The 2018 Blue Jays were an afterthought for many of us living south of the border. They weren’t good enough to contend with the two super-teams at the top of their division nor were they so aggressively awful that people couldn’t help but stare. They won 73 games last year, and this year figures to be about the same. PECOTA projects them to win 75 games while FanGraphs has them at 77.
The heart of the order will still feature Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak. The rotation will be led by Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard will be there to fill out the roster while Ryan Borucki, Sam Gaviglio, Thomas Pannone and Sean Reid-Foley fight for starts.
At first glance, it appears to be more of the same, but this season won’t be without its significance. 2019 marks the beginning of a new chapter of Blue Jays baseball.
The major move of the Blue Jays’ offseason wasn’t an addition; the biggest name they signed was Freddy Galvis. The biggest change to the roster was the release of Troy Tulowitzki. After Josh Donaldson left in free agency, Tulowitzki was the remaining reminder of Toronto’s playoff pushes in 2015 and 2016.
Those Blue Jays teams gave two of the more memorable postseason moments of the decade: that buck-wild seventh inning against the Rangers and Edwin Encarnacion homering off Ubaldo Jimenez instead of grounding out against Zach Britton, but ultimately, those teams failed to reach the World Series let alone win it. The seasons since have been spent trying to salvage what was lost in those attempts. The 2019 Blue Jays won’t be competitive, but this year we’ll see how they become competitive again in the future.
As soon as his service time is properly manipulated, we’ll see the debut of the top prospect in the country: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Though he hasn’t yet taken a major league at bat, the 20-year-old Guerrero’s PECOTA projections estimate that he’ll be the Blue Jays best player by nearly a full win. That’s even considering that Brandon Drury will be getting the starts at third while the Blue Jays ensure another year of team control.
Guerrero will be getting the glut of attention this year, but the Blue Jays have another Top 100 prospect ready to play his first full year in Danny Jansen. In an era where Nick Hundley is a roughly average hitter for a catcher with a sub-.300 OBP, finding offensive value behind the dish is no easy task.
In his first 95 major league plate appearances, Jansen put together a .340 wOBA and a 115 wRC+. Throughout the minors, Jansen has managed to avoid strikeouts and he displayed above average discipline in his brief major league stint. Jansen has displayed that he’s ready to take on starting job and the Blue Jays are ready to give it to him.
Toronto’s other top prospects, Nate Pearson and Bo Bichette, won’t appear on the Blue Jays roster until 2020, and the team doesn’t figure to be competitive until that happens. Until then, what would constitute a successful season for them? What is a team that’s essentially guaranteed to finish in fourth place playing for?
The Blue Jays need Guerrero to live up to his expectations; that much is obvious. They’ll also be looking for Jansen to refine his game behind the plate. The promising young catcher isn’t projected as favorably by PECOTA because it’s less enamored of his defense. In the majors and at Triple-A, Jansen’s framing runs have ranged from -4.6 to 0.6. He’s not exactly a liability, but it’s an area that could be improved.
The Blue Jays will also hope that Lourdes Gurriel will improve his play on the diamond. Gurriel showed some promise at the plate with decent power. His discipline is average, and his on-base skills are dependent on putting the ball in play. He’s spent most of his time at shortstop, and there’s a chance he can be a serviceable hitter for the position, but there’s a question of whether he’ll be able to stick at short. In his first 300 innings, he amassed -9 DRS, and he didn’t pass the eyeball test either.
The win-loss column may not matter for Toronto at the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean the games are meaningless. The new wave of Blue Jays is starting to arrive, and the hope is that they’re here to stay.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.