TORONTO – Since returning from COVID-19 and a stint at triple-A Buffalo, Cavan Biggio is showing signs of finding himself at the plate, in turn demonstrating how valuable he can be for the Toronto Blue Jays as their long sought super-utility player.
A .286/.464/.429 batting line with four RBIs, seven walks and nine strikeouts in 28 plate appearances over eight games is just the start of what the 27-year-old has brought to the table.
He’s played first, second and left field in those outings, allowing manager Charlie Montoyo to provide a regular with some rest. This is especially important with the Blue Jays plodding through 40 games in 41 days.
To make the days off work, avoiding a cliff-dive in production is essential. As a left-handed hitting on-base threat at the bottom of the order, Biggio is providing the offensive profile the team hoped to get from him earlier this season, when he batted .044/.214/.044 through his first 13 games.
“Just being able to go down (to Buffalo) and get some consistent at-bats and start to get a feel for my swing and the zone and everything was big,” says Biggio. “Being back here, I’m still working on some things. But whether or not I get out or get on base, I'm seeing a lot of pitches, I'm going deep into counts. It seems like I'm in a 3-2 count pretty much every at-bat. That's huge for our ballclub, especially when I turn the lineup over (batting) ninth. It's been good and I'm seeing the ball a lot better.”
A key question between now and the Aug. 2 trade deadline for the Blue Jays is whether Biggio can sustain a level of production along the lines of his past week. If he does, perhaps even regaining some of the power he showed during his rookie season of 2019 or the pandemic campaign in 2020, when he slugged .429 and .432, GM Ross Atkins will be able to focus more on adding swing-and-miss to a bullpen that even when healthy feels one dominant arm short. Atkins will also be able to keep an eye on bolstering a rotation that will be without Hyun Jin Ryu for weeks, at least.
Biggio was part of the offensive revival at the bottom of the Blue Jays order and more will be needed from that group to maintain the club’s recent flourish. Getting on base has always been a calling card for Biggio, but he delivered a handful of key hits last week, too.
“As hitters we go through a bunch of hot and cold stretches and sometimes it's hard to go back to something and try to find the feeling you once had,” Biggio says. “I feel like in a way, just push forward and those feelings start to come back. Confidence has been pretty big this past week or so, getting the knowledge of the zone that I know I have, and just finally seeing the ball longer and earlier out of the pitcher's hand. That just opens up the zone so much more for me and allows me to try and do damage early on.”
The more damage he does, the more he’ll force himself into the lineup as one of only three left-handed bats currently on the roster. And his growing competence at first, second and the outfield gives him more pathways to the lineup, which Montoyo can pencil him into with more confidence about what he’ll be getting in the field.
“Coming up playing second base, I feel like every possible play you can get at that position I've done and at the other positions, there were some that I really hadn't done and when it happened in a game, you've got to learn on your feet,” says Biggio. “Right now with my experience, it's helped me be more confident at those positions. I know we've got a great team here, not a lot of openings in our lineup or whatnot, but whenever I can provide a day for say Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) to get off his feet and DH will be huge for our team in the long run. I've always wanted to just play one position but doing what I can do now is a great feeling. It's a role that I'm fully embracing and I'm loving every minute of it.”
Barring a setback, the Blue Jays should have lefty Tim Mayza back from the injured list after some elbow inflammation Friday when they begin a series in Detroit, a boost for a bullpen that misses him.
Through his first 15 appearances, he’d already accumulated 0.5 WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference, tied for second among the club’s relievers. He last pitched May 14, throwing a 12-pitch scoreless inning with two strikeouts in a 5-1 win at Tampa Bay, underlining his impact.
The plan is for him to pitch at triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday before rejoining the Blue Jays against the Tigers, which make it about a month lost.
“Maybe a little longer than I anticipated but I'm glad I took those extra days,” says Mayza. “There was some weird stuff with the diagnosis. We knew there was some inflammation in the elbow and just wasn't sure how long it would take to get it out. I feel great and the arm feels great.”
Unclear is the cause of the injury, but it showed up after that outing against the Rays.
“Talking to doctors it could have been related to some structural changes that took place since the (Tommy John) surgery, and two years after the surgery, some inflammation had just built up,” says Mayza. “I just know that day in Tampa, I came in after the game feeling pretty sore and abnormally sore for the number of pitches I'd thrown.”
Once back he expects his workload will be “back to normal,” including back-to-back days.
“I'll just have to monitor some stuff in the throwing program, do some extra things to try to warm up, along those lines,” he says. “In terms of limiting action on the field, I don't anticipate that happening.
BYE BYE BORUCKI
Over 10 years of spring training together, Danny Jansen and Ryan Borucki kept a running tally of how they fared against one another, be it in live batting practice or intrasquad games.
“He's broken a few of my bats. I've squared him up maybe one time, just this past spring,” says Jansen. “We joke about it often.”
There will be more on the line the next time the two close friends meet after the Blue Jays dealt Borucki, who was designated for assignment last week, to the Seattle Mariners for A-ball infielder Tyler Keenan over the weekend.
“It stinks because I basically grew up with him,” says Jansen. “He was drafted in ‘12, I was ‘13 and we were at every level of the minor-leagues together, pretty much, so it’s tough, man. But at the end of the day, excited for him and the opportunity that he’s going to have in Seattle. Excited to see him and not face him.”
Keenan was assigned to high-A Vancouver.
As Joe Smith, now with the Minnesota Twins, scanned his former team over the weekend, a quizzical grin hit his face when asked which of his teammates from the 2017 Blue Jays remained the club.
“Tim Mayza,” he replies before a long pause. “And … Tim Mayza? It's just him?”
Indeed it is, as Teoscar Hernandez, the only other player to appear in 2017 still with the Blue Jays, was acquired from the Houston Astros just as Smith was getting traded to Cleveland for Thomas Pannone and infielder Samad Taylor, currently impressing at triple-A Buffalo.
Joe Biagini and Casey Lawrence are also at Buffalo but both left and returned to the organization after signing minor-league deals.
Otherwise, it’s total turnover.
“Our team was really old that year. I get it,” says Smith. “They went back-to-back to the ALCS in '15 and 16 so I knew that signing there, too. My agent wanted me to come to Minnesota, but they had just lost 100 games. And I was like, ‘Dude, I can't do that. I know myself. I'll go nuts.’ He's like, ‘I don't know, man. That Blue Jays window might be closed.’ And I was like, ‘It might be, but it might not be. I know the feeling when I walk into camp is going to be let's win the World Series. I want that feel.’ And that was the only reason I picked Toronto as opposed to coming here or going to Tampa. It didn't work. The window closed.”
The Blue Jays considered reacquiring Smith last summer, but they ended up getting another sidearmer, Adam Cimber, from the Miami Marlins instead. Smith went from Houston to Seattle and then signed with Minnesota this winter, finding success at 38 with a sinker averaging 83.6 m.p.h. and a fastball at 85.9.
He has a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings over 22 outings for the Twins, continually finding new ways to remain effective.
“You have to,” he says. “Along the course of your career, you're not going to be able to do everything that you've always done. The technology that's entered our game, it can get overwhelming and sometimes I think it's too much, but it's also a great tool if you understand how to use it. Even though I throw slow now, I understand if I get certain movements out of my pitches, I can still be successful at this level. Am I going to go out there and face the best hitter every time? That's probably not going to happen. But if I can get them in the right situations and the right matchups, I can still help. I know that and have proven that. It's definitely weird, but if you want to keep playing, you've got to figure out something.”