TORONTO – Just one week after returning from the hand fracture that sidelined him for more than a month, Bo Bichette had his biggest game yet at triple-A.
In five at-bats Thursday, the 21-year-old shortstop prospect had a single, a double and a homer while driving in five. That performance capped a two-homer week for Bichette, who now ranks fifth among all prospects, according to Baseball America.
An offensive outburst like that has significance in Toronto, where Blue Jays decision-makers are monitoring Bichette’s progress with interest, but general manager Ross Atkins said he’s hoping to see Bichette excel in all facets of his game for longer before joining the likes Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio at the major-league level.
"We’d really like to see some time in triple-A and have him get his legs under him and have a good strong foundation before we have that discussion," Atkins said. "But his spring training was extremely impressive and what he’s done in the minor leagues thus far, the teammate that he is, the effort that he has, it’s really a lot to get excited about."
Because he missed six weeks with a fractured bone in his left hand, Bichette has played just 21 games at triple-A. Through 89 plate appearances, he’s batting a respectable .250/.307/.450 with three home runs.
Still, both Biggio (174) and Guerrero (162) had nearly twice as many triple-A plate appearances before getting promoted and many players require far more time than that at the highest level of the minors.
Clearly, there’s a path to the majors for Bichette this summer but the Blue Jays will want to be sure that his fielding, hitting and baserunning are as refined as possible before promoting him. The service time questions that surrounded Guerrero Jr.’s debut appear to be a far lesser consideration with Bichette, who would still be under team control through 2025 if the Blue Jays promote him this summer.
For now, manager Charlie Montoyo loves the defence and consistency that Freddy Galvis offers at short. At 29 years old, Galvis isn’t a long-term roadblock for Bichette yet it’d be a surprise to see the Blue Jays bench the veteran shortstop altogether. That’s not an issue now, though. Trades or injuries are always possible and Bichette also has some experience playing second base.
If Bichette keeps playing like this, a path to the majors exists this summer.
Ideally, the Blue Jays would like to see some of his triple-A teammates force their way to the majors, too. For Atkins, it’s the Blue Jays’ position player depth that’s most encouraging.
"Having that number of players you’re going to have good stories," Atkins said. "When you’re hoping to have good stories from one or two players, that’s not a situation you want to be in. Across our team, we have very young, controllable position player talent."
The challenge for the Blue Jays is finding pitching to complement that group of position players. Julian Merryweather, who was acquired from Cleveland for Josh Donaldson last summer, recently hit 100 m.p.h. while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
On Monday, he’ll make his season debut with a big-league debut possible later in the year. T.J. Zeuch, the Blue Jays’ first-round pick in 2016, has also made two rehab starts after missing months with a lat injury.
Still, the Blue Jays lack top-tier pitching prospects beyond Nate Pearson, the hard-throwing 22-year-old who’s now at double-A. As Atkins weighs trade offers this summer, he’s sure to look hard for young arms.
"The depth and the numbers are there and we need to continue to push to acquire the types of arms that have the attributes to start in the major-leagues," he said. "They’re hard to come by. Someone who can haul innings, be durable and have the ability to get strikeouts, keep the ball in the ballpark and not walk guys – it’s a hard thing to find. We feel like we’ve stacked up a good number of pieces throughout our minor-league system and that guys are going to improve and get better. We’ll have those names coming."
Eventually, the Blue Jays will need impact arms to contend. In the meantime, all eyes are on Bichette.