In his three seasons as a professional baseball player, Bo Bichette has played for five different minor-league teams, taking the Blue Jays shortstop to close to dozens of different ball parks. Read MoreLONGLEY: Losing is a foreign feeling for confident Blue Jays young guns — Toronto Sun
In his three seasons as a professional baseball player, Bo Bichette has played for five different minor-league teams, taking the Blue Jays shortstop to close to dozens of different ball parks.
Same deal for second baseman Cavan Biggio who didn’t play in the Gulf Coast League like Bichette, but added the Vancouver Canadians to his travelogue.
Vlad Guerrero Jr., also has played in five different pro leagues for Jays affiliates and like his two promising infield compadres added the parent club to his resume in 2019, a spot where all three return as the 2020 Major League Baseball season is about to get under way.
Because of those travels, through numbing bus rides to small-town ball parks across America, the nomadic life is not far removed from their present situation.
So, when the young and improving Jays begin the abbreviated 60-game season on Friday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., many of them will be well-acclimatized to moving around. How much that helps for a team that as of Thursday afternoon still didn’t have a home stadium remains to be seen, but it can’t hurt.
Even better, neither does the fact that the above three emerging stars are well versed with each other and with winning. They’ve captured championships in the minor leagues together and have every belief they can do the same in the major leagues.
“We’re just confident,” Bichette told the Toronto Sun in an interview conducted on March 11, a one-on-one chat in Dunedin that was intended for a season preview just weeks down the road.
“The thing is, we’ve never been together for an entire year and lost. We don’t know what that’s like, so we’re definitely not expecting it.
“We know we’ve got a lot of work left to do. We know that individually we have to establish ourselves in this game, considering none of us have a full year. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to play hard and we’re going to see what we can do.”
With his breakthrough and record-setting 46-game rookie stint, it could be argued that Bichette usurped Guerrero as the emerging face of this mostly rebuilt squad. He has certainly emerged as a leader and backs up his talk with superb play in the field and at the plate.
And winning together should not be underestimated, a Bichette sentiment shared by the Jays major league coach, John Schneider, who had the fortune to coach the power threesome when they were together at multiple minor league stops.
“They expect to do big things, which is awesome,” Schneider said in an interview. “They had it in the minor leagues and last year when they transitioned into the big leagues and us being a very young team, it gave them a lot of freedom to continue to be who they were.
“They are not looking at this season like it’s going to be part of the learning curve and getting their bearings, they are ready to roll. That just speaks volumes about who they are.”
While Bichette, Biggio and Guerrero get a hefty portion of the attention, those around the team believe that conversation around the youthful core needs to be expanded to include catcher Danny Jansen and left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.. And Schneider says that expanded group brings an accountability that comes in the form of the individuals pushing each other to be better.
“The biggest thing is that they hold each other accountable,” Schneider said. “They have fun together but they know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to have fun. Being familiar with each other from the minor leagues and what they went through last year, it’s a unique dynamic and it’s cool to be a part of it.
“Those three get a lot of attention, but there’s a real strong group of under (age) 26 guys who are expecting big things from each other.”
In the revamped 10-team division that will see the Jays face their traditional American League East rivals as well as the five inhabitants of the NL East, the opposition is stacked. By the time the season is a week old, the Jays will have played four games against the World Series champion Washington Nationals and three against a strong Tampa Bay Rays team.
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Contending will be a tall order from a largely inexperienced group of Jays, but the talent of the core group is matched by belief. Early in the off season, Bichette approached general manager Ross Atkins and implored him to bolster the roster, because of the win now attitude in the clubhouse. The front office listened, adding three starting pitchers including a bonafide ace in Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean lefty who will get the ball for Friday’s opener. The result is a team that is among the most intriguing long shots in baseball.
“We can be very competitive,” Bichette said. “We believe we can surprise a lot of other teams. If you ask players on other teams, I think you would find that they’re not super pumped to face us. That’s a big tell, that other teams would look at us that way. We’re going to play as hard as we can and see what we can do.”
It certainly appears that comfort breeds confidence, especially among the trio of young guns that have made the Jays sleeper contenders in the eyes of many.
“If you’re confident and comfortable with what you are doing and who you are around, I think the best version of you always comes out,” Schneider said. “(Manager Charlie Montoyo) and us as a coaching staff have been awesome at letting those guys be who they are and reinforcing that. It’s s a really cool dynamic.
“I’m such a big believer in the vibe because as baseball players you’re around each other so much. There’s such a clear difference from last year to this year. There’s a definite compete factor where it’s not like we’re looking just to stay close and hang with teams, we’re coming to beat you every night.”