There’s an air of optimism north of the border for 2020 and with good reason. The Toronto Blue Jays are on the up and with some new additions to their roster, there is a belief that this team is trending upwards in the AL East.
Pitching stalwarts Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman no longer reside in “The Six”, with both players being traded away during the 2019 season. That left the Jays rotation in a state of flux, filled with a journeyman mix including Trent Thornton, Clay Buchholz and Wilmer Font. General Manager Ross Atkins made improving the rotation his top priority in the offseason and in doing so signed former Dodger Hyun-Jin Ryu, signalling that the franchise is looking towards contending rather than simply obtaining assets and draft picks. Ryu was awarded a four year, $80 million deal with the Jays after a superb 2019 where he logged a 14-5 record with a 2.32 ERA in Los Angeles. Ryu is easily the biggest addition to the Jays roster this year and he should start on Opening Day.
Tanner Roark has also been added via free agency and will be asked to eat some innings as a reliable and productive starter. Chase Anderson has arrived via trade with the Milwaukee Brewers and will also add stability to a rotation that sorely lacked it in 2019, especially in the second half of the season. Roark and Anderson combined for 58 starts last season, whereas only Thornton managed more than 25 starts for the Jays.
The last two spots in the rotation will likely be taken by players already on the roster. Matt Shoemaker got off to an excellent start in ’19 but had his year cut short by a torn ACL. If he is healthy he should be assured of a spot. The fifth starter will likely be a competition between the returning Thornton and another new signing in Shun Yamaguchi, but expect them to only keep the spot warm for Jays top prospect Nate Pearson. Pearson was outstanding in the minors last year and is thought to be ready to see big league action in 2020.
Whilst the Jays bullpen is shrouded in uncertainty, Ken Giles is a lock to be the teams closer in 2020. Giles had a nice year in ’19, posting an impressive 1.87 ERA and sparkling 14.1 K/9 figure. His season was spoiled by injuries, but expect him to anchor the pen once more in 2020.
Rafael Dolis is expected to get late inning action after signing from Hanshin Tigers in Japan and the Jays have also been impressed by the arm of Anthony Bass, a waiver claim off the Seattle Mariners.
A.J Cole will be competing for a job in Spring Training, Sam Gaviglio returns and Wilmer Font will likely be asked to take long relief duties. The pen is undoubtedly light in Toronto but it is not surprising that Atkins didn’t prioritise it given the dearth of talent available in free agency combined with the amount of work that needed to be done to the rest of the roster.
Young, exciting line-up
Travis Shaw represents the only real addition to a lineup that is built around an exciting young core.
Bo Bichette exploded onto the scene in 2019, setting multiple records in the process. He became the first player in major league history to have ten extra base hits in his first nine major league games and later became the first player in the live ball era to have a double in nine straight games. He also became the first rookie since Ted Williams to have an extra base hit in 9 straight games.
Bichette will lead off and play shortstop, forming an incredibly exciting left side of the infield with another second generation big leaguer: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Young Vladdy made the bigs last season amongst incessant hype and delivered a respectable if still unsatisfying year at the plate, hitting .272/.339/.433 with 15 homers. The more troubling stat was his 49.6% groundball rate, a number he is looking to improve on upon arriving at spring training in lean condition. The Blue Jays believe Guerrero suffered due to fatigue and a lack of pliability last year, so if he is in better shape improvements can be expected.
Cavan Biggio will play second base and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.in right field, completing a dynamic young core that has fans understandably excited for the future. Shaw will play first base but his versatility will allow Guerrero to get reps at both first and the DH spot.
Farm remains strong
The Jays farm system is ranked 6th by Baseball America, highlighted by the aforementioned Nate Pearson. The flame throwing right hander is said to touch an outrageous 104mph on the radar gun and had a tremendous 2019 in the minors, bouncing back after an injury ruined rendered 2018 a lost year for him. He is expected to start the year in AAA ball but he is sure to see significant time in the bigs, joining the back end of the rotation. Shortstop Jordan Groshans and pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson are also ranked in the top 100 of baseball’s prospects meaning Ross Atkins has the chips available to make a deal if he sees fit.
The Blue Jays have an exciting young core in Guerrero Jr, Bichette, Biggio and Gurriel Jr, but the rest of the team is a way off being able to compete with the powerhouse Yankees and the impressive Rays in the AL East.
Roark and Anderson are both league average level pitchers and the lineup surrounding those young starlets remains below the level required to contend. However, with the addition of Ryu and a loaded farm system, there is legitimate reason to think that this team is pointing in the right direction and, given time, will be in the mix in the near future.