TORONTO -- Just as the holiday season creeps up quickly each winter, the first steps of a new Major League Baseball season are waiting around the corner in 2020.
The Blue Jays still have plenty of work to do this offseason as they try to surround their young core with a stronger rotation. February isn’t far off, though, and this will be a big spring for the team as it unveils a newly renovated TD Ballpark -- formerly Dunedin Stadium -- and finish extensive renovations to its complex.
Here’s a look ahead at the key dates to circle on your calendar, and a few questions to consider along the way.
Winter Fest: Jan. 18-19
This weekend will see Rogers Centre transformed into the Blue Jays’ annual offseason fan festival. There will be activities throughout the building on both days along with food, games, sales, photo ops and autograph sessions. A growing list of current players, coaches and alumni are scheduled to attend.
Spring Training: Feb. 13
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to hold their first workout on Feb. 13 in Dunedin, with the full roster officially coming together on Feb. 17.
First Spring Training game: Feb. 22
The Blue Jays open their Grapefruit League schedule on Feb. 22 on the road against the Yankees. After another road game on Feb. 23 vs. the Twins, the club will make its home debut and unveil TD Ballpark on Feb. 24 against the Braves. That home opener begins a stretch of four consecutive home games for the Blue Jays that week.
Montreal: Mar. 23-24
Olympic Stadium will play host once again to the Blue Jays’ final spring exhibition games, and this year’s edition is expected to be a big draw with the Yankees in town. Toronto typically enters this final series with roster decisions still pending, and it often acts as an opportunity for some of the club’s younger players -- and Canadian players -- to get some reps on the big stage.
Opening Day: Mar. 26
The Blue Jays open their season with a seven-game homestand, beginning with a four-game set against the Red Sox. First pitch on Opening Day -- a Thursday -- is scheduled for 3:37 p.m. ET. After Boston and Cincinnati leave town, Toronto hits the road for its first trip of the season in early April through New York and Philadelphia.
Three questions for 2020
1. Which of the young kids will take the next big step?
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio should offer an interesting case study on player development to follow over the next few seasons. The three young players -- all with different styles and pedigrees -- had varying degrees of success in the Major Leagues as rookies, but now comes the challenging part. Pitchers will be better prepared for them this time around, and the endless game of back-and-forth adjustments begins. It wouldn’t be surprising to see one regress, one stay the same and the other improve. But who will it be?
2. What is the identity of the rotation?
Toronto’s next pitching addition will help to clarify this, whether that be a starter with some upside or another inning-eater on the back end. Righty Nate Pearson, the club’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will have every opportunity to crack the Major Leagues before the midway point of the season, but his triple-digit fastball and elite prospect pedigree can’t do all of the work. From the crowded group of young starters the Blue Jays rolled out in 2019, including Trent Thornton and Anthony Kay, will one step up and establish themselves as a mid-rotation arm?
3. Who is 1-A behind the plate?
The Blue Jays are the envy of many organizations at catcher, with Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire in the big leagues and a strong prospect pipeline behind them. Jansen has the edge entering Spring Training, and he would likely open the season as the majority of a 60-40 split if the season started today. But McGuire is plenty capable and should make this interesting. As a classic competition between two young players who support one another, this can only work out well for Toronto.