2019 Blue Jays: Let the Kids Play!

As you may already be aware, top Blue Jays prospect DH Vladimir Guerrero will not be breaking camp with the team due to a left oblique injury. This serves as the team’s much needed excuse to keep him off the major-league roster at the beginning of the season in order to gain an extra year of team control.

While it was expected the Jays would be engaging in service time manipulation with regard to Guerrero Jr.’s contract, I am also concerned that the Jays will also not be giving their other young players the time they need at the major-league level to develop into core players or potential trade chips for the rebuilding franchise.

  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Gurriel Jr. debuted for the Jays on April 20, 2018. He played 46 games at SS and 24 at 2B, committing 9 errors. In his rookie season, he slashed .281/.309/.446 with an OPS of .755 (OPS+ 107), 11 HR and 35 RBI. It appeared the Jays were ready to give him the role of starting shortstop after INF Aledmys Díaz and INF Troy Tulowitzki were traded in the offseason, but the Jays then signed INF Freddy Galvis, who is a shortstop and appeared in all 162 games of the last two seasons, with the San Diego Padres (2018) and the Philadelphia Phillies (2017). With this signing, it appears Gurriel will be platooning with Galvis at short and may also be taking on a utility role.

  • Pitching Staff

As I have discussed previously, due to injuries, the Jays debuted several rookie starting pitchers last year. The Jays decided to address their lack of starting depth by acquiring prospect Trent Thornton as well as major-leaguers Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richard and Clay Buchholz. None of the Jays’ potential starting pitching options with major-league experience (prior to the acquisition of Buchholz) made over 30 starts in 2018, and Buchholz only made 16 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, with a total of 98.1 IP. This means pitchers like Ryan Borucki, Joe Biagini, Sean Reid-Foley and Sam Gaviglio will be competing for a spot in the bullpen. Thomas Pannone will likely be spending another year in AAA.

  • Teoscar Hernández

Hernández saw significant playing time with the Jays last year, slashing .239/.302/.468 with an OPS of .771 (OPS+ 111), 22 HR and 57 RBI in 134 games. He played 119 games in the outfield, with the most time at left field, and had 8 errors. It is not clear whether he will be seeing the same amount of playing time this year, as Toronto acquired LF Billy McKinney from the New York Yankees along with INF Brandon Drury for SP J.A. Happ.

  • Rowdy Tellez

Tellez, a first baseman, debuted last year as a September call-up. He slashed .314/.329/.614 with an OPS of .943 (OPS+ 154), 4 HR and 14 RBI in 23 games. If Tellez makes the Opening Day roster, he will be splitting time at 1B with INF Justin Smoak, a veteran signed through 2019, and possibly Kendrys Morales, who has mostly served as a DH since the 2012 season but played 18 games at 1B last year.

  • Let the Kids Play!

I am not sure the platoon approach is going to be the best option to develop the Jays’ current young players. There are also other young prospects like Bo Bichette and Anthony Alford waiting in the wings. Will they get regular playing time once they are ready for the Show?

Another rebuilding franchise, the Chicago White Sox, has opted to start their young players to see which ones they want to build around for the future. INF Tim Anderson appeared in 155 games in 2018, 151 at shortstop. INF Yoán Moncada appeared in 149 games, all at 2B. Like Gurriel Jr. and Hernández, neither Anderson nor Moncada has been very clean defensively. Anderson committed 20 errors, and Moncada had 21. However, Anderson remains at the top of the depth chart at shortstop, while Moncada has been moved to the top of the depth chart at 3B.  I believe the Southsiders have a better approach to developing their young players on the major-league level by giving them the experience they need to become successful. The Southsiders’ difficulties appear to be in acquiring top free agents to supplement home-grown talent. The Sox experienced a notable failure on the free agent front after they were beaten out by the San Diego Padres in the competition to sign star INF Manny Machado due to an unwillingness to spend top dollar, which does not bode well for the future, especially as young stars like  INF Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies seem more likely to sign extensions with their current teams rather than try their luck in a difficult free agent market.

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