Toronto Blue Jays
Overview (Present Rank: 5th | Future Rank: 23rd)
After winning back-to-back World Series titles in the early ‘90’s, the Blue Jays streak of missing the postseason spanned for 21 consecutive seasons. That all changed in 2015 when Toronto came just two games within reaching the Fall Classic once again. With Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion leading the most prolific offense in baseball, the Blue Jays are looking to repeat as division champions in 2016. That might be easier said than done considering a different team has won the AL East in each of the last four years. With a dominant offense, improved pitching staff, and a balanced bullpen, it’s up to Manager John Gibbons to turn one of the best teams on paper into one of the last teams standing come late October.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 3, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
Millions of dollars later, 82 to be exact, GM Alex Anthopoulos invested in a 32 year-old catcher that hasn’t played in 135 games since 2009.. With rising young talent, and an aging nucleus, Anthopoulos went into win-now mode last year starting with the Russell Martin signing. Finishing with an .832 OPS in a contract year in Pittsburgh, Martin had plenty of leverage to earn such a deal. It worked out in the first year as Martin knocked 23 homers (career high) along with 77 RBI’s, and elite framing skills behind the plate. If it wasn’t for a back injury that affected Martin down the stretch, he might have set career highs across the board. Despite getting into his mid-30’s, Martin is still one of the best catchers in the game.
Once seen as the Mets’ catcher of the future, Josh Thole is now relegated to the Blue Jays’ bench. Under team control for two more seasons, Thole doesn’t offer much at the plate and is just an average defender. Good thing the Blue Jays have Russell Martin starting, but if he gets hurt, they could be in serious trouble if Thole has to become the primary receiver for anyone not named R.A. Dickey.
Taken with the 11th pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Max Pentecost only played in 25 professional games before undergoing shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2015 season. This year has become a make or break year for Pentecost’s future outlook. If he can get back on track and hit like he did in those 25 games, Pentecost will see his stock fly through the roof possibly emerging as a top-five catching prospect in the game. If he falters post-surgery, Pentecost will be seen as nothing more than another first round bust.
(EDIT: Despite Pentecost's strong rebound season in Class-A, the Blue Jays acquired another potential starting catcher for the future in Reese McGuire in the deal involving Drew Hutchison. Click here to see what McGuire could bring to Toronto's lineup once he reaches the bigs [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: With Martin getting older, is Pentecost the long-term answer?
Russell Martin has generally been one of baseball’s better hitters over the last decade. He was even on pace to have a career year at age-32, but a back injury prevented him from doing so. While Martin deals with his own injury problems, the player the Jays are hoping becomes the catcher of the future just missed all of the 2015 season after shoulder surgery. This year will be the year the Blue Jays realize if Pentecost can be their future catcher or not. If not, they’ll have to invest in another young catcher they can develop for the role when Martin can no longer handle the job.
If anyone expects Chris Colabello to repeat his incredible .321/.367/.520 performance from 2015, they’re bound to be disappointed. While Colabello has put up numbers like that against minor league pitching, his 2015 success was a case of a pure luck with an extremely high BABIP (.411) that won't be repeated. In 2016 and beyond, expect more balls to find the defender’s glove and Colabello’s production to decrease as a result. The 32 year-old isn’t a great fielder so he’ll have to prove that 2015 wasn’t a complete fluke at the plate if he wants to keep competing for playing time.
Justin Smoak on the other hand is fine in the field, but struggles at the plate. A switch-hitter, Smoak has been better against righties in his career, owning a .717 OPS against them compared to the .660 OPS he puts up against southpaws. After disappointing all Mariner fans who thought he could live up to his top prospect billing as the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade from years ago, Smoak has officially become a bust. He still has value, but with one year left until he hits free agency, Smoak will need to start connecting with more pitches to land anything more than a cheap one-year deal.
