Posted on February 21, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
Heading into the 2019 season, the Toronto Blue Jays are one of many teams around baseball in full-blown rebuilding mode. The Jays finished last season 73-89, a distant 35 games out of first place in the AL East. On the surface, the Blue Jays appear likely to take another step backward before moving forward. But with one of the best farm systems in baseball, can Toronto’s youngsters contribute sooner than expected and make the Blue Jays better than expected?
Toronto’s rotation was one of the worst in the American League last season and there is no shortage of question marks there heading into 2019. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman will be expected to lead the rotation. However, both are coming off disappointing campaigns in 2018. While both are capable of being frontline starters, if they don’t bounce back, the Blue Jays could have one of the worst rotations in baseball.
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To be fair, the Blue Jays took a chance this offseason by acquiring veterans Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard. Both have a chance to give Toronto’s rotation a much-needed boost. However, Richard’s best days appear behind him while Shoemaker has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. Neither comes with a guarantee despite both being capable of being a solid mid-rotation starter.
On the bright side, the Blue Jays have some young arms who could make an impact this year. Lefty Ryan Borucki had a strong rookie season in 2018, posting a 3.87 ERA in 17 starts. The Blue Jays are also hoping to see some positive development from Sean Reid-Foley and Sam Gaviglio, who both saw meaningful time in the big leagues last year and will likely get a chance to carve out a full-time job in the rotation at some point.
Toronto’s bullpen was halfway decent last season, although there’s been a fair amount of turnover over the offseason. Ken Giles is in line to be the closer after he was traded to Toronto last summer following issues in Houston. Ryan Tepera gives the Blue Jays a reliable setup man in front of Giles. The hope from Toronto is that David Phelps can do the same despite missing all of 2018 while enduring a slow recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Outside of those three, the Blue Jays have some questions in their bullpen. Tim Mayza should give them a reliable lefty after a solid campaign in 2018. David Paulino also boasts plenty of upside coming out of the bullpen and could end up being a key late-inning reliever by the end of the season. However, there’s not much depth in Toronto’s bullpen.
The Blue Jays were middle of the pack in the American League last season in terms of runs scored, and that may be the best they can hope for this season. First baseman Justin Smoak and right fielder Randall Grichuk were the only regulars with an OPS over .800 last year, and both will be expected to carry the lineup once again this season. Both are proven major league hitters, but not necessarily the type to anchor a big league lineup.
The hope for Toronto is that Brandon Drury can have a bounce-back season as the team’s third baseman. Drury had a nightmare of a season last year with the Yankees but had productive years earlier in his career with the Diamondbacks, which is why the Blue Jays have long coveted him. Center fielder Kevin Pillar and DH Kendrys Morales should produce something, but neither figures to provide above-average productivity.
The rest of Toronto’s lineup is a mystery. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Devon Travis have potential as the middle infield tandem. However, Travis has been constantly held back by injuries while Gurriel is unproven outside of a solid second half last year. Veteran Freddy Galvis was brought in as depth, but he doesn’t move the needle much offensively. The Blue Jays are also heading into the season without a pair of rookie catchers. Of course, waiting in the wings are elite prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichete. However, the Blue Jays don’t appear to be in a rush to get them to the majors, so they may not arrive until late in the season.
Toronto’s long-term future is bright considering their loaded farm system. But the outlook for 2019 isn’t so good. Even if everything falls into place for the Blue Jays, they’ll struggle to do any better than .500. Even that would be an optimistic prediction. Both their lineup and pitching staff are lacking depth and bonafide stars. Look for the Blue Jays to finish 64-98, a significant step back before they start turning things around in 2020.