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2019 Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview

Coming off a 73 win season, the Toronto Blue Jays finally committed entirely to rebuilding over the offseason. They found a new manager in Charlie Montoyo, moved on from veterans such as Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, and committed to getting younger. With the rebuild starting, the season looks likely to be a struggle for the 2019 Blue Jays. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at how the 2019 Jays season will ultimately end up.

Projected Starting Lineup

via flickr

2B – Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

2018 Stats: 263 PA, .291/.309/.446, 103 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR

Perhaps no player’s future role on this year’s Blue Jays is more dependent on how they perform in 2019 then 25 year old Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The 24 year old second year player is coming off a rookie season where he was reasonably good with the bat, but abysmally bat as a middle infielder (-12 DRS, -7.0 UZR in 548.1 innings between 2B and SS). If the glove improves, and the bat remains close to this level, then Gurriel may become a significant part of the Jays future plans. If not, he’s likely going to be relegated into a utility role going forward.

RF – Randal Grichuk

2018 Stats: 462 PA, .245/.301/.502, 115 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR

2018 was a tale of two parts for Randal Grichuk. The first was a brief stint in April, where while trying to play through an injury, Grichuk slashed .106/.208/.227. Upon his return from the DL however, Grichuk slashed .271/.319/.553. If Grichuk can come anywhere close to this performance offensively, while presumably improving on defense for the same reaons outlined with Pillar, then there’s potential for Grichuk to have a breakout season. If not, he should still be a capable, if unexceptional, everyday regular.

1B – Justin Smoak

2018 Stats: 594 PA, .242/.350/.457, 121 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR

Justin Smoak regressed slightly following his breakout in 2017, with his wRC+ falling by 12 points and his fWAR by 1.9. The 32 year old projects around his last years numbers however, meaning he should be an acceptable, if slightly below average first baseman. The 32 year old is a pending free agent however, and could very well be a trade candidate come deadline time should the Jays perform as expected.

DH – Teoscar Hernandez

2018 Stats: 523 PA, .239/.302/.468, 107 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR

Teoscar Hernandez has something to prove in 2019. Last season, despite putting up above average overall offensive numbers, he still finished at nearly replacement level. This is mostly a result of abysmal outfield defense, putting up -16 DRS and -13.7 UZR in 988.1 innings in 2018. The bat is good enough that Hernandez is not in any immediate danger of losing a close to full-time outfield role, but his flaws make it difficult to imagine him as a valuable contributor to the Jays in the short or long term.

C – Danny Jansen

2018 Stats: 95 PA, .247/.347, 432, 115 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR

After putting up solid numbers in a brief major league stint in 2018, Danny Jansen looks set to opening the season as the Blue Jays starting catcher. The number 65 prospect in baseball according to mlb.com projects as one of the better rookies in 2019, with steamer and ZiPS projecting 2.8 fWAR and 2.0 fWAR respectively. How Jansen fares this season should also go a long way towards the direction the club takes as they continue the rebuild.  

CF – Kevin Pillar

2018 Stats: 542 PA, .252/.282/.426, 89 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR

The last remaining starter from the Blue Jays 2015 and 2016 playoff runs, 30 year old Kevin Pillar is the most experienced outfielder on the Jays roster. Pillar put up 2.0 fWAR last season despite his worst defensive season since he became a full time player in 2015. However, Pillar should return to something close to his previous defensive seasons, as the Jays defensive performance from the outfield as a whole was bad despite generally good defenders (Hernandez notwithstanding), I suspect the issue was on the coaching side rather than with Pillar’s ability. Thus, despite having never been a particularly good hitter, Pillar should continue to be a useful Blue Jay in 2019.

3B – Brandon Drury

2018 Stats: 86 PA, .169/.256/.260, 44 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR

Acquired in last seasons J.A. Happ trade, Brandon Drury struggled in 2019, putting up an OPS of just .516 and ending the season on the disabled list. At age 26, it’s also getting late for any sort of serious improvement as well. For now, he’s the Jays regular third baseman, but likely to transition into a utility role once the Jays call up Vlad Jr. Whether or not he can succeed in this role remains to be seen.

