2019 Fantasy Baseball: Blue Jays Team Outlook

Shawn Childs

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays lost their way over the last two seasons (76-86 and 73-89) after making the playoffs in 2015 (93-69) and 2016 (89-73). Their last World Series win came in 1993, which led to 21 straight seasons without a playoff berth.

Last year Toronto ranked 27th in baseball in ERA (4.78) while allowing 832 runs, which was 48 more than 2017 and 166 more than in 2016. Over the last season, the Blue Jays finished 17th in runs (709) and 5th in home runs (217) with weakness in batting average (.244 – 19th).

It’s sad when one of your top pitching moves in the offseason was to acquire SP Clayton Richard in a trade with the Padres for minor league OF Connor Panas. Toronto made a move to add an arm that has a chance to eat up innings while they bridge the gap to the next generation of elite bats. SP Matt Shoemaker signed to help add length to the starting rotation after parting ways with SP Marco Estrada. SS Freddie Galvis was added to compete for the starting shortstop job while helping bridge the gap to the next superstar.

The only other players lost to free agency were SS Troy Tulowitzki, 3B Yangervis Solarte, and RP Tyler Clippard.

The future of this franchise lies in the bats of 3B Vlad Guerrero, SS Bo Bichette, 2B Cavan Biggio. Guerrero will undoubtedly make an impact in 2019 while Bichette may be at least a half year away from the majors.

Overall, the starting rotation lacks the needed front end aces with question depth. The bullpen needs a couple of arms to make a step forward in the 7th and 8th innings. The starting lineup may have some power while also offering a high number of Ks.

The Blue Jays will do their best to stay above the dismal Baltimore Orioles in the AL East while being many pieces away from being contenders in the American League.

Batting Order

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Over his six years in the minors, McKinney has shown growth in some areas of his game along with struggles in other parts. In his career 2,227 at-bats on the farm, Billy hit .269 with 314 runs, 57 HRs, 310 RBI, and 21 SBs. He hit .300 in 2015 between High A and AA while adding more power to his resume in 2017 (16 HRs over 441 at-bats) and 2018 (22 HRs over 421 at-bats). His walk rate (10.2) in the minors gives him a chance at hitting near the top of the order while not being a high risk in strikeouts (18.1 percent K rate). In his first chance at the majors in 2018, his approach regressed slightly (K rate - 25.0 and walk rate - 8.6), but he did hit the ball hard when he made contact (CTBA - .349) with strength in his AVH (1.833). Billy is a former first-round draft pick (2013) who struggles to hit breaking pitches (slider - .167 BAA over 30 at-bats and curveball - .177 BAA over 17 at-bats in the majors). His same size is small with Toronto, but his bat should be exposed over a long season. More of a placeholder at the top of the lineup while expecting him to be platoon option in 2019. Possible double digit HRs with 300+ at-bats with some batting average risk. His swing path will deliver plenty of fly balls.

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Gurriel is a Cuban defector. Over his six seasons in Cuba by the age of 21, he hit .277 with 27 HRs, 161 RBI, and 23 SBs over 945 at bats. He showed the ability to take a walk (10.7) with a low K rate (12.4). Toronto signed him to a seven-year $22 million contract in November in 2016. In 2017, a hamstring issue cost him a couple of months of playing time at High A. Over 236 at-bats between High A and AA, Gurriel hit .229 with five HRs, 36 RBI, and three SBs. His older brother Yulieski plays for the Houston Astros. Last season, Lourdes pushed his game to a higher level in 2018 leagues to 57 runs, 18 HRs, 79 RBI, and five SBs over 455 at-bats at three different levels with success as well in batting average (.290). In the majors, his walk rate (3.4) came in short, while ranking below the league average in his K rate (22.4). In July, Gurriel hit .423 over 71 at-bats with nine runs, four HRs, and 14 RBI putting on the path for a nice second half. He suffered an ankle injury in August, and his season ended in late September with a hamstring issue. His rise in power was due to a career high in his HR/FB rate (17.5). Setting the stage for a nice 2019 – .280+ BA with 80+ runs, 15 HRs, 75 RBI, and five SBs over 500 at-bats.

