Checking the pulse of the Toronto Blue Jays

Cavan Biggio Defense
A look back at my Opening Day roster prediction and some thoughts on what might be in store for this Toronto Blue Jays team in the near term.

It’s been a little more than three weeks since the beginning of the season, so now is as good a time as any to revisit my Opening Day roster prediction and spitball what might be in store for this Blue Jays team in the near term.

What I got wrong

Thanks to a slew of injuries to George Springer, Nate Pearson, Kirby Yates, and Robbie Ray, the Opening Day roster looked slightly different than anticipated. This allowed Randal Grichuk to sneak into to the every day lineup and he has performed well beyond expectations. With that said, Grichuk pulled this same trick in the first month of 2020 before he regressed to his career average.

In a rare case of a spring performance actually meaning something, Tim Mayza beat Francisco Liriano for the modified left-handed specialist relief role.

…with Thomas Hatch recently succumbing to what looks like Tommy Juan.

Looks like I jumped the gun on Thomas Hatch needing Tommy John surgery. But he has landed on the 60-day IL with elbow impingement which is a little bit of a better prognosis than a torn UCL – as long as Hatch doesn’t have any bone spurs.

What I got right

While he has an influential supporter in Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, Danny Jansen is an offensive black hole. My goodness.

I think at this point, Danny Jansen is what he’s proven himself to be: a catch and throw catcher. While I said he’s an offensive black hole, I didn’t anticipate his offensive futility would reach such lows. Although he has played only 13 games, Jansen has posted an awful slash line of .052/.158/.088 for an OPS+ of -27. It’s not often you see a big leaguer post numbers that bad. Gabriel Moreno is waiting with baited breath at the alternate site, but I don’t think Jansen is going anywhere. If he continues to struggle, he’s just going to have to wear it.

What I’m not seeing talked about much is Kirk’s arm strength – his throws to second average 67.4mph. If you were to place that number in a 2019 context, he would finish last in all eligible catchers. Pitchers love to throw to him, but I’m sure Kirk’s admiration society will lose members once baserunners run uninhibited with him behind the plate.

Alejandro Kirk won the backup catcher competition over Reese McGuire, much to the delight of round boys fans everywhere. While Kirk brings a potentially potent bat to the Blue Jays lineup, his poor arm was recently exposed by the Kansas City Royals. He’s allowed eight stolen bases and hasn’t caught a single would-be base stealer. The secret is out. It should be interesting to see how teams capitalize on Kirk’s limp noodle arm in the weeks ahead. Will he adjust? Will his playing time behind the plate be reduced? Stay tuned.

Gabriel Moreno
Blue Jays catching prospect Gabriel Moreno. Image credit: Caio Miari

What remains to be seen

I might be in the minority with this opinion, but I’m still not sure that Cavan Biggio is a consistent Major League-calibre player. He’s only had 159 games at the big-league level, so I’d like to see where he’s at about about 1000 more at-bats. I also don’t love his arm at the hot corner.

Through 15 games, Cavan Biggio has not looked like a consistent Major League-calibre player. His strikeout percentage is up to 31 per cent; he has not been able to prove he can handle above-average fastball velocity. It’s a small sample size to be sure – and his struggles could be related to a hand injury – but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Like Kirk, the secret might be out on how to get Biggio… out.

Additionally, my concerns about Biggio’s throwing arm have been well-founded. He’s already made four errors at the hot corner and doesn’t look comfortable at the position. The Blue Jays could have a problem on their hands, but it’s no time to panic after 15 games played.

We’re not quite sure what Rowdy Tellez is, but we’re about to find out in a (hopefully) full season of games in 2021.

Tellez is in the same boat as Biggio and is performing in a similar manner. Is he the player he showed himself to be in (albeit a small sample) 2020? Or is he really the free swinging three-true-outcome player (with most of those being strikeouts) he was in 2019? The Athletic’s Keith Law believes him to be the latter:

Keith Law on Rowdy Tellez

Additionally, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. looks to be lost at both the plate and in the field. After a successful 2020 campaign, this is a surprising, and altogether unwelcome development. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, small sample size caveats apply.

Pitching depth tested early

Following a stunted 2020 season, the baseball cognoscenti has prognosticated that pitching injuries would be on the rise in 2021 with increased workloads for pitchers. I don’t think anyone thought there would be SO many injuries as there have been early on, with Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, Julian Merryweather, Jordan Romano, Tyler Chatwood, and T.J. Zeuch all landing on the IL at some point.

Blue Jays manager Ross Atkins has tapped the usual suspects in Anthony Kay and Trent Thornton to plug the leak. He’s also gone “outside the box” in leaning on the surprisingly effective Tommy Milone and Anthony Castro, while extracting value from perpetual vagabond reliever Joel Payamps.

Ray’s return hasn’t inspired confidence, and Montoyo is continuing to piece together all-bullpen days to compensate for injuries and an inconsistent starting rotation. If the Blue Jays’ waiver claim of Jeremy Beasley is any indication, it looks like the team is more inclined to pluck expendable arms off the scrap heap rather than throw their higher-ceiling pitching prospects into the fire. Hopefully further injuries don’t force Ross Atkins’ hand.

A return to health and stability

With George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez’s return to active duty, the Blue Jays lineup should achieve some semblance of offensive consistency soon. On the run prevention side, the good news is that Jordan Romano should be back to anchor the bullpen this weekend, while Nate Pearson stretches himself out at the alternate site in preparation for an imminent return to the rotation. The bad news is that infield coach Luis Rivera is going to have to work overtime with Cavan Biggio to get him on track. And this time next month, I might very well have to add Bo Bichette to the defensive conversation.

The shaky rotation will continue to be a liability for some time, but Steven Matz’s return to form has been a stabilizing force and a boon for a pitching staff that could only count Hyun-Jin Ryu as a reliable option. For the Blue Jays to have any aspirations of going deep in the playoffs, someone is going to have to emerge as a dependable innings-eater. I don’t think it comes from the group of Ross Stripling, T.J. Zeuch, or Anthony Kay.

One last thing: Vlady is a stud. But we always knew that didn’t we?


Featured image credit: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

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