LF – Billy McKinney

2018 Stats: 132 PA, .252/.318/.462, 112 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR

Like Drury, outfielder Billy McKinney was also acquired in last season’s J.A. Happ trade. Though he’s unlikely to start on opening day, McKinney should get a fair amount of playing time in 2019. Steamer and ZiPS project a modest season from McKinney, expecting 0.9 and 1.0 WAR in 434 and 499 PA respectively. If McKinney can exceed these, he could play himself into becoming a long term Jays contributor.

SS – Freddy Galvis

2018 Stats: 656 PA, .248/.299/.380, 85 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR

Offensively, the Jays shouldn’t expect much from Freddy Galvis in 2019. His 85 wRC+ last season was a career high, and that projects to decline to 82 by both Steamer and ZiPS. Where he is valuable to the Blue Jays however, is defensively. With Gurriel and Aledmys Diaz getting the bulk of the Jays SS playing time, the Jays infield was left defensively challenged in 2018. A need for improvement in this area is particularly important to the Jays this year however, as with extreme groundball starters Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman both two years from free agency, likely behind the Jays window of contention, a need to increase their trade value after rough seasons was apparent. Thus, the Jays signed Galvis, who’s career 16.3 UZR should make him valuable to the 2019 Blue Jays.  

Projected Bench

C – Luke Maile

2018 Stats: 231 PA, .248/.333/.366, 95 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR

The Blue Jays 2018 leader in fWAR, Luke Maile opens the season as the Jays backup catcher. He improved his bat substantially last year, improving from his wRC+ of 1 in 2017 (not a typo) up to 95 in 2018. He projects for something in between in 2019, but with solid pitch framing and general defensive abilities, he should be an acceptable backup catcher.

1B – Rowdy Tellez

2018 Stats: 73 PA, .314/.329/.614, 151 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR

Rowdy Tellez turned a strong stint in a 2018 September callup into a appearance on the 2019 opening day roster following the Jays trade of Kendrys Morales. The 24 year old had a 115 wRC+ in 444 AAA PA last season, and projects to be around league average offensively in 2019 by both Steamer and ZiPS. Look for Tellez to get a fair amount of playing time at first base and DH going forward.

IF – Richard Urena

2018 Stats: 104 PA, .293/.340/.364, 95 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR

23 year old Richard Urena will likely close spring training as the Blue Jays backup infielder. Urena is not a significant part of the Jays future plans however, after he put up a wRC+ of 61 in 268 AAA PA in 2018 while projecting a merely acceptable middle infield defender. He’s also likely to be sent down upon the callup of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Projected Starting Rotation

via wikipedia

SP – Marcus Stroman

2018 Stats: 102.1 IP, 6.77 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 0.79 HR/9, 5.54 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 1.4 fWAR

Opening day starter Marcus Stroman enters 2019 looking for better season after struggling with injuries and underperformance in 2018.  With solid peripheral numbers and no history of arm issues prior to 2018, there remains hope that Stroman can bounce back and produce a season closer to his career norms. Steamer and ZiPS both project ERA’s of 4.17 and 4.08 respectively, which while not elite, would certainly represent a bounce back for the controversial righty. If Stroman does bounce back but the Jays struggle, look for the club to maximize his trade value and move on from him a year prior to his first free agent year.

SP – Matt Shoemaker

2018 Stats: 31.0 IP, 9.58 K/9, 2.90 BB/9, 0.87 HR/9, 4.94 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 0.6 fWAR

32 year old Matt Shoemaker joins the Jays as a free agent after an injury riddled campaign last season. Shoemaker isn’t in danger of stealing a Cy Young from anyone, but his overall career numbers reflect those of an acceptable back of the rotation starter. This isn’t the worst thing in the world for a team limited on starting pitching options, so look for Shoemaker to put up a below average but not outrageously bad season in 2019.

SP – Aaron Sanchez

2018 Stats: 105.0 IP, 7.37 K/9, 4.97 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9, 4.89 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 0.6 fWAR

With the exception of a very good 2016 season in which he led the AL in ERA, Aaron Sanchez has largely been ineffective as a major league starter. The struggle with injuries (noticing a theme?), particularly blisters on his pitching hand, have also contributed to Sanchez’s struggles in the past. If I’m being honest, the odds of a bounce back for the 26 year old starter are fairly small, but if he does, look for the Jays to move him for the same reasons as Stroman.  

