Oh what a year it’s been since my last article was published on April 3rd. At that point I was thinking “Wow, the Athletics could win the AL West this season with this lineup!” Now, I’m left wondering “I wonder if the Blue Jays can beat their division rivals, the NY Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates and win the MLB East.” At this point I don’t care how they break the teams down. Three divisions, six divisions, 15 divisions — just gimme my baseball! There’s only so much KBO I can watch and MLB Power Pros I can play!
My prediction is that baseball dives face first into “We’re baseball! We ARE America!” and the season launches for 100 games on Saturday, July 4th. What’s more ‘Murican than that?!
Enough banter — let’s talk about the Blue Jays sleepers. As always — I’m not here to talk about Vlad Guerrero or Bo Bichette — everyone already knows about them and how they’re going to perform. Also — I’m not really going to touch on prospects. The Itch already did a bang up job telling you about Nate Pearson and the other Blue Jays prospects here: https://razzball.com/top-2020-prospects-toronto-blue-jays/
Let’s get into it! These projections are from Steamer and were based on a full season worth of games.
|3||Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||OF||543||73||26||83||8||0.266|
|4||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||3B||534||83||25||85||3||0.296|
Teoscar Hernandez (FantasyPros cumulative ADP: 350.4): Let’s get started with the stats that really matter — his Out of the Park Baseball 21 stats from Baseball Reference’s season simulation! 107 ABs, 20 runs, 8 HR, 21 RBI and a .262 AVG? Projected over 500 ABs that’s a 37 HR season! BUY! BUY! BUY! Let’s talk about real numbers now — it felt like Hernandez’s 2019 was a disappointment, right? Well his numbers were about the same across the board from his full season debut in 2018. His 2019 season started so poorly (3 HRs, .189/.262/.299 in 127 ABs) that he was sent down to AAA to sort his life out. He came back after three weeks and played much better (23 HRs, .248/.325/.548 in 290 ABs) to close out the season. I think if he can build on the adjustments he made in AAA and improve in a few key areas then we could see him break the 30 HR landmark and possibly even 35. One of those key areas? Hitting breaking pitches. The .220 XBA he had against breaking balls should’ve told us the true story of his performance against the pitch in 2018 — not the .250 BA he actually put up. This wart showed its face in 2019 as he hit only .178 with a .174 XBA against breaking balls. Another key area — balancing out his splits. In 2018 he hit .250 average vR, .217 vL. 2019: .222 vR, .246 vL Which is it Teoscar?!. One area that could launch Hernandez from top-75 OF to a top-20 OF is finding the speed he showed in the minors. When he debuted in 2011 he had 6 straight minor league seasons of double-digit SBs including three years in a row of 30+. If he can even touch double-digit SBs with 30 HRs — he is an enormous value. The speed is still there — his 29.1 ft/sec is only .3 ft/sec slower than 2019 MLB SB leader Mallex Smith.
Danny Jansen (ADP: 294.4): Someone who bat .207 in 2019 is a sleeper? I must be off my John Rocker. The hit tool exists for Jansen — just believe me — it does In fact, his XBA last year was .247. His AAA numbers the past two seasons also show that he is much better than a .207 hitter. Across 3 levels in 2018, Jansen hit .323 in 368 ABs; in 2019 in AAA he hit .275 in 298 ABs. Last season — it looks like it came to that unfixable problem of bad luck. It wasn’t like he was making a lot of soft contact (82.6% medium and hard contact rate,) he wasn’t hitting a lot of ground balls (38.7%,) but he was tied for the 4th worst BABIP among players with at least 350 plate appearances with a .230. I think the average can come up to a more palatable .250 (with room for more) and he did hit 13 HRs last year which I think can be built upon so he ends up with between 15 – 20 HRs. According to his ADP he’s the 19th catcher off the board which means in a lot of leagues he isn’t being drafted. The potential is there for a big bounceback for Jansen and earning top-10 catcher value next season.
