Welcome to Part 4 of a series of ongoing posts all about your 2018 Toronto Blue Jays. To quickly recap, you can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 at the following links. Check them out to get up to speed. Note that I am writing these as Spring Training continues, so some of the projections are already happening or not happening. Either way, these give you an idea of where the team is with its starters and prospects.
With Part 4, we will be taking a look at the shortstop and third base positions and how they should shake down before Opening Day. Part 5 is forthcoming and will take a look at the Jays’ outfield, while Part 6 will look at the starters and bullpen in one big extravaganza of hurlers. Until then, let’s dig in to the shortstop position!
A Position in Turmoil?
Very few would argue that Troy Tulowitzki was once an elite shortstop capable of dynamic stops defending the infield. He was also capable at the plate and had power in hit batting.
Those days might be coming to an end.
Tulowitzki is still battling injuries heading in to 2018 and it has already been reported by Jon Morosi of the MLB Network that Tulo will not be ready for Opening Day.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) March 13, 2018
Tulo only played 66 games in 2018 while battling injuries, and hit a slash of .249/.300/.378, his lowest numbers since his rookie season in 2006. He is only a year removed from a 24 home run season, but time is not on his side as he will turn 34 this season. With three years left on his mammoth deal plus a team option in 2021, the Blue Jays are looking more like long-term losers on the 2015 deal that saw Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, and Jesus Tinoco to Colorado.
There is no question Tulo’s presence on the Jays has been a net positive; two trips to the ALCS in back to back years before returning to the depths of the AL East were well worth the price. Tulo is undoubtedly a leader in the locker room and a key piece on defense, but it’s time for the Jays to take the right steps to cover for the often injured shortstop.
Enter Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz. We’ve talked about these two players before when discussing the depth at second base in Part 3. Suffice to say, the Blue Jays have already done what they needed to do to protect the lineup from real deficiency at shortstop. The Jays have already signed Danny Espinosa to a minor league deal on March 17th to solidify the middle infield depth. Espinosa was dreadful at the plate last season, slashing .173/.245/.278, but is a solid fielder who the organization must feel is more prepared to face major league pitching than prospects Richard Urena and Lourdes Gurriel. Urena just turned 22 at the end of February and is developing nicely, but he was optioned on March 18th to gain more experience batting against competitive pitching. Gurriel, on the other hand, is a bit of an unknown having played significant time in the Cuban leagues and only got a taste of the minor league system last season. As it stands, the depth chart would have a hypothetically healthy Troy Tulowitzki starting, with Solarte and Diaz ready and able to step in to cover for Tulo before his projected end of April return date.
It should come as no surprise that this position is held firmly by Josh Donaldson. He is the best player on the Jays, the best hitter, and a former MVP still capable of putting up MVP numbers. 2017 was a down year for the two time Silver Slugger, finishing with 33 home runs, 78 RBI and a .270/.385/.559 slash line. On the bright side, he did all of this in just 113 games. Had he played the full season, Donaldson would likely have equaled his MVP season, minus his batting average. A healthy Donaldson not only makes the Blue Jays a better team, but a potential playoff contender capable of stealing a wild card position. As we discussed in Part 1, Donaldson has yet to sign a long term deal in Toronto despite affirming he wishes to stay. Could this change if the Blue Jays’ season goes into the crapper by July?
If it does, the Blue Jays are again very well equipped to handle a Donaldson exodus. Just like the 2nd base and shortstop position, Solarte and Diaz are there to make spot starts or take over if Donaldson is traded. This is obviously a downgrade but there are still MLB calibre players capable of playing baseball if the trade happens.
More interesting than the depth at the position are the long-term prospects. You would be hard pressed to find a baseball fan not familiar with the name “Vladimir Guerrero”. Luckily for the Blue Jays, they have the second generation Vlad locked up and looking to take over the 3rd base position in the long term. It remains to be seen if Jr. will remain at third base for his career, but right now he is perhaps the hottest prospect in all of baseball. At 19 years old, he is being touted as a potentially elite contact hitter with significant power in his swing. His minor league slash is .305/.402/.473 and he has been a source of news for the minor league affiliates of Toronto since he joined the ranks back in 2017. The future appears incredibly bright for Jr., but he is a long ways away from being a regular part of the lineup. For those unacquainted with Vladdy Jr., here’s a little video for you to check out:
The Jays are fairly secure in the infield. Solarte and Diaz are solid depth that takes pressure away from often injured starters like Travis and Tulo. It remains to be seen how many games they will miss, and what kind of impact this will have on Toronto’s quest to return to the playoffs. Josh Donaldson will be an anchor at third and provided he sticks around in Toronto, will likely be their most valuable player based on his past performance. With their younger prospects not listed on depth charts still blooming in the minors, the Jays might have some transitioning to do before the youth explosion. For now, they will continue into Spring Training giving their AAA players and prospects a hard look before solidifying the roster for Opening Day.
Tulowitzki image from BSN Denver