As a team hoping one team’s trash can be another team’s treasure, the Blue Jays claimed another former top prospect from Seattle. Baseball America ranked Jesus Montero inside the top-10 for three consecutive years. While Smoak has at least proved something at the Major League level, Montero currently owns a -0.1 WAR in the 226 Major League games he’s played. Montero’s best chance at reaching success in the bigs is forming a platoon with a left-handed batter. Other than that, Montero doesn’t bring much value at this stage in his career.
Missing out on signing 2013 first rounder Phil Bickford had a silver lining. It allowed the Blue Jays to go over the slot to lock up 30th round pick Rowdy Tellez for $850K. Now, Tellez is looking like one of the best prospects in Toronto’s system, and MLB.com even ranked him among their top-10 MLB first base prospects. To test whether Tellez’ minor league success was for real, the Jays sent him to the Arizona Fall League as a 20 year-old. He there exceeded all expectations by batting .293/.352/.488 against some of the best young pitchers in baseball. Tellez has the size (6’4”, 245 lbs), track record (.285/.351/.435 in minors), and tools (plus hit tool, plus power) to succeed at the plate. He might never win a gold glove, but Tellez could be a catalyst for future Toronto offenses.
Future Outlook: Prepare to get Rowdy
Fortunately for Blue Jays fans, Justin Smoak’s contract expires at the end of the season. While excellent in 2015, it appears unlikely Chris Colabello will ever repeat that type of performance. While he’s under control until 2021, the Jays have someone else coming up through the ranks in Tellez. It’s likely the Jays make an addition at the position through free agency or the trade market with stop gap solutions like Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, and Mike Napoli all available at the end of the year. They’ll only have to hold down the fort until 2019 when Rowdy Tellez will be ready for a full-time role. It might be three years away, but sooner or later the 6 is getting Rowdy.
Bursting onto the scene, Devon Travis made his Major League debut in impressive fashion in 2015. Overshadowed by the historic 2015 rookie class, Travis hit .304/.361/.498 over his first 62 games against Major League pitching. After going through full seasons of Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, Emilio Bonifacio, and Kelly Johnson, the Blue Jays are ready for the Devon Travis era to begin. Unfortunately, the shoulder injury that shortened his 2015 season is expected to keep him on the shelf at the beginning of the 2016 season as well. If he can come back and hit anywhere close to the way he did last year, the Blue Jays may have finally found themselves a long-term answer at the position, something they haven’t had since Orlando Hudson was in town.
Goins isn’t awful against right-handed pitching, but when he’s forced to face lefties too, his overall production plummets. Goins would be a solid platoon candidate, or utility guy with an ability to play all over the diamond. Due to Travis’ injury, Goins will start the season as the full-time second baseman. Injuries are the only reason Goins would ever fill that role.
Future Outlook: The Devon Travis era has begun
Travis wasn’t even ranked within Toronto’s top-10 prospects entering the 2015 season. After the performance he had against actual Major League pitching, nobody is doubting Travis’ ability anymore. While he may not reach that level of production again, Travis should still be an above-average second baseman for a long time. Fans saw a preview in 2015, but in 2016 the Devon Travis era will officially begin.
In addition to signing Russell Martin, former GM Anthopoulos made two other big moves within six months of each other to add more MVP-caliber hitters to the lethal tandem of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. After building up Toronto’s farm system, Anthopoulos used two of his top four prospects in Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro to acquire the services of the five-time All-Star, Troy Tulowitzki. ‘Tulo’ struggled in his 41 games playing on the newly non-artificial turf infield of the Rogers Centre. While nobody can blame the turf anymore, some may think he’s beginning to decline at 31 years old. However, he still batted .300/.348/.471 before the trade and was terrific in the ALCS. Tulowitzki’s two Gold Gloves showcase the kind of fielder he is. Injuries have been his kryptonite as he’s played in over 130 games only once since 2009. A player with a lengthy injury history typically ages worse than those with a clean bill of health. Don’t be surprised if Tulowitzki looks like a shadow of his former self in four, even three years from now.
