Blue Jays: Plenty of MiLB Cautionary Tales in Toronto

TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 5: Brett Lawrie /

The Blue Jays have an exciting generation of players in their MiLB pipeline including Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, and more, but fans may need to scale back their excitement a little based on some recent cautionary tales in Toronto.

I would argue that drafting prospects in baseball is more difficult than in any other major sport, as there are very few “slam dunk” players on the draft board. Every now and then you’ll get someone like Bryce Harper that comes along that everyone knows will flourish, but those types are rare in baseball.

At the moment, the Blue Jays have some of the most exciting prospects that I can remember in their minor league pipeline. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks has quickly risen to the top of some of the prospect rankings, and Bo Bichette had an equally impressive season. They are hardly the only ones either, as players like Danny Jansen, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel, and many others bring an exciting look for the future of baseball in Toronto.

As the team has regressed and taken a big step back in 2017, fans are naturally forced to look ahead to the future to more exciting times, so it makes perfect sense that the interest around the above listed players has been ramped up. Add in the fact that Guerrero and Bichette absolutely mashed across two different levels, and many of us (myself included) have already dreamed of lineups in 2020 and beyond.

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I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but the more that I reflect back on the almost 30 years I’ve followed the team (I’m only 33, so cut me some slack), the more that I have to temper my excitement for these prospects, even if they’re of the elite variety. When I think about the last decade or so for the Blue Jays, three players immediately come to mind as guys I expected to be entrenched in the franchise as cornerstone building blocks: Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia, and Brett Lawrie.

The hype machine was hard at work for all three of these players, to varying degrees, and at different times in franchise history. Let’s start with Travis Snider, the former first round pick in the 2006 draft was the type of impact hitter you were supposed to draw up your lineup around. He made his MLB debut at the tender age of 20, and it was always supposed to be a matter of time before he became a star. There are varying opinions about how the Jays handled his development, but the reality either way is that he never found his stride at the big league level. He’s currently in the Mets minor league system trying to revive his career, and last appeared in a big league game in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Blue Jays have longed for a franchise catcher for as long as I could remember, which is why J.P. Arencibia brought so much excitement with him to Toronto when he debuted in 2010. The power hitting backstop hit 23 home runs and posted 78 RBI in his first full season in 2011, and looked poised to hold down the gig for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately he struggled to develop the defensive side of his game, and eventually struggled to hit above the Mendoza line as well, despite producing solid power numbers. He last appeared in a big league game in 2015, and retired from baseball before the 2017 season. Personally, I was a big fan of the charismatic  slugger, and was disappointed that things didn’t work out better for him.

Then there was Brett Lawrie. The Blue Jays didn’t draft him, but they traded a valuable rotation arm at the time in Shaun Marcum to bring the Canadian born player to Toronto. He stormed onto the scene in 2011 as well hitting .293 with 9 home runs and 25 RBI in just 150 at bats, and looked like a perennial All-Star in the making. After a couple of up and down seasons with the Blue Jays, he was eventually traded to Oakland in the Josh Donaldson acquisition, and things didn’t get better for him in a new jersey. He played one season in Oakland before being traded to the White Sox, and was designated for assignment during spring training this year. He spent the entire year on the sidelines, both recovering from injury and looking for another opportunity. It’s hard to say what the future holds for the 27 year old infielder.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Vlad Jr, Bo Bichette, or anyone else is destined for the same trajectory. I’m merely suggesting that we’ve watched players who were supposed to be the next generation of Blue Jays’ stars, only to see them flame out before their 30th birthday, or never reach their potential at all.

With that in mind, Blue Jays fans need to remain patient when it comes to their young stars, and know that their day is coming, and likely sooner than I’d even predict. However, they are still prospects, so until they have arrived and proven themselves on the big league level, it’s a little premature to say things like “we won’t need Donaldson at third after 2018” (I’ve read this on Twitter several times), until we know if a) Vlad can stick as a big leaguer (I’ll eat my socks if he doesn’t), or b) If he’s a third baseman at the highest level.

Next: Could Bautista return in 2018 as a DH option?

Because as we’ve seen with guys like Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia, and Brett Lawrie, there are no guarantees when it comes to prospects in baseball, even if they’re talented and likeable characters. That’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t be excited about the next generation of players, but let’s try to be as patient as we can.