2021 AL East Division Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
In order to preview the Red Sox’ rivals in the AL East, I’m going to be interviewing some experts on the other teams in the division. Today I talked to Jay, who runs the page @jays_club on Instagram. Keep reading to learn what we can expect in 2021 from our rivals in Toronto!
Philip: The Blue Jays have added a couple big-ticket free agents this offseason. How do you expect them to perform, and which one do you expect to have the biggest impact?
Jay: I’m a big fan of a lot of the free agents we signed this offseason, like Kirby Yates and Marcus Semien. Those two have great potential to make a huge impact if they can get back to their 2019 form. Even a smaller deal such as Tyler Chatwood could make a huge impact if he can make the right adjustments. The most obvious choice and the signing almost certain to have the biggest impact is George Springer. Springer has a good glove, and has hit extremely well in recent years. I expect him to continue this success in 2021. I expect all four of these players to perform very well.
Philip: Toronto has some great young players, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette. Do you think the shortened 2020 season will adversely affect their development in any way? How do you see them improving in 2021?
Jay: I don’t think the shortened season will affect their development all that much. We saw tons of development from Biggio and Vlad from 2019 to 2020. Bichette even improved a lot before getting injured early on in 2020 and I expect him to play at a level between his early 2020, and how he performed when he returned from injury. I think we will see Biggio improve even more as he advances his approach. I think Vlad will grow the most of the three as he got better as the 2020 season progressed. He entered the season out of shape, and as the season moved along he got into better and better shape and that brought increased success. He’s lost a ton of weight since the end of the 2020 season, and I expect him to have the breakout season we’ve all been waiting for.
Philip: One of the biggest problems Toronto has faced recently has been underperformance from their pitching staff. Do you think they’ve done enough this offseason to improve the staff to the point where the team can be seen as a legitimate contender for the American League East crown?
Jay: When you look at the trend of World Series winners in recent years, all of them obviously had very strong starting pitching. I definitely do not think the Blue Jays have done enough to address the issue this offseason. The team has added arms all over the place, but no real high-end arms in the rotation. Hyun-jin Ryu is a good top tier arm, but I don’t think he stacks up well compared to the other AL East aces like Gerrit Cole and (when he returns) Chris Sale. Toronto’s number two starter isn’t as good as most other teams’ second starter either. Although I think the staff needs improvement in order to truly compete, if players like Ross Stripling, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, and Steven Matz can get back to their 2018-2019 forms, they could definitely provide big boosts to the team. The Jays bullpen is a really underrated asset to the team, Kirby Yates was arguably one of the best relievers in 2019, and Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis had great 2020 seasons. Overall, I don’t believe the team did enough to address the holes in the pitching staff to get to the next level, but because of the past success and upside of some of the players, they could potentially win the East if everyone plays at their full capability.
Philip: The Jays top prospect is right-handed pitcher Nate Pearson. He’s ranked as the 10th best prospect in all of baseball, and should be with the big-league club in 2021. Do you think the cancelled Minor League season in 2020 will affect his development? How do you see him performing in 2021?
Jay: I don’t think the cancelled Minor League season will affect Pearson that much, if at all, as he pitched 6 games at the big league level. Pearson had a strong debut to his career, but got worse as teams made adjustements to his stuff, and eventually got hurt. When he returned, we saw him pitch out of the pen and he did great, having a fantastic final appearance and a playoff appearance that saw him strike out five of the six batters he faced. I think Pearson will keep improving in 2021, and could really help the club.
Philip: What’s your prediction for this team? Do you see them competing for the division, are they more of a Wild Card, or do you think that they’ll disappoint and miss the playoffs altogether?
Jay: I think this team will win anywhere from 82-90 games in 2021. I don’t see us winning the division if the Yankees are as good as people seem to think, but they’ve underperformed a lot in recent years so who knows. I think this team is most likely a Wild Card team, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them win the division, or miss the playoffs.
Philip: Any bold predictions, like an MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year winner?
Jay: I think two players who could win awards are Springer for MVP, and Pearson for Rookie of the Year (or even Cy Young if we want to be really bold). I don’t actually think either of these guys will win MVP or Cy Young, but they could be solid dark horse picks. I do, however, predict that Pearson will win Rookie of the Year.