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20 Things: It’s sink or swim time for a handful of young-ish Blue Jays

Welcome to Blue Jays Nation’s Season In Review. Instead of doing boring-ass, standard player-by-player reviews or handing out some arbitrary report cards, I’m going to talk about 20 things that are on my mind heading into 2020. Today, we have the futures of multiple young Blue Jays bubble players. 

I haven’t done one of these review/preview posts in a little while, but now that the dust seems to have settled on the Blue Jays’ off-season and we have a good idea of where the team stands heading into 2020, it’s time to dive back in.

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I think it’s safe to say, at this point, the Jays are done making major additions to their roster. We’ll likely see some veterans relievers added to the ‘pen and perhaps a utility guy with a good glove who can be the backup shortstop, but there won’t be anything major.

The front office’s work this winter has been in building the team’s starting rotation. They added in ace in Hyun-Jin Ryu and some veteran depth in Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark to completely flip the rotation on its head from where it was at last year. But in terms of position players, though, the 2020 group will largely be the same as the one we saw in 2019. It seems this year will be yet another assessment year, with a handful of young position players playing for their futures with the club.

When looking at Toronto’s core moving forward, you very obviously have Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette right in the middle. You can likely put Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel, and Danny Jansen in there too, though I wouldn’t say any of those three are untouchable like Bo and Vlad are. Randal Grichuk, for better or worse, is a part of that group because of the contract he was given last year. But names like Rowdy Tellez, Derek Fisher, Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, Brandon Drury, Billy McKinney, and Jonathan Davis can really go either way. How they perform this year will determine whether or not they have a role with the club moving forward.

The outfield presents a complete mystery for the Jays in 2020. I imagine that the team didn’t add anybody in free agency because there are so many darts to throw against the wall right now the thing to do at this point is to just air it all out and see what sticks. If we’re pencilling Gurriel and Grichuk into left and right, centre field is wide open for the taking. The spotlight is then on Fisher and Alford, both of whom are without options this upcoming season.

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It seems the Jays prefer Fisher to Alford at this stage. They spent a pretty hefty price to acquire Fisher from the Houston Astros last year, sending Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and prospect Cal Stevenson back the other way. Ross Atkins, in the wake of fan outrage at the cost of acquisition, went out publicly and defended just how highly the organization viewed Fisher. With that in mind, Fisher figures to get a long look this year to see if he can hack it as a regular at the Major League level, which is something he never really got in Houston.

Alford, on the other hand, might not even get an opportunity. As I said, he’s out of options and will either have to crack the roster out of spring training or be subject to waivers in order to be sent back down to Triple-A. We know this front office is stingy with asset management and putting Alford on waivers to be grabbed by another team would be out of character, but he also doesn’t appear to be a major priority, given the fact he saw very little playing time when rosters expanded back in September. That said, a good showing in spring could change things for the former top prospect.

Hernandez, Tellez, Drury, McKinney, and Davis have a little bit more wiggle room as they have options next season, but, again, they’ll be auditioning for their futures.

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Hernandez is an interesting case because he kind of lacks a position but he has a bat that the team will certainly want to get into the lineup. After a mid-season demotion, Hernandez came back up and hit incredibly well. He did so while playing centre field, oddly enough, but, unsurprisingly, his glove didn’t translate. He’s been taking reps at first base over the off-season and will likely see a lot of time as the designated hitter, which would explain why the Jays didn’t go out and sign somebody like Edwin Encarnacion to play there. He’s had two good-not-great seasons with the stick and will have to prove he’s the hitter that slashed /248/.325/.548 in 86 games after his recall in order to warrant being a full-time DH moving forward.

Also in the DH/first base mix is Rowdy Tellez, who had a very up-and-down season in 2019. He slashed a .227/.293/.449 line and showed major power, but prolonged cold streaks coupled with a 116 strikeout to 29 walk ratio is incredibly concerning. In 26 games at Triple-A during a mid-season demotion, Tellez slashed an insane .366/.450/.688, though his numbers in the Majors after he came back up weren’t staggering like Hernandez’s were. He got the OBP up to .325 and had a better strikeout to walk ratio, but they weren’t full-time DH numbers.

With Travis Shaw in the mix and a bevy of other players likely to get reps at DH, playing time won’t be handed to Tellez this season. He’s going to have to hit consistently to prove he can be the big left-handed bat of the future for this team.

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Drury is a bit different than the other two because, even if he isn’t hitting, he offers value with his good and versatile glove. He hasn’t been anywhere near the above-average hitter he was in Arizona in 2016 and 2017 since joining the Blue Jays, but Drury played five different positions last year, and all of them effectively, too. As underwhelming as that might be given the fact he’s viewed through the lens of being the return for J.A. Happ, Drury doesn’t have to do that much to prove he’s a worthwhile utility guy moving forward.

Going lower on the depth chart, we have Jonathan Davis and Billy McKinney, both of whom can be optioned this year but could find themselves on the outside of a roster shuffle eventually. Both players hit well in Triple-A last year but neither saw it translate during their opportunities at the Major League level. Davis has the added benefit of a very good glove, making him a bench outfield option, but McKinney will have to hit in order to find a role.

I suspect at this time next year, a good chunk of these names we’re talking about right now won’t be with the organization. The Blue Jays took their first step towards opening their contention window this winter by signing Ryu and we’ll very likely see them dive in further next winter. Names like Mookie Betts and George Springer might be dreams, but we saw this winter that the front office will pony up the cash needed for the right players. Couple some free-agent additions with the next wave of prospects being added to the 40-man roster ahead of the next Rule 5 draft and guys like the ones we’ve talked about today will inevitably get pushed out.

I don’t think we’ll be seeing much time dedicated to trial and error after next season (I mean, fuck, I really hope we don’t). I’ll go into more detail on some of these players and what to expect in the coming weeks leading into spring training, but a big theme for 2020 will be sink or swim time for a handful of players on the 40-man roster.