Blue Jays Confidential: Do Bichette and Pearson need new ceilings?

Ben Nicholson-Smith joined Good Show to talk about the Blue Jays' young roster and touched on Cavan Biggio being hailed as part of a "big three" narrative along with Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

Each week Blue Jays Confidential will ask a panel of Sportsnet Blue Jays Insiders and personalities to weigh in on issues big and small with the team, and around Major League Baseball.

1. Is the Justin Verlander-Detroit Free Press spat earlier this week an isolated incident, or do you think it speaks to a potentially larger issue with MLB players and their evolving attitudes toward the media, and their responsibilities to them?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
Largely isolated. Frankly, given the way modern clubhouses are constructed and how little time players actually spend in their lockers around the media, there seem to be fewer of these incidents. Usually, clubhouse access issues involve a decision by team management to keep it closed longer than required. Player vs. reporter contretemps seem way less than back in the day. Players have figured out that their “responsibilities” to the media are easy to dodge, and I don’t think Rob Manfred has the same quaintly nostalgic notion of the media’s role that Bud Selig did. I can see clubhouse access eventually bargained away as part of the CBA.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
I don’t know. From my brief experience, any situation like that one can be avoided with a simple conversation. If someone has an issue with something I’ve written or said, I hope they’d get in touch — or even better, speak to me about it in person — so we can sort it out.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
That the Houston Astros felt this was an appropriate course of action is very troubling. In Toronto this season, the Blue Jays violated MLB rules by keeping their clubhouse closed the day Marcus Stroman was traded. The Toronto Chapter of the BBWAA informed MLB, which reminded the Blue Jays of their responsibilities, but unless there’s a more significant consequence, teams will start viewing selective barring of access as part of their toolkit. That matters for fans, who want to hear from the players they cheer for, and to better understand what is happening with the teams they support.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
It’s no secret that some athletes don’t get along with some media members. I assume that’s been the case for decades and I expect it’ll remain that way, too. If Verlander doesn’t want to talk to certain reporters, he doesn’t have to. As long as you don’t veer into bullying, that’s OK. People can disagree.

The Astros’ reaction was more troubling, however. The rules around clubhouse access are jointly agreed upon by MLB, the MLBPA and the BBWAA. Once you start creating impulse exceptions to those rules you enter dangerous territory.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
I remember vividly a day in spring training over a decade ago when then — Jays lefty Ted Lilly refused to begin a post-outing scrum until one particular reporter had left the group. He wouldn’t talk while that reporter was in the scrum because of an article said reporter had written earlier that spring, or maybe even the year before. Eventually, that reporter left the area and Lilly talked to the rest of us.

That was wrong, but it was miles better than having a credentialed reporter barred from entering the clubhouse with the rest of the media, which is what the Astros did to Anthony Fenech. I hope it’s an isolated incident, and I hope the Astros will be disciplined, but — and the BWWAA members on this panel (which is everybody else) can speak to this better than I — it seems that players would prefer media access to them to be more limited. On an individual basis, though, most are still very accommodating.

Sign up for Blue Jays newsletters
Get the best of our Blue Jays coverage and exclusives delivered directly to your inbox!

Blue Jays Newsletter

*I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time.

2. Has Bo Bichette’s offensive onslaught since arriving in the majors altered your thoughts on what his ceiling might be?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
It was strange hearing some people wonder in spring training: “‘What if Bo is actually BETTER than Vladdy?” Off the record mostly. I’d say his defence has raised his ceiling in my eyes more than his hitting, plus given his track record, there’s every reason to think he can improve on that aspect of his game. I’m all in, man. All in on this kid.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Nope, I’ve long had very high expectations of him. Ask Ben — I’ve been stumping for Bichette on At the Letters since he was drafted.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
I don’t think anyone expected him to come out of the gate quite like this, but this type of production is in him. To me, his defence has been more impressive, and perhaps the more significant development given the uncertainty around his ability to stick at shortstop. He’s got a chance to be at least an average defender there, perhaps better.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
After reading The MVP Machine, I’ve stopped thinking of player ceilings in quite the same way. That book by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik shows pretty clearly that players of all kinds can improve beyond what’s expected of them. But Bichette’s performance has changed my sense of how soon he might be a star. We’ve known for years stardom was a possibility for Bichette eventually. The way he’s playing now, he’s an impact player already.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Nope. He’s off to a phenomenal start, but I don’t think he’s likely to be a 1.000+ OPS player who will average 140 extra-base hits a year (which is his current 162-game pace as I write this). He’s a very advanced hitter, especially for his age, and I think he got pushed to the side a little bit coming up as the clear No. 2 prospect behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Had there been no Vladdy in the Jays’ system, we would all have been raving about Bichette a lot more than we did. And we raved about him a lot.

3. Same question, but let’s substitute Bo Bichette’s name with that of Nate Pearson (Granted, Pearson’s 2019 success has been at double- and triple-A).

