After challenging the Red Sox for the division title in 2016, the Toronto Blue Jays suffered a complete offensive collapse in 2017. It’s not like we could see this coming. The team allowed first baseman Edwin Encarnacion to walk, signing with the Cleveland Indians. They retained clubhouse leader Jose Bautista dispute obvious signs of a major decline. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, while relatively healthy in 2016, had failed to live up to his contract. Finally, the team failed to add any offensive firepower to retool for the 2017 season.
Toronto finished fourth in their division and was fortunate enough to finish one game ahead of Baltimore and Oakland as the fifth worst team in the American League. The online odds at WillHill don’t give much hope for the team returning to prominence in 2018, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Blue Jays have a number of highly touted prospects who could make an impact soon, and the team will have some much-needed payroll relief over the next two seasons.
3B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Guerrero is the son of legendary hitter, and future hall of famer, Vladimir Guerrero – no pressure following in those footsteps, right? You would think at just 18 years of age he would be years away, but that isn’t the case. Guerrero finished the season in Class-A Advanced and should begin the 2018 season in Double-A. He batted .323 across two levels this year with a double-digit walk rate which was a few ticks better than his strikeout rate (he inherited his father’s eye). The power is a work in progress, but 13 (along with 28 doubles) in his first full season show promise. He doesn’t have his dads speed, but he has enough combined with intelligence that 10-12 could be an annual thing.
Standing in the way at third base is the powerful Josh Donaldson. Donaldson is under contract through 2018, and his production in 2018 will dictate whether or not the Jays will bring him back. He will only be 32 years old in December, and unlike some of his older, and more expensive teammates, Tulowitzki and Bautista, there is still life in his bat. If the Jays do resign Donaldson, Guerrero could move to the outfield or more likely first base given his size. Regardless, he is a future .300/30 hitter and a future staple for this team.
SS: Bo Bichette
Another second generation player: the son of professional hitter Dante Bichette finished the season at Class-A Advanced, and could very well reach Triple-A by the end of the 2018 season. Bichette led the minors with a .362 batting average and showed an advanced approach, striking out just under 17% coupled with a solid walk rate. He has some speed to him, swiping 22 bases in 29 attempts. The power is still developing (he turns 20 in March), yet he still managed 14 long-balls in his first full season. Defensively he should be able to handle the shortstop position, and his strong batting eye and balance batted ball profile should solidify his presence at the plate.
Standing in the way at shortstop is the DL poster boy for this century, Troy Tulowitzki. The 33-year-old still has three-years left on his contract as the club, and it is doubtful they will sign off on his 2021 club option and opt for the $4-million dollar buyout. Given his injury riddled past I expect the team to move him to designated hitter once Bichette is ready for prime time. A shift over to second base is also an option.
CF: Anthony Alford
Alford is a little behind development wise despite being 23 years of age. While he was signed by the Blue Jays in 2012, he played a total of 25 games due to his college football commitment. He also missed a good chuck of time in 2016 due to injuries.
That being said; Alford does possess raw power and home run power despite what we’ve seen. Without the power he is a plus defender with speed, solid hit tools, a patient batting eye, and this year he showed big improvements in the strikeout department. He has 20 stolen base potential, and if the power develops as expected we could be looking at a 20/20/.290 player.
There are several other promising youngsters in the Toronto system; 2017 first round pick Logan Warmoth comes to mind, but the above three players represent the building blocks for a future generation. Both Guerrero and Bichette are must own players for keeper and dynasty leagues too – as is Alford, but not as prominent.
If the Blue Jays are smart they will opt for the 500K buyout of Jose Bautista this year. They have two years and $40 million committed to catcher Russell Martin, another $13-Million to Marco Estrada in 2018 (the same money J.A. Happ will get), and $23-Million (which is not a lot) to Kendrys Morales. That, along with Tulowitzki and Donaldson, represents the bulk of the Blue Jays payroll – most of which will be shed by the end of the 2019 season.
With a potential young core and salary cap relief at the end of the tunnel, we could see the Jays go all in on a few sluggers this year such as Eric Hosmer or J.D. Martinez. If they miss out they can choose between resigning Donaldson in 2018 or pursuing Manny Machado, as well as the crown jewel of the free agent class, Bryce Harper.
A few big name veterans combined with this young core could once again strike fear into the pitchers facing them as they have in years past. Prospects and salaries are aligned to make this happen. With free agency signing right around the corner we will soon know which direction the team will go.