The Blue Jays don’t just have a boat load of pitching talent, they’ve got some pretty talented fielders/hitters on their 40-man roster (and some who will likely join that roster early in 2019), so where do we at Blue Jays from Away see the younger hitters who are already on the 40-man roster next year?
I consider any player who hasn’t really established himself in the major leagues over two-to-three years as one who is still on the bubble and young players can be very volatile. Therefore, many of the players who are on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster fall into this category.
Danny Jansen completed his rocket-ride to the major leagues, starting 2017 in Dunedin and finishing 2018 in Toronto. With an MLB Futures Game and many other plaudits in his name from his last two years, Jansen is likely to start 2019 in Toronto as one of two or three catchers. He hit a solid .247/.347/.432 in 81 at bats with Toronto and had a stellar season in Buffalo, hitting .275/.390/.473. He’s showing some pop in the big leagues and I could see him catching about half the time in 2019.
Reese McGuire, coming back to Toronto in the deal that sent Drew Hutchison to Pittsburgh in 2017, finally cracked the big leagues in 2018. McGuire hit .290/.333/.581 with a pair of home runs in a small sample of just 33 plate appearances in Toronto but his offense wasn’t as strong in Buffalo where he hit .233/.312/.339 in 96 games with the Bisons. McGuire has always been known for his defense and, if it weren’t for Russell Martin and Luke Maile (and Danny Jansen), McGuire would likely be a lock for a position on the big league squad. That said, he’ll get the lion’s share of time in Buffalo and will try to prove that he’s able to sustain his better offensive numbers over the longer term.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. needs to stay healthy but if he can, he’ll probably be playing almost every day in Toronto whether it’s at shortstop or second base. I knew Gurriel had pop in his bat but wondered whether he could walk enough or keep from swinging at bad pitches enough to produce at the major league level. He did more than that, hitting .281/.309/.446 in 263 plate appearances, hitting 11 home runs. If he continues to do that, he’s going to be an integral part of the Blue Jays’ plans going forward. But he’ll still need to take some more walks.
Rowdy Tellez started his major league career with a bang, despite a very difficult two years that saw him lose his mother. Tellez struggled at times in his second year in Buffalo but the 23 year old finished strongly and announced his presence with authority in the major leagues, hitting .314/.329/.614 with four home runs and nine doubles in 73 plate appearances. Unless one of Justin Smoak or Kendrys Morales is traded/released, there isn’t likely any room for Tellez on the major league roster right now. But that could change during the season or at the trade deadline. Look for him to start off in Buffalo.
Richard Urena got a little more playing time in the major leagues in 2018 than he did in 2017 and showed a lot better production, hitting .293/.340/.364 with four doubles and a home run in 108 plate appearances. That said, in a larger sample size in Buffalo (268 plate appearances), he hit only .216/.250/.344. Which Richie shows up in 2019? We’ll likely see Urena in Triple-A, sharing time at short and second base with Bo Bichette unless injury strikes in Toronto.
Anthony Alford had a down year and, at the age of 24, should be trying to find his way to sticking in the majors this year. Alford struck out nine times in 21 plate appearances, hitting just .105 with two singles and two walks with the Blue Jays and his struggles were with him in Buffalo as he had a .240/.312/.344 slash line in 105 games with the Bisons. With a glut of young outfielders, Alford is now behind guys like Billy McKinney and will get some competition from others like Jonathan Davis (his brother-in-law), Dalton Pompey (if he’s still with the organization) and Dwight Smith Jr.
Jonathan Davis went from Double-A to the major leagues in 2018 after improving a ton when repeating the level with the Fisher Cats. Davis, 26, hit .302/.388/.443 with the Fisher Cats over 78 games but struggled a bit in Buffalo, hitting .249/.308/.389. Davis will likely start 2019 in Buffalo but could be an emergency call up if needed, although he’s far enough down the depth chart that he may only get back to Toronto in September.
Billy McKinney, 24, played two games with the Yankees (against the Blue Jays) before getting injured and then only got back to the major leagues with the Blue Jays. McKinney showed some pop, hitting seven doubles and six home runs in 128 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, posting a .252/.320/.470 slash line, playing good defense. For me, McKinney is at the top of the depth chart to play left field every day, or, at least split time with Teoscar Hernandez in 2019.
Dalton Pompey, 25, seems to be the odd man out here. After having some trouble with his manager in Buffalo and being briefly suspended by the team, Pompey didn’t play in September. Injuries and other issues like the one mentioned above have prevented Pompey from really getting into a groove for a couple of years and now he’s out of options. He only played 52 games last year and in 41 with Buffalo he hit a respectable .255/.325/.393 with eight doubles, four home runs and eight stolen bases in 10 chances. Pompey was kept on the 40-man roster before the deadline to put new guys on for the Rule 5 draft which means that he may be getting one last chance to show what he can do before has to go on waivers at the end of spring training because of his options situation. Can he grab a fourth outfielder spot? Sure, but unless some of the other outfielders are out of the way (re: trades, DFA, etc.), he’s going to have a big hill to climb.
Dwight Smith Jr. has always hit. He always seems to do what is asked of him. In his first try at the majors, he had a .370/.414/.444 slash line in just 29 plate appearances. Given more playing time in 2018, the 26-year-old Smith hit .262/.347/.477 with a much more normalized .294 BABIP over 75 plate appearances, hitting eight doubles and two home runs. With a good understanding of the strike zone, Smith has a lot of skills that have played in small sample sizes at the major league level and bigger ones in Triple-A, but he doesn’t get the hype, mainly because he doesn’t stand out in any one category. In 310 at bats in Buffalo, he hit .268/.358/.413, very similar to his numbers with Toronto but we could see a sustained improvement in power numbers in the majors considering the band boxes in the AL East and the juicier ball in the majors. I love what DSJ brings to the table, but are there just too many guys ahead of him on the depth chart to show what he can do?
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