5 Blue Jays to watch at the plate this season

July 7th, 2020

TORONTO -- Across 60 games, hot streaks will change seasons and small sample sizes suddenly won't seem so small.

The Blue Jays should feel comfortable with their rotation, led by Hyun-Jin Ryu and soon to feature No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson, per MLB Pipeline, as the roster’s steady hand. The veterans should pair with the young arms behind them to give the club a strong enough foundation, but it’s up to the lineup to determine whether this season will feature a push to .500 or a surprise playoff run.

Without 162 games to spread streaks and trends across, there’s not much time to wait, either.

“Teams are going to be thinking about the urgency of each win and the significance of each win in a shortened season,” said general manager Ross Atkins.

Toronto’s young lineup will naturally lend itself to hot and cold streaks. Core pieces like Cavan Biggio or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are more predictable, relatively speaking, given the advanced plate approach that can offset batted-ball luck to an extent, but some of the bats around them have a much wider range of potential outcomes this season.

Someone will burst through with a .325 average and a .950 OPS, while others will fall flat over a sample of just 60 games. These are the hitters to keep an eye on.

1. Center fielder Randal Grichuk
Key stat: Career OPS of .843 in the second half

Grichuk has been a different player in the second half throughout his career, consistently posting far better numbers than his starts. Those numbers came closer together last year, with a .708 OPS in the first half jumping to .774 in the second as he’s worked to curb that trend, but the center fielder evidently heats up with the weather.

So what will happen when the 2020 season starts around the time that a standard season’s second half typically would? That starts to blend math and philosophy a bit too much, but simply put, if second-half Grichuk shows up for these 60 games, the Blue Jays will be thrilled. And as Grichuk goes, the young guys follow.

2. Shortstop Bo Bichette
Key stat: The first player in MLB history to record 10 extra-base hits in his first nine games

Speaking of small samples being taken more seriously, Bichette hit .311 with a .930 OPS over just 46 games during his debut in the Majors in 2019, smashing club and league records along the way. There is no player on this Blue Jays roster whose style and personality better cater to the shortened season than Bichette, whose edge and energy are made for the sprint.

Bichette will be eager to play all 60 games and you can expect him to attack pitchers early, so the sky is the limit if he gets hot. Likely to lead off ahead of Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Guerrero Jr., Bichette might have the most important bat on this team in 2020.

3. Right fielder Teoscar Hernández
Key stat: Posted an OPS of .873 after being recalled from Triple-A Buffalo on June 5 last season

The talent is undeniably there. Hernández is strong and can lift any ball he makes clean contact with over the wall, but it’s all about consistency for the 27-year-old.

When Hernández was demoted to Triple-A last May, he was hitting .189 and it wasn’t bad luck. He’d struck out 42 times in 39 games -- including four in his final game -- and he hit just three home runs. He regrouped, regained confidence and came back as the hitter that the Blue Jays’ front office continues to believe he can be. Hernández might have the widest range of outcomes of any hitter in this lineup, but if he starts strong, he’s got a chance to lead the club in homers.

4. Left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Key stat: Injuries have limited Gurriel to just 65 and 84 games in his two MLB seasons

When we talk about the “streaky” nature of Gurriel, we’re talking more about health. Injuries have limited him in each of his first two seasons, but he was excellent while healthy in 2019 and looked right at home in left field, which was great news for the Blue Jays after he’d looked uncomfortable at second base in April, to put it lightly.

Like Hernández, a trip to Triple-A Buffalo did the trick. Over 71 games after he rejoined the MLB club, Gurriel posted a .919 OPS with 20 home runs. Hitting in front of Guerrero -- as manager Charlie Montoyo alluded to in Spring Training -- Gurriel will have plenty of protection and RBI opportunities in front of him.

5. Catcher Danny Jansen
Key stat: Jansen posted a .732 OPS after June 29 of last season, compared to .560 before

Jansen is a major variable in 2020 moreso due to his recent change in approach than the streaky nature of his past. His extreme focus on defense worked in '19, earning him a Gold Glove Award nomination, but it took the life out of his bat early in the season. Jansen was stronger down the stretch, and his confidence this spring in a new routine was matched by some early results that had his coaches buzzing. Without a full 162 games to spread his catchers over, Montoyo could choose to ride the hot hand between Jansen and Reese McGuire.