Why The Jays Rebuild May Be Faster Than Expected
There’s no hiding the fact that this year’s Blue Jays squad won’t come anywhere close to contending for a playoff spot during this season. Frankly, no one around the team is even really trying to convince you that might be a possibility. Right now, the Blue Birds sit 4th in the AL East and are 10 games below .500 at 20-30 with no expectations of moving their way up or improving a great deal. However, this season can’t truly be seen as a failure; another thing no one is trying to suggest. They’ve dealt with an injury-riddled lineup and to nobody’s surprise have embraced the rebuild.
The Blue Jays average age is 27 years old. That makes them the second youngest team (along with the Philadelphia Phillies) just behind the also rebuilding Detroit Tigers. They have a total of eight rookies who have made at least 10 appearances this season which is the most in the MLB by quite a bit. Running their rookie heavy rotation has obviously not lead to wins but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be hope.
Everyone knows Vlad Jr. and Rowdy Tellez has been familiar faces for a while, but the less recognizable guys are also making their way into the mix. The Jays young talent has shown up as they lead the league in rookie home runs (19), runs (53), RBI (55), hits (113) and extra-base hits (43). The aforementioned Vlad and Rowdy have more than done their part in terms of production with a combined 14 HR, 36 RBI, and 57 hits. Jays fans had already seen Rowdy play some regular season ball before this year started but his performance was easily swept under the rug because of the poor overall team play.
In the 23 games Rowdy played at the end of last season to start his career he was able to rack up a hitting line of .314/.614/.943 with 13 extra base hits while driving in 25 RBI’s. Even more impressive than those numbers is how he was able to start himself off in the big leagues. He became the first player in MLB history to open his career with six doubles and tied a record set by Joe Dimaggio for most two-baggers by a player in their first three games. His success from last year has translated fairly well over into his rookie (technically) season. This year he’s hitting .254 with a .310 OBP adding a team-leading nine HR and 25 RBI. His average didn’t carry over quite the same in the first month of the season, however, in May the 24-year-old has posted a much more impressive .292 average while swinging a powerful bat hitting seven extra-base hits (4 HR) in the month. Rowdy has earned his way up the lineup and is now hitting in the four spot with some consistency.
Looking back a year ago, no one outside of Rowdy and his family truly could have seen this coming. He was drafted in the 30th round in 2013 and up until reaching the majors hadn’t done anything extraordinarily special. His improvements have been noted and the fact that he has become one more piece to fit into the puzzle that is this Jay's future might be the one step to put this team over the top.
The centrepiece of that puzzle is and has always been Vlad Jr. He’s been on the radar of not just the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans but also the MLB and its fans as a whole. He’s the number one prospect on MLB pipelines top 100 and has held that title for just about a year now. Some have even given him the title of best prospect ever. We’ll save that for another time but what I’m getting at is that we knew who we were getting. His injury issues to start the year mixed with management quietly holding out delayed his much-anticipated call up to the big leagues. Unlike Rowdy, Vlad didn’t get off to much of a hot start at the plate in his first few weeks in the big leagues. 13 games into his MLB career, Vlad was hitting just .190 with no HRs and just a single RBI. This caused some fans to worry and even throw out the idea that he should be sent back to the minors to work on his game. In the small sample size since he’s found his way with a .333 AVG while smashing 5 HRs with 10 RBI in eight games. Now that this young slugger has really gotten into his own, Jays fans are getting a taste of what is to come throughout the next few seasons as the Jays try to rebuild their way to a World Series.
These two are at the forefront of all Jays rebuild discussion because they’re the ones that everyone sees on a day-to-day basis. There is, however, a long list of guys behind these two who have the potential to make an impact on a winning team. Cavan Biggio, a guy who has gotten much less attention than quite a few players in the Jays system alone was called up Thursday and is expected to see some action over the weekend. More well-known guys like Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson and the newly drafted Jordan Groshans are also moving in the right direction in the Blue Jays development system. The Jays have been proven to both draft and develop their young guys properly and with that, they might be able to speed up the process that is a rebuild.
An issue that has come up over and over in terms of the young team’s timeline is whether or not their current pitching will be their future pitching. The Jays have two guys very close to the peak of their prime in Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. If the rebuild goes according to plan, both guys will likely have moved past their peak years and into the twilight of their heyday. This isn’t a piece about trade rumours but they’ve come up surrounding these two and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, maybe with an accelerated timeline, there’s a possibility of keeping one of them around. Obviously, that’s not a decision that I will ever make but if it were up to me, looking at how the rookies have developed thus far, being good in three or four years might be more possible than expected. If the guys coming through the minors are able to find the same success as Vlad and Rowdy, the rebuilding process won't be cutting too far into anyone's prime.