If there has been any redeeming quality to the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays season, it is that we are finally getting to view some of the long-promised future of the franchise.
Now that we see them as actual big leaguers playing against other big leaguers, and not just as a stat line in a boxscore or a summary of their last ten games, the scrutiny heightens. Are these players really a part of the next great Blue Jays team?
With a roster that is stripped almost bare of veterans, the performance of these younger, controllable players is in the forefront. You can’t ease them in with a platoon role, or bury them at the bottom of the lineup.
For better and for worse, that has given us an abundance of data and chances to look at them. With that, one can’t help but begin to think of them in terms of who will be a contributor, and who may be a contributor in the coming years, and who is playing their way out of that picture.
It’s obviously far too soon to pass any final judgment on any of these players, but it’s not too soon to begin mentally categorizing them. And so, here’s an estimation of who’s a part of the fix, who’s probably not, and which players could go either way.
Part of the Future
It probably goes without saying that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a part of the future, even if he has had more than his share of struggles. Vladdy hasn’t torn up the league in the same manner as Ronald Acuna Jr. or Juan Soto did last year, or as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Pete Alonso have this year. Still, considering his potential exit date has been fretted over even before he arrived, Vlad will be a central player in the coming years.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. seemed destined to become a disappointment before he was demoted, then moved to the outfield. Since his return, he has looked increasingly comfortable and at times exceptional on defence, while showing a renewed confidence at the plate. He’s raking like a leftfielder should.
Cavan Biggio’s has also emerged from the long list of doubts about his feasibility as a big leaguer to become one of the genuinely pleasant surprises of this season. Biggio shows an ability to remain patient at the plate and take his share of walks, as well as the power to park the ball in the seats when he sees something he likes. Where he ends up playing is an open question, and his defence does seem just passable at times, but there’s enough good to assume he can build towards a peak at the time that the Jays would need him to compete.
Trent Thornton was on the periphery of discussions about pitching this spring, but has made something of the opportunity presented to him by injuries and underperformance. He’s been the Jays’ de facto number two starter, and leads all rookie pitchers in strikeouts. He may not profile as a top of the rotation starter on a contending team, and with his high-effort delivery he might not even project to be a starter by the time that day comes around. But there’s enough skill there to envision him as a piece of a better team.
Don’t Get Too Attached
There are a lot of reasons why Jays fans may be inclined to root for Rowdy Tellez. He seems like a genuinely good dude, and he hits big loud homers at opportune moments. But in between, Tellez is a DH and an okay first baseman whose on-base percentage is not just below .300, but not especially close either. The power tool is impressive at times, but when it isn’t accompanied by a hit tool, it makes Tellez a liability in the middle of the lineup, and seemingly easy to replace.
Billy McKinney seemed like an interesting upside play from the J.A. Happ trade who could have been a low-rent version of Brett Gardner, or a lefty Reed Johnson. Instead, he’s looked mostly out of his depth in all aspects of the game. At best, you’d potentially see him somewhere between a fifth outfielder or a 26th man on the roster.
On the Bubble
There’s been plenty of reason to lose faith in Teoscar Hernandez this season, and when he was sent to Buffalo to sort himself out, it wasn’t hard to imagine that he’d lost his grip on any role in the future. But since his return, he’s managed to hit well enough, run the bases with plenty of speed, even if occasionally lacking good sense. Most shocking of all, he seems genuinely adequate as a centrefielder, and his strong arm plays up at the position. You’d still like to see more, but he’s salvaging his spot, at least for the moment.
Danny Jansen’s play this year was always going to be judged differently, and to some extent, a poor offensive performance could be excused if he played well behind the plate. With his bat falling far short of even the most tepid expectations, and with a line of other Catchers of the Future moving through the system, he’ll need to eventually improve on his all-around game.
None of these perceptions are even remotely set in stone, and for those who are on the bubble or on their way out, the fun of the rest of the season will be in seeing if they are able to prove us wrong and make their case to move to another column.