Blue Jays: What it takes to join a contender on the fly

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MARCH 13: Gabriel Moreno #70 of the Toronto Blue Jays swings at pitch during the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles during a spring training game at TD Ballpark on March 13, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - MARCH 13: Gabriel Moreno #70 of the Toronto Blue Jays swings at pitch during the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles during a spring training game at TD Ballpark on March 13, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays top prospect Gabriel Moreno will hope to make his MLB debut at some point in 2022, and some difficult circumstances are likely waiting for him.

While Moreno is a top-tier prospect that looks like he’ll be a star someday for the Blue Jays, he’s going to have to impress right away once he arrives if he hopes to stick around. That’s because the Blue Jays are firmly in a “win-now” phase, and they won’t be able to extend a ton of patience to young and developing players. That’s been a theme over the last 2-3 season as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah, and more have gotten their feet wet at the highest level, but this club is moving into a new phase these days.

Having said all of that, Moreno is pretty well set up for when he’s ready for his debut, at least in a different area. While the pressure to perform will be there right away, he might have an opportunity to win a job over his big league counterparts. As things stand right now, the Jays have three catchers who would be above Moreno on the depth chart in Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Alejandro Kirk. It’s entirely possible one of those three are traded before Opening Day, or even early in the season, but Moreno will have to surpass them in order to win playing time in the big leagues.

While there are solid players above him on the depth chart, they’re not the core pieces that are entrenched with this team going forward. Each have their upsides and are talented receivers and hitters in their own right, but none have the upside that Moreno brings to the table. That’s part of what makes at least one of them expendable in my eyes, because eventually there won’t be room to carry four catchers in Toronto even if Kirk spends considerable time as the designated hitter.

On a secondary note as far as position, there has been some talk that Moreno could get a look at third base as well. That’s likely an idea that would take a fair bit of development in Triple-A before they’d try it in the big leagues, but the path isn’t exactly blocked there for the 21 year old either, at least not for now. As things currently stand it looks like Santiago Espinal is at the top of the depth chart at third, with Cavan Biggio over at second base. The two could share duties at either second or third base if the Jays elect to bring in another infielder, or it’s possible they could both find themselves as starters on Opening Day. If that were the case, Moreno would have all the more opportunity to come up and win a job, depending on how Espinal and Biggio perform early in the season of course.

Normally I would say the most important part would be hitting, and that Moreno looks like he’ll be a true asset on offence. However, if he ends up spending the bulk of his time as a catcher it will be equally important that he’s ready to handle the duties of guiding a big league pitching staff. He’ll have plenty of veterans to work with like Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu, and more, but that’s going to take some time as well. On the plus side, the Jays have a ready-made mentor for a young catcher like that in Danny Jansen, who has frequently been viewed as a plus-defensive catcher.

When I think about the Blue Jays history of developing prospects, the best parallel I can think of right now would be Carlos Delgado when he was trying to break into the big leagues in the early 90’s. Delgado’s talent was undeniable and he made his debut during the 1993 season, when the Jays won their second straight championship, but there wasn’t really a place for him on a title-defending team, at least not just yet. Granted, he was still finding his way as a hitter, and figuring out where he’d play on defence for the long-term, but there was next to no chance he was going to crack that roster back then. What’s lying ahead for Moreno isn’t quite that daunting, but there are definitely similarities.

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Whenever and however it happens, there’s a very good chance that Moreno will get a look in the big leagues at some point in 2022. We’ll likely have to keep our expectations in check given the fact that the Jays should be contenders, and their patience for young players will be fairly short, but we also don’t know what kind of opportunities could pop up as far as injuries go either. One way or another, he may not get the softest of circumstances to ease his way into the big leagues, but I look forward to seeing what Gabriel Moreno can bring to the table this season, and even more as he continues to grow as a player.