Five Toronto Blue Jays Storylines To Watch this April – #1 – Young Guns

Danny Jansen

The Toronto Blue Jays go into the 2019 season battered, bereft of several of the “name” position players who were on the club last year, and not expected to do much of anything in the standings. But that’s not to say that there isn’t going to be interest and intrigue in the ballclub. Here is the first of five storylines to watch in the first month or so of the season.

1. Rookie Revelations

No, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t due back until May but there are several rookies who will be expected to contribute to the Toronto Blue Jays as the season gets underway. Not since 2015 when six rookies started the season with the club (Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, Miguel Castro, Roberto Osuna and Devon Travis) have the Blue Jays gone into the season with so many youngsters looking to try to stick. They’ve been given the opportunity to do so thanks to the injuries that decimated the projected pitching staff towards the end of spring training.

With Ryan Borucki, Ryan Tepera, John Axford and Dalton Pompey out, the Jays are going with Trent Thornton, Elvis Luciano, Thomas Pannone in their place. In addition, Danny Jansen and Billy McKinney are also considered rookies while Richard Urena exceeded rookie eligibility in 2018 (as did Borucki and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Tim Mayza).

The situation is certainly not the same as it was in 2015 with only Jansen and McKinney really having been given regular spots on the roster. All three of the pitchers would normally be starting in Triple-A had the Jays not been slammed with injuries. The future of the franchise is not being hung on Thornton, Luciano and Pannone in the same way that it was hung on Sanchez, Travis, Osuna, Castro, et. al. back in 2015. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how these rookies do. But the fact is, they’re just place holders until Clay Buchholz, Ryan Borucki, Ryan Tepera, Bud Norris, David Phelps and John Axford are healthy and ready to go. The fact that we have six names on the reinforcements list for three or four spots is encouraging.

The Jays have definitely given the keys to Danny Jansen behind the plate and have really, only Reese McGuire waiting in the wings should Jansen struggle. And we don’t expect much offensively from McGuire or Luke Maile, so if Jansen struggles with the bat (although he’s given us no reason to believe that will happen, but it does happen to rookies and many other players), there’s no safety net.

Billy McKinney

For McKinney, there are minor league outfield options. Anthony Alford, for one, had a strong first half to his spring and could certainly get another shot. Jonathan Davis is still on the 40-man roster and Roemon Fields could be a short-term answer in an emergency. If McKinney is faltering further along in the season, Cavan Biggio could be an answer in left field.

Tim Mayza

If we want to look at the other young players who will stick on the roster, we can start with Tim Mayza in the bullpen. Mayza is the Jays’ only lefty reliever and, really, the only one on the horizon unless we look to Kirby Snead or Shawn Morimando or even Clayton Richard. So, I think Mayza is going to be around for a while, regardless of how he performs.

Richard Urena will play irregularly as a middle infielder (with some time at third base) and he’s likely to keep making some mistakes but has shown some improvement with the bat. Gurriel has also made some noise in the spring, hitting four home runs and posting a 1.185 OPS although his OppQual index isn’t particularly great, coming in at 6.8 which indicates that his competition is generally somewhere south of a Double-A level. That said, Gurriel is making some major league money now (almost $3 million) and will likely continue to play on the big league team.

We may see Ryan Borucki in the majors in April but we may not, depending on how his elbow is doing. I think he’ll get the benefit of the doubt once he comes back.

With five rookies on the club when the season opens, there’s a lot to wonder about the first month of the season. Will the pitchers benefit from being new to the league and new to their opponents and will the hitters be able to get a jump on the league before their opponents find weaknesses and force them to adjust? How well do these five rookies (and other young players) adjust as the season gets under way?

That’s definitely something we’ll be watching as March recedes and April begins.

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