At the start of the 2021 campaign there was a lot of optimism around this Toronto Blue Jays team, and why not? They had a pretty impressive offseason by signing George Springer, Marcus Semien, Kirby Yates, and more, and were returning a young core that had mostly just experienced MLB playoffs for the first time.
The excitement was spread around to a number of areas, but the central focus of a young face of the franchise felt like it had shifted. For 2019 and 2020 the first name on the lips of Blue Jays fans was Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but after a soft start to his big league career, Bo Bichette arguably had the brighter star during Spring Training and even in the early part of the year. Rightfully so, as he’s had a legitimately historic start to his young career, and is a star in his own right.
Fast forward nearly two months into the regular season and Vlad Jr. has grabbed his rightful place among the best hitters in the world and has taken up a huge piece of the spotlight with the Blue Jays these days. So far there hasn’t exactly been a let up on his MVP-calibre production either, and that only fuels the Vladdy-mania among the fan base.
And in my view, I think it’s all going to make Bichette a better player as a result.
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First and foremost, who doesn’t love a healthy competition among peers? We’d be kidding ourselves if someone with Bichette’s talent and self confidence is just going to concede the title of star of the team, even if he’s been playing with Vlad Jr. long enough to know what it can be like when he’s locked in, as he has been this season. Still, if you’ve heard young Bo talk in interviews in the past, his goals include being among the best players in all of baseball, not just on his own team.
Of course, there is room for more than one star in the sky, and that’s the luxury that the Blue Jays are looking at for the next several seasons with this young core. They say hitting is contagious, and it feels like we’ve seen that concept come to life plenty of times throughout the 2021 schedule. More than that, this young group will push each other to be better, especially as they get closer to pursuing a World Series title at some point, whether that comes this season, or in the future.
In order to get to that level the Blue Jays are going to need an All-Star level performance from Bichette, and he’s already bringing that kind of production to the team in the early part of his career, even with occasional hiccups. He’s only going to get better as he gains more experience at the highest level, and as long as Vlad Jr. continues to evolve into a star, that’s going to help his cause as well.
Bichette gets the direct benefit of batting right in front of Guerrero Jr. these days, which might be one of the most enviable spots in all of baseball. Pitchers can’t afford to walk Bichette and put him on base for Vlad right now, as the rocket-hitting first baseball leads all of baseball in home runs, slugging, and OPS. There is no more dangerous hitter, and that inevitably leads to Bichette seeing more fastballs, and better pitches to hit in general.
To that end, Bichette has quietly put together a pretty solid start to his season, even if he’d be the first to tell you about the areas he’d like to improve. Still, a slash line of .270/.318/.469 with nine home runs, 12 doubles, 27 RBI, and seven stolen bases is nothing to sneeze at. He’s earned already 1.3 fWAR (1.6 bWAR), and even with some early defensive struggles he still rates out as one of the top overall shortstops in the American League through 47 games.
Admittedly, Bichette probably hasn’t received as much credit as his play has deserved, but that’s a familiar place for the 23-year-old, and maybe not a bad one at all. There’s no doubt that Bichette can and will handle the role as the star of the team at times, but he and the Blue Jays are far better off when Vlad Guerrero Jr. is the reaching his potential.