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The next big thing in Fantasy baseball looks to be Mr. Guerrero who inherited a big part of his father’s genes. Over three seasons in the majors, Vlad hit .331 with 183 runs, 41 HRs, 200 RBI, and 26 SBs over 1,030 at-bats highlighted by his step forward in 2018 (.318 with 67 runs, 20 HRs, 78 RBI, and three SBs over only 367 at-bats). He did miss five weeks mid-summer at left knee issue. His K rate (11.1) is major league ready while showing an elite walk rate (12.1). Even with a bump in power last year, his swing path did produce plenty of ground balls (47.0) with a high line drive (29). When he put the ball in the air, they left the park at a 25 percent clip. Future foundation bat in Fantasy baseball who will be drafted as a full-time starter in the high-stakes market (ADP of 39 in 15-team leagues). With 550 at-bats with the Blue Jays, I expect a .300+ batting average with 100+ runs, 25+ HRs, 90+ RBI, and some value in speed. If Toronto had a better supporting cast around him, I expect a higher ceiling.

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In his nine years in the majors, Smoak has hit under .245 in eight seasons. His growth in approach in 2017 (career best K rate – 20.1) was short-lived leading to another failure season in batting average (.242) with a spike in his K rate (26.3). Justin did set a career best in his walk rate (14.0). His CTBA (.350) has been in a tight range over the last three seasons while maintaining a high AVH (1.893). Smoak came up short in batting average vs. both RH (.245 BAA) and LH (.235 BAA). The biggest positive from last season was his improved RBI rate (17). His slide in his RBI total was due to fewer HRs (25) and fewer RBI chances (327). His HR/FB rate (16.7) was his lowest over the last four seasons while being a fly ball batter (42.6 percent – 41.9 in his career). Improving, but the life raft may not be big enough to reel in his batting average. Possible 30+ HRs with 75 runs and 75 RBI.

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Morales absolutely crushed Fantasy owners over the 11 weeks of the season while possibly doing them a favor when he missed two weeks in April. Over his first 47 games covering 155 at-bats, he hit .206 with only nine runs, four HRs, 18 RBI, and two SBs. Kendrys rebounded with more better success over his next 211 at-bats (.299 with 35 runs, 17 HRs, and 35 RBI). His bat lost value in September (.192 with no HRs and four RBI over 52 at-bats). In the end, he set a career best in his walk rate (10.6) with repeated success in his AVH (1.757). His K rate (20.2) has been above his career average (18.5) over the last two seasons. His failure in runs was partly due to a weaker starting lineup in Toronto and a drop in at-bats. Morales also struggled with runners on base (13 percent RBI rate) while seeing a decline in his RBI chances (288). His HR/FB rate (17.9) was slightly below his previous two years (19.0 and 19.7). The damage seems worse than it than it really was even with age not being his friend. For him to maintain a high-level of at-bats, Kendrys will need to clean up his swing vs. lefties (.199 with three HRs and 12 RBI over 136 at-bats). I’ll set his bar at .260 with 60 runs, 20 HRs, and 60 RBI if given 450 at-bats.

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Over the last three seasons with 1,282 at-bats, Grichuk hit .241 with 71 HRs, 188 RBI, and 14 SBs. St. Louis grew tired of his approach at the plate (K rate - 30.1 in 2017 and 29.9 in his career and walk rate - 5.9) leading to a trade to the Blue Jays in mid-January in 2017. Last year, Randal improved against lefties (.263 with seven HRs and 19 RBI over 137 at-bats). His swing had similar value vs. RH pitching (18 HRs and 42 RBI over 287 at-bats) even with regression in batting average (.233). Grichuk shined last June (.294 over 85 at-bats with eight HRs and 20 RBI) while adding a productive previous two months of the season (.284 with 24 runs, 11 HRs, and 27 RBI over 173 at-bats). His walk rate (5.8) remains low while showing some improvement in his K rate (26.4 – 29.1 in his career). Randall missed the month May with a right knee injury that led to a miserable April (.106 over 66 at-bats with two HRs and seven RBI). His fly ball swing (44.0 percent) will deliver plenty of home runs if given a full time starting job. His run rate project well, but Grichuk has to do a better job with runners on base (RBI rate of 13 percent over the last two seasons). Pretty much a lower average hitter with 30+ HR power with a chance at neutral runs and RBI if given 500 at-bats. If he struggles vs. righties, a platoon role will ensue.

