As I, and many of you, continue to deal with the indefinite postponement of the 2020 MLB season, it is never too early to look ahead at a young and talented roster. If you’ve kept an eye on the AL East like I have, then you’ll know that one of those rosters belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays.
While the present seems dark, the future is bright, especially for the Blue Jays who haven’t made a postseason appearance since 2016. The era of Edwin Encarnación and Jose Bautista, which ended after the 2016 and 2017 seasons respectively, marked the beginning of a rebuild that has finally come to fruition. When the face-of-the-franchise players Encarnación and Bautista walked as free agents, they were replaced not at the MLB level, but in the minor league system. Now, in 2020, the Blue Jays arguably have some of the best, young, controllable and talented players in the game.
Let’s start with one of the most recognized names — third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of Hall of Fame outfielder Vladimir Guerrero Sr. According to FanGraphs, Guerrero Jr., 21, is under team control through the 2025 season and isn’t arbitration eligible until the 2022 season.
Although his first taste of The Show did not live up to his minor league production, it is important to remember he is developing at the major league level. Guerrero Jr. blew through the minor league system, playing his first 62 games at the rookie level in 2016 until finally being called up in 2019.
In his first season, Guerrero Jr. had a respectable .272 batting average, .339 on base percentage, and .433 slugging percentage. Do those stats pop off the page like his 2018 30-game Triple-A .336/.414/.564 slash line? No, but he has years to harness his power and master his skills at the plate. Soon, Guerrero Jr. will be blasting 40-plus home runs over a full season batting cleanup for Toronto’s dangerous lineup.
Next up is the son of former Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette, the Jays’ shortstop Bo Bichette, who was the 66th overall pick in the 2016 draft, according to FanGraphs. Bichette, 22, won’t be a free agent until the conclusion of the 2025 season and is arbitration eligible for the 2023 season. He was called up late in 2019 when he played in 46 games. Over those games, Bichette accumulated 212 plate appearances where he blasted 11 home runs and had a .311/.358/.571 slash line. He finished the year with 1.7 WAR (wins above replacement).
To continue the trend, the Blue Jays used their 2016 fifth round draft pick to select second baseman Cavan Biggio, the son of Hall of Fame second baseman and catcher Craig Biggio. The 25-year-old second baseman, similar to Guerrero Jr. and Bichette, won’t be a free agent until the end of the 2025 season and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2023, according to FanGraphs.
Biggio was called up in 2019 and logged 100 games and 430 plate appearances in his first taste of major league action. Over those 100 games, Biggio’s slash line was nothing outstanding — .234/.364/.429 — but finished with a solid 2.4 WAR, which is respectable considering his rookie status that season. The one knock to Biggio is his high strikeout rate (28.6%). If he can cut back on his strikeouts, Biggio can be a top hitter like his father was.
Last but not least is 26-year-old left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr, a 2016 international free agent signee from Cuba. Gurriel Jr. inked a 7-year, $22 million deal in 2017, locking him up for about $3.1 million per year through the 2023 season.
While he made his MLB debut in 2018, he started the 2019 season in Triple-A. After 31 games, he was called up for the remainder of the season and made an immediate impact. Across 84 games, Gurriel Jr. launched 20 home runs, scored 52 runs and drove in 50 RBIs. Along with a .277/.327/.541 slash line over 343 plate appearances, Gurriel Jr. played well enough to log a 1.8 WAR. Gurriel Jr. also comes with some versatility — he played left field for 63 of his 84 games while also logging nine games at second base and designated hitter, and three games at first base.
With Gurriel Jr. locked up through 2023 and Guerrero Jr., Biggio and Bichette under team control through the 2025 season, the Blue Jays lineup is poised for greatness over the next several years. With Bichette as the lead off hitter, Biggio as the two-hole batter, Gurriel Jr. batting third and Guerrero Jr. hitting clean up, this lineup has the potential to drive in runs at an alarming rate.
Even with all that talent in the lineup, is this going to be a team that makes the postseason in 2020? No, probably not because they still lack pitching, although improvements have been made at that front with the signing of LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million deal.
While a rotation of Ryu, Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark, Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thorton is nothing to get excited about, the imminent arrival of No. 8 MLB ranked prospect Nate Pearson is. Pearson, a 23-year-old, 6-foot-6 right handed starter, was drafted 28th overall in 2017 after displaying his cannon of an arm. According to an MLB prospect report, Pearson hit 102 mph in a bullpen session. He has a max 80/80 scouting grade for his fastball and is graded overall at 65/80.
The Blue Jays have positioned themselves for success after being eliminated in the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians in 2016, their most recent postseason appearance. While it may be difficult to picture the Blue Jays above the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in the standings, it is not a farfetched idea. Toronto has done a great job taking the time to rebuild their team and creating a competitive roster, one that could be on top of the American League East for years to come.
Photo credit to Cole Burston/Getty Images: Bo Bichette (left) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (right) hold up a peace sign, Sept. 28, 2019.
My name is Sebastian and I am a senior at Northern Arizona University. I am a double major in journalism and communication, along with a minor in German. I have been in various editorial positions and have contributed articles to The Lumberjack, NAU's student-run newspaper.