Blue Jays: The next core could be championship calibre

The future is as exciting as I can remember in my 30 years as a Blue Jays fan, and in a few seasons the Jays could have one of the best roster cores in baseball.

With Baseball America and the MiLB pipeline both coming out with their newest prospect rankings, Blue Jays fans should be salivating at the thought of what the future could bring. Sure, the names that made the top 100 are incredibly young and a lot could happen, but to have four players in the top 100 and two inside the top 10 (on Baseball America’s list) is an outstanding place to start when thinking about the future.

For both lists the names were the same (with one omission), but the numbers differed slightly between the two rankings. Here’s how it looked, in case you missed it or don’t feel like clicking the links above:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.:

#3 (BA) – #3 (MLB Pipeline)

Bo Bichette:

#8 (BA) – #14 (MLB Pipeline)

Anthony Alford:

#60 (BA) – #47 (MLB Pipeline)

Nate Pearson:

#91 (BA) – Not listed (MLB Pipeline)

Guerrero headlines the group, has been argued as the top prospect in baseball on other lists, and will likely headline most of them by the time Ronald Acuna and Shohei Ohtani make their debuts in April. He won’t turn 19 until March and is a scary resemblance to his Hall of Fame father, only he’s supposed to have better plate discipline (although that was one of the fun parts of watching Vladimir Guerrero). I could write an entire article about him, but his talent could be summed up in the fact he was rewarded with the first ever grade of 80 for a hit tool. So yeah, he’s good.

Bichette will be 20 in March and would be getting even more hype and praise than he already does if not for Guerrero’s presence. Across two levels last year he ended up hitting .362, and flirted with .400 for a good chunk of the year. As a Robin to Guerrero’s Batman, the top of the Blue Jays’ lineup will be scary in a few years.

Speaking of the top of the lineup, Anthony Alford comes in with favourable rankings despite only playing 81 games last year. He did make his MLB debut, but unfortunately suffered a broken hamate bone and had to spend some significant time on the DL. With a little more minor league seasoning and better luck with health, Alford should be challenging for a spot in the Blue Jays outfield no later than 2019, if not this coming season. His speed is arguably his most exciting asset, but he’s been talked about as a potential five tool player.

Finally, Nate Pearson is already being talked about as the potential steal of the 2017 draft, and was well covered by my colleague Clayton Richer just the other day. He absolutely destroyed the competition while pitching for the Vancouver Canadians in the Northwest league, posting a 0.95 ERA in seven starts, striking out 24 batters in 19 innings. He’ll move up the ladder and that’ll reveal more about how much time he’ll need before he’ll be MLB ready, but he seems like a candidate for a quick climb.

If we’re being realistic about when all four could be in the big leagues, I think 2020 is the safest bet. Alford has a good chance to earn a spot at some point this season, especially if one or more of the outfielders get injured, but the other three will need at least one more season, and probably two before they’ll be fully ready to become MLB regulars.

By 2020 the Blue Jays will have a few other young stars who they’ll need to make decisions on, assuming there are no extensions before then. All three of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna will be in their final years of club control. A lot could change before then, but those three represent arguably the most valuable pillars on which to build the ball club, at least on the current big league roster, and I’d argue that extending Josh Donaldson and including him in this group would be wise as well.

Again, I realize a lot can change in two or three years, but when you’re talking about a core that could include potential All-Stars in seven-eight homegrown positions (the Blue Jays traded for Donaldson), that’s the stuff of a championship calibre team. We’re also not even including names like Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, T.J. ZeuchLourdes Gurriel, Logan Warmoth, or many others that could develop into very useful big leaguers.

And other than the contracts of Stroman/Sanchez/Osuna, and possibly an extension of Donaldson, everyone I’ve listed will be on rookie level contracts, likely providing big value for their minimal compensation. Having that much young talent will allow Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro the freedom to supplement the roster as they see fit, and by 2020 they’ll also have expensive contracts for the likes of Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales off the books, and with Troy Tulowitzki‘s set to expire at season’s end.

It won’t be a cake walk by any means, especially with the talented young rosters in place in New York and Boston and the rest of baseball in hard pursuit of a championship as well, but the future looks extremely bright in Toronto. The team could be surprisingly good in 2018 as well and there’s plenty to look forward to in the near term, but for every frustrating loss the team endures this year try to remember that help is on the way, and it could be of championship calibre in the not so distant future.