TORONTO -- The Blue Jays lost one of the biggest names in all of baseball on Aug. 31 last year, when they traded away Josh Donaldson. But the good news is that his soon-to-be replacement might become an even bigger star.Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arguably is already considered Toronto's "Face of
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays lost one of the biggest names in all of baseball on Aug. 31 last year, when they traded away Josh Donaldson. But the good news is that his soon-to-be replacement might become an even bigger star.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arguably is already considered Toronto's "Face of the Franchise" and he has yet to appear in a Major League game. That will change by late April, and once it does, the future will become the present for a rebuilding Blue Jays organization that features plenty of young talent.
As MLB.com continues its annual Around the Horn series, it's time to take a closer look at the Blue Jays' infield, where one name in particular looms large above all the others.
Third base: Guerrero
Guerrero will likely start the season at Triple-A Buffalo, but he won't be there for long. If Toronto waits approximately three weeks into the season before adding Guerrero to the active roster, it will gain an extra year of control as the Dominican native would not be eligible for free agency until at least after the 2025 season.
Prospects normally should be treated with caution, but Guerrero defies all of the game's norms. The question doesn't seem to be if he will become a successful Major Leaguer, but whether he will become one of the game's greats. Hype meets reality this April and Blue Jays fans should enjoy the ride.
Shortstop: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
One of the reasons the Blue Jays released Troy Tulowitzki in December was to clear the way for Gurriel. Bo Bichette still seems to be the shortstop of the future, but he is not expected to arrive until late 2019 at the earliest, which gives Gurriel an early crack at securing the long-term job.
Gurriel clearly has the arm to handle the position, but his footwork still needs to improve. The 25-year-old Cuban is a candidate to eventually shift to second or corner outfield, but for now he's a shortstop, and he will look to build on a strong rookie season, when he posted a .755 OPS over 249 at-bats.
Second base: Devon Travis
Travis should open the year as Toronto's starting second baseman, but he might not be long for the job. Brandon Drury likely will shift from third to second once Guerrero receives his long-awaited promotion, and what that means for Travis' future in the organization is anyone's guess. The 27-year-old had his first healthy season in 2018, but it coincided with a drop in production at the plate. Travis' offense is his biggest asset, but he'll need a strong Spring Training and early April to secure long-term at-bats.
First base: Justin Smoak
Smoak returns for another year after the Blue Jays decided to pick up his $8 million option for 2019. The 32-year-old wasn't quite able to replicate his breakout 2017 season, but he still led the Blue Jays with 25 home runs and 77 RBIs last season en route to being named the team's top player by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Smoak, who is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season, will be a midseason trade candidate with prospect Rowdy Tellez waiting in the wings.
Utility: Richard Urena
Urena will compete against veteran Eric Sogard for the final spot on Toronto's bench. The 22-year-old Urena was once considered one of the organization's top prospects, but his stock has fallen after a pair of subpar years in Triple-A.
However, Urena's performance in the Majors has been better than his performance in the Minors, and a utility role appears to be in his future. The only question is whether that begins on Opening Day or whether the club would prefer Sogard's veteran influence. There won't be room for both players on the roster unless one of the other infielders goes down with an injury.
Drury might be the biggest wild card on this list. The 26-year-old has made it known that he wants to be a third baseman, but the Blue Jays can only offer him that job for a few weeks in early April before handing it over to Guerrero. That's why most people expect Drury to eventually become Toronto's everyday second baseman, but another alternative is using him all over the field in a super-utility role. Drury has played six positions during his career -- so he has the versatility required for a flexible role, but he also wants to find a permanent home.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.