Vladimir Guerrero Jr

Blue Jays: Learning on the fly comes with growing pains

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 18: Nate Pearson #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the third inning during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 18, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 18: Nate Pearson #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the third inning during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 18, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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In a normal year, the Blue Jays would use their Triple-A affiliate to help players work out some kinks, but they’ll have to learn on the fly in 2020.

As the Blue Jays managed to squeak out a 8-7 extra inning victory against the Baltimore Orioles last night, it revealed a lot about where Charlie Montoyo‘s club is right now in their rebuild.

Even without the potent bats of Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, or Rowdy Tellez in the starting lineup, this talented young team did some damage against Wade LeBlanc and the Orioles, at one point going up by a score of 7-3. However, just as it’s happened all too frequently in 2020, the Blue Jays let their opponent’s back in the game, showing us that they still have some work to do to develop the killer instinct it takes to be a real contender.

Tuesday night also showcased a couple of elite talents that are learning on the fly a bit this season, for one reason or another. For Vladimir Guerrero Jr., he’s been tasked with learning a new position at first base, and doing it while playing MLB games. I do believe that he could rate as a defensive asset at first once he’s had time to adjust to his new position, but for now it’s clear that he has some experience to gain at the cold corner. For example, with better footwork in the 8th inning on Tuesday night, he would likely have been able to scoop Travis Shaw‘s throw after his diving stop at third base, which would have saved a run.

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Guerrero Jr. is also adjusting to spending more time as the designated hitter, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s difficult enough to get ready to face big league pitchers who are throwing 95 miles per hour or better, let alone when you’ve been sitting around for a few innings. Again, I’m confident that he’ll improve in the role over time, but it’s another adjustment to consider.

Then there’s Nate Pearson, whose talent is undeniable, and yet lately he’s reminded us that even the best prospects need some time to adjust to performing against the best hitters in the world. Pearson’s talent has been easy to spot in flashes through his first four starts, but he’s yet to really put things together, mostly thanks to shaky command, particularly with his fastball. As the broadcasters discussed throughout the game last night though, it might just be a case of learning to trust his elite stuff, and letting ‘er rip.

The biggest difference for newer big leaguers this year is the lack of a Triple-A season, which matters more than you might think. I’m not suggesting that either Vlad Jr. or Pearson needs to be sent back down to Buffalo (yes, I realize they’re already technically playing there), but it would be nice if the option was available in case either of their struggles worsens. Last season we saw how effective a stint in Triple-A can be to get your groove back, as it worked wonders for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez.

Instead, talented young players are going to have to work on any issues on the fly this season, and that’s just the reality of a MLB campaign during a pandemic. There isn’t much time for practice between games either, as the Blue Jays still have 14 games in 13 days to close out the month of August, and 26 games scheduled in 27 days in September, and that’s assuming they don’t see any more postponements.

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It’s hard not to feel like the Blue Jays could compete for a postseason spot this year, and it’s entirely possible they will with 16 teams able to qualify in 2020. However, we have to remember that it’s still an important year in the rebuild for these young players, and without other options available, they have to learn and hone their craft on the fly.

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