Rowdy Tellez (ADP: 496.3): Baseball Reference never ceases to amaze me. That’s usually where I start doing my homework on players that I want to recommend for a brief overview. Well, I go to type in ‘Rowdy’ in the search bar thinking “Surely there can’t be another Rowdy who played in the MLB.” Well, I was dead wrong, and don’t call me Shirley. Rowdy Elliott played for the Boston Doves, Chicago Cubs, and Brooklyn Robins between 1910 and 1920. Apparently he died in 1934 after falling out of an apartment window under mysterious circumstances. Where was Ken Burns on that one?
Back to our modern-day Rowdy — ABs just opened up for him when Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo announced that Lourdes Gurriel, Randal Grichuk, and Teoscar Hernandez will be his starting outfielders to begin the season. Tellez first popped on our prospect radar in 2016 as a 21-year-old in AA when he hit 23 HRs, with 81 RBI and a .297 AVG. I wrote about Tellez back in 2018 as someone who could emerge as a power threat from off the bench. Here’s what I said then: “Looking at Tellez’s numbers before and after 2017 it is clear to see that 2017 is the outlier. Here are Tellez’s batting averages in seasons he’s made over 400 plate appearances: 2015: .289; 2016: .297; 2017: .222; 2018: .270.” In 93 ABs in AAA last year he again showed solid bat-to-ball skills hitting .366.
Now I can’t sit here and act like Tellez has been a force at the major league level. In 370 ABs last year, he hit .227, but did hit 21 HRs in limited action. However, now that he’s got some major league ABs under his belt, the DH position should be his to lose, and he should feel right at home now that he’s almost completely surrounded by guys he went with through the Blue Jays minor league system. Based on his ADP I’m guessing he is or will be undrafted in your league. For now, add him to your watch list — but don’t hesitate to strike if he starts off hot whenever the season starts. This is a young, hungry lineup who were all just waiting for this opportunity.
Matt Shoemaker (ADP: 314.8): Injury risk, injury risk, blah, blah, blah. I just wanted to get that out of the way. We all know he’s an injury risk, but we’re all about positivity here and guess what else? This season delay will only help ensure Shoemaker is fully recovered! Looking at his history, Shoemaker’s best pitching was done from 2014 to 2016 with the Angels. He held down a 3.80 ERA in 431.1 IP with 8 K/9.
Last season Shoemaker started his Blue Jays tenure like a house on fire. In five starts, he pitched 28 and two-thirds innings, only allowed 5 earned runs and had 24 strikeouts until injury struck. He seems fully recovered from the ACL injury he suffered last season and has proven that so far this spring training by throwing 6 and two-thirds innings with 9 Ks — only allowing 1 hit and 1 BB. I fully understand this is a dice roll. He could get his hand stuck in a car door tomorrow and his season is over. If he stays healthy he’s being drafted as the 97th starting pitcher off the board when he could end the season in the top-50. One adjustment that could help him get there is relying less on his sinker. According to Baseball Savant he throws the pitch roughly 30% of the time and here is the xBA off the pitch from the past few seasons:
2014: .307 (BA)
All of these are among his worst pitches year-by-year.
Outlook: Giles is firmly in place as the Blue Jays closer after having an elite 1.87 ERA with a 14.1 K/9 in 2019. However, he’s in the last year of his contract with the Blue Jays and if they fall out of the playoff race in the MLB East then I expect him to be shipped to a contender. So who could find themselves as the leading save candidate if Giles ends up with, let’s say, the Angels? I’m going to go with Yamaguchi. He had his best seasons in Japan as a closer though admittedly that was way back in 2010. He converted to a starter in 2014, but for right now it’s looking like he’ll debut in the Jays bullpen. His velocity used to touch 98 back in the early 2010’s as a closer, but has settled in the low-90’s as an older starter. Sticking him in the bullpen could allow him to reach back and average around 95-96 on a consistent basis. For his career in Japan he’s averaged close to a 10.0 K/9 which is what you like to see from your closer. Anthony Bass is obviously the other closer option in Toronto, but with an 8.1 K/9 last year he lacks the typical swing-and-miss stuff you want from your lockdown closer.