2020 may seem like a year with no end at times, but the arrival of the Blue Jays on the scene as playoff contenders was a pleasant surprise.
It was a season in which the young trio of Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr took varying steps forward, although their collective post season performance (2-21 with 11 Ks, as well as Bichette’s pair of errors in game two) left something to be desired.
You don’t have to be Keith Law to know which areas the Blue Jays need to address in the off season: overall team defence (especially in the infield), starting pitching (like everyone else), and perhaps an upgrade in the outfield, although you can’t complain overall about the job the Gurriel Jr/Grichuk/Hernandez – along with potential super sub Jonathan Davis – did.
It will be an off season of decisions for the Blue Jays front office, with much of the heavy lifting to be done before the November 40-man roster freeze in advance of the Rule 5 draft. Without the benefit of a season at AA to evaluate several players, the Blue Jays will have some tough calls to make over the next few weeks.
We’ll focus on the Rule 5 more in the weeks to come, but there are several players who Toronto might conceivably lose if they choose not to protect them. Among the candidates are:
RHP Maximo Castillo
Castillo has not pitched above High A (he acquitted himself well as one of the youngest players in the Florida State League last year) and while he has the build of an innings eater, teams might be tempted to move him to the bullpen.
C Gabriel Moreno
Alejandro Kirk drew raves for making the jump from High A to the Majors this year, but Moreno might be the Catcher of the Future. The converted infielder might be raw (he’s caught only 110 games in his career), and needs to refine his approach at the plate, but Gaby is one of the best athletes in the system, and no prospect in the system has made more progress than he has. Ideally, an MLB team that selected him would have a backup role in mind for him in the beginning.
SS Kevin Smith
Smith struggled for much of 2019 at AA, but his work ethic, skill set, leadership, and willingness to learn earn him high marks from the organization. It will be tough for them to leave him off the 40.
RHP Josh Winckowski
Like Castillo, Winky has been a one-step-at-a-time guy, with High A his most recent stop. A groundball machine, he’s steadily upped his velo over his time in the system. He might be a reach for some teams, but he could be another guy a team sticks in the bullpen. He’s an under-the-radar player.
C Riley Adams
Adams has steadily progressed through the system, improving his defensive skills at every stop. But he’s been passed on the depth charts by Moreno and Kirk, with 2019 IFA Victor Mesia likely to move fairly rapidly. He might profile more as a back up, and may be caught up in a numbers game behind the plate.
With the changes that are coming to minor league baseball, teams will have to shed players and staff. The current MLB-MiLB agreement expired Wednesday with no replacement, but it’s widely expected that part of a new deal will include a reduction in the number of affiliates and leagues. In advance of that, the short season Appalachian League announced earlier this week that it when play resumes, it will be a wood bat college summer league (meaning no more Bluefield Blue Jays).
While the Rule 5 draft may be more pressing, the Blue Jays have some culling to do. They released about 30 players this spring, but still have far more players in their system than they will have places for them to play.