances covering 71.1 innings — but the Tribe just couldn’t find a role for him at the big league level. He has shown in the past, however, that he can hack it in the bigs, having posted a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings with the Indians between 2016-2017.

His thing is that he simply doesn’t strike guys out at anything approaching a typical clip for a big leaguer: 3.7 per nine innings in his small sample of major league outings and 6.3 Ks per nine innings in the minors. Which, while it may not prevent him from having success at the big league level, is likely a reason for the limited number of chances he’s been given.

The Rays are probably the best place he could go, frankly. They’ve shown themselves willing to utilize guys in unique ways and are more likely than most teams to find places to spot a lefty control specialist who has shown he can both start and come out of the pen.