SP – Trent Thornton

2018 Stats (AAA, did not reach MLB): 124.1 IP, 8.83 K/9, 2.24 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9, 4.42 ERA, 4.01 FIP

25 year old Trent Thornton has been announced as the Jays fourth starter entering 2019. Thornton’s repertoire consists most notably of a fastball around 94 mph and an elite curveball. His delivery also includes an incredibly high leg kick. The rookie is unlikely to be used as a conventional starter, with early reports indicating he’ll pitch around 3 innings a start early on, and be moved out of the rotation once Ryan Borucki is off the injured list and Clay Buchholz is ready to appear in MLB games.

SP – Clayton Richard (L)

2018 Stats: 158.2 IP, 6.13 K/9, 3.40 BB/9, 1.08 HR/9, 5.33 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 0.6 fWAR

35 year old lefty Clayton Richard opens the season in the Jays final rotation spot. Acquired in a trade with San Diego, the veteran is approaching the end of his major league career. Like Thornton, he’ll likely be transitioned out of a rotation role once Borucki is healthy and Buchholz is stretched out. Expect Richard to eat innings as a long reliever and spot starter without putting up any particularly significant performances.

Projected Bullpen

via flickr

RP – Ken Giles (CL)

2018 Stats: 50.1 IP, 9.48 K/9, 1.25 BB/9, 1.07 HR/9, 4.65 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 0.8 fWAR

28 year old Ken Giles looks to bounce back after the worst season of his career by ERA thus far in his career. In terms of a bounce back, solid 2018 peripherals and a career ERA of 2.81 make a Giles return to form easier to imagine than some of the other names on this list. If he does, look for the Jays to explore trading him come July.

RP – Daniel Hudson

2018 Stats: 46.0 IP, 8.61 K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9, 4.11 ERA, 4.38 FIP, -0.1 fWAR

Daniel Hudson signed with the Jays after playing for the Dodgers in spring training, and appears most likely destined for a middle relief role. His recent numbers are unspectacular, so the Jays shouldn’t hope for much more than this either. If he performs respectably, he’ll likely be traded come deadline time.

RP – Tim Mayza (L)
2018 Stats: 35.2 IP, 10.09 K/9, 3.53 BB/9, 0.76 HR/9, 3.28 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 0.3 fWAR

Lefty reliever Tim Mayza looks to continue the success he had in 2018. In terms of raw stuff, Mayza probably ranks second to only Giles, with a mid-nineties fastball and a wipeout slider, both which he throws roughly half the time. Look for Mayza to continue his success as a reliever in 2019.

RP – Joe Biagini

2018 Stats: 72.0 IP, 6.63 ERA, 3.00 BB/9, 1.75 HR/9, 6.00 ERA, 5.47 FIP, -0.6 fWAR

Entering the season with a clearly defined role for the first time since his rookie season, Joe Biagini looks to improve on what’s been two poor seasons split between starting and relief. The 28 year old looks to return to his rookie form where he put up a 3.06 ERA in his only other season as a full time reliever. Whether this season was the exception or his genuine ability with not dealing with the mental pressures over his role remains to be seen.

RP – Sam Gaviglio

2018 Stats: 123.2 IP, 7.62 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 1.53 HR/9, 5.31 ERA, 4.69 FIP, 0.7 fWAR

Soft tossing Sam Gaviglio enters this season in the Jays bullpen after starting in 24 of 26 appearances in 2018. Overall, expectations for Gavlglio shouldn’t be high, with a career 4.95 ERA and 5.11 FIP. He might stay with the Jays for large chunks of 2019 simply for a lack of better options, but don’t expect anything good to come out of it.

RP – Elvis Luciano

2018 Stats (Appalachian League (R), did not reach MLB): 56.0 IP, 9.00 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9, 4.66 ERA, 4.31 FIP

Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano made the Blue Jays opening day roster, despite being just 19 years of age. While he is on the opening day roster, Luciano is unlikely to get much playing time in 2019 due simply to the fact that from a developmental standpoint, he’s not yet big league caliber, and only on the roster so the Jays don’t lose his rights. Look for Luciano to pitch in some blowouts and return to the minors in 2020 if he survives the season.

RP – Thomas Pannone (L)

2018 Stats: 43.0 IP, 6.07 K/9, 3.14 BB/9, 1.47 HR/9, 4.19 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 0.2 fWAR

24 year old Thomas Pannone opens the season with the Blue Jays after making his major league debut in 2018. His 2018 season started with a PED suspension before proceeding to be shuttled between starting and relief and the major and minor leagues. Pannone’s stuff makes him an unlikely candidate to become an elite pitcher in the long run, but at least for now, he’s as good as anyone else the Jays could throw in this role.

