In an effort to get younger, Blue Jays Teoscar Hernandez and Richard Urena could be the first wave of youth to be introduced to an aging Toronto squad
With three weeks left in a season which will likely see the Toronto Blue Jays finish under .500 for the first time since 2013, a pair of prospects has taken center stage.
Youth and athleticism are traits which this team lacked all season. The 2017 edition of the Blue Jays were built on age and experience with Toronto’s average player age behind only the Atlanta Braves (30.4), and Los Angeles Angels (29.8).
The Blue Jays started the year with a 40 yr-old relief pitcher in Jason Grilli and a fading 36-yr-old Toronto sports icon in Jose Bautista. Toronto’s playoff hopes also relied on the health of an oft-injured 34-yr-old career platoon player (Steve Pearce), a 34-yr-old catcher (Russell Martin), and a quickly declining 32-yr-old shortstop (Troy Tulowitzki).
Put it all together and the Blue Jays average player age comes in as the third highest at 29.7.
Seeing the stars that brought the city to its feet with dramatic playoff runs in 2015 and 2016 decline before our eyes are the hardest memory to swallow for 2017. Worse still, many of those elder statesmen are expected to return and be relied upon to win in 2018.
Not so fast.
Liriano out, Hernandez in
It appears that 24-yr-old outfielder Teoscar Hernandez is the heir apparent to Jose Bautista in right field. He has shown power. He has shown speed on the bases and in the field.
Hernandez isn’t perfect. He has flaws. His swing, while quick, has loft and can get long. The coaching staff will work on correcting that and will continue to make adjustments to his batting stance. The framework is there, though.
Another youngster to make an impression on fans as the Blue Jays play out the schedule has been 21-yr-old switch-hitter Richard Urena. Signed in 2013 as an International Free Agent out of the Dominican Republic, Urena jumped from Double-A to the majors as a September call-up.
Despite the excessive and rather hideous excuse for a beard, it was a smart decision by management to add the gifted middle infielder to the 40-man roster. Had the front office not added Urena to the roster now, they would have needed to make room for him this offseason. With 5 minor league seasons under his belt, Urena would have been eligible for this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft. A switch hitting 21-yr-old middle infielder playing in Double-A and listed as Toronto’s 6th prospect would surely get some attention.
With middle infielders, Devon Travis and Tulo out for the season, Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins were asked to play more regular roles. Throw in a recent bout with the flu for Josh Donaldson and we have a recipe for regular playing time for the rookie infielder.
Urena responded with a .280 batting average, a double, a HR, a RBI, and a stolen base. While speed isn’t a major aspect of Urena’s game, he opened some eyes when he scored from first on a single to right field. It’s that kind of speed which Toronto has missed all season.
Unlike Hernandez, I don’t expect Richard Urena to start the 2018 season in the major leagues. Urena will likely head to Triple-A Buffalo with Tulo and Travis, hopefully healthy, patrolling Toronto’s middle infield. I expect that Ryan Goins will return as the backup infielder.
Regardless of whether one or both young men start 2018 with Toronto, one thing is for certain, a changing of the guard is not far off.
You’re Not Alone
Hernandez and Urena are not the only rookies to make an impact this September. Relief pitcher Carlos Ramirez, Luis Santos, and Tim Mayza have turned some heads, while Matt Dermody is putting up better numbers than he did during his first two visits to the major leagues.
The farm system was criticized for not having depth but the addition of Hernandez and the development of Richard Urena, Anthony Alford, Danny Jansen, and Dwight Smith Jr. has the upper minors flush with potentially major league ready position players.
The Blue Jays have some hefty contracts that won’t allow them to undergo a full ‘youth movement’. So enjoy it while it lasts. Enjoy the youthful enthusiasm that you see from a 21-yr-old with less than 10 major league games to his name. Enjoy watching a young outfielder trying to make a name for himself in the hopes of becoming an everyday player.
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