Posted on March 18, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s been a struggle for the Toronto Blue Jays since bowing out in the 2016 ALCS. However, after a 95-loss season in 2019, the tide might be starting to turn north of the border. The Blue Jays have one of the best collections of young talent in all of baseball. They also made some aggressive moves during the offseason to get better. Are they ready to get back into the mix for a playoff spot in 2020 or are they still a year away?
Toronto’s rotation is going to look completely different in 2020 than it did last year, and probably for the better. The rotation will be headlined by free-agent signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, who made a strong push for Cy Young honors last year and has been one of the best starters in baseball over the past two seasons. Over the winter, the Blue Jays also added Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson. Anderson is a solid mid-rotation starter with frontline potential while Roark should help stabilize things on the back end.
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The X-factor for the Blue Jays is Matt Shoemaker, who was brilliant for Toronto last April before a knee injury held him out the rest of the season. If he can come back healthy, he’ll give the starting rotation a huge lift. The Blue Jays also have some young starters like Ryan Borucki, Trent Thornton, and Jacob Waguespack who should help them fill out the back end of their rotation and guard against injuries to Shoemaker and their other veterans. They also signed Shun Yamaguchi from Japan to contribute out of the rotation if necessary. There are also some young arms in the upper minors who could have an impact.
The Toronto bullpen will also start to take on a new look in 2020. Ken Giles remains the closer after saving 23 games and posting a 1.87 ERA last year in a brilliant season few noticed. However, there are some questions about the bridge to get to Giles. The hope is that veterans like Wilmer Font and Anthony Bass can become dependable late-game relievers, although neither has the track record to suggest that will be the case.
The Blue Jays will take a chance on some underwhelming veterans like Sam Gaviglio, A.J. Cole, and Justin Miller to help make up the numbers in their bullpen. They could also use Yamaguchi and some of the young pitchers who may not be needed in the rotation to pitch out of the bullpen. The bottom line is that it’s tough to project anything about Toronto’s bullpen outside of Giles.
Offensively, it’s all about how much of a step forward Toronto’s youngsters can make. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio are the three guys to watch. That trio makes up the young core and will dictate how good the Blue Jays are in 2020. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, of the young catcher tandem of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. To their credit, the Blue Jays brought in Travis Shaw this winter. He’s coming off a dreadful year but could make an impact as the team’s primary first baseman if he can bounce back.
However, the outfield remains a giant question mark at the moment. Randal Grichuk should warrant regular playing time after hitting 32 home runs a year ago. But the other two spots are wide open in terms of playing time. Teoscar Hernandez has shown some power but he has his shortcomings as well. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will also have a chance to continue playing regularly in left field if he can build off last year. But both Hernandez and Gurriel are still lacking a consistent track record. The Blue Jays also have a slew of young outfielders who are ready to push for playing time.
The Blue Jays are bound to be one of the most interesting teams to watch in 2020. After just 67 wins in 2019, they are projected at 75.5 wins this season. Of course, that projection will change if MLB can’t schedule 162 games after the coronavirus pandemic calms down.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, all of the young players on the roster leaves room for little guarantees, especially when it comes to the bullpen. But there’s no doubt the starting rotation is better than last year. With several young position players who have high ceilings, look for the Blue Jays to do enough to win more than 75.5 games or go over any adjusted win projection in 2020, even if a playoff push remains a year away.