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Jensen wasn't much of a prospect over his first four years in the minors. He never had more than 200 at-bats in any season from 2013 to 2016 (injured in a couple of seasons), but his game did make a step forward in 2017 (.323 with 50 runs, ten HRs, and 48 RBI over 368 at-bats) with a nice approach at the plate (K rate - 9.4 and walk rate (9.7). Danny had followed through at AAA in 2018 (.275 with 45 runs, 12 HRs, 58 RBI, and five SBs over 298 at-bats) earning his first chance at the majors. With Toronto, he made less contact (.313 CTBA) with some fade in his K rate (17.9). Jensen did maintain his walk rate (9.5) with repeated value in his AVH (1.750). His overall game should offer more upside to the Blue Jays, which is why they traded away Russell Martin in January. I expect him now to get about five starts a week pushing him to C1 status in deep leagues with a chance at 15+ HRs and a productive batting average. His runs and RBI should rank at league average or better if given 450+ at-bats. In January, Danny had an ADP of 254 in the 15-team high-stakes market as the 14th catcher off the board. His value will surely rise within drafts with Martin no longer in his way for playing time.

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Pillar delivered a 15/15 skill set in each of the last two seasons, but his average faded downward over the last three seasons due to a weaker approach (K rate – 18-1 and walk rate – 3.3). His CTBA (.312) has been in a tight range over the last three season while setting a career high in his average hit rate (1.690) last year. In 2018, Kevin struggled against lefties (.235 BAA) while having a massive slump from May 13th to July 12th (.177 with 15 runs, four HRs, and 16 RBI over 186 at-bats). He missed three weeks after the All-Star break with a collarbone injury that appeared to be more serious. Even with more HRs over the last two years, Pillar has never had a HR/FB rate over 9.5 at any level of his career. This season he may regain some of his batting average, but he may not be in the lineup as often with the Blue Jays having an extra outfielder of value. His defense keeps him the lineup, but his ceiling remains a 15/15 player with more downside than upside.

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Travis now has four seasons on his major league resume (.274 with 35 HRs, 153 RBI, and 14 SBs over 1,169 at-bats), but he missed 332 games. His stats with the Blue Jays projected over a full season paint a neutral hitter with about 75 runs, 17 HRs, 75 RBI, and seven SBs, but his game did show less value in 2018. Devon stayed healthy most of last season except a September knee injury and hamstring issue, but he was unable to secure everyday at-bats. His K rate (16.9) was a career best, but Travis made weaker contact (CTBA - .283) with a low walk rate (4.2). He struggled against righties (.221 with six HRs and 29 RBI over 258 at-bats) with only one flash of upside (August – five HRs and 19 RBI, but he hit .214 over 98 at-bats). His swing path led to more ground balls (49.8 percent) and a lower fly ball rate (29.0), but he did have his best HR/FB rate (12.9) in the majors. His minor league resume (.311 over 1,134 at-bats with 30 HRs, 152 RBI, and 43 SBs) still gives him a chance to surprise, but Devon needs to stay healthy. Only a gamble for now while owning the talent to post winning numbers with everyday at-bats.

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Teoscar hit .280 with eight HRs and 19 RBI over 75 at-bats over the last 22 games of 2017, but he had a huge K rate (40) pointing to failure over the long haul in the majors. Even with a speed bump in his skill set, Fantasy owners were attracted to his power/speed combination as a backend outfielder in 2018. Teoscar busted out of the box last year with 22 hits over his first 78 at-bats (.282) with 15 runs, four HRs, 11 RBI, and three SBs) setting the stage for a possible impact season. Unfortunately, he only .231 for the rest of the season with 52 runs, 18 HRs, 46 RBI, and two SBs over 398 at-bats) while striking out about 33 percent of the time. His walk rate (7.8) was just below league average while posting a low RBI rate (13). His swing invited risk against LH pitching (.217 with nine HRs and 17 RBI over 152 at-bats). After the All-Star break, Hernandez only hit .209 with seven HRs and 18 RBI over 172 at-bats. Over seven seasons in the minors, he hit .269 with 91 HRs, 365 RBI, and 167 SBs over 2,706 at bats. In the end, he showed power with a free-swinging approach while leaving Fantasy owners with emptiness in the stolen base department despite owning that skill set in the minors. This season he should get 400 at-bats unless he struggles to make contact out of the gate. 20/20 player with batting average risk, but his CTBA does give a chance to surprise if his head is in the right mindset in 2019.

