Blue Jays count on young core for strong '20

July 23rd, 2020

TORONTO -- Back in March, this young Blue Jays team looked like it was building toward an exciting season, but ultimately set the stage for it to make a playoff run in 2021 instead.

In a 60-game regular season, those expectations have changed. The core members of the roster have said all along that this team is better than we expect, but the shortened season opens up that range of potential outcomes for the Blue Jays, which is good news for any team on the cusp.

With a young lineup balanced by a veteran rotation, the Blue Jays are hoping they’ve struck the right mix of stability and upside. They’ll be facing one major challenge that the other 29 teams won’t be, though, after the Canadian federal government denied approval to allow the team to play in Toronto this summer.

They’ll have a new home soon, but regardless of where they play, these are the factors to watch for:

What needs to go right?
The young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio needs to take a step forward. If one or more of these young hitters struggles at any point in their second season, then the top of that Blue Jays lineup will sink with them.

If these three hit like they've shown they can, along with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the three hole ahead of Guerrero, the Blue Jays can carry that “sprint” mentality into the first inning of every game. In camp, Bichette has been ambushing pitchers early, and his aggression is contagious.

Big question
Which version of Travis Shaw will Toronto get this season? If Shaw performs like he did in 2019, then the Blue Jays suddenly have a hole in their lineup and will be forced to lean on Joe Panik more. If Shaw can get back to his '17-18 form, that suddenly lengthens the Blue Jays’ lineup and adds some protection behind Guerrero, where Shaw is expected to hit.

Manager Charlie Montoyo plans to give Shaw opportunities against left-handed hitters, too, instead of trying to manage a platoon right out of the gates. He helped his case on Saturday by getting a pair of hits off Hyun Jin Ryu in an intrasquad game.

Prospect to watch
It’s the Nate Pearson show ... eventually. Service time remains a factor, but regardless, when Pearson steps on the mound for the first time, it might just be the must-watch Blue Jays game of the season. His raw stuff has been MLB-ready for a while now, and the refinement he’s put in on some of his breaking pitches recently makes them an even more devastating combination with his triple-digit fastball. Behind Ryu, could Pearson be the club’s second-most valuable pitcher this season?

On the schedule
The “dog days” of 2020 start for the Blue Jays on Aug. 21. From there, they’ll play 20 games in 20 days, including a series against each of their American League East rivals. That stretch ends with three games at home by the Yankees and, by their off day on Sept. 10, we should know exactly how the Blue Jays are heading into their final 16 games.

Team MVP will be ...
Bo Bichette. The young star is perfectly suited for the “sprint” of a 60-game season and has looked fantastic in Summer Camp. When you combine his defensive value at shortstop with the jolt of life he gives this lineup out of the leadoff spot, his value to this lineup has no rival. Bichette is the type of player who will insist on being out there every day, so he could make a run at some impressive counting stats across the board, too.

Team Cy Young will be ...
Hyun Jin Ryu. The veteran left-hander is one of baseball’s best when he’s healthy, and steady as they come. When hitters start to press in the shortened season, Ryu will have no trouble catching them out on their front foot with a changeup. Assuming he can get in 12 starts this season, a look back to 2019 shows Ryu with an incredible 1.35 ERA over his first 12 outings.

Bold prediction
Nate Pearson wins the American League Rookie of the Year Award. If Pearson is at least on this roster early, he should have every opportunity to do so. The big right-hander has the ability to put up numbers, and it won’t be done subtly, either. Triple-digit heat and strikeouts get attention, and Pearson will demand it.