TORONTO — Danny Jansen, Toronto’s catcher of the future, was about to step into the on-deck circle in Buffalo on Saturday afternoon when the dugout phone rang. Triple-A manager Bobby Meacham pulled Jansen aside.
“Kid, you’re going to the big leagues,” Meacham said. “I don’t want to see you again.”
Mecaham might get his wish, too. The Blue Jays aren’t just tiptoeing through this thing anymore; it’s officially a clear and open youth movement.
It’s been a long time coming. Under Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, the Blue Jays had previously stated their desire to get younger and more athletic despite continually doing the opposite. The reality is that existing contracts for veterans like Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin complicate the strategy, and the need to sell tickets is the ugly, ever-present variable.
Meanwhile, young players like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Ryan Borucki, Richard Urena, and Dwight Smith Jr. have been peppered in along the way, but Monday’s series opener in Kansas City will mark something different by featuring the highly anticipated debuts of both Jansen and starting pitcher Sean Reid-Foley.
The 22-year-old Reid-Foley is in his fifth professional season with the organization after being drafted in the second round, while the 23-year-old Jansen is in his sixth. Both survived the trade deadline temptations of 2015 and ’16, and both were part of the promised “year away” group in 2017 while the Blue Jays unsuccessfully went with another old roster.
Now, Toronto’s 2019 rotation is begging for Reid-Foley to claim a spot, which he might just do over the next seven weeks. Jansen’s situation is more complicated, as Martin has one year remaining at $20 million, which matters even though the youngster is already more than capable of outperforming him.
“The ideal setup is that you break him in slowly and you’ve got a good veteran around him to help out,” Gibbons said of Jansen in July.
The Blue Jays have that lined up with Martin in the fold, but the 2019 timeshare will be tricky. It’s why the decision to go with Jansen right now shows the front office’s commitment to prioritizing their prized prospect.
Besides, there are plenty of reps available at third base for Martin. For now, at least.
And the Blue Jays’ commitment to this youth movement won’t stop with Jansen and Reid-Foley. Whether it’s this September or in April 2019, the upper levels of their minor-league system boast plenty of players on the cusp:
The familiar faces: Gurriel was the hottest player in baseball before hitting the DL, and he’ll be given starter’s reps when he returns. Along with Urena – who’s seeing some time at third base along with second and short – the two will give the Blue Jays plenty of infield flexibility and the ability to move around the next wave of top prospects in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette when they arrive.
Smith should be given a long look down the stretch, too. The front office has taken a liking to the 25-year-old, and views him as a potential fourth outfielder. Meanwhile, former third-rounder Anthony Alford might get another look based on internal belief alone, but his 2018 season in Triple-A has been a disappointment.
The mound: David Paulino fell fully and completely out of favor in Houston before coming over in the Roberto Osuna deal, but he should get a look in Toronto if he can regain his health. However, given those health concerns, don’t be surprised if the Blue Jays move him from a starting role to the bullpen.
It’s possible that Jacob Waguespack will get a look, too, given Marcus Stroman’s blister issues and the outside potential of a Marco Estrada trade. Waguespack looked like upper-minors filler when he came over from Philadelphia for Aaron Loup two weeks ago, but he’s struck out 18 batters over his first 11 2/3 innings in Buffalo.
Looking for something off the map? Keep an eye on Travis Bergen, a lefty who’s overcome injuries to post a 0.92 ERA across High-A and Double-A this season. No pitcher in the organization has improved their stock more.
The bats: Outfielder Billy McKinney would already be on the roster in a perfect world, but when the Blue Jays failed to find a trade partner for Curtis Granderson in July and McKinney’s struggles carried into August, that changed. Expect him to come up at some point, though.
First baseman Rowdy Tellez is clinging to a 40-man roster spot and is miles removed from 2016, when he put up big numbers and was held in extremely high regard by the Alex Anthopoulos regime. He stumbled out of the gates in 2018, but is finally starting to rediscover his stroke.
Keegan Matheson is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Toronto, which he founded in early 2018 after previously covering the Blue Jays for MLB.com. He appears regularly across sports radio and television networks in Canada as a Blue Jays and MLB analyst. Now living in Toronto, Keegan is originally from Nova Scotia. Find him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)