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Over three seasons in the minors, Bichette hit .328 with 204 runs, 29 HRs, 184 RBI, and 57 SBs over 1,069 at-bats. Last year his CTBA (.352) failed to match his explosive value in 2016 (.467) and 2017 (.441), but Bo still finished with an excellent all-around season (.286 with 95 runs, 11 HRs, 74 RBI, and 32 SBs over 539 at-bats). He should start the year at AAA, but his game and skill set would be a perfect fit for the Blue Jays at the top of the batting order. Bichette has a league average walk rate (8.1) with strength in his K rate (16.7). Bo is really close to the majors, and I would be willing to stash him on my bench in the high-stakes market. He has an ADP of 486 in 15-team leagues in January. He gives me a Grady Sizemore 2005 feel (.287 over 418 at-bats at AAA with eight HRs, 51 RBI, and 15 SBs in 2004, which led to .289 over 640 at-bats with Cleveland in 2005 with 111 runs, 22 HRs, 81 RBI, and 22 SBs).

Other Options

Luke Maile (C) – Luke moved to C2 in Toronto after the Russell Martin trade over the winter. Over four seasons in the minors, Maile only hit .210 with eight HRs and 51 RBI over 486 at-bats. Low upside player with no chance of securing a starting job long term.

Brandon Drury (2B) – Drury will be in the mix for the starting second base job after a tough 2018 season in the majors (.169 over 77 at-bats with one HR and ten RBI). He played better at AAA (.291 over 199 at-bats with five HRs and 30 RBI), but he did miss a good portion of the year with a broken bone in his left hand and a vision issue earlier in the year. Over his four seasons in the majors, Drury hit .264 with 32 HRs and 134 RBI over 1,039 at-bats. His game gives him a chance at a .280 season with 20 HRs if given 500 at-bats, which is supported by his 2014 season at High A (.300 with 19 HRs and 81 RBI over 430 at-bats).

Dwight Smith (OF) – Smith hit .268 over 2,753 at-bats in his seven seasons in the minors with 59 HRs, 341 RBI, and 74 SBs. His walk rate (10.0) is favorable with a respectable K rate (14.9). Over two seasons at AAA, he hit .271 with 14 HRs, 88 RBI, and 17 SBs over 705 at-bats. Dwight hit .293 in his two brief stints in the majors in 2017 and 2018 with two HRs, nine RBI, and one SBs over 92 at-bats. Possible bench options for the Blue Jays with enough talent to work as a short term injury cover in the Fantasy market if given regular at-bats in the majors.

Pitchers

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After his great 2016 season (15-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 161 Ks over 192 innings), Sanchez posted losing stats over his next 28 starts (5-9 with a 4.72 ERA, 1.603 WHIP, and 110 Ks over 141 innings). His success in 2016 was driven by a much better walk rate (3.0), which regressed to a disaster lever of the last two seasons (5.0). Over his first 14 starts last year, Sanchez allowed two runs or fewer in ten starts. After a short outing on June 21st, Aaron ended up on the DL for two months with a right finger injury that required surgery after the season. He struggled against lefties (.288 BAA) while having more walks (39) than strikeouts (36). Sanchez is a ground pitcher (54.4 percent in his career). His AFB (93.7) was below his previous two seasons (94.7 and 94.9). Aaron turned more to his changeup (.217 BAA) last year while still offering a plus curveball (.235 BAA). There’s more here than meets the eye, but he can’t pitch at an elite level without better command. His Ks won’t offer an edge plus many dates against Boston, and New York hurts his overall win total. Sanchez has a strong enough arm to add as a backend starter. If he fails his price point (ADP of 396) won’t kill when considering the replacement value in the free agent pool. Set the bar at a 3.75 ERA with 150 Ks with a full season of starts with the hopes of more upside.

