It's great to have baseball back isn't it? Finally getting to watch our boys in blue take on competition that isn't wearing the same jerseys. Seeing what this young group has to offer in 2020 against other MLB squads. Most of all, seeing a few story lines blossom before our very eyes.
While it only ended up being a 13 and a half inning affair, there were plenty of things to talk about. Some promising story lines, some that take away a bit of hope, and some that surprised even the die hard Blue Jays fans. Leading up to opening day, these are some of the biggest takeaways I saw from the Red Sox mini series.
Nate Pearson Still Has A Ways To Go, But His Talent Is Very Evident
The series kicked off with one of the most exciting parts of the 2020 Blue Jays seasons in Nate Pearson. Blue Jays fans were finally getting the chance to see what the 23 year old phenom can do against Major League hitters. What followed was a mixed bag of feelings for everyone involved.
Pearson managed to retire the first batter he faced, but things got real rocky after that. After two walks, he served up a center cut fastball to Xander Bogaerts who shot it right back up the middle to give the Red Sox a quick lead. That was followed by another center cut fastball that Mitch Moreland deposited over the right field wall.
From an outside perspective, it seemed as though Nate came in with the plan of limiting his breaking stuff early on to focus on fastball command. Unfortunately, that's not an easy thing to do against men who have done this for a living for a long time, and they made him pay for it.
On the bright side, once Big Nate started mixing in the breaking stuff, he looked at times as though he was nearly unhittable. I think that once he has settled into a rotation slot part way through the year, the league is a lot more likely to see the Pearson of the last few innings as opposed to the Pearson of inning one.
The Blue Jays Rotation Battle Rages On
Speaking of the Blue Jays rotation, there's still a serious chance that Big Nate may not even have a place in it. Yes, it is more than likely because of service time and will be a business decision more than a baseball move; but that doesn't take anything away from the names that are vying for the final two spots in the rotation.
As of right now, the top three spots have been locked down by Cy Young finalist Hyun-Jin Ryu, and veterans Matt Shoemaker and Tanner Roark. After those three, it was expected that chase Anderson would likely be the fourth starter in the group before he went down with an oblique injury.
This leaves two available positions for a short list of guys. As I mentioned already, if it were a baseball decision, one spot would likely go to Pearson. Since it's not however, the likely candidates are lead by Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki, but followed very closely by names like Shun Yamaguchi, Anthony Kay, and the aforementioned Pearson.
Realistically it was up to the players themselves to decide who would take the final two spots, with hopes that there would be two clear choices come Friday. Unfortunately for manager Charlie Montoyo, that wasn't the case.
That's not to say they were bad; really it was quite the opposite. Borucki had one bad pitch that resulted in a two run homer, but cleaned it up after that and looked dominant for the rest of his 2.2 innings, striking out four and giving up just the two runs.
Thornton, meanwhile, took a ton of pitches to dazzle the Red Sox in his start on Thursday. The sophomore looked like the Thornton that at times was unhittable last year, as opposed to the one that could do nothing but get hit.
Then there's the other names on the list. Nate has the upside of being a potentially dominant force, but the unfortunate side effect of being a rookie in a league with trash rules. Kay on the other hand, has already seen Major League time, thus his clock is already started. He wasn't seen as much of an option coming into camp, but after what he did in the intrasquad games, there really isn't much of a reason to give him a look.
Finally, there's Yamaguchi. We haven't seen much of the import from the Japanese import, but his resume in Japan is pretty impressive. He'll be on the roster no matter what, but it only takes a few injuries for Shun to find himself in a spot to do damage in that rotation.
The Jays have some time to make their decision, but I know I wouldn't want to be in Montoyo's shoes over the next couple days.
Vladito Can Definitely Still Flex It
Vlad's rookie season didn't quite turn out to be the coming out party that everyone had dreamed of. The 21 year old didn't have a bad rookie season by any means, slashing .272/.339/.433 while muscling out 15 home runs while driving in 69 over his 112 games.
The biggest highlight for the youngster was without a doubt the performance of raw power he put on in the 2019 Home Run Derby. At just 20 years old, Vladito set the derby's total home run record and shocked the entire baseball world while he did it.
His 2020 season has been full of question marks given his full time move to first and the many questions surrounding the team. One thing that has clearly stayed consistent is the crazy amount of power that the young man still possesses.
In his second at bat on Friday, Guerrero was gifted a hanging breaking ball over the middle of the plate. He proceeded to launch that gift over the green monster and out of Fenway Park.
It remains to be seen whether or not he will find consistency at the plate this season, or if he will be able to succeed in his transition to first base. One thing is for sure though… this kid still has the ability to hit baseballs a long, long way.
The DH Spot Looks Fierce For This Roster
Defensively, this team may not wow anybody this year. There are a few positions around the diamond that have some glaring question marks over them in the field with no imminent help coming.
The one thing this team does know how to do however, is hit the ball. Luckily for the Blue Jays, every team in the MLB has a position dedicated to do just that.
There is likely to be a platoon situation at the DH spot this season for the Jays. The guy that should see the bulk of the time at the position is Rowdy Tellez.
Tellez was inconsistent at best last year, but when he was on, he had potential to be one of the best hitters on the roster. So far in summer camp, he looked like just that. He had three home runs through the first two untelevised games, and put on a clinic in Thursday's game against Boston.
His sixth inning home run managed to clear the tallest part of the wall in dead center for an absolute moonshot of a home run. Couple that with his line drive off the monster that's likely to be a home run anywhere else, Rowdy looks like he's on track to put up a career year with consistent at bats.
The second option on the list is the aforementioned Guerrero, it's well documented what he can do. After him however is likely to be Teoscar Hernandez. So far in his career, Teoscar has had a boom or bust approach at the plate. In summer camp however, he has seemingly found a more consistent stroke, topped off by a 3 for 4 night against the Red Sox on Thursday.
If that holds up, then the Jays are already three men deep on potential options at the DH spot. The one man that may put a wrench in that however, is Lourdes Gurriel Jr. It's unclear just how healthy Lourdes will be come opening week of the season. If he is unable to play defence, then it is likely Montoyo keeps him in the lineup for his bat. Still, not a bad option considering his career 162 game average is .279/.320/.499 with 34 home runs and 92 RBI.
No matter who is in that spot of the lineup, it's very evident that opposing pitchers are going to have a tough time trying to contain that hitter.
Bo Bichette Is Still Something Special To Watch
You've seen the young star in action last year. You've seen the all out hacks he takes at baseballs. You might've even seen the videos of him mashing baseballs all summer long in this strange camp. What Bo did on Friday however, may just be another level we have yet to see from the potential superstar.
Michael Chavis stepped up as the first batter of the third inning and hit an absolute bullet of a grounder to the left side of the infield for what looked like a sure fire base hit. Bichette had other things in mind though.
The shortstop ranged back to his right, laid out fully to snag the ground ball, got up and fired an absolute bullet to first base to beat Chavis for the out.
It was a Gold Glove caliber play from a kid who so far has been known much more for the bat than he has for his glove. If this trend continues for Bo, there's no telling where his ceiling sits.
It was a fun and telling return to real action baseball for the Blue Jays. Some things were revealed, some things were solved, and some things created some huge question marks. One thing's for sure, it's gonna be a fun season for this young Blue Jays squad.