This Blue Jay is the must-watch player of the year

March 18th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Each spring, there’s a player in camp whom teammates and coaches speak of in hushed voices. 

Beyond the annual bravado of players being in the best shape of their lives or working on a new, exciting pitch -- which rarely matters come Opening Day -- someone always stands out. Last year, it was .

When I arrived in Blue Jays camp in 2022, the lockout was still rolling, so this was a “prospect camp” organized for players not on the 40-man roster. I was the lone reporter in camp for those early days -- and not long after I walked up to the complex doors, pitching coach Pete Walker mentioned Tiedemann’s name. Later that day, at the end of an interview with a Top 10 prospect in the system, I was asked if I’d watched Tiedemann pitch yet. The next day, a Minor League coach asked, “Have you seen Tiedemann yet? He’s built like a Greek god.”

Why, I wondered, should my first priority be to watch a 19-year-old lefty who hadn’t thrown a professional pitch? Well, six months later, Tiedemann wrapped the season with a 2.17 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings and had launched himself to being the No. 1 prospect in the system. In hindsight … that’s why. 

This year, that player is

It’s a drastically different situation, given that Bichette is an established MLB star. But he’s still the name I’ve had brought up to me the most without asking, which is always the signal to watch for in Spring Training.

Bichette has looked locked in since the early days of camp, treating each at-bat like the regular season -- and his surge in late 2022 seems to have been a pivotal point in the 25-year-old’s career.

“I think I found out that I’m really good, to be honest,” Bichette said. “I always knew what I was capable of, but I now understand who I am.”

That’s the key. 

Players now have more access to information, coaching, sports science and outside opinion than ever before. It’s easy to get caught up in the choreography of it all. But what makes Bichette special is that he is his own style of player, particularly at the plate -- where his mechanics are natural and athletic, not planned and practiced. 

In so many ways, Bichette is still the same player who debuted in 2019 as an unusually mature 21-year-old. But there has been subtle growth.

“Since then, I’ve gone through ups and downs which I hadn’t prior to that,” Bichette said on a recent Sportsnet broadcast. “When you go through that, you learn a lot about yourself. You learn to slow the game down. You learn how to make the ups a little bit longer and the downs a little bit shorter.”

That first taste of failure is what breaks so many prospects. Chances are that a top prospect will have been the best player in their town growing up, then the best on their travel ball team, college team, Minor League team and so on. When you’re used to being the star of the show, failure carries a heavy blow when it comes for the first time on baseball’s grandest stage. 

This is a team ready to follow his lead. And as the Blue Jays work to nail the finer details in 2023, Bichette’s certainty in himself and dedication to evolving are a fine fit at the front of the line.

“I hope I learn about myself until the day I’m done,” Bichette said. “I don’t think that ever should stop. I feel good about myself and I have a good understanding of who I am. I hope that never stops.”