Image credit: (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
The Blue Jays’ young, new-look infield certainly isn’t short on talent.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. began the year ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Bo Bichette was a top-10 overall prospect each of the last two seasons. Second baseman Cavan Biggio ranked as a top-10 prospect in a top-10 system. First baseman Rowdy Tellez hit 22 doubles and 19 home runs in his first 106 career games.
All are 24 or younger. All are rookies. Long hailed as the Blue Jays’ infield of the future, they are now the Blue Jays’ infield of the present.
And just as with their talent, they aren’t lacking confidence.
“To have the young core like us and the pitching that we have coming through, I think we’re going to be a lot like the Houston Astros,” Tellez said. “It’s going to be just a lot of young, homegrown talent coming through.”
The Blue Jays made a decisive pivot to the future in recent weeks. In addition to trading pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, they traded second baseman Eric Sogard at the deadline and placed shortstop Freddy Galvis on waivers in early August. The moves opened up uninterrupted playing time for Bichette at shortstop and Biggio at second base.
The Blue Jays went 12-8 in their first 20 games following Bichette’s July 29 debut, their best 20-game stretch of the season. That included a series win over the Rays and a series split with the Yankees. Even in their most recent three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, the Blue Jays took baseball’s best team to extra innings one night and led them in the ninth inning the next.
Instead of just another fourth-place team dragging to the finish line, the Blue Jays have become a feisty club difficult to put away.
In an otherwise lost season, the young infielders have provided an injection of energy and optimism.
“We’re creating a new culture and it’s their team,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “So far, so good. It’s been really fun to watch how that clubhouse is working right now. It’s pretty good.”
Guerrero, 20, and Bichette, 21, were long the poster boys for the franchise’s future as they ascended the minors together. Joined once again in the majors, they are delivering on that promise.
After an uneven start following his April debut, Guerrero has hit .380 with a 1.122 OPS in his last 30 games.
Bichette, meanwhile, set a major league record for extra-base hits to start a career. He is batting .320 with a 1.014 OPS through his first 23 games.
“There’s definitely a sense of excitement to get it going,” Bichette said. “This is what we’ve been talking about for three years, getting up here and hopefully winning a lot of games and competing with a team like this.”
Biggo and Tellez, both 24, have chipped in, too. Tellez has reached base in four out of six games since returning from Triple-A, including a game-tying home run in the ninth inning Wednesday against the Dodgers. Biggio has slumped offensively the last six weeks, but he’s shown flashes of his power and on-base skills during other stretches of the season.
With the Blue Jays’ next wave of top position player prospects—Jordan Groshans, Alejandro Kirk, Miguel Hiraldo—all at the Class A levels or lower, the current quartet knows the Blue Jays infield is theirs for the immediate future and is taking advantage.
“It’s just been a lot of fun to be that team that’s playing well and surprising some teams,” said Biggio, who played with Guerrero and Bichette each of the last three years in the minors. “It’s fun to be that team where we’re young and we’re swinging it well and we’re just having fun overall. I feel like it shocks a lot of teams, but it didn’t shock anybody in this clubhouse just from the talent that we have here.”
It’s going to take more for the Blue Jays to return to playoff contention. Toronto’s starters have a 5.10 ERA, 23rd in the majors, and the organization has only one Top 100 pitching prospect with experience above Class A in Nate Pearson. The outfield is one of the worst in MLB by almost any measure, and none of the Blue Jays’ top dozen prospects are outfielders.
But the young infielders, led by Guerrero and Bichette, have provided a breath of fresh air in the majors. With them, the Blue Jays have been catalyzed as a whole.
“Everybody that was here before is gone,” Montoyo said. “It’s the kids. They all played together in the minor leagues so they all know each other.
“It’s pretty good. I like it.”