Huge games for Biggio, Gurriel Jr. give Blue Jays glimpse of future

Watch as Cavan Biggio hits a towering shot for his fist career MLB home run.

TORONTO – The only question was whether it’d stay fair. The distance? Never in doubt.

Cavan Biggio walked slowly toward first base, trying to see whether the ball he’d just crushed down the right-field line would hook foul. “Stay fair,” he thought.

From the third base dugout, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. bounded onto the field, arms raised in anticipation. In the stands, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio could only watch.

When it landed just above Roy Halladay’s name in the 400 level suites at Rogers Centre, the ball was still fair. Home run–the first of Biggio’s career.

“I’ve always wanted to be what my dad did ever since a young age,” Biggio said afterwards. “I’m finally here and we’ve kind of switched roles. He’s in the seats now and I’m in the field. It’s pretty cool because it’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”

That homer helped the Blue Jays beat the Padres 10-1 Sunday, but that’s not even the point here. Big picture, this team will still lose a lot of games and it’s even possible we’re watching the first 100-loss Jays season since 1979. Yet on a player-by-player level, these developments really are significant to the future of the Blue Jays.

Biggio was front and centre to the offence Sunday, adding two singles, but he wasn’t alone. Guerrero Jr. had three hits and Gurriel Jr. homered for the third consecutive game on a day the Blue Jays’ young players showcased their offensive potential.

“It gave me the chills,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Man, that’s why I love this job. That’s why I came here.”

A two-homer day from Justin Smoak helped assure the Blue Jays of a win before hitting the road dressed in ‘We the North’ shirts in recognition of the Raptors’ Eastern Conference Championship. As for Gurriel Jr., the homer was one of four hits he collected Sunday. He squared the ball up every time, hitting each one 99.8 m.p.h. or harder.

“I feel very comfortable at the plate right now,” he said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “There was too much movement in my swing, so now I’m slowing down, seeing the ball better and hitting better.”

But even on a day he collected four hits, it was a defensive play that mattered most to Gurriel Jr.. In the fourth inning, with Eric Hosmer pushing for a double on a ball hit down the left field line, Gurriel Jr. made a strong throw to the second for the out. 

“That’s a huge momentum shifter for me,” starter Marcus Stroman said. “It’s a huge play (even if) people don’t realize.”

The throw’s especially significant considering Gurriel Jr. went to the minors last month because of throwing issues from second base. While one throw from left field doesn’t resolve questions about his defensive role on this team, it’s still an encouraging development for the 25-year-old considering how uncomfortable his throws looked in April.

“The key for me playing left field is being a step ahead of the play,” Gurriel Jr. said.

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On the mound, Stroman battled illness over five innings to allow just one run on five hits while walking one and striking out two. He was throwing up before and during the start, but still managed to throw 89 pitches before handing the ball over to the bullpen.

“At the end of the day, I just pitch off adrenaline,” Stroman said. “When I’m out there I just push everything else to the side.”

“That was a gutsy performance,” Montoyo said. “He hung in there because we needed him.”

In the aftermath of a 19-4 loss Saturday, the Blue Jays needed pitching reinforcements. That led to the promotion of Jacob Waguespack, a right-hander acquired from the Phillies for Aaron Loup last summer.

The promotion marked the culmination of a long journey for Waguespack, who initially signed with Philadelphia as a non-drafted free agent in 2015. There were 1,215 players selected in that year’s draft, and he wasn’t one of them. Now, he’s a big-leaguer.

“Guys like me aren’t supposed to be here,” he said, wearing Loup’s old number 62.

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The 25-year-old was the opening day starter at triple-A Buffalo, but he had a 5.86 ERA in nine starts with the Bisons. Still, he can provide innings if needed, which has value to the Blue Jays right now.

Clearly there are no assurances that these Blue Jays rookies will live up to their collective potential. Injuries or poor performances could get in the way–and that’s before you get to the organizational need for pitching. Even as they develop, the Blue Jays will continue to lose more than they win.

But it’s one thing to watch placeholders lose. Watching the likes of Biggio, Gurriel Jr. and Guerrero Jr. is a different experience altogether. And on days like this, at least it’s possible to dream about this group’s offensive upside.

“That’s what’s coming here,” Montoyo said. “That’s the future.”


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