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Blue Jays Notes: Pitching, Defense, Shapiro, Pearson, Kirk

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said Wednesday the club will prioritize improving its strike throwing and defense this offseason, Scott Mitchell of TSN tweets. Although Toronto earned a playoff spot in 2020, its pitching staff ranked 28th in the majors in walks per nine innings (4.29), helping lead to a middling 4.63 ERA/4.73 FIP. The Blue Jays now have multiple openings in their starting staff, which could see Matt Shoemaker, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray leave in free agency. Defensively, the Jays ended up 20th in UZR (minus-6) and 29th in DRS (minus-39), so it’s also understandable that Atkins wants to address that aspect of the team.

Here’s more on the up-and-coming Jays…

  • President Mark Shapiro, who has worked alongside Atkins in building a playoff-caliber roster, has an uncertain future. This was the last season of the five-year contract Shapiro signed entering the 2016 campaign, but his hope is to stick with the club, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet relays. “I want to be here. I want to finish the job,” said Shapiro, who was previously with Cleveland.
  • The Blue Jays promoted hyped right-handed prospect Nate Pearson in late July, but he ultimately went through an adverse rookie campaign. The 24-year-old threw 18 innings of 6.00 ERA/7.50 FIP ball, owing in part to elbow problems. Although Pearson didn’t experience the success or endure the workload the Jays were hoping for this year, they’re optimistic about him going forward (via Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star). “What I think it means is that he made progress this year, even though he had the injury and had the setback. He made his major-league debut, he showed he can get major-league hitters out, and he will better because of that in his progression next year,” said Atkins. Toronto will monitor Pearson’s innings in 2021, though he should still be an important part of its rotation.
  • More from Chisholm, who writes that Toronto could hand the catching reins to Alejandro Kirk sometime in 2021, though he’s not a lock to begin the season with the big club. Atkins called the 21-year-old Kirk’s process “very, very mature,” but he’ll need a “very productive” winter to earn a season-opening spot with the Blue Jays. Kirk, who hadn’t played above High-A ball, was hugely impressive during his brief MLB debut in 2020, slashing .375/.400/.583 with a home run in 25 plate appearances. Primary catcher Danny Jansen batted .183/.313/.358 with six homers across 147 PA.
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