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Stroman battled a shoulder issue over his first seven starts (0-5 with a 7.71 ERA and 32 Ks over 37.1 innings), which ended up leading to five weeks on the DL. Over his next ten starts, Marcus allowed two runs or fewer in seven games, but two disaster outings (13 runs and 22 baserunners over 9.2 innings) pushed his ERA to 3.34 over this strength. A blister on his pitching hand led to another DL stint with two more bad starts (nine runs and 14 baserunners over 5.2 innings). Stroman struggled against both righties (.295 BAA) and lefties (.272 BAA) plus a poor K:BB rate (1.8) vs. LH batters. His AFB (92.4) was a step back from his career high in 2017 (93.3). Marcus had success with his slider (.226 BAA) and cutter (.239 BAA), but batters drilled his sinker (.326 BAA) with weakness as well with his low volume changeup (.429 BAA). Stroman tends to underachieve his draft value. Over five years in the majors, he has a 41-34 record with a 3.91 ERA and 536 Ks over 65 innings. With no set back in his shoulder issue in March, Marcus looks viable with an ADP of 330. His resume suggests better than a 3.75 ERA with 150+ Ks with a full season of starts.

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After one start (three runs and eight baserunners), the Angels lost Shoemaker for five months with a forearm strain. Over five starts in September, Matt posted a 4.97 ERA with six walks and 29 Ks over 25.1 innings. His AFB (91.3) was in line with previous two seasons (91.5) while still relying on a sider and split-finger fastball to get batters out. Shoemaker has strength in his walk rate (2.1) with a respectable K rate (8.1) in his career. He now has two straight seasons with battles with a forearm issue. A move to the AL East can’t help his ERA and WHIP. Only a gamble at this point of his career with enough on his resume to take a bench flier in deep leagues while requiring a short leash.

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Richard moves from the friendly confines of San Diego to bash zone on the AL East. In his nine seasons in the NL, Clayton has a 62-71 record with a 4.37 ERA which matches his eight years with the Padres. His stats could be even worse if his starts in Petco Park (32-29 with a 3.33 ERA and 375 Ks over 518.1 innings) were subtracted out. His walk rate (3.4) is much too high for a pitcher with a tiny K rate (6.1). Richard continues to have a weak fastball (90.1) with batters hitting .294 against his sinker. His slider (.201 BAA) is the only reason he’s still in the majors. Losing arm with no draftable value.

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After battling health issues early in his pro career that included TJ surgery, Borucki started to make a run at the majors in 2017. He pitched well at High A (3.58 ERA with 109 Ks over 98 innings) while being even better over eight starts between AA and AAA (1.72 ERA with 48 Ks over 52.1 innings). Over six seasons in the minors, Ryan has a 29-24 record with a 3.32 ERA and 401 Ks over 431.2 innings. Last year pitched well at AAA (3.27 ERA and 58 Ks over 77 innings) helping him reach the majors. Over his 17 starts with the Blue Jays, Borucki allowed two runs or fewer in ten games while turning in two disaster starts (11 runs and 14 baserunners over 5.1 innings with two Ks). He pitched well against lefties (.242 BAA) while needing work in his command against RH batters (28 walks and 47 Ks over 276 at-bats). His AFB (91.5) below the league average while offering an edge changeup (.222 BAA) and upside slider (.222 BAA). When he adds more bulk, his velocity should improve helping his overall package. With over 170 innings under his belt in 2018, his next step is a full season of starts in the majors with a sub 3.75 ERA and 150+ Ks, which require improvement against righties.

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Reid-Foley struggled over his first 34 appearances in pro ball in 2014 (4.76 ERA) and in 2015 (4.22 ERA) due to a huge walk rate (5.8). His arm was much improved in 2016 (10-5 with a 2.81 ERA and 130 Ks in 115.1 innings), but he had no answer for batters at AA (5.09 ERA and 1.492 WHIP) in 2017. Last year Sean regained his form leading to a 12-5 record over 24 starts at AA and AAA with 150 Ks over 129.2 innings. He still walks too many batters (4.0) with an upside K rate (10.0). After struggling in his first two starts in the majors (nine runs and 19 baserunners over 9.1 innings with nine Ks), Reid-Foley flashed in two of his five September starts (one run over seven innings with ten Ks and no runs over five innings with ten Ks). His walk rate (5.7) in Toronto does invite disaster risk. His AFB came in at 93.8 while featuring a slider followed by low-level changeup and curveball. Tempting arm, but his lack of secondary stuff will require development time in the majors before being viable starting options in the Fantasy market.