Darwin Barney had a great start to his Major League career by placing seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, and then winning a Gold Glove in 2012. Since then, things have gone extremely downhill for the 30 year-old. Still a sound fielder, Barney has a roster spot because of his glove. Capable of moving to second or third base, Barney just can’t hit enough to warrant a starting role. Even a backup role would be too much if he can’t get his OBP above .300 this season.
Tulowitzki’s under team control for at least the next five years, but it’s never too early to look at the future of the position. Richard Urena, the team’s No. 4 prospect (according to Baseball America) possesses a rare combination of power, speed, and fielding abilities as a shortstop. He might never bat above .300, but he’ll provide 15-20 homers a year, a solid average, soft hands, and great range as an everyday shortstop. The Blue Jays are being aggressive with Urena, having already promoting him to High-A ball as a 19 year-old. He’s responded well so far, and if he can keep it up, he might push the Blue Jays to deal Tulo away to open up a spot for him in the big league lineup.
Future Outlook: Tulowitzki’s locked up for five years, but Urena’s coming
Acquiring Troy Tulowitzki was one of the biggest splashes in Blue Jays team history. Thanks to all the monster deals Anthopoulos executed in his final year as General Manager, bringing Tulo aboard might have been overlooked. However, there’s no overlooking the fact he gives Toronto a legit middle-of-the-order bat and a gold glove caliber shortstop with five All-Star appearances already to his name. As he ages and deals with his lingering injury problems, Blue Jays executives will be looking for Richard Urena to keep developing, and eventually take over as the team’s everyday shortstop.
As previously mentioned, Anthopoulos made two blockbuster trades to surround Bautista, Encarnacion, and Martin with MVP-caliber talent. Besides landing Troy Tulowitzki, the Jays dealt a lot of young talent to obtain the then 29 year-old Josh Donaldson. While the A’s got a lot of potential in the trade, the Jays got a lot of production. Donaldson turned in a .297/.371/.568 batting line to win the American League Most Valuable Player award after changing teams over the offseason. The Jays will have to decide if they want to follow that trade up with a monster contract extension as Donaldson is only two years away from hitting the free agent market and will surely look for a deal north of $200MM.
In addition to Goins and Barney, the Blue Jays have another utility type bench player in their system. Unlike the other two, Andy Burns has yet to make his MLB debut, but it’s only a matter of time until the 25 year-old gets the call-up to the show. Burns’ aggressive mentality at the plate and on the base paths should get him Major League at-bats soon where the Jays can also utilize his defensive versatility.
Mitch Nay was a first round pick in 2012, and is the highest rated third base prospect in the system, but scouts are skeptical he can reach his potential after he struggled in High-A ball this past season.
Future Outlook: After Nay’s struggles in ‘15, Donaldson needs to be resigned
Some executives inside the Blue Jays organization viewed Mitch Nay as their future third baseman going into the season. Knowing he wouldn’t be ready until 2018, Josh Donaldson was a perfect stop gap solution. Now that Nay’s struggles may have affected his overall outlook, resigning Josh Donaldson has become a must for the franchise. If they can’t find common ground with Donaldson’s agent, other players like Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, and Brett Lawrie will all be free agents at the same time, but none would have the same offensive impact as Donaldson.
Since breaking out in 2010, nobody has come close to hitting more home runs than Jose Bautista’s 227. He’s made the All-Star team in each of the past six seasons while adding three silver sluggers, two top-five finishes, and two top-10 finishes in MVP voting to his resume. Bautista’s rare combination of raw power and great plate discipline has fueled his late career success. Now 35 years old, Bautista is looking to get paid as he prepares for free agency for the first time in his career. He’s all but gone at the end of the season with his current asking price, but Gibbons will still be able to have Bautista’s big bat in the heart of his lineup for the 2016 do-or-die season.
