The Toronto Blue Jays are committed to developing their young players in 2019, but where to fit all of them in the lineup is a puzzle manager Charlie Montoyo has to figure out.
The Toronto Blue Jays are holding their annual Winter Fest at the Rogers Centre this weekend, but amid the fun and games the business of getting ready for next season isn’t far from new manager Charlie Montoyo’s mind.
The Blue Jays, while careful to avoid using the term rebuild, are focusing on developing their young talent in 2019. That means a season of uncertainly about who plays where and how often. To Montoyo will fall the job of trying to fit all his young players into the lineup in a way that maximizes their potential.
Montoyo insists he hasn’t made up his mind about how to structure his lineup when the season begins. “We’re not set on anybody playing anywhere. Everybody’s got to compete for their jobs,” he told reporters on Saturday. “Nobody’s got a guaranteed job here. That’s fun for those kids.”
Among the decisions he has to make is how to put together the Blue Jays crowded infield. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., coming off a breakthrough rookie season in 2018 where he batted .281 and tied the American League record of 11 straight multi-hit games, can play both second base and shortstop. First baseman Rowdy Tellez also had a hot start to his career after a September call-up, but with Justin Smoak taking up first and Kendrys Morales the DH, Tellez could have a hard time cracking the lineup in 2019.
Third baseman Brandon Drury, acquired from the New York Yankees for J.A. Happ at the trade deadline last year, only played eight games for the Blue Jays and questions remain where he fits in the infield rotation. Richard Urena can also play multiple infield positions. And veteran Devon Travis, who hit just .232 in 103 games last year, goes into 2019 with his spot at second less than guaranteed.
The Jays already have enough questions about what their infield will look like next season before factoring in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Guerrero, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, is expected to be called up as early as mid-April and throws even more uncertainly into the Jays lineup.
The starting pitching staff is also unsettled beyond Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and free agent signee Matt Shoemaker. Sanchez has struggled with injuries the past two seasons, while Stroman has been the subject of multiple trade rumors this offseason. That leaves young players like Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone, Sam Gaviglio and Sean Reid-Foley, who all started games for the big league club last year, fighting for spots in the rotation.
A sign of how the Blue Jays are approaching the upcoming season came on Jan. 11, when they traded veteran catcher Russell Martin to the Los Angeles Dodgers. That leaves Smoak, Travis and Kevin Pillar as the last vestiges of their postseason teams from 2015-16 left in the lineup. The trade of Martin leaves rookie Danny Jansen poised to be the everyday catcher this year.
How these young players develop will go a long way to determining how the Blue Jays perform next season. While Montoyo isn’t giving up on contending in 2019, he sees a bright future for the team in the years to come. He points to the example of the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the years they struggled while bringing up future stars like Mookie Betts.
“They finished last but you’d go ‘they’re going to be good someday,” Montoyo said. “That’s how I see our team.”
Winter Fest is a time for Blue Jays players to have fun interacting with fans, but with spring training less than a month away (players begin reporting to Dunedin on Feb. 13) the time to answer these tough questions isn’t too far down the road.