RP – Javy Guerra

2018 Stats: 35.2 IP, 7.57 K/9, 3.03 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, 5.55 ERA, 4.20 FIP 0.0 fWAR

Javy Guerra receives the Blue Jays last bullpen spot following injuries to Bud Norris and Ryan Tepera. There is a reason for this, as the veteran reliever struggled immensely in 2018 and does not project to improve much in 2019. Thus, 33 year old is only likely to remain on the roster until one of Norris or Tepera gets off the IL.

Injured List/Extended Spring Training

via wikipedia

Oft injured position players Devon Travis and Dalton Pompey are on the injured list again, with the former on the 60 day with a meniscus tear and the latter likely starting on the 10 day with a concussion. 2019 is a make or break year for both Travis and Pompey, and their absence from the opening day roster likely represents the beginning of the end for the pair.

Starter Ryan Borucki is also starting the season on the IL with arm injury, however his injury is not serious. Thus, Borucki is expected to miss just 2 starts and rejoin the rotation thereafter. The same goes for Ryan Tepera, and Bud Norris who should both return from the IL fairly quickly. David Phelps signed as a free agent this offseason, and is also expected to spend at least a month on the IL in his recovery from Tommy John surgury.

Veteran starter Clay Buchholz signed with the Blue Jays late in the offseason for 3 million, and is expected to go to extended spring training before joining the Jays rotation full time. If he can replicate anything resembling his 2018 performance, this will end up as one of the better value signings of free agency. 

The Future

via wikipedia

It’s virtually impossible to talk about the 2019 Blue Jays without mentioning third base prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who’s expected to get called up to the Blue Jays sometime in mid-April. In terms of 2019, Steamer and ZiPS project 4.6 fWAR in 545 PA and 3.0 fWAR in 496 PA respectively. I’ve discussed how good Vlad Jr. will end up being in a previous article, but in 2019 it wouldn’t take much for him to end up as the Jays best player.

Moving further into the system, shortstop prospect Bo Bichette will start the season in AAA, and could end up in Toronto before the end of the season, but is more likely to end up getting the call up sometime in mid-April 2020. Also in the Jays system is pitcher Nate Pearson, who should start in high A after missing most of 2018. Look for him to be promoted aggressively if he performs as expected.

In the lower minors, Jays fans should keep an eye on 2018 first round pick, third baseman Jordan Groshans, 2018 third round pick, right-handed pitcher Adam Kloffenstein, and 2017 international amateur signee, right-handed pitcher Eric Pardinho. All three were impressive in 2018 and have the potential to become solid players at the big league level. Groshans could very well end up as the Jays long run third baseman, with the poor defender in Vlad Jr. shifting across the diamond to first or to the DH spot. Kloffenstein and Pardinho meanwhile, could very well end up as solid mid-rotation starters on a Jays contender in the future.

Higher up, fans should pay attention to second baseman Cavan Biggio, right handed starting pitcher Sean Reid-Foley, and shortstop prospect Kevin Smith. Biggio is in my opinion, the most interesting prospect in the Jays system this season. He used plate discipline skills to slash .252/.388/.499 and put up a 17.8 BB% and 26.3 K% in AA last season. How Biggio performs in AAA, where the pitchers are less dependent on stuff and more dependent on command which will resultingly test his very patient plate approach, should go a long way towards determining his future major league viability. Reid-Foley saw his first major league action last season, and could expect to recieve a lot more if he performs well in 2019. Kevin Smith should start the season in AA, and has enough offensive skills to potentially be an everyday regular.

Overall, the 2019 season as a whole looks to be a struggle for the Toronto Blue Jays. Expectations should be fairly low for this young team. At the very least, 2019 should be more interesting then the previous two seasons. Young players with a wide range of potential outcomes should end up with a lot more playing time than in previous seasons and the minor leagues are flush with interesting prospects who should make a difference long term. Let’s hope for a fun, interesting Blue Jays season in 2019.

Featured image via flickr

Quinn Sweetzir

Economics and History double major, University of Regina '22. Blue Jays fan for life. Twitter: @Quinn_Sweetzir

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