Bautista’s two peers in the outfield haven’t posted the same level of production as him, but they each have shown promise. Kevin Pillar will take the reps in center field after becoming the starter last season. Of the 15 players in the MLB to steal 25+ bases last season, Pillar’s 12 homers were the sixth most. His speed-power combination along with a .290+ average would elevate him into one of the better outfielders in the game. Hitting at the top of the order with studs like Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, and Tulowitzki behind him, Pillar could lead the league in runs scored even if he keeps his OBP at a meager .314.
After a promising 19HR-21SB season in 2012, Michael Saunders has failed to deliver a full season of production that scouting reports said he was capable of back when he was a top prospect. Injuries certainly haven’t helped him as he has only played in a total of 87 games over the past two years. The 29 year-old is entering a prove it year for Toronto as he’ll hit the free agent market at year’s end. He’ll look to get back to the .273/.341/.450 slash line he posted in 2014. With his injury history, teams might shy away from a multi-year deal even if he miraculously plays in all 162 games in 2016.
As the team’s fourth outfielder, Ezequiel Carrera was almost exclusively used against righties in 2015. However, his .310/.333/.448 slash line against lefties in 29 at-bats may suggest he can handle southpaws just fine. Carrera has the speed to handle all outfield positions, but possesses no power, strikes out a lot, and rarely walks hindering his overall value.
Dalton Pompey registered just enough at-bats to lose his rookie eligibility in 2015. If he still had it, he would most likely retain his No. 1 ranking among Toronto’s top prospects. Pompey continued his destruction against minor league pitching by batting .307/.383/.421 over 96 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. While his advanced approach at the plate hasn’t translated into production in the majors yet, Pompey’s ability to hit, run, and field should make him a staple in the Blue Jays’ lineup for years to come. With Pillar fully established in center field, Pompey might not get plenty of at-bats in 2016, but the Jays are clearing the way for his arrival in 2017.
Now that Pompey has graduated, Toronto’s current No. 1 prospect is Anthony Alford. Alford’s blazing speed stands out as his greatest tool, but he can also hit and field well too. He might not hit for much power or carry the strongest arm, but he won’t need either as Toronto’s leadoff man in center field. Despite being drafted in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Alford prioritized his football scholarship at Southern Miss. He only played in 25 games throughout the first three years in his professional baseball career. After batting .302/.380/.444 over 57 games in High-A ball as a 20 year-old, Alford finally validated Toronto’s patience. He’ll be looking to make an impact in the bigs as soon as September, 2017.
Of course, Alford isn’t the only promising outfield prospect down on the farm. Other potential big leaguers like D.J. Davis, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Dwight Smith fill Toronto’s farm system. Davis is a speedster in his own right and is even faster than Alford. Davis doesn’t have Alford’s bat which could relegate him to a fourth outfielder role. At 21 years old, Davis is still very raw and could develop his hit tool, but right now he brings very little value to the plate.
Lacking the speed of a typical center fielder and the power of a corner outfielder, Dwight Smith appears to be a fringe prospect. Many believe he’ll end up as a fourth outfielder or not on a Major League roster at all. However, Smith has demonstrated an ability to hit at every level he’s reached and wouldn’t be a defensive liability in left field either. He wouldn’t be the greatest starter, but he wouldn’t be the worst either. For those long-time Blue Jays fans, think Frank Catalanotto.
While Reggie Pruitt and Roemon Fields catch some scouts’ eyes with their wheels, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. does it with his bat. The son of the nine-time All-Star, Guerrero Jr. was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a part of last year’s class. At only 17 years old, he’s still very raw and has plenty of developing to go through. Guerrero Jr. has big shoes to live up to, but with his current hit tool and power potential, he could be almost as good as his father some day.
