The 2023 Blue Jays season may be the most anticipated in years as the team has changed their direction in style of play. Behind the pitching staff, Ross Atkins has added over the last two years some of the best defensive players in the game when he added names such as Matt Chapman, Daulton Varhso and Kevin Kiermaier, two of those players have received Platinum Gloves as the best defensive player in the entire league.
Looking towards the season, the expectations are no longer making the postseason, but taking a deep run and making their first World Series appearance in 33 years. Besides having an overall strong team, you’ll need some players to have individual success and in doing so, fans could see some awards being handed out to some Blue Jays at the end of the season. Here is a look at who are some candidates for some hardware.
Alek Manoah – AL Cy Young Award
It is a little hard to say that 2022 was a breakout season for Blue Jays 2019 first-round pick Alek Manoah, as his rookie season was so electric the year before. Manoah made his debut in 2021 and finished the season with a 9-2 record and a 3.22 ERA in just 20 starts as he began his season in Triple-A Buffalo. Manoah would finish eighth in Rookie of the Year voting, where he likely would have finished higher had he started the year with the club.
Manoah followed his rookie year by establishing himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League. The Florida-born 6-foot-6 pitcher would be named to his first All-Star Game and strike out three batters, including Ronald Acuña Jr. in his one inning of work. In typical Manoah fashion, he hit one batter as well.
Going down the stretch, some writers worried about the workload given to Manoah as he had never pitched more than 130 innings in any one season and was getting close to 200. Manoah not only handled the workload, but got stronger as the season stretched on. He would finish the season with eight consecutive quality starts posting a 1.00 ERA over 54 innings and held batters to a .165 batting average.
Manoah received votes for the 2022 AL MVP and finished third in American League Cy Young voting, which took a near perfect season by Justin Verlander to win the award. Just a few years after being drafted, Manoah is already turning into a veteran leader and has led nobody to doubt he is still getting better. He will benefit from the stronger defense the club is putting behind him and if the now 25-year-old takes another step forward, he could be the most dominant pitcher in the American League.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – AL Most Valuable Player
Last year Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was unable to follow up an incredible 2021 season that saw him lead the league almost every offensive category, including home runs (48) and OPS (1.002) that had him finishing second in American League MVP voting and earning his first Silver Slugger Award.
You could argue that overall, Guerrero may have been even better as a player in 2022 due to his strides on defense. At the plate, Guerrero still put up All-Star caliber numbers as he posted a slash line of .274/.339/.480 which included 35 doubles, 32 home runs and 97 RBI. On the defensive side of the game, Guerrero earned his first Gold Glove Award.
Guerreo has shown through his years in the organization that he spends his off-seasons continually trying to get better, whether on skill sets or physical training. He appears to be a very motivated individual; and while 2022 were All-Star numbers, he’ll likely be looking to get back to similar numbers he posted in 2021.
The American League MVP is a difficult award to predict as it is more common for hitters to have up and down seasons. Guerrero is going through an era of baseball where there is a Babe Ruth type player (Shohei Ohtani) and a 6-foot-7, 280lb New York Yankee (Aaron Judge) that is breaking franchise records. What makes it fun is that Guerrero is just as good as these players and has more upside to his game due to being five and seven years younger than each. I believe Guerrero is getting set to have a huge season and should take a run at the American League MVP award.
John Schneider – AL Manager of the Year
The career Blue Jay, John Schneider has only known one franchise since being drafted as a catcher by the organization in 2002. After some injuries ended his career in 2007, the club moved him into different coaching roles as he climbed through the organization. It is well-documented that the core of the current club came up through the ranks with Schneider, which included leading the 2018 Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats that had Jordan Romano, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio among several others to the Eastern League Championship. Schneider would earn Manager of the Year that season and he would be promoted to the big league club for the 2019 season and appear in a couple of different roles over the next few years.
Midway through last season the organization finally relieved Charlie Montoyo of his duties and replaced him with Schneider. When Schneider took over the club was 46-42 (.523) and 15 ½ games behind the AL East leading New York Yankees. The team was able to turn things around under Schneider and finished the season on a much higher note going 46-28 (.622) for the remainder of the season and gaining 8 ½ games on the Yankees to finish seven games behind. Schneider’s .622 winning percentage finished second among American League managers, behind Houston’s Dusty Baker (.654).
As stated above, the Blue Jays have made dramatic changes on the defensive side of the game and also added Chris Bassit to the starting rotation. If the Blue Jays can deliver on their expectations and take the American League East pennant you have to put Schneider down as a favorite for the American League Manager of the Year.