Exit Interviews: Blue Jays infielders assess their 2019 seasons

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette fields a ball in left field hit by Kansas City Royals' Cheslor Cuthbert during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, July 29, 2019. Cuthbert doubled on the play. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

During the final week of the season, general manager Ross Atkins and manager Charlie Montoyo held meetings with each member of the Toronto Blue Jays to discuss how things went in 2019, listen to the player’s assessment of his performance and talk about how best to push things forward. Since those conversations aren’t available to the public, here at Sportsnet.ca we decided to conduct our own exit interviews for fans to digest.
 
Thursday, in the fourth instalment, the Blue Jays’ infielders assess their seasons. On Monday, we heard from the starters, Tuesday the relievers and Wednesday the catchers. On Friday, we’ll hear from the outfielders.
 
The comments from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Richard Urena and Breyvic Valera were made through club interpreter Hector Lebron.
 
INFIELD
 
Bo Bichette
212 PA | 11 HR | .311/.358/.571 | 14 BB | 50 K | 2.1 WAR

“I’m happy with how consistent I was offensively and defensively. And it was a lot of fun — definitely cool getting to play in the biggest stadiums in the world and playing against the best players in the world. It was everything I expected. My biggest goal this off-season is figuring out how to fine tune everything as best as possible. My swing, throwing, fielding, speed, agility – everything. The main thing is consistency in every facet of the game. And I’ll work a bit with my dad, just figuring out what kind of things I need to improve on with my swing. Defensively, I think it’s more about just getting reps. I need to continue to get as many reps as I can. So, I’ll be out there taking a ton of groundballs all off-season.

“I want to be the best player on the field every day. If I can achieve that, I’ll win some pretty cool awards and stuff. That’s my goal – just be the best player out there. And that doesn’t always mean that I hit two homers. It just means that when I walk off the field, everybody knows that I was the best player out there.”
 
Cavan Biggio
430 PA | 16 HR | .234/.364/.429 | 71 BB | 123 K | 2.8 WAR
 
“This year has been good for getting up to the big leagues and learning the lifestyle, and the things that come with it. When it comes to the game of baseball, defensively I’ve gotten a lot better since I’ve been in the big-leagues just working with (infield coach) Luis (Rivera) my rhythm’s been getting a lot better. Offensively, it’s just learning how to make adjustments when the other side’s making adjustments to you. At the same time trying to stay with your strengths. Overall, very positive and looking forward to continuing to work on things in the off-season and then 2020. 

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“(Now it’s) getting my body strong again, getting my weight up, getting ready for spring training, letting stuff heal just (since) I’ve been playing on some stuff, which is natural in a long season. As for the baseball part of things, maybe trying to flatten out my swing a little more and be a little more consistent. Get more line drives (and) ground balls. The home runs will come. Flattening my swing out could help me out a lot. I might not even change anything mechanically, but it’s kind of just the thought process.”
 
Brandon Drury
447 PA | 15 HR | .218/.262/.380 | 25 BB | 113 K | -0.2 WAR
 
“It was a terrible season for me but a good learning lesson. I learned a lot about myself and I’m excited to go get to work. It’s just not the player I am playing like this. I feel like I’m always pretty hungry to be a great player but I’m very eager to use the off-season to get to work. I want to work on everything, all parts of the game. I knew I could play more than one position. I’d like to stick to one position, but you’ve got to have numbers to have one position be yours. That’s why I’m so hungry to get to the off-season to get to work, so I can be a guy for this team.”
 
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
514 PA | 15 HR | .272/.339/.433 | 46 BB | 91 K | 2.1 WAR
 
“It’s been a good season for me. Obviously, my debut was my highlight, there’s no doubt. Just being out here with all my teammates, we’re like family here in this clubhouse. I really love it. Definitely (I’ve developed on) defence. I’m really proud of that. This year I’ve improved a lot. I’ve just worked hard with my teammates and we’ve got good chemistry here, so we’ve got to keep it going.
 
“I feel good about what I did (offensively), but I’m not comfortable with that. I want to go out there and work hard because I know I can do a lot more.”
 
