With the arrival of four of their top prospects from the minors, two pitchers and two position players, the Toronto Blue Jays are getting closer to the next phase in their roster construction.
As it has been previously outlined, the post-2016 version of the Blue Jays always figured to be an old, declining roster with a barren upper minors.
Typically that does not bode well for short-term contention, and the 2017 and 2018 version of the Blue Jays has proven that to be correct. There was not much that could have been done to prevent this outcome. It just has to be chalked up as the price of two straight playoff appearances.
So putting the past aside, what is the plan going forward?
Many fans have wondered why the front office lead by team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have signed short-term veterans rather than pay for more expensive free agents or bring back some of their popular departing ones.
The reality is, this front office is looking to build from within. Veterans on short affordable contracts are useful in filling big league holes in the absence of a young player, and are also movable in the trade market once an internal option (or team direction) forces change.
That clearly was the case over the last two trade deadlines, as the Jays moved a total of eight big league players and received fifteen players in return, twelve of them being prospects.
As far as forcing change, the arrival this week of top prospect Danny Jansen has provided a glimpse into how the Blue Jays will operate as they begin to turn the roster over and reshape the roster for their next competitive cycle.
Jansen is coming off a breakout 2017 where he steamrolled through three levels of the minors showing amazing plate discipline. That performance carried over to 2018, where he had a 145 wRC+, .390 on-base percentage, and 12.2% BB% (13.6% K%) for Buffalo.
He is clearly big league ready with the bat, and a year of working with Russell Martin (whose contract ends after 2019) might be just the right type of development path for Jansen’s future.
Of course, Jansen is just one. Prior to hurting himself on a slide attempt in Chicago, Lourdes Gurriel Jr was showing signs of his talent by having multi-hit games in 11 consecutive games. The 24-year old can likely play all over the field, infield and outfield, which should give the Blue Jays a ton of versatility going forward.
The path to building a team from within can be a slow process, especially the way the Blue Jays have set it up. It can be frustrating to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr clearly being big league ready with the bat yet being held down for service time reasons, but ultimately, that is a part of the process.
Would you rather see Guerrero in 2018 and have him under team control through 2024, or watch him in May of 2019 and have him under team control through 2025? That seems to be a common sense answer, but you will still hear the cries on social media begging for his arrival.
The Blue Jays have to play the long game. They need as many years of Guerrero’s prime as possible, and having him under team control in 2025 is likely going to be a lot more beneficial than calling him up now and having him spend his first full year of service on a team that is transitioning.
Either way, this old roster might see turnover as early as next season. It seems like, barring any significant setbacks, Jansen is ready to catch in 2019. Gurriel figures to be part of the infield puzzle in 2019. Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio appear to be a half season of AAA experience away. Anthony Alford has had a disappointing setback in 2018, but might be an outfield option in 2019 if his bat bounces back.
Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley, and Thomas Pannone have reached the Majors in 2018. It is unclear, aside from Borucki, whether these pitchers will be factors in 2019, some might need more seasoning, but they are close.
So when you watch the current 2018 squad play out the string in what has been a very forgettable season, keep in mind that by this time next year we might be seeing a team with young talent all over the diamond, and a farm system that is building a strong volume of upside in the lower minors that should filter up as that young big league core gets their feet wet.
Of course, nothing can be written in stone due to the unpredictable nature of prospects and baseball, but chances are looking good that by some point in 2019 or 2020, the Blue Jays lineup will include some combination of Guerrero, Bichette, Biggio, Jansen, Alford, and Gurriel. Possibly others depending on development.
There is also the chance that many of the prospects the team acquried in deadline moves, like Billy McKinney, Hector Perez, David Paulino, and others could add more depth and upside to the big league club (upside in this case applying more to the pitchers than McKinney).
This front office has done a great job building up prospect depth all throughout the system. Prospects can fail and unfortunately some will fail (even the highly touted ones). So you cannot expect everyone to pan out.
However, the Blue Jays look like a year away from being able to start adding young pieces in critical big league spots, and still have time to add more before the much talked about 2020 window.
The turnover is just beginning.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Srikant Kabse is a long time baseball fan, accountant, and writer. He currently resides in New Jersey, but grew up in Scarborough Ontario where his love for the sport and for the Blue Jays began as a child. Aside from baseball, Srikant’s interests include fitness, basketball, and traveling.