Tom Dakers is the site manager over at Bluebird Banter, the SBNation site for the Toronto Blue Jays. He asked me some questions about the Twins (Click here to see my answers) and in return, I asked him a few of my own. He was a good sport and got me the answers, so lets learn a little more about the Twins next opponent.
1. The Blue Jays have the absolute misfortune of playing in the AL East, where they have to compete with the big money Yankees and Red Sox, plus the somehow competitive Rays every year. What would have to happen for the Blue Jays to win the division, and do you see that happening any time soon? Is it this year, with Boston being bad, and the entire Yankees roster headed for the IL, or is the Rays hot start going to be too much to overcome?
It isn’t this year. I feel pretty confident in that one.
It could happen in the 2 or 3 years. The Jays have a number of very good prospects. Vlad, Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen, Nate Pearson. Rowdy Tellez, Anthony Alford and a handful of others could become an excellent core for the team. And they should have money available to pick up free agents to fill whatever holes the lineup might have. After this season there isn’t much payroll on the books, other than the new contract for Randal Grichuck. Most of this season is going to see the team trying to figure out which prospects are ready to force their way onto the Jays roster, but I’m not expecting a lot of winning.
But…..if you would like to switch divisions, I’d be all for it.
2. Like the Twins, the Blue Jays also hired a new manager. What do you think of Charlie Montoyo so far, and what does he bring to the table that John Gibbons didn’t?
Everyone seems to like Charlie. When he was hired, all of baseball seemed to be thrilled for him.
There was a lot of speculation that the new manager would have to be able to speak Spanish, as the team has a number of Spanish speaking players and prospects and, as much as those guys learn to speak English, sometimes it is easier to get messages across in someone’s native tongue.
As a manager, he seems to be an interesting mix of old school and new school. He understands analytics much better than John Gibbons did, but he also seems to be more willing to use the bunt and hit and run (we actually had a successful hit and run last week). He’s using more shifting, he has the outfield playing further back and he likes the third baseman playing further off the line.
There will be some on the job training. He’s had a couple of interesting moments with the bullpen, and he made a mistake by not calling for a review on a play where he really should have, and his batting orders confuse me, but he seems smart enough to learn from his mistakes.
The players seem to like him a lot. I grew up watching managers who were far more adversarial with their players, but I think this is the better way to do things these days.
3. The Blue Jays traded away a few players at the start of the season, which is a bit unusual. What exactly does that mean, and where does that leave you, as fan, feeling about the team?
Yeah Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar have been moved. I believed Morales would be untradable but I was happy to be wrong. Opening up a roster spot for a younger player and opening the DH spot so it could used to rest everyday players on occasion seems a good move for a rebuilding team.
Pillar? Well, his offense was never great and his defense isn’t what it was a couple of years ago. It is kind of unfair to consider a guy old at age 30, but most of Kevin’s value was his defense. Add in that he had no respect for his body, willing to run into fences or throw himself to the ground to make catches, no matter the score, had us wondering how he would age. I think the team looked to trade him in the off-season but didn’t get much interest. The return, for a player who was a fan favorite, seemed a little light, but then again Kevin is hitting .155 for the Giants at the moment.
Neither guy was going to be part of the team after the rebuild.
4. Vlad Guerrero Jr. is probably the most exciting prospect in baseball right now. When is he expected to be called up? Why did the Blue Jays keep him down -- is it just service time manipulation, or are there actual holes in his game? Also, how excited are you to watch him mash taters for the next six or seven (or more) years?
Service time. Service time. Service time.
I mean, he’s not going to be great defensively at third base. He’s more than a bit on the heavy side and he won’t have the range we might like. I very much doubt he’ll still be playing third in 5 years. But keeping him in the minors for another week or two isn’t going to turn him into a Gold Glover.
The Jays have an excuse for him still being in the minors, he missed time at the end of spring with an oblique strain. He’s just back playing. I’m thinking that he might be up just after the series with the Twins or, if not, within the next week or two.
How excited am I? Oh I don’t have a way to put it into words. I can’t wait to see him, and Bo Bichette, bat in the middle of the order for the next 7 to 20 years. I often say the best part about being a baseball fan is watching young players develop and mature. To get the watch the son of a Hall of Famer, whose father I watched when he was an Expo, I can’t think of anything better.
5. Who do the Twins get to face for starting pitchers, and what should we expect from them?
Monday: Matt Shoemaker. Matt was a free agent signing this winter. He was a buy low guy, coming back from a couple of injury filled seasons. He has been much much better than I hoped. He went 7 innings allowing just 2 hits in each of his first two starts. After three starts he has a 0.92 ERA and 3 wins (not bad on a team with 5 wins total).
Tuesday: Aaron Sanchez. Aaron is trying to have a comeback year after two injury filled seasons. He looks a lot more like the guy who had the best ERA in the AL in 2016. He’s throwing harder and his curveball has returned. He’s getting strikeouts again, and had been keeping the ball on the ground. After 3 starts he has a 1.69 ERA.
Wednesday: Trent Thornton. Trent’s first two MLB starts were excellent, far better than any of us expected. His third start, against the Rays, was a disaster, 8 hits, 3 homers in 3 innings. There was a suggestion that he was tipping pitches. His curve rates near the top of the MLB for spin rate.
Thursday: Clay Buchholz. Sunscreen Boy had his first start for the Jays Saturday and it went surprisingly well, giving up just 1 run in 6 innings of work. He doesn’t throw hard, he topped out at just under 90 MLB on his fastball, but he also threw a cutter, curve and change. He didn’t allow a walk and got a lot of groundballs. I’ll admit I was less than thrilled when they signed him, but he spent a good part of today’s game talking to Thornton and Shoemaker, about how he gripped his pitches and he was first up to cheer his teammates when something good happened. He doesn’t have the long greasy hair anymore, but his arm was still shiny with sunscreen on the day he pitched.
6. Who is one player that we probably haven’t heard of who will have an impact on the series?
Billy McKinney, an outfielder we picked up from the Yankees in the J.A. Happ trade had a great day Sunday, hitting two doubles and a home run. He seems to have rebounded from a slow start to the season. He has some speed, power and the ability to take a walk, which isn’t something you can say about many Blue Jays. And Rowdy Tellez, a rookie who has a great name, hit a home run in Boston that Statcast initially told us went 505 feet. When the media figured out that that would make it the longest ever in Fenway Park, it caused a bit of a stir. Unfortunately, the eye test suggested it was more likely somewhere around 405 feet, still a good long homer, but not one that would move Ted Williams to the number two spot in Fenway history.
7. Who wins the series?
Man, I’d love a series win sometime this season, but I’m too much of a realist. Let’s guess we split the series, I’ll hope for continued good pitching from our starters and maybe a couple more players pull out of their early season slumps. Or perhaps Freddy Galvis hits a couple more home runs and continues to lead the team in home runs, batting average and, well, everything else.