Spring Training begins for Toronto Blue Jays pitchers and catchers on Thursday, and fans across the city are on the edge of their seats in anticipation for the upcoming baseball season. A new era of Toronto Blue Jays baseball is beginning with a total roster rebuild to ensure that we don’t lose 90 games…again.
As a result, fans can expect a completely different experience for the 2019 season. Toronto fans aren’t too used to witnessing their home-team assemble in such a resolute, full-blown teardown-and-rebuild mode, much unlike the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros –teams that have served as models for Toronto to strive to emulate.
One upcoming challenge that Blue Jays fans will face is getting through the agonizing stretch of time without some of the franchise’s most popular players. As if the heartache of losing Toronto icons like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson didn’t cause Jays fans enough separation anxiety, we still need to deal with the fact that a number of other players – like J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Brett Cecil, and Robert Osuna – have departed under less-than-perfect conditions.
Not to mention the grief endured by fans over the losses of Troy Tulowitzki, released back in December despite the fact that the franchise still owed him $38 million on the two remaining years of his contract with the team, and Russell Martin, who was traded to the LA Dodgers in January for prospects Ronny Brito and Andrew Sopko.
Sure, Toronto fans are likely feeling a little beat-up at this point. But, as springtime rounds the corner, so does the awakening of a new future for the Blue Jays. Here are some of the major highlights that Toronto fans should be looking out for:
1. The Unofficial Countdown of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s Big-League Debut
At the core of the team’s rebuild, Guerrero Jr. is the Blue Jays’ most anticipated prospect of the season since Carlos Delgado – and potentially ever. Since landing his spot in triple-A last year, he’s the recipe for success if the Blue Jays are even merely considering being carried back to the promised land of a World Series Championship.
Successfully integrating him into the team is the number-one task for the franchise in 2019. The bad news? He won’t open the season in the majors, and won’t be up until at least 2 weeks into the season, meaning the soonest Guerrero Jr. can safely debut is Friday, April 12, which is a home game against the Rays.
2. The Arrival of Charlie Montoyo
Although we’ll all miss John Gibbons and his Texan vernacular, Charlie Montoyo will adopt a similarly-beloved father figure for the team. The 53-year-old was hired on as manager of the Blue Jays for the 2019 season, signing a three-year contract, with a club option for a fourth year.
As the team’s new and much-needed leader, he totes a stellar reputation for his ability to handle all-things-baseball, and as the team’s new and much-needed leader during a rebuild, and is known to use data in his decision-making behaviours on and off the field.
3. A Killer Starting Rotation and Line-Up
According to SportsNet, the starting rotation will feature Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, and newcomers Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard, with Thomas Pannone, Sean Reid-Foley, Trent Thornton and Sam Gaviglio, as it currently stands. But it should be noted that the Jays may mix things up on us by using an opener on a semi-regular or regular basis.
4. Infield Alignment
Although it would be ideal to have Guerrero at third, Bichette at short, Gurriel at second, and Biggio playing all over the place, that likely won’t be the reality for this season. Instead, the team is probably hoping that putting Gurriel at second base will allow him to best defend the team.
Of course, Devon Travis and Brandon Drury will have some input when it comes to that decision, and things may become especially crowded upon the arrival of Guerrero.
5. New Coaching Staff
Along with a new manager, the Blue Jays will hopefully benefit from a revamped team of coaching staff. Hitting coach Guillermo Martinez and coach John Schneider were promoted from within, and bench coach Dave Hudgens, first base coach Mark Budzinski, bullpen coach Matt Buschmann and major-league field co-ordinator Shelley Duncan were hired externally.
6. Refurbishment of the Training Center
The Blue Jays are hoping to complete the refurbishment of the Bobby Mattick Training Center at Englebert Complex and Dunedin Stadium by spring training 2020, so this is Toronto fans’ last chance to see these amenities in all their current state of inelegance.
Mark Shapiro, President of the Blue Jays, has reportedly claimed that the new training facility will be pivotal in making the way for the team’s success in the future.