By IAN WILSON
The Toronto Blue Jays will need to bring a few surprises to the ballpark if they hope to be competitive next season.
After posting 76 wins and 86 losses in 2017, the Jays saw their record fall to 73-89 in 2018 before it dropped to 67-95 last year. Despite the presence of some eye-popping young stars in the lineup in 2019 – Vlad Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette all made impressive debuts last season – Toronto’s starting rotation is in need of some upgrades.
Enter Ryan Borucki.
The 25-year-old is an internal option that should not be overlooked by Blue Jays observers. Since being selected by Toronto in the 15th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball (MLB) draft, Borucki rose through the system and was named the club’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017. The left-hander followed that campaign up with an excellent rookie season in the majors. In 97.2 innings with Toronto, Borucki went 4-6, with a 3.87 earned run average (ERA), 67 strikeouts and 11 quality starts. All arrows were pointing up for the southpaw.
This year, however, did not go as planned for the Illinois product. The 6-foot-4 pitcher started the season with elbow inflammation and a 10-day stint on the injured list turned into a 60-day absence from MLB action. When he did make it back to the mound, Borucki made four minor-league rehab starts prior to being reinstated with the big club, where he lasted just 6.2 innings over two games. Inflammation in his left elbow persisted and Borucki went under the season-ending scalpel to have a spur removed on Aug. 8th.
“I’ve been working really hard just trying to get back. Obviously, it was a very frustrating year this year. I never really pitched pain free. There was a lot of pain throughout that year, so I just had to shut it down and get surgery and just have that clear mind going into this season,” said Borucki, who was in Calgary to help former teammate Shane Dawson Jr. with a Strive Baseball Program camp at the Coyote Den on Nov. 30th and Dec. 1st.
“I’ve been throwing for about three weeks. It feels really good – just been working hard and I moved down to Dunedin (home of the Blue Jays spring training and fitness facilities) to work with our trainers and our weights coaches and everybody there, and they’ve been getting me ready. My body already feels in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
Borucki also has a trick up his sleeve for 2020.
“I’m just getting my body ready, getting my elbow ready, and then I might have a little surprise with a different kind of pitch coming in … but I won’t go into details,” teased the former Vancouver Canadian.
“No spoiler alerts, but I think I’ll definitely have another pitch in the arsenal that can definitely separate me and springboard me to be one of the better pitchers in the rotation.”
Over the last two years, Borucki regularly deployed three different types of pitches: fastball, slider, and changeup. We’ll have to wait to see what kind of pitch he’s planning on adding to his repertoire.
CRACKING THE ROTATION
Despite what appears to be a clear path to a spot in the starting rotation, Borucki told Alberta Dugout Stories he isn’t making any assumptions about his place on the team.
“We have a lot of good pitchers in our organization, who are very good and very worthy to be in that big league rotation, but there’s only five spots and I want to be one of them,” said Borucki.
“I proved to myself – and I feel like I proved to a lot of people – that I could be successful in the big leagues in 2018. Last year there was a little hiccup but my mindset is the same. I’m here to help that team as much as I can and I’m trying to win my job.”
While expectations and attendance at Rogers Centre have both dropped in recent years, Borucki said there are plenty of motivating factors to inspire him and his teammates.
“We’re still playing in the big leagues and me and a lot of guys are still trying to get their feet wet – me included. We’re still trying to figure out where we belong in the game,” said the Mundelein High School graduate.
“It might take a year, it might take a couple years, but we might be good next year. We might come out firing and be hot. We are definitely capable of being a playoff contending team this year. We have the talent. It’s just putting everything together and just buying into what we want to do.”
THE BIG THREE
If they do contend, Guerrero Jr., Biggio and Bichette will pace the offence.
In addition to a record-setting performance at the MLB Home Run Derby, Guerrero Jr. turned in a solid season for Toronto. He hit 15 long balls, scored 52 runs and posted 69 RBI over 123 games in 2019.
Biggio, meanwhile, stole 14 bases, bashed 16 home runs and scored 66 runs through 100 MLB games, and Bichette sizzled during his first 46 big league games, establishing a number of records along the way.
Borucki has liked what he’s seen out of the rising stars so far.
“All three of them really stepped up to the plate. They came to the park ready to play every day. Some guys had more success than the others, but they still – all three of them – finished strong and they play hard. You never question how hard they are playing,” said Borucki, who was planning to tour Banff and Lake Louise after work wrapped up at the instructional camp in Calgary.
“Some of those guys are the most talented guys I’ve ever played with so it’s just cool watching them begin their, hopefully, superstar careers … it’s fun to be able to just sit back and watch them play every day.”
Of course, Borucki hopes to do a lot more than watch baseball next year. When asked what a successful 2020 looks like for him, this is what he had to say:
“Obviously, stay healthy, make all my starts. If I can do all those things, I know I believe in myself that the results will be there. My biggest issue has always been getting injured. It never was performing wise. When I am healthy, I know I can perform at the highest level, so it’s just the biggest thing for me. If I can make all 30 starts and stay healthy the whole year, then it’ll be a successful season for me.”
Added Borucki: “Hopefully this year … I’m coming into spring training fully ready to go, try to win a job in that starting rotation, and then just pick up where I left off in 2018.”