We knew the Toronto Blue Jays were rebuilding before the season started. They spent their offseason picking up guys to fill in the gaps before the arrival of their prized prospects and looking for players who could provide some value at the trade deadline and wouldn’t cost much on the uptake. So now that we’ve passed the deadline and the Jays have traded almost all of their tradeable players, where are they now? And how are they positioning themselves for the future?
This season was always going to be a “let’s see what we’ve got” year. Young players were given a shot at pretty much every position so that the organization could figure out what they have in the higher levels of the system. Billy McKinney came, went and came back. As did Teoscar Hernandez, reborn as a center fielder. As did Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., reborn as a left fielder. Other players arrived from the minors, cementing their place with strong play early. Others arrived and went back, staying there. Now that the Jays are poised to grind out the rest of the season with the folks in the minors, let’s see where they stand.
So this is the area of the game that Blue Jays depleted the most in the past week. With Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez gone and Ryan Borucki back on the IL, the Jays are looking to cobble together innings in any way they can. Right now, their depth charts reads:
Thornton is really the only pitcher in this group who has been tested for a sample size long enough to get a good idea of what he can do. He manhandled the Orioles last night but . . . it’s the Orioles. He’s had his struggles but he’s also shown impressive skills too. The other three also have had solid outings but each has his own struggles. Waguespack and Reid-Foley have command issues and Pannone is prone to the home run. More time to work and hopefully improve could keep them in the rotation next year, but I’d suggest that at least two of those four might find themselves back in Triple-A to start 2020.
Yup. Just four guys with Borucki on the IL, Sam Gaviglio might get some innings whether it’s as a starter, an opener or the guy after the opener. On the 40-man roster are Julian Merryweather (on the IL, not having pitched in over a month after a couple of outings following Tommy John surgery), Patrick Murphy (in Double-A, on the IL), Yennsy Diaz (in Double-A), David Paulino (in Triple-A, on the IL), Hector Perez (in Double-A).
Yup, that’s it. Just two starting pitchers (debatable in Paulino’s case) on the 40-man roster who are not with the team and who are healthy but both are in Double-A. And both have control issues and it would be a stretch to get them to the bigs (although I wouldn’t rule out a September call up). Ryan Feierabend is also on the IL with Buffalo. Anthony Kay, just acquired, hasn’t impressed in Triple-A for two organizations, Shawn Morimando is on the IL, Andrew Sopko, hasn’t been impressive in Triple-A when healthy.
That leaves just T.J. Zeuch as the only healthy starting pitcher who might be able to help out this year. He’s struggled with control and needs to make better pitches down in the zone to take advantage of his sinker but I can easily see him added to the roster in September at the latest, earlier if he has a couple of good starts in a row.
In Double-A, Justin Dillon hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant a promotion but he hasn’t been bad. Thomas Hatch hasn’t made any starts yet and Joey Murray just has a couple of Double-A starts under his belt. Jon Harris is on the IL, as is Zach Logue.
That leaves Nate Pearson. Pearson has been on a very tight limit of innings this year but is coming off his longest outing of the year. Do I think he should be rushed to the big leagues to help out the big league team? No. Could he be used as an opener to pitch three innings maximum and get major league hitters out? Yeah, that could work, provided he knows that he could very well start 2020 back in Buffalo and is cool with that. Or he could come up to stay and be in the rotation next year if he earns it.
I’m not as concerned about the relief pitching part of the picture. With the recall of Jason Adam and Buddy Boshers, the Jays have several relievers who can step up even with some pitchers still on IL. Matt Dermody is back and has had a few good outings. Kirby Snead and Zach Jackson haven’t been bad at all this year, and Bryan Baker hasn’t been ba in Buffalo either. I’m also partial to Ty Tice who has been excellent for Buffalo. The Jays also have John Axford working his way back from injury (he’s started rehab assignments) and Brock Stewart was claimed on waivers and stashed in Buffalo.
The Blue Jays are lining up their position players for the future and many of them, particularly on the infield, are already here.
He’s been playing improved defense and the bat is coming around. Let’s not expect too much (no one really has) and we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Catchers take a while for the bats to come around and we know how hard a worker Danny is. I’m not worried too much. Besides, if the other guys produce like we think they will, Danny won’t have to do too much.
