Blue Jays’ Bichette keeps impressing despite first struggles of career

Toronto Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette. (Cliff Welch/Getty)

Bo Bichette’s having a pretty strong season. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats shortstop is leading the double-A Eastern League in plate appearances (510), runs (81), hits (127), doubles (36), and stolen bases (29). But the category he’s happiest to be the league leader in may surprise you.

“Probably the plate appearances,” Bichette said in an interview this week on At the Letters. “Last year, I was kind of on a schedule, having a day off every fifth day. I think they were trying to get me used to the full season. But this year I’ve been in the lineup every day and I’ve been ready to go. I’m pretty proud of that.”

The goal is for Bichette to one day be patrolling the middle infield on a daily basis wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. And this season has been a crucial one in building towards that future. This week, Bichette surpassed the career-highs in games played (110) and plate appearances (499) he set last season.

“I’m pretty tired,” Bichette admitted. “But, at the same time, I think it’s more mental than physical. I feel pretty good physically. I’m ready to go every day at the field. I’ve been doing a good job with the trainers and the strength coach, getting ready.”

Bichette’s not only the industry consensus as Toronto’s best prospect not named Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — he’s considered one of the top-10 prospects in the game. Last month, Baseball America ranked Bichette fifth on its top-100 list. FanGraphs put him 8th in their June rankings. Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline currently has him 9th.

Those accolades will come your way when you’re hitting .274/.331/.443 as a shortstop at a level where the average age is more than four years your senior. But Bichette is quick to admit that his third professional season has been anything but easy.

“The whole season I haven’t really felt like myself. I haven’t really felt comfortable for an extended period of time,” he said. “I think that for some reason this year I kind of got out of what made me good.”

After a strong April, Bichette began to struggle, and hit just .193/.277/.301 over his first 21 games of May. He eventually pulled himself out of it but experienced another funk in July, battling through a 4-for-39 stretch at one point with 10 strikeouts and only one walk.

There’s an argument to be made that Bichette’s a victim of his own success — these are essentially the first slumps of his life. He rarely made an out as a high schooler, and hit .362/.423/.565 last year in his first full season of pro ball. In 2017, he had the highest batting average of any minor-leaguer to make more than 400 plate appearances.

That outstanding season set his offensive bar unreasonably high. And, despite his slumps, he’s still leading the Eastern League in a host of offensive categories. Never mind the fact that, at 20, he’s the third-youngest player currently at double-A.

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Still, Bichette admits he hasn’t played up to his standards this season, and that his offensive slumps have been a challenge.

“I’ve had to deal with some things in terms of struggling mentally — and it’s kind of made the season longer, I won’t lie,” Bichette said. “I’m going to take everything I’ve learned this year into the offseason and do everything I can this offseason to get better — and work to make sure that that stuff doesn’t happen again. I know it’s baseball and you struggle at times. But I think that my struggles this year went longer than they should have.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Bichette believes he exacerbated his slumps this season by expanding the zone and chasing hits rather than waiting for good pitches to swing at.

“When it first was happening at the beginning of the year and I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t’ really know what to do and I just kind of went up there and was like, ‘Well, I know that I hit the ball most of the time when I swing, and I know that I can hit it hard.’ So, I just went up there swinging as hard as I could,” he said. “I think that sometimes I just have too much confidence in my ability. So, when things go wrong, I try to hit myself out of it. And this year I learned that that’s probably not the correct choice.”

Thursday night, Bichette added another double to his league lead. He also drew a walk, his fifth in his last six games. New Hampshire still has three weeks of its regular season remaining, which means Bichette has plenty of time to continue building his numbers and testing his ability to be a productive everyday player.

And after that, the first place Fisher Cats will be off to the playoffs, where Bichette and several of the teammates he won a championship with at high-A Dunedin in 2017 will look to hoist a second trophy in as many years.

“That would be really fun, to do it again,” Bichette said. “We have a lot of good players. A lot of players that play hard, which is the most important thing. And we have a lot of fun out there.”

Listen to the full episode below to hear how Bichette plans to improve as a shortstop this offseason, his scouting report on childhood friend and Fisher Cats outfielder Forrest Wall, and what it’s like living life in the top prospect spotlight. Bichette’s interview begins at 44:55.

At The Letters
Aug. 15: Youth movement continues as Blue Jays transition
August 15 2018

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