(EDIT: The Blue Jays added two key outfielders in Melvin Upton and Harold Ramirez before the mid-season trade deadline. Upton should be one of the team's everyday players in each of the next two years while Harold Ramirez could emerge as a starting corner outfielder in a couple years. Click here to read more about Upton or here to view Ramirez' breakdown [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: Three center fielders, no corner outfielders
They Jays have three great young players under control for at least the next five years including Kevin Pillar, Dalton Pompey, and Anthony Alford. The problem is they all play center field. None of them have the arm strength to handle right field either making a trade likely. Bautista and Saunders are both eligible for free agency after the season, so the Jays will have to make a decision quickly. Trading Pillar or one of the lower ranked prospects for a corner outfielder and signing someone like Josh Reddick or Angel Pagan to take over the other spot would make sense until Alford’s arrival forces another move.
Like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion’s monster 2012 breakout season came out of nowhere. Since then, only Chris Davis has hit more home runs (159 to 151) than the 6’1” slugger. Like Bautista, Encarnacion seems intent on testing his value on the free agent market after the 2016 season. Unlike Bautista, Encarnacion’s poor fielding abilities have relegated him to DH duty. If he keeps hitting 39 homers, and drives in 111 runs a year, it doesn’t matter if he can field or not; any General Manager will find a way to get him in their lineup. Encarnacion still has plenty left in the tank at age-33, and is currently one of the most deadly hitters in baseball.
Future Outlook: Re-sign Encarnacion or there’s a HUGE hole
John Gibbons is comfortable slotting Encarnacion as his cleanup hitter on a consistent basis. Him leaving toward greener pastures would create a giant hole in the heart of the lineup. Combined with the departure of Bautista, and the Blue Jays could really be in trouble. They’ll have to do everything they can to keep Encarnacion in town because the alternatives are looking bleak. At the very least, the team will need to find someone who can produce from the DH spot for the next two years until Max Pentecost is ready for the majors and they can move Russell Martin to the full-time DH role as he gets into his mid/late-30’s.
After four consecutive seasons of giving up over 4.00 earned runs a game, J.A. Happ was on pace to keep that streak alive in 2015, but a midseason trade sent him from Seattle to Pittsburgh saw Happ turn everything around. In just 11 starts down the stretch, he lowered his ERA from 4.64 to a much more respectable 3.61 on the season. That landed him a 3yr/$36MM deal with Toronto to solidify the back end of the rotation. Toronto hopes they’re getting the second half version of Happ, the one that threw 10% more fastballs and more sliders in exchange for less curveballs and almost no changeups instead of the Happ that pitched the previous nine seasons.
Happ is the sole lefty in the big league rotation this year, and there isn’t much talent in the farm system either. Shane Dawson is one arm who could develop into a Major League regular; however, he has his work cut out for him with no standout pitch in his arsenal. His strong command has helped him shut batters down thus far in his professional career. If he can keep that going, he could max out his potential as a No. 5 starter.
Angel Perdomo is another interesting name. The 6’6” southpaw reportedly reached 97 MPH on his fastball this year after averaging low-90’s heat last season. He’ll turn 22 years old this year as he starts the season in Single-A ball. Perdomo is a very projectable high-risk, high-reward type player. With lackluster control and a below-average slider, his fastball-changeup combination could become untouchable in the bullpen.
Travis Bergen is another starter that could soon focus on strictly relieving. Drafted in the seventh round in the 2015 MLB Draft, he still has a chance to step into the rotation some day. However, his fastball-slider pairing screams a move to the bullpen is in his future.
Ryan Borucki is a name heavily prevalent on various Toronto prospect rankings. MLB.com currently ranks him as the Blue Jays’ 12th best prospect. He has the stuff to eventually fill a mid rotation-role in the MLB, but injuries have already derailed his young career. Until he can show he’s healthy, it’s hard to project his future outlook culminating in Major League success.
Future Outlook: Need more than Happ
Right now, J.A. Happ stands as the only lefty in Toronto’s rotation. With a career 4.13 ERA, the Blue Jays need more from their southpaws. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon though unless new GM Ross Atkins goes outside the organization to improve the pitching staff. Shane Dawson represents a potential low-end piece back there. The other guys (Perdomo, Bergen, Borucki) have health concerns or a repertoire that fits better in the bullpen. Without the reinforcements in-house, Atkins will need to find free agents or make a trade to improve this area going forward.