Justin Smoak
500 PA | 22 HR | .208/.342/.406 | 79 BB | 106 K | 0.6 WAR
 
“It’s been a grind. It hasn’t been easy. I definitely feel like it could have been a lot better. At times I felt close to being where I wanted to be and it just didn’t keep going. I felt like I was maybe searching more and, honestly, I think the thing that hurt me the most was early in the season getting walked a lot. I feel like it made me passive. I’m not a guy that needs to be passive at the plate. When I’m aggressive, that’s when I start taking my walks and lay off tough pitches. Over the second half of the year, maybe even before that, I feel like I got passive at times and I couldn’t flip that switch to get myself to be aggressive.

“The quad definitely impacted me. For the first few months, I tried to play through it and it got to a point where I felt it when I walked and I was having trouble just getting to the bag at first base on groundballs to the infielders. So I was like, ‘All right, we need to take a breather.’ Took a break (on the injured list), came back and it felt better, but it never actually went away. It felt good for a few weeks and the whole time since it’s been off-and-on. Some days it felt like crap, some days it felt fine. I didn’t get on base enough to make it really, really bad but definitely at times it played a part. Hopefully, I can figure that out this off-season and get it right.”

Rowdy Tellez
409 PA | 21 HR | .227/.293/.449 | 29 BB | 116 K | 0.0 WAR

“This was a season for me where I wasn’t what I wanted (to be), but I learned a lot about myself, how to handle failure and how to deal with not being an everyday player. Having to handle that, having to handle different roles that I’d never been a part of like being one of the first options off the bench to pinch hit. Having to deal with adversity like having good days then not playing the next two. Having to learn how to understand that it wasn’t quote-unquote personal. Not being able to face lefties, why I needed to get better. I think throughout the season I did that and started handling lefties better.

“I still strike out, but I’ve been walking on a little bit more of a consistent basis. I still have a lot to learn, a lot to work on. Plate discipline — a lot to work on that. With everything that was going on, we had so many young players, first-year staff, I think a lot of us were putting pressure on ourselves, and that resulted in pressure on other parts of the team (like) the coaching staff. A lot of us learned how to handle that and how to make it better and take the pressure off.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

“Everybody kind of knocked me for my defence (but) I think I’m a very good defender. I work extremely hard on defence. A lot of people ask me, ‘Oh, do you want to win a Silver Slugger, do you want to win a home run title?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that. But I want to prove everybody wrong and show I can win a Gold Glove.’
 
Richard Urena
80 PA | 0 HR | .243/.273/.324 | 2 BB | 23 K | -0.2 WAR
 
“I’m very happy about 2019. I think I did my job this year, so I’m pleased with that. What I did last year in the off-season, I really worked hard and I guess it paid off this year. Physically, I worked really hard (on my body) and, hitting-wise, the location of the pitches I swung at. I was much more selective this year. Hitting-wise, I want to keep working on being selective. I’m going to do a lot more conditioning and defensively I’m going to keep working hard. I’m very proud of my defence and what I do out there to try and help the team win.”
 
Breyvic Valera
52 PA | 1 HR | .234/.308/.383 | 4 BB | 7 K | 0.0 WAR
 
“I’m just trying to do the best I can with whatever they give me. Through the years, I haven’t gotten too many opportunities to play. So, you’ve just got to know yourself and prepare yourself for when the opportunity comes. That’s one of the things I’ve been working on all these years. So that whenever my opportunity comes, I’ll be ready for it.

“It was a great experience being with the Yankees, playing with great teammates and great players. I’m very grateful they gave me the opportunity to play. Not as much as I wanted, of course. But at least they did give me the opportunity to show what I can do on the field. And now with the Blue Jays, in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been talking with (hitting coach) Guillermo Martinez about how to improve my swing and my power numbers. I think it’s going to help a lot.
 
“My entire career, I’ve been more of a line-drive hitter. So, this off-season I’m going to try to work on getting some more loft in my swing and hitting the ball harder. And that way hopefully next year I can hit more doubles and home runs. I’m going to try to tap into some of my power to get the ball up in the air more often next year.”

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