The Toronto Blue Jays finished the 2018 season with a record of 73-89, good for fourth place in the American League East division, ahead of the 47-115 Baltimore Orioles. The bright spot for the 2018 Jays was the debut of several rookie prospects, including INF Rowdy Tellez as well as SPs Thomas Pannone and Sean Reid-Foley. The Jays will not be competitive again this year after two straight playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016. However, this year’s version of the Jays looks to be younger than the 2018 edition after the release of INF Troy Tulowitzki, so it should be fun to see which players are able to make the most of their chance in the Show. I’m sure there will be some surprises in store, but I believe the following players, one who was a new face in 2018 and two who are prospects, will potentially be key players for the team in 2019.
My Jays Players to Watch in 2019
- Randal Grichuk, OF
Grichuk got off to a slow start during his first year as a Jay in 2018, but finished the year with a career-high HR total (25) and nearly equaled his high-water mark for hits (107 – 2015) with 104. He slashed .245/.301/.502, slightly above his career average of .248/.298/.492. Grichuk’s OPS+ for 2018 was 118, a respectable number for a middle-of-the-order hitter.
2019 will be Grichuk’s age-27 season, so there is a chance for his power numbers to improve in the coming year, his second in the American League. Given that the current Jays active roster does not have a 30+ home run hitter, Grichuk’s contributions will be significant to the team in 2019. Baseball Reference has projected him to slash .240/.295/.465 with 22 HR and an OPS of .760.
- Thomas Pannone, SP
I thought Pannone, a southpaw reminiscent of Cubs SP Kyle Hendricks, was the most interesting Jays pitching prospect to debut last year. He was also the most successful in MLB, notwithstanding his PED suspension handed down while a minor-leaguer with the Cleveland organization. The young lefty finished the season with a record of 4-1 and an ERA of 4.19 in 43.0 IP, but his FIP of 5.11 shows there may have been an element of luck to his success in 2018. However, his SO9 of 6.1 is encouraging and he should be able to improve his numbers if he is able to miss more bats. Like Hendricks, Pannone does not have an overpowering fastball, relying on control and his off-speed repertoire, which includes a curveball and changeup, to make outs. He will need to continue to refine these pitches in order to have success at the major-league level.
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., INF/DH
Guerrero is the son of Hall of Fame OF Vladimir Guerrero Sr., a nine-time All-Star and noted Cub killer during his years with the Montréal Expos. Guerrero Jr.’s expected 2019 debut will be a Canadian homecoming of sorts since he was born in Montréal but the family currently makes its home in the Dominican Republic, where Guerrero Sr. was born. Guerrero Jr. is one of the top-rated prospects in MLB. He slashed .402/.449/.671 with 14 HR and an OPS of 1.120 in 61 games with AA New Hampshire and .336/.414/.564 with 6 HR and an OPS of .978 in 30 games with AAA Buffalo in 2018. It is unlikely he will be on the Opening Day roster since service time manipulation has become increasingly common for top MLB prospects, but he appears more than ready to begin facing major-league pitching. Guerrero Jr. currently plays 3B but projects as a DH or OF long-term, so it will be interesting to see how he is used by the Jays.
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