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Inbox: Bichette has bright future ahead of him

Beat reporter Keegan Matheson answers questions from Toronto fans
August 19, 2019

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have further embraced their youth movement in August after the departures of several veterans. It’s gone well, too, with a record of 9-8 and an average of 5.35 runs per game. These final six weeks of the season are about building for 2020 and beyond

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have further embraced their youth movement in August after the departures of several veterans. It’s gone well, too, with a record of 9-8 and an average of 5.35 runs per game. These final six weeks of the season are about building for 2020 and beyond with a young core and more talent coming.

Here are some of your questions about the present and future of the Blue Jays.

For a couple of weeks, it became a daily routine to check which franchise or all-time MLB record Bo Bichette had set that game. Given his early production and the names he’s passed in the record books, it might be a long time until we see another debut like this in Toronto.

The real moment of separation for many prospects comes after pitchers have seen them a couple of times and make their first adjustment. Cavan Biggio, for example, was surprised that pitchers started attacking him in the zone with two strikes instead of throwing him breaking balls out of the zone. What will that adjustment be against Bichette, and which part of his big swing will veteran pitchers try to poke a hole in?

It’s easy to be optimistic that Bichette will counter these adjustments well, though, because his swing is a natural and athletic movement, not rigid and robotic. This should allow him to be more adaptive and, as his early performance shows, Bichette has the potential to be an exceptional offensive shortstop with the potential to hit 40-plus doubles annually.

The success rate of baseball prospects makes it much more difficult to project than other sports. In the NBA, NFL or NHL, it’s common for a top pick to walk right onto the roster and have an immediate impact. In baseball, that path can be much longer and much more uncertain, especially with a high school player who could take five or more years to reach the Major Leagues.

The No. 5 pick has a higher chance of developing into a star player than No. 15 or No. 30, of course, but it’s still such a dice roll. Keep in mind that teams often rank players differently than the public rankings, too. Toronto’s 2018 first-round pick, Jordan Groshans, is a good example of a player that the Blue Jays valued much more highly than many ranking systems.

In all likelihood, the outfield remains similar into next season. Randal Grichuk, Derek Fisher, Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. give the Blue Jays four to start with, and that group could often be responsible for the designated-hitter spot, too.

Billy McKinney is part of that conversation along with some of the Blue Jays’ younger outfielders. Anthony Alford, who is back on the injured list at Triple-A Buffalo, will be reaching crunch time with the Blue Jays in 2020 and needs a healthy stretch of production. Jonathan Davis still has a spot on the 40-man roster while Forrest Wall, who was recently promoted to the Bisons, could compete for a depth role at some point in 2020.

Only Ken Giles, Tim Mayza and Sam Gaviglio remain from Toronto’s Opening Day bullpen on March 28. Barring an offseason trade, Giles would clearly enter 2020 as the closer again.

Mayza doesn’t have much competition from other lefties and Gaviglio will end up pushing 100 relief innings this season, so they’ll have their shot. Wilmer Font will be an interesting one to watch, as he’s been excellent in the opener role lately and is still in his pre-arbitration years. The same can be said for Derek Law, who’s been pitching very well and has the full confidence of Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. Justin Shafer, who’s quietly put up a 2.20 ERA, has earned a longer look.

So much of this depends on the rotation and how intentionally the Blue Jays will use the opener strategy in 2020. I’d expect some minor bullpen additions, similar to Daniel Hudson and David Phelps this past offseason. The club has had success in finding and flipping veteran relievers in recent seasons.

The Blue Jays are confident that their current group of young starters and prospects can fill the majority of their rotation long-term -- let’s call that three spots to be safe -- but they also understand the reality that they’ll need to add. I think the Matt Shoemaker deal is a good one to keep in mind heading into this offseason. With so much payroll freed up, though, the organization will certainly have the flexibility to pursue starters on multiyear deals, and perhaps one of those is paired with a depth addition. The rotation needs to be -- and will be, I expect -- priority No. 1 this winter.

This is an interesting idea. Is there something that makes a good opener, similar to how relievers typically need certain traits to be a closer? In Montoyo’s mind, flexibility is still critical, so I wouldn’t expect a reliever to be labeled a strict opener. Even if it’s regularly Law or Font, they’ll still be available in standard relief roles for some other games. When finding an opener, though, strong splits and a high-90s fastball are a good starting point.

Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.