Article Written by Craig Borden (@Craigers1221)
With the 2018 Blue Jays struggling to get to the .500 mark, many are already looking forward to the not so distant future. This is the future that could be centralized around a potent offense that has been building in the ranks of the Blue Jays Minor League System. We have been seeing small flashes of this coming future over the past few weeks. Players like Teoscar Hernandez have shown what the possibilities are on the horizon and there is plenty of talent coming.
The Toronto Blue Jays currently have one of the best Minor League Systems in baseball. They are consistently ranked within the top ten on any of the lists that truly matter. Currently, Baseball America has them ranked at number 9. This is where the team currently stands and there was just a ton of excellent talent drafted, and the trade deadline could prove very fruitful for the Jays this season. They have talented players like J.A. Happ that could net a nice return of MLB ready talent in a trade.
All of this brings up questions and the most concerning might be - who will be on this team in 2019? I took a serious look through the current Blue Jays roster and their MLB ready talent to compile what the 25 man roster could look like. The results that I found are rather encouraging and actually excited me for next season. Once I scribbled this all down in an airport while I was waiting for a flight, I am confident that this front office has already built a winner for 2019!
First things first - there are plenty of players that can be free agents this coming offseason. For the sake of argument, I have assumed that Happ, Estrada, Donaldson, and company were not returning. By the end of this article, you will see that bringing those players back will create even more depth on an already crowded roster. I personally would like to see Happ back the most out of that group, but let us dive into my findings from when I pieced this 2019 Blue Jays 25-man roster together.
Let us first discuss what was thought to be a strength heading into the 2018 season - the starting rotation. This has been nothing but a disappointment for the Jays this season, outside of Happ. The injury bug is to blame for most of the struggles, but still, this was a flawed rotation that was relying too heavily on health. Looking forward, this rotation could look very different outside of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. This pair will anchor next seasons rotation, but if no other additions occur in the offseason, there is a strong group ready to step in. We just saw the first of these possible pitchers with Ryan Borucki making his debut recently. He was solid against the reigning World Series Champs and picked up a quality start. The pair that would fill out the rotation at the moment would be Sean Reid-Foley and Chris Rowley.
Stats from baseball-reference.com
In the above picture, I have put together this season's numbers for all five of these pitchers. The numbers do not lie that the trio of Minor League arms appears to be ready for new challenges. Borucki, Reid-Foley, and Rowley all have sub 3.50 ERA’s and WHIPs better than Sanchez and Stroman at the moment. The three of them combine for 18 wins and have been eating innings. This just screams "give them a chance!" at the MLB level and sooner rather than later. Reid-Foley might be the last one of this group promoted because he started the season in Double-A with the Fisher Cats, but he has clearly figured out something this season. He looks like a complete pitcher at the moment and has really put his critics to rest after a rough 2017.
The Toronto bullpen might be the weakest part of this team next season and much of it revolves around the Roberto Osuna story. If he stays a Blue Jay, he is one of the most dominant young closers in baseball. If not, there will be big shoes to fill in the back end of ball games. Right now that job appears to be Ryan Tepera’s. He has been having a crazy good season but has had issues slamming the door in the role of the closer. He might be better suited for a setup role. This season's bullpen is also filled up with a lot of one-year deals, with John Axford and Tyler Clippard. I would be surprised if either of these two is re-signed, with the front office focusing on the future but a veteran presence will be needed.
The 2019 bullpen has guaranteed players that could fill out a decent pen. One might guess that Sam Gaviglio, Tim Mayza, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody, and Sanwang Oh could fill up the cupboards pretty nicely. To me, it lacks the punch without Osuna in that group or another live arm like his. There is also a ton of uncertainty in that group that is not welcomed after what has been a rough 2018 season. Below is the collected stats of this group and a spot that will need to be improved to support a young pitching staff.
Now the part you probably have all been waiting for - the offense! How is this team going to score enough runs to support a young pitching staff and an average bullpen? They are going to score plenty of runs with a lineup that does not have a weakness. A solid 1-9 attack that will push opposing pitchers to the brink with nowhere to hide. The lineup will be anchored by returning starters Justin Smoak, Devon Travis, Teoscar Hernandez, Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk, and Yangervis Solarte.
You may have noticed that I did not include Russell Martin in that group. Currently, I am thinking that we are going to have the highest paid backup catcher/utility player in recent history. I just do not see any advantages to giving Martin a ton of at-bats next season with how his 2018 has been going. The flip side of that coin is that Danny Jansen has become a force in the Minor Leagues and has clearly outgrown Triple-A. Jansen currently holds a .299 batting average with 30 runs scored and 39 RBIs. Martin is batting .168 with 19 runs scored and 16 RBI in just 20 less at bats. The writing appears to be on the wall for this one as the changing of the guard is coming behind the plate.
The right side of the infield seems secure to Smoak and Travis for the near future. On the other side of the keystone there could be some major changes. It appears that Aledmys Diaz, Troy Tulowitzki, and Lourdes Gurriel will be manning short in some fashion. At 3rd base, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. appears to be having the red carpet rolled out for him as he has been one of the most exciting talents to ever come through the Jays system. It will be interesting to see the rotation of those players with Solarte between the positions and DH.
In the outfield, the Blue Jays will continue their current setup with Hernandez, Pillar, and Grichuk. This is a crazy athletic group that could put on a show defensively along with the lumber. Grichuk has show he can match Pillar defensively, but has shown some insane power. He just recently hit the Astros brand new World Series Champs sign in Houston which was a mere 479 feet from home plate. Pillar has been having another solid season in the field but has been one of the Jays most consistent hitters this season as well. Hernandez has been growing into a great hitter throughout the season and has been showing plenty of power to all fields.
This outfield could get even more athletic when you toss in Anthony Alford as the final player on this 25 man roster. Alford is one of the players with the most tools in the Jays' system. He has not put it all together and can look raw at times. If he does put it together, though, he will be something special and we saw a preview of that last season with the Fisher Cats in Double-A. If he pushes for an everyday spot, he could take Teoscar’s spot in left just because of his plus defense. This would make Teoscar the team's DH and occasional outfielder which could suit him well.
Projected Opening Day 2019 25-Man Roster
C - Danny Jansen
1B - Justin Smoak
2B - Devon Travis
SS - Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
3B - Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
LF - Teoscar Hernandez
CF - Kevin Pillar
RF - Randal Grichuk
DH - Yangervis Solarte
This roster as it currently sits would not scare me with what I have seen from these youngsters first hand in my travels. The Jays have a very talented system and could be putting an all new product on the field next season. Vlad is the future and we all know it, but there are still plenty of other talents that just missed out on this list. Bo Bichette will not be far behind, but will more then likely start the season in Buffalo because of the depth up the middle mentioned above. Others will form great depth and provide some fun wild cards to push their teammates. A younger team is coming and that is a very welcome sign for a team that is currently one of the oldest teams in baseball. It is time to start fresh with some new faces and this team could be ready to win in 2019 if everything clicks like it has for these champions in the Minor League system.
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