Every Friday, Blue Jays Talk host Scott MacArthur will weigh in with his observations on the Blue Jays from the past week.
This Toronto Blue Jays season is expected to be a challenging one.
Challenging in the win-loss column and challenging on fans’ patience.
Call me hopelessly optimistic, but what if Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s impending arrival plops a bat into the middle of an order which is starting to heat up and results in something unexpected?
Guys are warming up, which is great to see. And that it happened in relatively frigid Minneapolis is even more encouraging.
Let’s start with Justin Smoak, whose wonky neck has dominated his narrative. What we need to discuss more is how good Smoak has been so far, though.
The stat line, through to the end of the series with the Twins: A .258/.420/.463; 146 OPS+ with three home runs and 13 walks in 16 games and 69 plate appearances.
Those 13 walks exceed Smoak’s 12 strikeouts to date. That’s quite nice. And while it’s generally assumed Smoak will be on the trade market – with the Blue Jays trying to wring whatever value they can out of a player limited to one position – until he’s moved he’s here and the fact Smoak’s a switch-hitter assures manager Charlie Montoyo there doesn’t have to be a run of consecutive right-handers through the middle of the order against right-handed pitching.
Teoscar Hernandez enjoyed his time in Minnesota. He entered the four-game series with the Twins with an OPS of .584 and he left with a mark of .735 thanks to two home runs – Hernandez’s first two homers of the season – and four singles.
You can tell when Hernandez is on the verge of a heater: He starts squaring up pitches. Hernandez is an exit-velocity monster. Last year, his first full big-league season, Hernandez was in the top seven per cent in all of baseball in exit velocity (averaging 91.8 m.p.h.) and he was in the top three per cent of barrelled balls (15.5 per cent).
Then there’s Randal Grichuk, who we’ve already discussed on multiple occasions on this page. Grichuk has considerable power and for what he lacks in on-base percentage, he’s a nice fit in the middle of this order.
Pick your leadoff hitter and after that I like the idea of a Guerrero-Smoak-Hernandez-Grichuk two-through-five in the lineup. Throw in Rowdy Tellez on days that he plays, perhaps putting him in the five-spot and bumping Grichuk to the six-hole to keep lefty-righty balance, and suddenly you’re looking at a lineup with greater length.
Meanwhile, there was considerable concern about the bullpen and how it would hold up over the season in spring training. Ken Giles was always the closer but there were questions about almost everyone else.
That was exacerbated by, firstly, Ryan Tepera’s Grapefruit League struggles and, secondly, the realization those struggles were the result of inflammation in his pitching elbow. Bud Norris was expected to be a late-inning guy, coming off two successful seasons with the Angels and Cardinals, but his velocity disappeared, he pulled himself from a scheduled appearance in Clearwater and was released early in the regular season before setting foot in Toronto.
Enter Joe Biagini and what has been, so far, his re-emergence. If the Blue Jays get the 2016 version of Biagini all year long they’ll be thrilled. He’s throwing his slider far more often (28.2 per cent this year over 15.3 per cent last season) at the expense of his fastball (47.5 per cent usage in 2019 compared to 61.2 per cent in 2018), while exchanging his curveball (down about three per cent this year over last) for his changeup (up almost four per cent year over year).
So far, it’s working.
What a start it’s been to Eric Sogard’s Blue Jays career. He went 6-for-12 with a walk in three games in Minnesota. There’s nothing in Sogard’s track record to suggest this will last but, as with anyone else, ride the hot hand while he’s in a groove.
Sogard, 32, is a veteran who, like his occasional double-play partner Freddy Galvis, can bridge a gap in these most trying days of the club’s rebuild and provide a positive example to his younger teammates during his time here.