TORONTO — Since his return from COVID-19 and a stint with Triple-A Buffalo, Cavan Biggio is showing signs of finding himself on the record, which in turn shows how valuable he is to the Toronto Blue Jays as their long-sought super utility player can be .
A .286/.464/.429 batting line with four RBIs, seven walks and nine strikeouts in 28 plate appearances in eight games is just the beginning of what the 27-year-old has brought to the table.
He’s played first, second and left field in those games, allowing manager Charlie Montoyo to give a regular some rest. This is especially important as the Blue Jays plod through 40 games in 41 days.
In order to bridge the non-working days, it is important to avoid a cliff jump in production. A left-hander who hits on base at the bottom end of the rankings, Biggio delivers the offensive profile the team were hoping for from him earlier this season, batting .044/.214/.044 in his first 13 games.
“Just being able to go to Buffalo and get some consistent shots and get a feel for my swing and zone and it was all great,” says Biggio. “Since I’m back here, I’m still working on a few things. But whether I fold or get on base, I see a lot of pitches, I go deep into the count. It looks like I’m pretty much every at-bat in a 3-2 count. That’s huge for our ball club, especially when I flip the lineup (batting) ninth. It was good and I see the ball much better.”
A key question for the Blue Jays through the Aug. 2 close is whether Biggio can sustain production levels like last week. If he does, GM Ross Atkins may even regain some of the strength he showed during his 2019 rookie season or the 2020 Pandemic campaign when he hit .429 and .432, and GM Ross Atkins in the Being able to focus more on adding swing-and-miss a bullpen that feels short of a dominant arm even when healthy. Atkins will also be able to keep tabs on a rotation that will be without Hyun Jin Ryu for at least weeks.
Biggio was part of the attacking revival at the end of the Blue Jays order and more of this group is needed to sustain the club’s recent upswing. Getting to base has always been a calling card for Biggio, but he also delivered a handful of key strikes last week.
“As a hitter, we go through a lot of hot and cold periods, and sometimes it’s hard to go back and try to find the feeling that you used to have,” says Biggio. “In a way, I feel like I’m just moving forward and those feelings are coming back. The confidence has been pretty high in the past week or so, gaining the knowledge of the zone I know I have and finally seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand longer and earlier. It opens up the zone so much more for me and allows me to attempt damage early on.”
The more damage he does, the more he pushes his way into the roster as one of only three left-handed bats currently on the list. And his growing proficiency in first, second and outfield gives him more lineup paths that Montoyo can plot him in with more confidence in what he’s going to get on the field.
“When I’m playing second base I feel like every possible play you can do at that position that I did and at the other positions there were some that I really hadn’t done and if it was in one game happened, you have to learn on your feet,” says Biggio. “Right now it has helped me with my experience to be more confident in these positions. I know we have a great team here, not a lot of vacancies in our lineup or anything, but whenever I can make a day available for say Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) to get back on his feet and DH will be huge for our team in the long run. I’ve always wanted to play just one position, but doing what I can now feels great. It’s a role I fully embrace and I love every minute of it.”
A setback aside, the Blue Jays should have left Tim Mayza off the injured list after suffering an elbow injury Friday as they begin a streak in Detroit, a boost for a bullpen missing him.
In his first 15 appearances, he had already accumulated 0.5 WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference, ranking second among the club’s assists. Most recently, on May 14, he threw a scoreless 12-pitch inning with two strikeouts in a 5-1 win at Tampa Bay that underscored his power.
The plan is for him to serve at Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday before returning to the Blue Jays against the Tigers, losing it about a month.
“Maybe a little longer than expected, but I’m glad I took those extra days,” says Mayza. “There were some strange things with the diagnosis. We knew there was an elbow infection and we just weren’t sure how long it would take to get it out. I feel great and the arm feels great.”
The cause of the injury isn’t clear, but it surfaced after that game against the Rays.
“Speaking to doctors, it could be related to some structural changes that have taken place since[Tommy John’s]surgery, and two years post-surgery, inflammation had just built up,” Mayza says. “All I know is that that day in Tampa I walked in after the game feeling pretty sore and unusually sore for the number of pitches I’d thrown.”
Upon his return, he expects his workload to be “back to normal,” including back-to-back days.
“I just need to monitor a few things in the throwing program, do a few extra things to warm up in that direction,” he says. “In terms of limiting action on the field, I don’t expect that to happen.
In over 10 years of spring training together, Danny Jansen and Ryan Borucki have kept a running tally of how they’ve fared against each other, whether in live batting practice or intrasquad games.
“He broke some of my racquets. I may have met him once, just last spring,” says Jansen. “We often joke about it.”
There will be more at stake when the two close friends next meet after the Blue Jays traded Borucki, who was scheduled for action last week, to the Seattle Mariners for A-ball infielder Tyler Keenan over the weekend .
“It stinks because I practically grew up with him,” says Jansen. “He got drafted in ’12, I was ’13 and we’ve been at all levels of the minor leagues together, pretty much, so it’s tough man. But at the end of the day, I’m looking forward to him and the opportunity he’ll have in Seattle. Excited to see him and not face him.”
Keenan was assigned to High-A Vancouver.
Scanning his former team over the weekend, Joe Smith, now with the Minnesota Twins, caught a quizzical grin when asked which of his Blue Jays teammates stayed with the club in 2017.
“Tim Mayza,” he replies before a long pause. “And… Tim Mayza? Is it just him?”
Indeed, since Teoscar Hernandez, the only other player left with the Blue Jays in 2017, was acquired by the Houston Astros when Smith was traded to Cleveland for Thomas Pannone and infielder Samad Taylor, who currently impresses with triple-A’s Buffalo.
Joe Biagini and Casey Lawrence are also with Buffalo, but both left the organization and returned to the organization after signing minor league contracts.
Otherwise it is the total sales.
“Our team was really old this year. I see,” says Smith. “They went to ALCS back-to-back 15 and 16, so I knew I signed there too. My agent wanted me to come to Minnesota but they had just lost 100 games. And I was like, ‘Dude, I can’t do that. I know myself. I’m going crazy.’ He says, ‘I don’t know, man. The Blue Jays window might be closed.” And I thought, ‘It might be, but it might not be. I know the feeling when I go to camp will be to win the World Series. I want that feeling.” And that was the only reason I chose Toronto over coming here or going to Tampa. It did not work. The window closed.”
The Blue Jays considered winning Smith back last summer, but got another sidearmer, Adam Cimber, from the Miami Marlins instead. Smith went from Houston to Seattle and signed with Minnesota this winter, where he found success at 38, averaging an 83.6-mph sinker and an 85.9 fastball.
He has a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings over 22 games for the Twins and is constantly finding new ways to stay effective.
“You have to,” he says. “You won’t be able to do everything in your career that you’ve always done. The technology that has invaded our game can get overwhelming and sometimes I think it’s too much, but it’s also a great tool once you understand how to use it. Even though I’m throwing slowly now, I understand that I can still be successful at this level if I get certain moves out of my pitches. Am I going to go out there and face the best hitter every time? That probably won’t happen. But if I can put them in the right situations and the right matchups, I can still help. I know that and have proven it. It’s definitely weird, but if you want to keep playing, you’ve got to come up with something.”