If the Blue Jays are going to have a successful 2020 campaign, then having a productive Bo Bichette on the field might be the biggest key.
Ross Atkins the Blue Jays’ front office have done a very solid job of improving the big league roster in advance of the 2020 season, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the young team takes a decent leap this year. By bringing in Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Shun Yamaguchi as free agents, and Chase Anderson through a trade with the Brewers, the Blue Jays addressed their glaring weakness in the starting rotation, and have a talented group of young players leading what should be an exciting offence.
Near the top of that list would be Bo Bichette, and if you paid attention to his 46 game stint with the Blue Jays last year then you’re likely very excited to see what the budding star can do with a full MLB season. He managed to slash .311/.358/.571 with 11 home runs, 18 doubles, and 21 RBI over 196 at-bats last season, and was a spark plug for an exciting offence for the Blue Jays late in year, and is expected to be the everyday shortstop and likely the leadoff hitter.
And he may also be the biggest key to any success the Blue Jays could have in 2019.
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I say that for a few reasons. The obvious place to start is the impact that he can bring to the diamond, which was more than obvious late last year. He managed to earn a very impressive 2.1 bWAR in that short period of time, vastly improving the offence and energizing the rest of his teammates in the process. His potentially dangerous bat gives them a legitimate option at the top of the order, and lengthens the lineup for Charlie Montoyo in a way that hasn’t happened from a shortstop in Toronto in a very long time.
Secondly, the Blue Jays really don’t have a replacement for him if he goes down to injury, at least not a good one. I’ve talked about it a few times over the last month or so here at Jays Journal, as the Blue Jays are pretty thin on infielders who are capable shortstops. Thankfully they signed Ruben Tejada to a MiLB contract, but he’s not much of a threat with the bat, and shouldn’t be counted on as a long-term solution. Other options include the likes of Brandon Drury (not really a shortstop), Santiago Espinal (just 28 games of experience at Triple-A), or Breyvic Valera (likely to be designated for assignment and removed from the 40-man roster at some point), so the health of Bichette is quite important.
That said, there shouldn’t be any additional pressure on Bichette to stay healthy, or to feel like he has to stay in the lineup. While the 2020 season should be a step in the right direction for the Blue Jays, I don’t know that there are many folks who expect them to be serious World Series contenders. Fringe Wild Card contenders maybe, but they’re likely at least a year away from being a real threat in the playoffs.
The Blue Jays’ front office has made “flexibility” one of the keys to their off-season work, and they’ve built a roster with a great deal of it. The one exception may be at shortstop though, and while a player like Tejada will help shore things up, he’s not a whole lot more than an insurance policy. They have a plethora of outfielders to choose from, and even guys like Brandon Drury and Cavan Biggio would could shift out there as well if need be. Biggio also gives Charlie Montoyo flexibility with his infield picture, as does Travis Shaw, who can play first, second, and third base as well.
They’re a little thin at shortstop though, and if this team is going to push to play meaningful September baseball, Bichette is going to have to be healthy and productive year. That’s to be expected when talking about one of the best players on your team, but it will be especially the case for the 21-year-old this year. That his late-season concussion symptoms are in the rear-view mirror, here’s hoping we get to see a healthy and productive year from one of the most exciting young Blue Jays in a very long time.