Taken with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, the Blue Jays had high expectations for Marcus Stroman. At 24 years old, Stroman is finally starting to rise to those expectations. The Tommy John epidemic that has taken out a plethora of young pitchers wasn’t what prevented him from pitching in most of the 2015 season. It was a torn ACL that was supposed to end his 2015 season. Stroman heroically returned in September to start four important games as Toronto was trying to clinch their first playoff appearance in over two decades. In those four games he went 4-0, owned a 1.67 ERA, a 0.963 WHIP, and struck out three times as many batters as he walked. With a clean bill of health heading into 2016, Stroman could emerge as the Blue Jays’ ace this season, and remain there until he reaches free agency after the 2020 season.
Former GM Anthopoulos never shied away from dealing top prospects for established Major League talent, but if there’s one trade he probably regrets the most, it’s the R.A. Dickey trade. The 41 year-old knuckleballer has looked nothing like the pitcher that won the Cy Young award the season leading up to the trade. To make matters worse, Travis D’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard are emerging as two of the game’s best young players for the Mets after being included in the blockbuster deal. Dickey can still eat innings and provide solid, yet unspectacular results. His $12MM salary comes off the books at the end of the season freeing up some cash for the team to find an upgrade.
The Blue Jays didn’t need that excess cash to resign Marco Estrada to a 2yr/$26MM deal this past offseason. Estrada is coming off a career year in which he threw 181 innings of 3.13 run ball to go along with a stellar 1.044 WHIP. Baseball writers thought enough of Estrada’s 2015 season to even place him 10th in Cy Young voting. While a Cy Young award might be a stretch for Estrada, he’ll give Toronto a quality mid-rotation starter that induces a lot of weak contact.
One of the biggest debacles in the Blue Jays organization was whether Aaron Sanchez would continue to come out of the bullpen, or finally get a chance to be the starting pitcher they drafted him to be. The 2010 first round pick was a top-50 prospect for three consecutive years (according to MLB.com), and finally made his debut in 2014. After starting 81% of his games in the minors, Sanchez has only started 11 of his 65 games in the majors. He’s struggled at starting games against Major League competition, but has been very efficient in the bullpen. 2016 is the final experiment to see if Sanchez has what it takes to a Major League starting pitcher.
The Blue Jays acquired Jesse Chavez, Gavin Floyd, and Joe Biagini this past offseason. Originally viewed as starters, they’ll all start the season in Toronto’s bullpen. Only injuries or underperformance will get them back in the rotation at this point.
Drew Hutchison would have been in the mix for a starting spot, but Toronto has wisely stopped relying on the 25 year-old. One of the team’s top prospects at the beginning of the 2010’s, Hutchison has failed to turn that potential into production. If he can’t finally put it all together in 2016, he could be shown the door by season’s end.
(EDIT: In a shocking move, the Blue Jays were able to acquire C Reese McGuire, OF Harold Ramirez, and LHP Francisco Liriano just for Hutchison's services. This marks a huge win for Antonetti and his staff to patch three holes by only giving up a spot starter. Click here to read more about the trio Toronto received in the trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates [8/1/16]).
Justin Maese gets some love from prospect evaluators, but Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley, and Jonathan Harris have become the consensus top three in the organization. Each of the three were drafted a year apart with Greene coming in the seventh round back in 2013. Initially being a raw, 6’3” righty, adding muscle has helped elevate Greene’s fastball to the mid-90’s. He’s had a lot of success in the minors, and hopes to extend that into the majors where he’ll hope to fill his potential as a No. 3 starter.
