The Blue Jays appear set to enter the 2020 without a clear designated hitter, and that could be a positive thing for Charlie Montoyo’s coaching staff.
We’re now less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, and while you should expect some roster tweaking before Opening Day, the current roster for the Blue Jays is largely what they’ll be working with to begin the year.
After a fairly quick rebuild, albeit one that’s far from over, the Blue Jays should be a lot more competitive in 2020 thanks to some key free agent additions, and of course the development of their budding young core as well. It should be an exciting year now that the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and several others are set to play their first full-length season, and the potential has to have Charlie Montoyo grinning.
One of the main focuses of the off-season for the Blue Jays’ front office was on flexibility, and while that term became borderline annoying for a while, there is something to be said for what Ross Atkins and company are always hammering home. And as Montoyo fills out his lineup card throughout the 2020 campaign, there’s a very good chance he’s going to be thankful for that focus.
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One of the direct effects of that philosophy is that the Blue Jays will likely enter the season without one player slated to handle the designated hitter duties. For several years they employed DH-first hitters like Edwin Encarnacion and Kendrys Morales, and things started to shift last year. Even then though, the Blue Jays still were somewhat limited when both Justin Smoak and Rowdy Tellez were on the roster, as they had to play first base/DH or else sit on the bench. The flexibility is much greater this season.
The biggest difference could be the signing of Travis Shaw, who is expected to handle the first base job the majority of the time in 2020. That said, Shaw has extensive experience at third and second base as well, and his ability to move around gives Montoyo a lot of options. For example, if he wanted to give Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a day off of his legs but keep his bat in the lineup, he could DH while Shaw shift overs to third and Tellez plays first. Cavan Biggio’s ability to play up to six positions adds to that option list even more, as he could play first, second, and third base, and presumably may be able to play anywhere in the outfield, although we’ve yet to see him in centre field.
If the Blue Jays want to carry an extra outfielder to start the season, the lack of a full-time DH will certainly help there as well. In that scenario they could start someone like Rowdy Tellez in Buffalo to begin the year, and carry five outfielders including (for example) Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, and Anthony Alford. Having that available DH spot gives Montoyo the option of starting four of those five with one on the bench as a back-up, and that’s not a bad spot to be in either.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a moment suggesting that having a masher like Edwin Encarnacion on the roster is a bad thing. I’ll be the first to admit that I was hoping the Blue Jays might even bring him back this off-season. However, because they don’t have that type of offence-only hitter on the roster, Montoyo’s options are pretty enviable. Even he admitted to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet the other day that, “it helps me a lot”.
Even if Tellez ends up getting the majority of the at-bats at first base this season, having that flexibility should be a tremendous advantage for Montoyo and the Blue Jays, and should add to what should be an exciting season from this up and coming team.