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Crystal balls and baseballs: predictions for the Toronto Blue Jays

A few numbers to keep in mind for the upcoming season
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There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the Blue Jays season this year. KEITH ALLISON/CC FLICKR
There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the Blue Jays season this year. KEITH ALLISON/CC FLICKR

With the first at-bats of spring training passed, baseball is once again just around the corner. After a third-place finish in the American League East and a disappointing playoff exit against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays are returning to the field following a very eventful off-season. 

While the Jays are barely a week into spring training — and goodness knows how unpredictable baseball often is — here are a couple of numbers to keep in mind as Opening Day fast approaches.

Nate Pearson: the 25-year-old wonder

Nate Pearson, 10th in MLB prospect rankings as of March 4, will turn 25 years old this coming August. While the young flamethrower did get shut down after a grade one right groin strain against the Pittsburgh Pirates and will be understandably treated with a conservative approach ahead of Opening Day, he remains a man to watch. 

Pearson had shaky but limited exposure in the majors last season with 18.0 innings pitched through five games, four starts, hurling a 6.00 earned run average and 1.50 walks and hits per inning pitched. 

These statistics are nothing too concerning or out of the ordinary for a pitcher fresh out of the minors. From the eye test and further examination of his pitch tendencies — courtesy of the Baseball Savant website — it’s evident that Pearson relies heavily on his four-seam fastballs and sliders but shows some problems with pitch command. Naturally, when he gets in trouble, he compensates with fastballs up and in the middle of the plate to get strikes. 

These issues are understandable and can be resolved with proper development and experience. Look for him to showcase his elite velocity if he stays healthy this season — perhaps he could make for an excellent reliever by coming out of the bullpen from time to time to showcase his velocity and command profiles. 

Phenom Valdimir Guerrero Jr.’s top seven per cent hard hit 

Over his short tenure in the majors, phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s weight and conditioning have been subjects of much debate. Now that he’s shed 42 pounds this off-season and improved his conditioning, some may voice concerns about how much power he can put into his swing after such dramatic weight loss. 

As he’s coming off a season with an exit velocity and hard-hit percentage in the top seven per cent of eligible players, somehow, I don’t see getting power behind that swing as a big concern. Based on Statcast batting statistics, he’s seeing the ball just fine and is making hard contact as he should, but what is concerning is his 4.6-degree launch angle. 

If Guerrero Jr. can tweak his swing in that regard — something that should be a top priority for him and the organization — we could be in for quite the show. 

The six-year, $150 million contract

As far as off-seasons go, I’d rank the Jays’ off-season among the best in the league — up there with the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Jays added a well-budgeted, quality starting lineup and bullpen depth with the likes of Steven Matz, Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps, and Kirby Yates. They also re-signed Robbie Ray to a club-friendly contract. 

The Jays added a solid second baseman in Marcus Semien to bolster the infield. Then, of course, they signed the crown jewel of their off-season, star outfielder George Springer, to a six-year, $150-million-dollar contract. The biggest investment in franchise history brings with him a 0.265 batting average, 14 home runs, and 32 runs batted in during his 222 plate appearances from the 2020 campaign. 

To make the signing even better, the team-friendly front-loading of Springer’s contract gives the Jays financial flexibility down the road. While the figures are certainly large, the Blue Jays have managed to push themselves further into playoff contention by surrounding their young, talented, and most importantly, team-controlled core with players who can help them win now. 

While predicting a World Series appearance is wishful thinking — though not impossible, mind you — the Blue Jays are poised for their best season since 2015, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited for Jays baseball this year.