While the Blue Jays have a lot of great building blocks to start their rebuild, the need for more speed in their lineup may still elude them.
For the last couple of years we’ve consistently heard about how the Blue Jays wants to get younger and more athletic, and they’ve certainly done a lot to address that situation so far this winter. For a team that not so long ago sported the oldest roster in baseball, there will be a lot of youth in the clubhouse next season.
With youth comes a lot more athleticism, and hopefully a lot less collective time spent on the disabled list for the young group. Injuries have been a problem for the Blue Jays in recent years, with chronic examples like Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Aaron Sanchez being just the tip of the iceberg. However, this next generation might be missing something the last competitive group in Toronto was as well: team speed.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some speedy guys in the minor league system, but at this point it’s hard to say how many of them will factor into a big league roster down the line. A recent article from mlb.com named Roemon Fields as the fastest member of the Blue Jays’ minor league system, and he’s anything but a lock to get promoted to the highest level, especially because he’s already 28 years old. There’s a chance we could see him get a shot at some point in 2019, but it’s likely the Blue Jays will have to look beyond his wheels for a regular lineup contribution.
As far as the prospects who have already made their way to Toronto, don’t expect any league leading numbers from the likes of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, or Teoscar Hernandez. It’s not that any of them are slow, it’s just that speed isn’t really part of their game. For example, Gurriel Jr. has never stolen more than eight bases in a season, even as a minor leaguer.
I don’t think we can expect to see much in that regard from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but his potential partner in crime in Bo Bichette could be the exception to the rule. Bichette had 32 stolen bases in 43 attempts with Double-A New Hampshire, and looks to be a threat on the bases, even if he’s not projected to be an elite base-stealer.
If the Blue Jays hope to build a significant speed component into their offence, it may have to come from an outfield group they haven’t built yet. Next year’s outfield of Hernandez, Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk, Billy McKinney, and an assortment of minor leaguers all have decent speed, but none of the projected starters are expected to be among AL leaders or anything. Pillar lead the group with 14 swipes last year, followed by Hernandez with five, Grichuk with three, and McKinney with just one.
If the Blue Jays go deeper into their outfield depth chart this season, that could change. Of course, the players with the most speed will have to earn their way to the big leaguers, and/or stick around before the 2019 season rolls around, but there are a few athletes who could add some speed to Charlie Montoyo‘s lineup in 2019, and hopefully beyond that.
The once highly rated Anthony Alford stole 17 bases last season after taking 19 in 2017, and has flashed great potential on the base paths around an assortment of injuries over the years. Dalton Pompey has been used as a base-stealing threat with the Blue Jays in the past and has a MiLB career high of 43 back in 2014, but it remains to be seen if he’ll still be on the 40 man roster come Opening Day. Jonathan Davis stole 19 bases in Double-A last year, and recent outfield convert Cavan Biggio picked up 20 in 28 attempts as well.
A lot can and will happen to these young players as the Blue Jays progress through this rebuild, but I feel confident that their “infield of the future” will be built from within, and may already be taking shape in Guerrero, Gurriel, Bichette, Jansen, and more. If that’s the case, and if they want to have speed as a significant part of the next generation of this team, it will have to be a focus in the outfield.
It remains to be seen who will be a part of the long term outfield picture, and 2019 could go a long way toward giving us an answer to that question. However Ross Atkins and the front office decide to build the roster, my guess is speed will be one of many priorities when evaluating outfielders.