Reese McGuire was recently called up from Buffalo when Luke Maile went on the IL. Good defense? Check. Yeah, that’s pretty much all you need from a backup catcher.
Ok, so Smoak wasn’t traded at the deadline and the “first baseman of the future” is probably playing third base right now. Rowdy Tellez didn’t quite do enough with big league pitching this season to warrant staying in Toronto but he’s been tearing it up in Buffalo since his demotion and is determined to work his way back. I’m rooting for the big guy.
Second Base: Cavan Biggio
Biggio started off with a bang but he’s fallen off. While his average is just .217, he’s still got a .349 OBP which ranks pretty high on this team. More regular contact (and fewer strikeouts) would help but his knowledge of the strike zone is elite and that’s going to serve him well.
Third Base: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladdy been swingin’ it. Two home runs last night and his OPS is creeping towards .800 (currently at .797). That’s pretty good for a kid who’s just 20. I’ve seen it with Vlad before. Every time he comes to a new level, he hangs back a bit and gets the lay of the land. He’s learning when he can start to put his HR Derby swing on balls (like the one he hit 450 ft. last night) and, I have a feeling, he’ll start to do it more often. Does he stay at third base long term? Probably not.
Shortstop: Bo Bichette
Bichette came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. The 21-year-old shortstop has eight hits in 18 at bats in just four games so that’s pretty good. Will he fall off from his .444 batting average? Certainly, but he has the tools to take a very mature approach to hitting and stay productive. Last night he got down 0-2 and still flew out deeply going the other way. I’ve always like that approach to Bichette. He uses his elite contact skills and cuts things down with two strikes.
Further below the wave the wave of prospects to hit the majors this year, we’ve got Kevin Smith in Double-A, turning things around with a stellar July after a slow start. We’ve got Riley Adams having a solid year in Double-A and Alejandro Kirk in Dunedin. Jordan Groshans‘s foot injury isn’t helping his development after an outstanding start to his year but he’s still among the club’s top prospects.
This is the position that the Jays are employing the “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” philosophy the most. Socrates Brito, Billy McKinney, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, now Derek Fisher. All have similar profiles but only Gurriel has really taken off.
Left field: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (Billy McKinney, Derek Fisher in the wings, Anthony Alford in Buffalo)
Gurriel has been a revelation with the bat since coming back from Buffalo. Even with his slow start to the year, he’s got a .289/.341/.571 slash line, giving him a .913 OPS and 18 home runs. This is the Gurriel who the Jays were hoping would show up when they signed him to a big contract out of Cuba.
McKinney is a guy who’s going to likely be a low-OBP guy with some pop and a bit of speed. He’s back up with the big club and he’s got another shot. Fisher hasn’t done well in the major leagues but the Blue Jays are hoping that now is his chance. Unlike McKinney he’ll take a walk but he strikes out a lot too and is said to be a better athlete with more speed and more power but a weak arm.
Center field: Teoscar Hernandez (Anthony Alford coming back form injury in the minors, Forrest Wall in the minors)
Teoscar is having a Teoscar-ish year. Low batting average (.219), low OBP (.290), solid power (ISO of .212). He seems more at home in center field but Teoscar is Teoscar, it appears.
Alford coming back from his latest injury and we really have no idea if a) he can stay healthy, and b) he’ll be a major league regular if he can stay healthy. Forrest Wall has emerged as a guy who might actually turn into something. Part of the Seung-hwan Oh trade with Colorado, Wall has turned his hitting around this year and is probably the closest outfield prospect who’s actually having a good year. His OPS has flirted with .800 most of the season and he’s got a .278/.361/.439 slash line with nine home runs and 26 doubles.
Right field: Randal Grichuk (Billy McKinney in the wings)
Yeah, the Jays don’t have a lot of depth in the outfield. There are guys, but none have really taken a step forward. Grichuk was rewarded with a big contract extension this season but he’s still just 27 and his 2019 numbers aren’t inspiring as he carries a .232/.290/.418 slash line with 18 home runs into the post-trade-deadline world.
So that’s where the Jays stand. The current wave of high-level talent is in the major leagues on the infield but there aren’t too many guys coming soon when it comes to starting pitchers or outfielders. Our best pitching hope is Nate Pearson but a lot of other guys who can help out next year are hurt right now. There are guys coming, but I think the competitive window won’t even open until 2021 unless the Blue Jays make trades that can pay off next year.
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