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
I need to see Nate Pearson successfully use his secondary pitches against Major Leaguers before I give him any ceiling.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Same thing as Bichette. I’ve had high expectations since hearing some of the stories of what he was doing in Vancouver a couple months after he was drafted. I expect Pearson to be exceptional.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
A big dude who touches 104 m.p.h. and can hold high 90s deep into a game screams ace and he’s living up to it. He also takes a very analytical approach to pitching and his arm, which gives you reason to think there’s still lots more upside there.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
Like Bichette, Pearson deserves credit for turning potential into results this year. The right-hander has dominated at every level, proving that his frontline stuff does in fact play against upper-minors hitters. This performance makes Pearson one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, and if he continues on this trajectory we should see him in the majors for much of 2020.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Pearson’s ceiling is as close to limitless as any pitcher the Blue Jays have had in their system the last two decades. But pitchers break, so there’s always that caution. There’s a reason wise people say that there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect. But if you’re going to have one, there aren’t many better to have.

Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Nate Pearson. (Cliff Welch/Getty Images)

4. Mark Simon of The Athletic has a story about the most improved defences in MLB, year-over-year. The Blue Jays were No. 2 after Philadelphia, but as his piece suggests, it may say more about how bad they were a year ago than how good they are now. How would you assess the 2019 Blue Jays team defence, and how much room for growth do you think remains for 2020?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
I’ve adopted Buck Martinez’s approach: play the kids until they play themselves off the spot. I remain skeptical about Vladdy, Jr., long-term at third base and have been underwhelmed by Cavan Biggio’s defence at second. I’m just not sure that, other than Danny Jansen, there’s a really good defender on this club. We have no choice but to hope it improves.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
Overall, I’d say this club’s defence is below average. But that’s due to youth and inexperience rather than agedness and declining ability, which is a key distinction. Danny Jansen’s quietly made some really big defensive strides this season. Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio have plenty of potential and desire that should allow them to continue to grow. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s never going to be Matt Chapman, but Jordan Groshans probably ends up pushing him to first base eventually anyway.

The outfield’s an area of concern, no doubt. The current group — Hernandez, Fisher, Grichuk, McKinney — probably are what they are at this point. That said, the ball’s in play as seldom as ever in this era, and if the Blue Jays can be a top offensive team, they’ll out-hit any defensive deficiencies.

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
The defence has been good in spots — catching, in particular, has been a strong point — but they’ve had so many moving parts all year, it’s only now we’re getting a meaningful look at what the future infield might look like. Bichette has been impressive. Biggio and Guerrero need to be more consistent and the outfield is average without a plus defender. There are limited opportunities to steal hits, but they make the plays they should make.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
The Blue Jays probably improved by 10 runs simply by releasing Yangervis Solarte, who showed beyond any doubt that versatility only matters if you can field some of those positions well. Moving Teoscar Hernandez from left to centre has helped considerably, too. So they’re better, for sure, but there’s room to improve more here. In particular, I’m looking at Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio, who have a chance to improve on the infield in 2020.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
As the chart says, the Blue Jays’ defence has gone from very bad to average. It’s a big jump regardless, but they still have a long way to go to become an elite defensive club. There are still questions about Cavan Biggio as a second baseman, though he’s looked much better since taking over the position on an everyday basis, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third.

Justin Smoak is a very good defender at first, though he’s not especially rangy, but Rowdy Tellez isn’t in his stratosphere. Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk are solid, if unspectacular, outfielders, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been quite good since moving out there. The Blue Jays now seem to be a team that won’t give the opponents too much on defence, but won’t steal many runs away, either. There’s plenty of room to grow, for sure.

5. Following his release by the Oakland A’s, it looks like it could be the end of the playing line for Marco Estrada. If so, how should he be remembered as a player?

Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
I’ll always remember John Gibbons walking out to the mound to take the ball from Estrada in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Royals and going “wow” when he got to the mound. That was a pretty special 7 2/3 innings and one of five quality post-season starts for Estrada. He had a way of inspiring confidence. A sublime presence on and off the field and, frankly, was one of my favourite “souls” on those playoff teams.

Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
As a light-hearted, FIP-busting, robe-wearing late-bloomer with a devastating change-up who had a great five-year run in his prime, putting up a 3.66 ERA over 774 innings from his age-28 season through his age-32 campaign. It’s hard to keep that going into your mid-30’s for any pitcher, particularly one with chronic back issues. Blue Jays fans should of course remember Estrada as imperative to the club’s ALCS runs in 2015 and ’16. I’ll always remember his humour, love of muscle cars and Josh Donaldson describing him as “the most comfortable 0-for you’ll ever take as a hitter.”

Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
It’s easy to overlook the rest of his career and remember only the Blue Jays part, but during his time in Toronto, he stepped up and delivered in big moments. He was front of the rotation quality in 2015-16 and pitched especially well during the post-season. He earned and is deserving of the ongoing admiration Blue Jays fans have for him.

Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
As a big-game pitcher (2.16 ERA in six playoff starts) who helped the Blue Jays reach and succeed in the 2015-16 post-season. That change-up was something else.

Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
Quite simply, one of the best post-season performers in Blue Jays history.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.