Bichette not satisfied as he enters camp

February 22nd, 2021

It's not uncommon for to be overshadowed, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Even as a top-end prospect, Bichette was in the shadow of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the No. 1 prospect in the sport at the time. Now, as the Blue Jays open Spring Training and what they hope will be a window of sustained competitiveness, there are other major names grabbing the spotlight in George Springer and Marcus Semien.

This just means Bichette has been surrounded by star power, which is a good thing for the Blue Jays, but the 22-year-old shortstop has the potential to be the face of it all if Toronto is competing for a World Series in the coming years. With a .307 average and .896 OPS over his first 75 Major League games, Bichette has the talent, the feel and the swagger to be the main attraction, but he's not satisfied.

That starts with a look back to his 2020 season, which didn't finish the way he would have liked after a hot start and a right knee injury.

"I was healthy enough to produce at a higher level than I did," Bichette said Monday as the Blue Jays held their first full squad workout in Dunedin, Fla. "I think you can learn from everything, and I think I learned from it and I attacked the offseason to the best of my ability. I think it went really well, so I'm excited to see how the season goes and [I'm] excited to get started."

Part of that had to be physical, of course. Prior to Bichette missing time with the injury, his OPS was at 1.063 over 14 games. In the 15 games following his return in September, it was .620.

That wasn't all of it, though.

"I think it stemmed from maybe a mental energy I had," Bichette said. "I don't know what it was, but you know, last year took a toll on everybody and I think that I didn't handle it as best as some of the guys around the league did. So for me, it's about learning from that and not making the same mistake."

Bichette explained Monday that his confidence in a full 162-game season being played without interruption will help him stay mentally fresh. The ongoing NBA season and lessons learned from the 2020 MLB season are what gives Bichette that confidence, along with increased COVID-19 protocols to keep players and staff safe as they plan and travel.

He'll also have a new double-play partner up the middle in Semien, the veteran who signed a one-year, $18 million contract after playing six years with the A's. Bichette said a half-dozen times on Monday that his main focus is simply to "get better," and the 30-year-old Semien is a fine player for him to look to in that regard.

Semien was a talented player when he took the starting shortstop job in Oakland, but his defense was a liability at times. That changed, as Semien worked tirelessly to turn a weakness into a strength, and his bat eventually followed that upward trajectory. Back in 2019, Semien hit .285 with an .892 OPS, finishing third in American League MVP voting with a value of 7.6 fWAR.

That doesn't happen by accident.

Playing on opposite coasts, Bichette and Semien hadn't seen a lot of one another's game up to this point, but their chemistry will be key in 2021. Semien can show Bichette the way at times, but Bichette believes a key to development is making plays when the lights are on and building that momentum in-season.

"You start to make some plays that build your confidence, and that's the way that I felt like I got better," Semien said. "It was like, 'Hey, wow I can make this play in a game and impact this game with my glove.' Now I'm confident that next year I'm going to do even more. That's what I've taken pride in every year, is just building off what I did in the season."

When the Blue Jays reached an agreement with Semien, Bichette got a call from the front office assuring him that the shortstop position is still his. That's a topic that was widely discussed earlier in the offseason, too, when Toronto showed interest in Francisco Lindor, another shortstop. It might not be the end of that conversation, either, as next offseason's free-agent class is stacked with shortstop talent.

For now, though, it's Bichette's position to run with. Manager Charlie Montoyo expects Bichette to be an All-Star in the near future and continues to praise the development of his defense, which might be the biggest variable in all of this.

Bichette is also well aware of the 14-year, $340 million contract extension signed by Fernando Tatis Jr. in San Diego. Tatis is nearly a year younger than Bichette, and while they're certainly different players, the possibility of an early extension will be a storyline with Bichette in the coming years. It came up briefly this offseason.

"It was brought up, but no offer," Bichette said. "I think I would rather focus on Spring Training and the season ahead, but we'll see what happens."

The first step for Bichette is putting up the numbers he's capable of over a full season of 150-plus games. He's capable of hitting for average and for power, so the counting stats should be impressive. Given the roster the Blue Jays are building around him, though, he could soon have a chance to perform on the big stage in October again, too.