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Pannone struggled over nine starts in the minors (0-4 with 5.36 ERA and 53 Ks over 50.1 innings) in 2018, but he still earned a call up to the majors. After allowing two runs over 4.1 innings with the Blue Jays, Thomas pitched his best game in the majors on August 22nd when he didn't allow run over seven innings with three Ks. Unfortunately, he faced the Orioles in consecutive games leading disaster showing (seven runs and eight baserunners over 3.1 innings). Over his first five appearances in September, Pannone went 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 17 Ks over 23 innings. HIs AFB (88.1) falls in the soft tosser category, but batters did only hit .248 against his four-seamer in the majors while his changeup (.225 BAA) and curveball (.158 BAA) graded well. Over six seasons in the minors, he went 30-18 with a 3.38 ERA and 526 Ks over 505.1 innings. I have to believe his arm offers more upside the Clayton Richard. Player to follow as his path to the majors does give him a chance to post a sub 4.00 ERA.

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Giles finished 2018 as a bust as the closer position, but he didn’t blow any saves chance (26-for-26) on the year. His season started relatively well over his first 18 games (3.38 ERA and 13 Ks over 16 innings) while converting all nine of his save tries. His only failure over this span came on May 1st when he allowed four runs and four baserunners over one-third of an inning. Over his next 16 games, Ken posted a 6.75 ERA with three saves and batters hitting .328 against him. After a trade to the Blue Jays, he struggled over his next seven games (nine runs and ten baserunners over 6.2 innings) due to four HRs allowed. For the rest of the season, Giles pitched at a high level (0.69 ERA and 12 Ks over 13 innings while converting all 11 of his save chances). In the end, he had the best walk rate (1.3) of his career, but his K rate (9.5) did regress while allowing too many HRs (six over 50.1 innings). His failure came against RH batters (.305 with three HRs over 105 at-bats). Ken still has plus fastball (97.3 mph) supported by a plus slider (.183 BAA), which he throws over 40 percent of the time. A fresh start and new home should lay the foundation for 35+ saves with a chance to offer plus Ks if repeats in 2018 command. His price point (ADP of 129 in January) should be favorable this draft season.

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After spending most of his career in the minors as a starter, Tepera started to show life as a reliever in 2015 (1.06 ERA at AAA over 34 innings with 37 Ks). He has a 52-33 record in the minors with a 3.98 ERA and 542 Ks over 657.2 innings. Over the last two seasons as a full-time reliever for the Blue Jays, Ryan went 12-6 with a 3.60 ERA and 149 Ks over 142.1 innings. His K rate (9.5) gained value with some improvement in his walk rate (3.3). In 2018, Tepera has success against both righties (.212 BAA) while fading against lefties (.274 BAA). He pitched well over the first half of the season (5-3 with 2.90 ERA, 44 Ks, and six SVs over 40.1 innings). A bum right elbow in July led to a trip to the DL with poor stats (10.38 ERA and 1.846 WHIP over 4.1 innings). He throws a mid-90s fastball with his most success coming from his sinker (.214 BAA). Even with seven saves last year, I don’t view him as long term solution for saves for Toronto if Ken Giles had an issue. For further growth, Tepera needs to throw more strikes while having his secondary pitches make a step forward.

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Over seven seasons in the minors, Paulino only pitched 237.1 innings despite a 2.62 ERA and 265 Ks. His walk rate (2.5) and K rate (10.0) grade well. In his career, David has had TJ surgery, an 80-game suspension, and a second battle with his right elbow (bone chips). Last year his season started with a trip to the DL in the minors with a right shoulder issue. HIs AFB (93.1) looks to be major league average while featuring an edge curveball. Paulino has a changeup with some upside. His lack of durability should push him into the bullpen in 2019. Toronto needs another upside arm to pitch in the 7th and 8th inning, and David has the right stuff to fill that void if he somehow stays healthy. Let's call him a dart from 50 feet.

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