July Update: The Blue Jays appear to be coming into Opening Day 2.0 relatively healthy, with the one major ailment they have possibly even being to the benefit of the team. Chase Anderson, who possessed an ugly 5.26 xFIP with Milwaukee in 2019, was brought in by Toronto to shore up its pitching depth. But the veteran suffered an oblique strain last week in camp and will have to begin the season on the IL. Potentially, that opens up rotation spot for Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays hard-throwing No. 1 prospect. It’s more likely than not that the organization will instead choose to manipulate the RHP’s service time, yet, as soon as Pearson’s in the bigs, he’s fantasy viable. Add in that Hyun-Jin Ryu’s injury history and workload are less impacted by a shortened schedule and I think it’s safe to say that Toronto is sitting in a better position today than it was in March. Now, if they only knew where they were going to play their home games.
The term “rebuild” can be a scary proposition among MLB fans. Aside from the word generally meaning you can wave goodbye to some of your favorite players, there’s no set-in-stone timeline for rebuilding. However, when it comes to Toronto, it would appear we’ve officially reached the optimistic stage of the process. The Blue Jays last made the playoffs in 2016 with a roster that was one of the oldest in baseball. Fast-forward through three losing seasons and the departures of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Marcus Stroman, it appears the team has truly come out on the other side.
While it would still be irrational to suggest that Toronto is in contention for a postseason run in 2020, the future core of the roster is clear. Plus, not only do the likes of Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Nate Pearson and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. make for an excited fanbase, they provide fantasy owners with some young, blossoming talent to project. So, let’s dive into that last aspect a little deeper.
– Division Winner: +3500
– League Winner: +5000
– World Series: +10000
Justin Smoak, 1B
Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP; Tanner Roark, SP; Travis Shaw, 1B
2020 Fantasy MVP
Bo Bichette, SS
When it comes to anticipating Bichette’s value in 2020, it’s important to understand that multiple things – even things that seem counterintuitive – can be true. To that point, I don’t think anyone’s expecting the 22-year-old to produce identical numbers to what we saw in a small sample during his rookie campaign. Bichette finished his shortened season slashing an insane .311/.358/.571 with 142 wRC+ in 212 plate appearances. To put that in perspective, there were only 13 players that, in 200-plus PAs, managed to hit above .300 with an ISO of at least .250. That list happens to include names like Christian Yelich, Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado, Nelson Cruz and Cody Bellinger. Needless to say, it’s an elite class of fantasy asset and one that pinpoints Bichette’s ceiling, even if it’s unlikely he quite reaches those plateaus in a full year’s work. Still, despite the former top prospect’s expected wOBA and expected slugging percentage implying drastic normalization this coming summer, Bichette’s floor appears locked in as a 20/20 threat with the at-bat volume of a leadoff hitter. Considering his massive upside, that’s far from a terrible place to start.
2020 Fantasy LVP
Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP
The key to unlocking Ryu’s value this season is all about expectations. If you’re going into 2020 thinking that the pitcher who led the league with a 2.32 ERA is simply going to pick up right where he left off in Toronto, you’re going to be disappointed. That’s not to say that Ryu can’t be someone looked upon to stabilize your ratios – especially considering his elite career walk rate of 5.4% – yet there’s a lot to suggest that the left-hander is due for some serious regression this summer. First, let’s address the fact that Ryu was just a different caliber of pitcher when getting the opportunity to toe the rubber at Dodger Stadium in 2019. Not only did Ryu’s 25.9% strikeout rate dwarf his 19.2% mark on the road, but the 32-year-old’s 3.73 xFIP was nearly a full run higher when taking the mound outside of Los Angeles last season. Then there’s the Dodgers’ defense. Los Angeles ranked sixth in defensive fWAR, while the Blue Jays graded out at 23rd. That might not seem overly important, however, I can assure you that infield defensive played a part in Ryu’s ability to maintain an insane .193 BABIP with runners in scoring position this past year. Though a condensed schedule would likely benefit the oft-injured southpaw, I wouldn’t get caught reaching on Ryu in drafts.
2020 Breakout Player
Teoscar Hernandez, OF
While it would be just as easy to begin listing Hernandez’s faults as opposed to his strengths, the tools that the 27-year-old outfielder brings to the table are undeniable. It also doesn’t hurt matters that Hernandez’s two main skills – his power and his speed – translate very directly to fantasy baseball. The former Astros’ farmhand is coming off a season that saw him hit 26 home runs in just 464 plate appearances, while also ranking inside the 94th percentile in sprint speed and the 85th percentile in average exit velocity. Does any of that change the fact that Hernandez’s career contact rate is a microscopic 66.6%? It does not. However, considering the RHB’s current ADP essentially lists him as free, you have to go into this evaluation expecting to see a few warts. Heck, Hernandez struck out in a disgusting 36.0% of his 228 second-half plate appearances in 2019; yet, in that same span, he mustered a .259/.346/.592 slash line with a .384 wOBA and an eye-catching .333 ISO. Power might be this decade’s easiest asset to find, but if Hernandez can recreate even 80% of his post All-Star performance in 2020, he’s suddenly a Top-200 player.
Though the back-half of Toronto’s rotation is full of question marks and its bullpen seems like the result of a random name generator aside from Ken Giles, you don’t have to squint too hard to see the makings of an elite offensive attack North of the Border. Randal Grichuk, Travis Shaw, Lourdes Gurriel, Hernandez and Guerrero Jr. all possess 30 home run pop; Bichette and Biggio combine to present the potential of a potent top-of-the-order duo; and even someone like Danny Jansen was a bat-first prospect that saw himself playing in the MLB Futures Game less than three years ago. I really don’t think this is a team that’s going to struggle to score runs, especially while playing half of its games in the comfy confines of the always hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. Don’t be shocked if you find yourself stacking this lineup on DraftKings more often than you originally assumed in 2020.
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