Photo via Fred Thornhill
For ornithologists or avid bird watchers, a bird sighting staple among oak trees and bird feeders alike is the Blue Jay. Through their hopping and cackling among the trees, the vibrant bird makes its presence known no matter the day or season.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, the same traits of hyperactivity and chirping were prevalent during their 2015-2016 playoff runs, whether through their production on the field, extravagant bat-flips or trash-talking on and off the baseball diamond.
From 2017-2019, however, the Toronto Blue Jays have been anything but vibrant and lively. Within that period, the Blue Jays have been in a rebuilding period, shedding away aging veterans and morphing the coaching staff under a front office brought together during the 2015 season. Their combined record in that three-year span was 216-270.
It was not all for naught. In fact, within that span, the Blue Jays bided their time and (should the 2020 season be played), could make a ton of noise similar to their 2015-2016 selves.
The noise could be so much, in fact, that they could vault themselves into dark horse playoff contender consideration this season.
For a team that lost 95 games last season (their most since 1979 where they lost 109 games), the transition back to competency seems far-fetched. However, when looking at the roster construction, it could seem plausible in the worst-case scenario or probable in the best-case.
During the 2017-2019 rebuilding years, the Blue Jays stockpiled in an area that made them so dangerous during 2015 and 2016: hitters. Instead of veterans, though, they instead emphasized on youth. Either by coincidence or by mad-genius strategy, several of their prominent hitting youngsters are sons of former major league players.
To start, you have infielder Bo Bichette, drafted in 2016 and son of former four-time All-Star Dante Bichette. The 22-year-old got his first taste of major league action last season and did not disappoint; he slashed .311/.358/.571 in 46 games and slammed 29 extra-base hits.
Craig Biggio’s (yes, that Craig Biggio) son, Cavan Biggio, was another young infield prospect drafted by the Blue Jays in 2016. While his production was not as flashy as Bichette’s (Biggio’s OPS was .793 compared to Bichette’s .930), it was still solid. However, his prowess for hitting was made known when he became the third player in Blue Jays history (behind Jeff Frye and Kelly Gruber) to hit for the cycle, a feat he did as a 24-year-old against the Baltimore Orioles last September.
Bichette and Biggio would not be the only sons of a former major leaguers drafted and signed by the Blue Jays, however.
Enter the brawny Montreal native in Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
The top international free agent and son of Hall-of-Famer Vladimir Guerrero was signed by the Blue Jays during the 2015 international signing period and quickly propelled through the system. The infielder eventually made it to the big stage last season and produced a serviceable .772 OPS in 123 games played.
The trio of youngsters, in addition to other blooming players in outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (the brother of Houston Astros’ first baseman Yuli Gurriel), infielder Rowdy Tellez (who hit 21 homeruns last season) and outfielder Teoscar Hernandez (who had a .938 OPS after the All-Star Break last season) give the Blue Jays a glut of explosive hitters to work with.
The depth on offense does not stop there, though.
Veteran infielders in Travis Shaw and Joe Panik were both acquired this past offseason. These players, in addition to infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Randal Grichuk (who signed a five-year, $52 million contract extension with Toronto last April) reinforce a young Blue Jays team and bring experience of being with winning teams in the past.
While the hitting is exponential, the pitching quietly has pieces that could help as well. The big-ticket acquisition this past offseason was Hyun-Jin Ryu, who led all of baseball in ERA last season (2.32). The new $80 million-dollar man, despite moving from a pitching haven in Dodger Stadium to the bandbox of Rogers Centre, could still produce at a high level moving forward, as his 50.4 groundball percentage was 9th in all of baseball and was his best percentage since his rookie season in 2013.
Behind Ryu, the Blue Jays bring Matt Shoemaker (who had a 1.57 ERA in five starts before an ACL tear ended his season last year), Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson, pitchers who could all produce as inning-soakers. The additional free agent acquisition of Shun Yamaguchi from Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan further adds to the grittiness on the mound the Blue Jays could muster. High-octane flashiness in the form of prospect starter Nate Pearson (whose fastball grades out as an 80 on a 20-80 scale per MLBPipeline.com) also looks to reinforce the starting core right away or later in the season.
Then you have the bullpen. While there could still be room to improve in the 7th and 8th inning, the 9th inning looks to be locked up by flamethrower Ken Giles, who pitched to a 1.87 ERA (5th best among all relievers) and saved 23 games last year.
And, lastly, you have the coaching staff, spearheaded by Charlie Montoyo, who looks to learn from his rookie manager season last year and build upon it.
The Blue Jays, through their unique blend of youth and veteran leadership, quietly have the depth to potentially make a run eerily similar to the 2015 Chicago Cubs, a team that had similar roster construction and was able to make a Championship Series appearance.
While the American League looks to be tougher than the National League that year, the Blue Jays have the young hitting, veteran pitching and high-ceiling managerial staff to put it all together and take many teams by surprise.
While the cackle might not be fully regained this season, the Toronto Blue Jays look to make their presence known to the baseball world yet again, just like the bird in actuality that always makes its presence known in the backyard oak tree or swinging bird feeder.