TORONTO -- The new-look Toronto Blue Jays finally have most of their new pieces in one place this weekend for the club's Winter Fest at Rogers Centre, and manager Charlie Montoyo is getting a clearer picture of how his young team will look in 2019.Despite the Blue Jays' ongoing transition
TORONTO -- The new-look Toronto Blue Jays finally have most of their new pieces in one place this weekend for the club's Winter Fest at Rogers Centre, and manager Charlie Montoyo is getting a clearer picture of how his young team will look in 2019.
Despite the Blue Jays' ongoing transition and the recent departures of Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, the new manager refuses to call this a rebuild. Instead Montoyo, ever the optimist, is looking to his system's rising stars and some past examples from the American League East.
"You know how I see our team? I was thinking of the Boston Red Sox of about five years ago, when Mookie Betts first came up," Montoyo said. "They finished last, but you go, 'They're going to be good one day.' That's how I see our team, and that's how I saw Toronto last year watching from the other side."
Montoyo has made all of his introductions -- which he joked were aided by players wearing their jerseys for Winter Fest -- and is now taking the time to know his team on a more personal level. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. said that he and Montoyo talk about family more than baseball, which is at the core of Montoyo's managing philosophy.
"Sometimes, you don't know how a guy feels," Montoyo said. "They may be having a tough time at home and you don't know about it. To me, that's the first thing, knowing about their families and how they're doing."
That process will carry through the next month and into Spring Training, and will eventually start to overlap with his on-field strategies. Players and fans are curious to see how much Montoyo borrows from the Rays, whether it be the opener strategy or increased shifting, but for now, Montoyo is focused on the basics.
One of his biggest challenges will be improving a defense that struggled in 2018.
"We had a meeting with the coaches about two weeks ago in Dunedin [Fla.], and that's one of our goals -- to improve our defense," Montoyo said. "We're going to be working on that, playing balls off the bat, live ground balls and stuff for us to get better."
Another expected change under Montoyo is positional flexibility. Just as the Rays used Daniel Robertson and Joey Wendle at multiple spots, the Blue Jays could find advantages by moving around Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Brandon Drury and others.
"The conversations have been going really well," Gurriel said. "I feel encouraged by him and comfortable around him. He seems like a good person, overall, so I'm just looking forward to what's coming next."
Balancing all of these changes will be a small group of veterans led by Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak; the latter is suddenly dealing with being the "old guy" in the room.
Smoak's bat could benefit from a younger and faster lineup around him, but he knows that something different is expected of him now in the clubhouse. Smoak's slow-and-steady nature was a natural fit with former manager John Gibbons for four seasons, but the 32-year-old is ready to embrace the change.
"Every manager is their own manager," Smoak said. "I haven't played for Charlie, but I've had talks with him and I know he's been around the game a long time and he's been around young players a long time. That's always good to have."
Keegan Matheson is a contributor to MLB.com.