Four 2017 developments that would bode well for the 2018 Blue Jays

JJ Cooper, Managing Editor for Baseball America, analyzes the Blue Jays prospect pool following their recent deals at the trade deadline.

With the Toronto Blue Jays currently sitting 51-57, and Baseball Prospectus assessing the likelihood of a post-season appearance at 3.4 per cent, it can be tempting to close the book on the club’s 2017 season.

But there are 54 games still to be played, and there will be plenty of developments still to come for the Blue Jays between now and October.

Here are some developments we could see over the season’s final two months and how they could affect the Blue Jays in 2018, a season the club is hoping will go much better than this one has.

Aaron Sanchez returning to the mound

This has no doubt been the most trying season of Aaron Sanchez’s young career. After leading the American League with a 3.00 ERA in 2016, the 25-year-old right-hander has hit the disabled list on four separate occasions due to blister issues on the middle finger of his right hand. He’s been assessed by multiple specialists, spoken to a number of fellow pitchers who have dealt with blister problems, and undergone a bevy of treatments (including having a portion of his fingernail surgically removed) over the last four months. All to no avail.

But through it all, Sanchez has remained confident that he’ll overcome his struggles and, ideally, put them behind him for good. Currently on the DL allowing a blister to heal, Sanchez has said it is his goal to get back on the mound in a major-league game this season, regardless of Toronto’s playoff chances.

If he can do that, and pitch effectively without his finger issues reappearing, that will be a massive confidence boost for the young starter and position him well to pick back up where he left off after his terrific, all-star 2016 campaign.

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Josh Donaldson returning to form

Hampered by injuries from very early in spring training, the 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson has not looked anything like himself in 2017. Through July 26, he had only nine home runs and a .789 OPS over 252 plate appearances, very underwhelming numbers for a player who hit 37 home runs with a .953 OPS in 2016.

However, Donaldson appears to be coming around, going 8-for-22 with four homers over his past six games, including a pair of 400+ foot bombs. As he heads into his final year of club control, Donaldson will surely look to reestablish himself as one of the most feared hitters in the game over these final two months.

That would be great for the Blue Jays, who want to win in 2018 and will surely need Donaldson to be a big part of it.

Devon Travis making a healthy return

On the disabled list since early June after undergoing surgery to clean up cartilage damage in his right knee, Devon Travis has been working diligently to make an on-field return sometime in 2017. The Blue Jays will surely be cautious with the 26-year-old second baseman, who has missed substantial time due to injury in each of his three big league seasons. But if Travis can make a healthy return before the year is over, that can only be seen as a good sign for him heading into 2018.

What really makes Travis’ injuries unfortunate is that when he’s been on the field, he’s been great. Travis is slashing .292/.331/.462 over 213 MLB games, with 24 homers and 64 doubles. He had a truly remarkable month of May this season before getting hurt, batting .364/.373/.646 with 16 doubles in 26 games.

In Travis’ absence, the Blue Jays have been mixing and matching at second base with a combination of Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney and the recently acquired Rob Refsnyder. Travis is a clear upgrade on all three, and the Blue Jays will certainly be counting on a healthy Travis in 2018 if they hope to contend for the postseason.

Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, and other minor leaguers

With a post-season pursuit unrealistic in 2017, and a pair of important pitchers traded away at the deadline for future assets, the Blue Jays can now use some of their final games to give playing time to young players on the cusp of the major leagues and asses their readiness to contribute in 2018.

Outfielder Teoscar Hernandez was acquired from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline and is believed to be a major-league ready prospect. In fact, Hernandez has already played 42 games at the big league level with Houston, putting up a .724 OPS across 42 games. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has said that it’s very likely Hernandez will join the Blue Jays when rosters expand in September, and that its possible he could come up sooner if the Blue Jays have an outfield need.

Anthony Alford, 23, made his big-league debut earlier this year, briefly flashing the athleticism that has made him a top prospect before unfortunately suffering a broken hamate bone in his left wrist and missing six weeks.

The Blue Jays would no doubt like to get another look at what Alford can do at the big-league level, especially considering the club will likely be looking to upgrade its corner outfield positions this off-season.

Aside from Hernandez and Alford, there are plenty of other young players in the Blue Jays system who could find playing time down the stretch. Dwight Smith Jr. and Darrell Ceciliani have already spent time in the majors this season.

Dalton Pompey could make an appearance if he can get himself healthy. And intriguing names like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Richard Urena and Ryan Borucki are on the team’s 40-man roster if the Blue Jays really want to get a look at some young, untested players.