In the past the Blue Jays have often eased their young players into the lineup as they’ve debuted in the big leagues. There’s not much sense in using that strategy in 2019.
The Blue Jays’ new manager Charlie Montoyo has a lot of interesting dynamics to his job this year, his first in Toronto. In the first season of a rebuild the expectations should be pretty low in the win-loss column, but his handling of the young players navigating the big leagues for the first time will be a crucial part of his new gig.
In recent years the Blue Jays have had the benefit of easing their young players into the lineup, especially one that had so many established veterans kicking around. Whether it was departed leaders like Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, and Jose Bautista, or those veterans that still remain like Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, and others, the Blue Jays had the benefit of not putting too much pressure on the kids right away. As a result we saw guys like Devon Travis hit in the bottom third of the lineup in the early part of their careers.
We should take everything we see during the Grapefruit League season with a grain of salt, but I have found it interesting that Bo Bichette hit 8th in the order on Saturday, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was in the five hole on Sunday during his Spring debut. I’m not sure that there’s an obvious way to fill out the lineup card so early in the campaign, but it will be something worth watching once the regular season gets underway.
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Over the next couple of seasons the Blue Jays won’t have the same luxury of having as many veterans on their 25 man roster, which will thrust their younger players not only into the lineup, but also into parts of the order that are expected to produce. If guys like Guerrero Jr. and Bichette had come up when the team was flooded with veterans, chances are they would have hit in the bottom third to at least start their big league careers. As things stand now, it’s hard to imagine Guerrero hitting anywhere but the top three or four once he arrives, and it might be the same for Bichette when he eventually arrives as well.
That will depend on the development of the other Blue Jay regulars, but I’m not sure there are a lot of veterans that would challenge for those top spots. Right now the Blue Jays are evaluating who their leadoff hitter should be, and the two names that were on Montoyo’s lips the other day were Travis and Billy McKinney, neither of whom should be guaranteed an everyday starting job at this point. Bichette’s not likely to arrive until late in the year, if at at all in 2019, but does anyone think he would be a worse leadoff option right now than what the Blue Jays are going to use?
The Guerrero situation is an even bigger no-brainer. As the game continues to evolve teams are using their best hitters higher in the lineup all the time, and I suspect that Guerrero will qualify as such after he arrives. Fangraphs has him projected for a top 10 season on offence, even in a slightly shortened rookie season, and no other Blue Jays are even close. Maybe he’ll hit somewhere around the fifth or six spot in the order for the first couple of games, but I have a hard time imagining guys like Smoak, Morales, and Randal Grichuk outperforming him and needing to hit higher in the lineup.
I genuinely hope that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is in the thick of the lineup as well, wherever he ends up playing. I made an argument the other day that I think he’s the best option for leading off right now, but I have a feeling the Blue Jays are going to explore other avenues first. Regardless, I hope the Blue Jays keep him near the top of the lineup to get him as many at bats as possible, and after last year’s showing there’s no reason why they wouldn’t.
The lone exception could be Danny Jansen, and that has less to do with his ability at the plate than it does with his job behind it. Catchers have a different workload than other young players around the league, as they not only have to learn the tendencies and preferences of their own pitching staff, but they’re also tasked with studying the opposition and building a game plan with their battery mates. I’m always willing to give a young catcher more time to develop as a hitter, simply because I realize they are tasked with a lot on the other side of the field. For that reason and more, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jansen hit in the bottom third, and maybe even 9th throughout the year.
While it may have been the Blue Jay way to ease their hitters into things in the past, that was a different set of circumstances. John Gibbons is gone, so we’ll get to see how Montoyo and company plan to handle things. And frankly, Atkins and the front office wanted to set up a roster situation that presented opportunity and playing time for their budding young players. They’ve done just that, and in a season with limited expectations there’s no sense in holding back on any other responsibilities for them either.