DUNEDIN, Fla. â€” Six months after cracking the Blue Jays’ major-league roster, Joe Biagini had a dream he was back in spring training as an unknown pitcher trying to prove himself.
He still has trouble believing his 2016 success even now.
“You spend 15, almost 20 years dreaming about this and you get in a habit of thinking about making it (to the majors),” Biagini said Tuesday at the team’s spring training clubhouse. “I kept thinking throughout the year, ‘Oh it’ll sink in, it’ll sink in’ and it wasn’t really sinking in.
“In August I had a dream that I was trying to make the team. I woke up and I saw the interior of my apartment in Toronto and I had to take a second and realize, ‘OK I did make the team.'”
The 26-year-old right-hander, picked up by the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft before last season, became one of manager John Gibbons’s most steady options out of the bullpen.
He threw 67 2/3 innings, striking out 62 batters and allowing just three home runs all year, then followed that up with 7 1/3 scoreless post-season innings.
It’s because of that success, however, that Biagini’s role with the team has become uncertain. With Toronto in need of starting rotation depth, the organization has plans to stretch Biagini out over the course of the spring.
As Biagini described it, he’s insurance “in case something crazy happens or doesn’t go right or if there’s some sort of spot that opens up.”
“I’m going to be prepared as a possible option but there’s no guarantee on that,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to use spring training to figure that out. I just talked to (general manager) Ross (Atkins) about that and he was really encouraging.
“I think they’re stretching me out early in camp, kind of just maintaining that and then preparing me to expect to go into the bullpen or also start if something happens where I need to do that.”
Biagini worked primarily as a starter throughout his minor-league career with the San Francisco Giants before joining Toronto. He was 29-30 with a 4.06 earned-run average through 89 games â€” all but three of them starts â€” over four seasons.
Stretching Biagini out could mean sending him to triple-A Buffalo to get reps in a rotation once the season begins. Biagini said he and Atkins had discussed that possibility.
“I’m OK with doing whatever they want me to do,” Biagini said. “I don’t know if (going to triple-A) is going to be an extremely likely option but it can be, there’s just no way of knowing. They said there were some unique scenarios where that could possibly happen for a period.
“In doing that, if it could help the team win I’m not going to make a big issue about it.”
Marco Estrada, who missed a handful of starts with a back injury last year, believes Biagini has what it takes to be an effective starter.
“Oh God yeah, he can definitely start,” Estrada said. “He’s a huge asset to this team. What he did for us last year was incredible. To be a Rule 5 guy, nobody knew who he was, next thing you know he’s one of our best relievers.
“He’s definitely got the stuff to start. He can probably be a really good starter and the only way of knowing is to throw him out there and letting him do it.”
Regardless of the questions surrounding his role with the team, Biagini has much more confidence this year than he had heading into spring training last year.
“This is the first year I’ve had a little bit â€” not completely â€” but a little bit more expectation of what might happen,” he said. “Coming in last year and in other years I never really knew my status, not that they didn’t communicate well, we just never knew for sure.
“And nothing’s guaranteed here but coming in this year, having familiar faces and being in an environment that I’m comfortable with … just the familiarity makes me relax a little bit. That doesn’t take anything away from motivation but I don’t have to be on edge, I can be a little more confident about my status and try to enjoy the experience.”
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press