Ranking 10 best rookies in Blue Jays' history

October 9th, 2019

TORONTO -- It was the year of the rookie for the Blue Jays in 2019 as the club set the foundation for what it hopes is a return to playoff contention in the coming seasons.

For an organization that’s developed far more pitchers than position players in recent years, it was a refreshing change for Blue Jays fans to see a lineup stacked with talented young bats, led by the MLB bloodline trio of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.

The Blue Jays led baseball in rookie games played, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, walks and the list goes on. Along the way, they also became the first team in Major League history to have six rookies hit 10 or more home runs in a single season.

Here is a look back at 43 years of Blue Jays rookies, ranking the best seasons in the organization’s history.

10) 1B Fred McGriff in 1987 -- .247 / .376 / .505 (20 HR, 43 RBIs)
McGriff’s lack of defensive value as a first baseman ranks him behind some more recent rookies when it comes to Wins Above Replacement, but his 1987 season stands as one of the most impressive offensive performances on the list. The Crime Dog’s 20 home runs over 107 games set him up for seven consecutive seasons of 30-plus homers, during which time he was dealt from the Blue Jays to the Padres with Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, a move that set the stage for Toronto’s back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. McGriff ended his 19-year MLB career with 493 home runs.

9) SS Bo Bichette in 2019 -- .311 / .358 / .571 (11 HR, 21 RBIs)
Bichette’s rookie season is a case study on valuing a partial season of great play versus a full season of decent play. The 21-year-old shortstop only appeared in 46 games in 2019, but his .930 OPS and endless stream of extra-base hits made him the story of the season for the Blue Jays. From Clayton Kershaw to middle relievers, Bichette hit everyone, and he hit them hard. His 1.7 WAR (FanGraphs) over such a short span was a burst that the Blue Jays have been missing since their playoff runs.

8) LHP Ricky Romero in 2009 -- 13-9, 4.30 ERA (178 IP)
At the time, it seemed like Romero was the heir to the ace throne in Toronto. Romero and the Hall-of-Famer Roy Halladay overlapped for that one season in 2009, where the young left-hander flashed the potential and moxie on the mound that quickly made the fan base fall for him. Injuries unfortunately took their toll on Romero’s career -- his knees, especially -- but his three seasons from 2009-11 still stack up very well in Blue Jays’ history.

7) LHP Gustavo Chacin in 2005 -- 13-9, 3.72 ERA (203 IP)
The star of Chacin quickly rose and fell in Toronto, but there’s no denying his 2005 season where he was worth 2.9 WAR (FanGraphs). As a prospect out of Venezuela, Chacin seemed to plateau at Double-A until, in his fourth season at the level in 2004, something clicked. He made the full-time jump to the Major Leagues the very next season and looked a potential fixture of the future. It didn’t last for Chacin in Toronto, but he did leave us with one of the better giveaway days in Blue Jays history, Chacin cologne. “It smells like victory,” Chacin said in the Oscar-worthy TV ad at the time.

6) 2B Homer Bush in 1999 -- .320 / .353 / .421 (5 HR, 55 RBIs, 32 SB)
Bush came over to the Blue Jays from the Yankees in the deal involving David Wells and Roger Clemens, but quickly put together a very impressive all-around season at second base. The 26-year-old hit .320 in 1999 and stole 32 bases, and the resulting 2.8 WAR (FanGraphs) is the second-highest single-season total by a rookie Blue Jays’ position player. This season was Bush’s peak as a pro and he was older than most on this list, but a rookie is a rookie. Bush remains actively involved with the Blue Jays through their Baseball Academy.

5) 3B Brett Lawrie in 2011 -- .293 / .373 / .580 (9 HR, 25 RBIs)
Before there was Bichette, there was Lawrie. Playing in three fewer games than Bichette did as a rookie, Lawrie put up nearly a full WAR more (2.6) in one of the most impressive stretches of baseball the Blue Jays have seen over the past decade. Expectations were sky high for Lawrie, the young Canadian who was held up as the Maple Saviour of the franchise, and for two months in 2011, it looked like he was the real deal. Beyond the pure numbers, Lawrie brought an energy and electricity to the ball park that’s rarely been matched.

4) RHP Juan Guzman in 1991 -- 10-3, 2.99 ERA (138 2/3 IP)
Guzman fell just short of winning the American League Rookie of the Year in 1991, finishing second in voting to the Twins’ Chuck Knoblauch. It was an excellent season for the 24-year-old right-hander out of the Dominican Republic, as he entered his final outing of the year with a 2.99 ERA, but pitched three innings of one-run ball to keep that ERA just below three. Guzman would pitch eight seasons for the Blue Jays, earning a pair of World Series rings along the way.

3) RHP Marcus Stroman in 2014 -- 11-6, 3.65 ERA (130 2/3 IP)
The series premiere of The Stro Show landed in 2014 and it didn’t disappoint. The 23-year-old pitched well immediately and brought a new edge to the Blue Jays, one that worked in his favor more often than not on the mound. Beyond his 3.65 ERA that season, Stroman had excellent peripherals with a high ground ball rate, 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings and just 1.9 walks per nine. When Stroman was at his best over his six years in Toronto, he looked like he did in that rookie season.

2) 3B Eric Hinske in 2002 -- .279 / .365 / .481 (24 HR, 84 RBIs)
Big Hinske burst onto the scene in 2002 and established himself as one of the best young power hitters the game. The 24-year-old beat out Baltimore’s Rodrigo Lopez for the American League Rookie of the Year, making him just the second Blue Jays player to earn the honor after Alfredo Griffin in 1979. Those 24 home runs and .845 OPS both turned out to be career highs for Hinske, but he stuck in the Majors for 12 full seasons split between seven organizations.

1) RHP Mark Eichhorn in 1986 -- 14-6, 1.72 ERA (157 IP)
Eichhorn threw 157 innings for the Blue Jays in 1986 but, like the rest of his career, he never started a game. The best relief season in Blue Jays’ history saw Eichhorn come out of the bullpen 69 times, but innings are innings, and Eichhorn pitched a starter’s share at an elite level with more than a strikeout per inning (9.5) and the highest rookie WAR in club history with 4.9 (FanGraphs). The right-hander had just spent four seasons in the Minor Leagues after making his brief MLB debut in 1982, but kept hitters off balance with a sidearm delivery that often dipped into submarine and an arsenal of pitches seemed to move in slow motion. His inning total left him just shy of qualifying for the ERA crown, which he would have stolen from Roger Clemens (2.48).