Sean Reid-Foley may have the most potential of the trio with a fastball that’s already touching 98 MPH. He also has a plus slider and a changeup that has the potential to be his third above-average offering. Reid-Foley’s biggest problem right now is his inconsistent command. He walked 6.3 batters per nine innings this past season. That’s just completely unacceptable. If Reid-Foley can harness his command, he could eventually develop into an ace-caliber pitcher for the Blue Jays.
Jonathan Harris was the most recent addition to Toronto’s stockpile of promising young righties in their system as the 29th overall pick in 2015. While he struggled in his professional debut, he’s still just 22 years old with plenty of room to grow. Harris’ best asset is the possession of four plus pitches that includes a low/mid-90’s fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. He’s far from a finished product, but Harris has already shown flashes of being a No.2 starter at the highest level.
The Jays also have Justin Maese and Jose Espada in their farm system that could eventually fill a role in the rotation. The two 19 year-olds were taken in the most recent MLB Draft. Maese was selected in the third round, with Espada coming in the fifth. Both could develop into backend rotation pieces, but have a lot of developing to do before that will become a reality.
Future Outlook: The future is bright in the 6
At 5’8”, Stroman continues to dispel the theory that successful pitchers must be above six feet. Now, he’s emerging as Toronto’s ace with David Price now in Boston. Stroman will continue to be the team’s Opening Day starter for the next half-decade. In the minors, Reid-Foley, Harris, and Greene keep progressing into frontline starters themselves. Although, it might not be until 2019 that we see them pitch in the Toronto. Views from the 6 are looking bright if right-handed starters are the only thing visible.
The rise of Roberto Osuna is unlike any other pitcher in today’s MLB. After struggling in the minors, Osuna’s highest level reached was High-A ball where he owned a 6.55 ERA in seven starts. Then out of nowhere, Osuna impressed Toronto management so much in Spring Training, they immediately inserted him into the closer role where he would join the historic 2015 rookie class in dominating opposing Major Leaguers. Osuna finished fourth in the crowded Rookie of the Year voting behind Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Miguel Sano. That’s what a 2.58 ERA, 0.919 WHIP, and 4.69 SO/BB ratio will get. After being the youngest pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history, he’ll return for his age-21 season in hopes of topping his 20 saves now that he’ll be the closer for a full season.
Osuna isn’t the only reliever on the roster with closing experience. After returning to the closer role for the majority of the 2015 season, Drew Storen left the nation’s capital and is headed outside the country altogether. Reppin’ a Blue Jays uniform, Storen will go back to setting up games, this time for Osuna. At 28 years old, Storen is still one of the game’s better relievers as evidenced by the 11.0 SO/9 ratio he put up last year. Storen will look to shut the door on opposing teams in high-leverage situations as he enters a contract year.
Since transitioning into the bullpen in 2013 as a 26 year-old, Brett Cecil has been as good as they’ve come. He owns a 2.67 ERA over the last three seasons that is fueled by a remarkable 11.5 SO/9 ratio. He still manages to keep his walks down (career 3.4 BB/9), and actually got it down to 2.2 BB/9 last year. Cecil is also on a contract year, so he’ll have every motivation to keep his impressive run going.
Aaron Loup was having a similar run of success in Toronto’s bullpen from 2012-2014. In 2015 he started to fall apart as the 2.77 ERA he owned in the previous three seasons turned into a 4.46 ERA last year. When taking a closer look at the peripherals, Loup dealt with a lot of bad luck including a career high .339 BABIP. He never allowed a BABIP above .300 before 2015, making a return to his 2012-2014 success more likely going forward.
To complete the trifecta of southpaws in the bullpen, GM Ross Atkins went out and signed Franklin Morales to a 1yr/$2MM deal. Morales had a successful one-year stint in Kansas City’s bullpen last season that led to his second World Series ring in three years. With a powerful offense, improving rotation, and solid bullpen, Morales will hope to win his third in 2016.
