TORONTO -- The new-look Blue Jays entered Spring Training riding a wave of momentum, coming off their first trip to the postseason since 2016 and the major offseason additions of George Springer and Marcus Semien.
These past six months have marked a pivot point for the organization from rebuilding to competing, and expectations are high in '21. This influx of talent and the continued development of the young core meant that, entering camp, there weren’t many open battles for positions in the field.
Toronto’s lineup is stacked and set, but the rotation and bullpen have been a different situation. After a healthy start to camp, injuries have started to pile up late for the Blue Jays, testing their pitching depth right out of the gate.
Here’s a look back at Spring Training before the '21 regular season begins.
The eye test confirms he’s in much better shape physically, but this was always a question of how Guerrero’s improved fitness would translate to the field and his actual production. That focus landed on his defense first, with Guerrero campaigning to move back to third, but that narrative has reached its expected conclusion. Guerrero will see the odd game there, but Cavan Biggio is the man at the hot corner for now.
At the plate, though, Guerrero finally started to show flashes of the former No. 1 prospect in baseball. Guerrero has hammered the ball through Spring Training, but more importantly, he’s hit it in the air consistently. Ground balls were a major issue for him in '19 and '20, but if Guerrero is lifting the ball, he could be on the doorstep of a big season.
The biggest blow came on March 23, when general manager Ross Atkins announced that presumed closer Kirby Yates was headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery. The Blue Jays understood there was a risk involved when they signed Yates, but to go from the hope of him recapturing his '19 form to a lost season was the worst possible outcome for this bullpen.
No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson won’t be ready for the start of the season as he builds back up from a setback to his right groin strain, while Thomas Hatch has missed time with right elbow inflammation. The Blue Jays are fortunate that neither injury appears to be more serious, but both test the club’s depth as Pearson was projected to open the year in the rotation and Hatch was right on the cusp.
Player who opened eyes
No. 7 prospect Alek Manoah was the pitching star of camp, and his March 14 performance against the Yankees was his finest. The big right-hander struck out seven Yankees batters over three perfect innings of work, showing the Blue Jays that he could be ready for the Major Leagues sooner than many expected.
“Someone asked me a month ago who I was most excited to see in camp and it was Alek,” Atkins said. “The heartbeat, the way he embraces competition, all of you can see how much fun he was having embracing the challenge of facing a pretty good couple of lineups and performing exceptionally well. He’s put himself in an incredible position.”
Manager Charlie Montoyo rolled out a lineup that looked awfully close to his Opening Day lineup back on March 16 against the Phillies, and it worked. The Blue Jays put up 14 runs on 21 hits, but it was Guerrero’s 4-for-4 performance on his birthday that stood above the rest.
With exit velocities of 102.1 mph, 109.7 mph and 99 mph on his three extra-base hits, these weren’t bloopers, either.
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Biggio embodies the Blue Jays’ emphasis on positional versatility. With the ability to play across the infield and outfield, not only has Biggio created more opportunities to get himself playing time, but he’s also given Montoyo more options to build the best lineup possible on any given day.
Biggio is no longer the outlier, either. From veterans to players on the fringes of the roster and top prospects, players throughout the organization are trying to follow the Biggio model.