Today’s Blue Jays’ starting battery is the proof that the youth movement is in full swing, and it’s been a long time coming.
Those 2015-16 Blue Jays playoff runs were one hell of a drug.
For a fan that had been watching team after team fall by the wayside against the titans of New York and Boston, accepting that third place was the birth right of the Toronto club, those two seasons where not only August mattered, but September and October too, they were glorious. The entire country got swept up in the euphoria of having a team best the Americans at their game. The feeling was intoxicating.
But no buzz can last, and the past two years have been a wicked hangover.
People knew the team was getting older. That Jose Bautista didn’t have his home run swing clicking automatically anymore. That Troy Tulowitzki was a misplaced foot on the Maicer Izturis memorial step away from the DL. That after two pain-free years, injuries would bite this club hard.
But the Blue Jays tried to make do with the hair of the dog. Edwin Encarnacion‘s agent botches the entire situation, so in comes Kendrys Morales. Steve Pearce. Mat Latos. Starter Joe Biagini. Glenn Sparkman. Names brought in because the Blue Jays had Josh Donaldson and were expected to compete while the window was still open. But the talent wasn’t in the system, and bloated contracts left the team unable to throw enough money to woo players north who would be true game-changers.
So the Blue Jays were left unable to reload, but too good to rebuild. An MVP doesn’t play on a team that is heading to the basement. So while the front office made its picks to try and replenish the dried oasis of a minor-league setup, the major league team was a mish-mash of injured stars and quad-A arms that continues to this day. Any young players who made their debut for the club were called up solely because they could be sent back down and removed from the 40-man safely. Ian Parmley, we hardly knew ye. A bunch of band-aids to cover up the fact that the replacements weren’t in the system.
There would be no Andrew Benintendi or Aaron Judge to save this club from paying for its success. No Luis Severino or Eduardo Rodriguez to fortify the rotation, and save it from the likes of Lucas Harrell and Cesar Valdez. Trust me, it hurts to have to write Red Sox and Yankee players in those sentences above.
There was no hope that players with an impact would be added as more and more band-aids covered up this team.
But the band-aids are starting to be ripped off.
It started with injuries, because of course it does with Toronto. Donaldson was struggling out the gate and hit the DL in mid-April, bringing Teoscar Hernanddez back to the big leagues. Sent to Buffalo to work on his defense, Hernandez is still learning in left field. However, his power stroke is there and he is learning how to use his modest speed as well. He is one of the driving offensive forces of this team now.
It grew modestly in May. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. rose from New Hampshire straight to Toronto, and Pina Power was born. Gurriel was rough in his first month, but as he grew comfortable in the majors, his performance grew as well. It culminated in a record-breaking run of multi-hit games that is technically still active while he recovers from his own battle with the Blue Jays injury bug.
While Hernandez got some time with the Blue Jays last season, Gurriel’s promotion brought the first true rays of the dawn of a new Blue Jays era. Sure the old ways lingered for a little while longer, as names like Gio Urshela and Preston Guilmet entered the all-time Blue Jays roster. However, reinforcements are finally set to arrive from below, and players with futures are being prioritized over players just making weight.
Ryan Borucki was the first to get the push after injuries to both Aaron Sanchez and Jaime Garcia left the Blue Jays in need of someone who could deliver innings of some kind. Borucki has delivered eight starts with a sub-3.00 ERA. His 1.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference is already seventh on the team this season.
Then Thomas Pannone got the call last week. His season was derailed by a PED suspension in spring training, and it showed in limited action at Buffalo. The centerpiece of the Joe Smith trade is with the big club now though. While his debut against Tampa Bay was rough, he showed he has the ability to power through batters with an array of pitches. Striking out Kevin Kiermaier and Jake Bauers in a debut is pretty decent.
Today, the most aggressive move yet is on display in Kansas City. The Blue Jays have been trying to get by every fifth game with a tourniquet consisting of Mike Hauschild and a beleaguered bullpen crew. It hasn’t gone well. Instead, Sean Reid-Foley will become the third pitching prospect to make his debut for the club, and the first to rock a glorious mustache while doing so. After starting 5-0 in New Hampshire, Reid-Foley made the jump to Buffalo and found his footing. His home-run rate remains down and the strikeout rate is constant. He was set to join the 40-man roster at the end of the year. It makes sense to bring him up early and let him get a taste of the big leagues.
He won’t be the only debutante today. Yangervis Solarte‘s DL stint opened the door for his catcher, Danny Jansen, to be promoted as well. Jansen has long been a darling of those who were begging for the youth movement to begin. No longer blocked by Russell Martin, who will now be starting at third base, because Blue Jays, Jansen has a path to begin showing the contact hitting skills that have had people salivating at the idea of being set for catcher for the next 10 years. The man with the silver googles will likely catch both Reid-Foley and his best buddy Borucki in back-to-back games, while Luke Maile handles the rest of the rotation. Whether or not this year’s .271 average at Buffalo will translate as well will remain to be seen.
The important thing is that this isn’t Miguel Montero or Jarrod Saltalamacchia coming up to catch for the team. This is hope. Hope has been in short supply for Blue Jays fans over the last 16 months of baseball. Watching every muffed ground ball or unnecessary walk has drained it from the fan base. The news that Jansen would come up though? That has people excited. Excited that the rise of a new day in the Blue Jays kingdom has come, far quicker that it did the last time fans were left waiting for success.
Gurriel Jr. and Borucki have already been bright spots in a dismal season, Pannone, Jansen, and Reid-Foley are about to get a taste of the spotlight. If you think this franchise isn’t trending right, you’re not paying attention. #bluejays
— Shawn (@shawnsJays) August 12, 2018
It’s about time. Can’t wait to see him play!
— SAdler (@sparkytor) August 12, 2018
We need a glimpse of the future to help us get thru the present.
— Pam Swan (NobodyPutsCanadaInACorner) (@pam_swan) August 12, 2018
That last tweet from Pam perfectly encapsulates the desire the Blue Jays fans have for this kind of belief that better days are coming. They know the Hall-of-Fame caliber bat is coming, as soon as next year. The Blue Jays need to find the piece that will join Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, Marcus Stroman and Sanchez as future cornerstones of this team. Gurriel and Borucki have already proven they are there. The next few weeks will show how close Pannone, Jansen and Reid-Foley are. The more info the Blue Jays front office get on these young pieces, the less likely they will feel the need to spend $8M on a sixth-inning relief arm that was supposed to be a starter.
The new era of the Toronto Blue Jays starts now. It starts with these few rays breaking out over the horizon before the blazing-hot sons come crashing in. Get your coffee or your Gatorade ready. The hangover will be abating soon.
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Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since they could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs as well on the Tailpipe Sports blog. The 20-something has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. Andrews brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program.