Atkins made retooling the bullpen a priority this offseason after Toronto blew 18 leads in the last inning of the game last year. He continued to stock up to the ‘pen by acquiring Arnold Leon from the Oakland Athletics. Leon isn’t anything special, but he should provide Toronto with a quality middle reliever.
Bo Schultz will join Marco Estrada and Aaron Loup on the disabled list to start the season. Schultz had an impressive Major League debut season that culminated in a 3.56 ERA, 1.070 WHIP, and 10 games finished. Osuna is a flamethrower, but Schultz’ fastball was actually recorded as being the fastest on the team.
Schultz and Osuna weren’t the only current Blue Jay relievers to make it to the big leagues in 2015. Ryan Tepera and Pat Venditte were introduced to the show last season as well. Tepera pitched 33 inning of 3.27 run ball. Meanwhile Venditte threw 29 innings and maintained a 1.186 WHIP. The peripherals on both of these pitchers suggest those might be unrepeatable performances. Tepera’s extremely low BABIP, and strikeout rates suggest he’ll be a fringe Major Leaguer going forward. Venditte brings great value as a switch thrower, but righties beat him up a bit in 2015, so he might switch to the role of a lefty specialist.
The Blue Jays protected Brady Dragmire and Blake McFarland in the Rule 5 draft by placing both righties on the 40-man roster. While neither player has thrown a single pitch against Major League batters, McFarland at least reached Triple-A in 2015. Dragmire has yet to be promoted above High-A ball. However, Dragmire proved he deserved the call-up by posting an outstanding 40-5 SO/BB ratio down the stretch and dominating the Arizona Fall League. Both pitchers could settle into middle reliever roles sooner than later.
Chad Jenkins and Danny Barnes are two guys that don’t present much value to the Blue Jays. Toronto has optioned Jenkins to the minors multiple times, while Danny Barnes just recovered from injuries that limited him to 41 innings from 2013-2014. Best-case scenario: Jenkins and Barnes prove to be valuable middle relievers. A more likely scenario: they are both optioned back to the minors multiple times or picked up by a rival team as Toronto finds upgrades elsewhere.
Not to be mistaken as an overpowering pitcher, Chad Girodo has been a successful reliever in the minors because of the movement on his fastball, excellent command, and a wipeout slider. Girodo’s changeup has yet to emerge into the plus pitch he’ll need to get righties out. If it never develops, he’ll be a great lefty specialist. Any improvement to his changeup would catapult Girodo into the setup role.
Future Outlook: Osuna’s under control for five years, but that’s it
The Blue Jays have a solid bullpen heading into 2016. Osuna established himself as one of the league’s best closers in his rookie campaign. Drew Storen brings experience and a strong track record, while Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil are two of the best southpaws that don’t close games. Loup still has three years of team control, but Storen, Cecil, and Morales are all set to depart after the season ends. Atkins proved he can make upgrades in the bullpen when necessary. It would be wise to bet on him doing that to complement the Osuna-Loup pairing going forward. If Angel Perdomo and Travis Bergen don’t make it as starters, they’ll provide Toronto with two more quality southpaws John Gibbons can utilize in the ‘pen as well.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Now or never
The Blue Jays are going for it all in 2016. After acquiring Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, and Drew Storen over the past year, Toronto has made it crystal clear they're in win-now mode. However, those trades have depleted Toronto’s farm system which has left them with very few potential impact players coming up through the ranks. Martin and Tulowitzki aren’t getting any younger, and Donaldson is only two years away from hitting the free agent market. Price just hit the market himself and his departure cost the Blue Jays six years of Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd in exchange for 11 regular season starts and 23 innings of poor postseason pitching.
If the Blue Jays can’t win it all this year (or even if they do), GM Matt Atkins might have to consider blowing the whole thing up and retooling the farm system in an effort to be competitive again in the 2020's. It will be difficult for Toronto to make a run at the playoffs in the stacked AL East after the 2017 season with the overwhelming amount of pending free agents and aging players on the roster. It's now or never for the sole Canadian franchise in baseball.