As the Blue Jays’ front office was working out the particulars of its rebuild, it didn’t set out to become Astros North.
Moving up and down the roster today, however, it just looks that way.
There is George Springer, of course, the superstar centre fielder and World Series MVP for Houston in 2017, and now the centrepiece of the Jays drive towards the elite of MLB.
There is bench coach Dave Hudgens, who is now manager Charlie Montoyo’s right-hand man in the dugout, but was the hitting coach during the Astros’ championship run.
Cavan Biggio didn’t play for Houston, but he grew up in the city and was a regular visitor to the Astros clubhouse where his Hall of Fame father, Craig, is still a consultant. He got to know Springer as a teenager and carried some of the knowledge gleaned then in his own ascent.
Then there is Teoscar Hernandez, the emerging talent who was still a prospect, with just 100 at-bats for the Astros when the Jays acquired him in 2017. A force at the plate and an improved outfielder, Hernandez was the Jays’ MVP in 2020 and at the forefront of the team’s transformation.
Though the connections are mostly coincidental, in some cases there is some comfort, starting with Springer’s relationship with Hudgens.
“I’ve gone to war with Hudgy a lot,” Springer said on a Zoom call this week. “He understands me and I understand him. The familiarity with Hudge is going to go far beyond the batting cage.”
“It’s nice to have a guy there who has been through the progressions of my career, that I’ve spent a lot of time in the cage with. That’s been big. If something starts to slip up, he already knows my mechanics. He knows kind of what makes me work.”
By all accounts, Springer has made a smooth transition into the Jays clubhouse in his first week with the team, and having some familiar faces doesn’t hurt the process. One of the players who knows Springer best, can’t wait to see the influence the all-star will have on the team.
Biggio was a high school student in Houston when Springer was emerging as a fearsome hitter and his dad would bring him to Minute Maid Park. As a talented player soon bound for a stellar college career at Notre Dame, the younger Biggio was privy to a crash course in baseball intellect.
“I would shut up and just listen,” Cavan Biggio said on a Thursday Zoom call from Dunedin. “Here was a young guy who was getting to the big leagues and I would listen to him and my dad talk about the little things and just understanding the importance of those things and fundamentals.
“I thought it was cool to hear their conversations.”
Fast forward to this winter when, once it was clear the Jays were in pursuit of the prized free agent, Biggio reached out to Springer to answer any questions the veteran might have.
“This off-season, when I knew we were in the mix for him, I was more excited for the opportunity to have him in the locker room,” Biggio said. “Obviously (he’s) a crazy talent on the field, but I’m more excited about what kind of presence he brings and the experience he had (with a young team) in Houston that is similar to what we’re going through now.
“I think that might be the biggest impact he can have on this team.”
Though Springer plans to ease his way into a leadership role and do so primarily by example, he’s already got a feel for some of the talent around him. Hernandez, for example, was a player whose talents were just starting to emerge in the Astros organization before he was dealt to Toronto on July 31, 2017.
“I’ve known him for a while and I’ve always thought very highly of him,” Springer said. “I’ve always thought that he has the ability, the mindset, the makeup to be a great player.
“With the success he’s been having and he had especially last year, I really think you’re starting to see a glimpse of what he can do. I don’t think he’s even scratched the ceiling yet with the kind of player he can be.”
The Hernandez trade may go down as one of the best Jays general manager Ross Atkins has made and, in fact, has come full circle. Reliever Francisco Liriano went to Houston and played a minor role in the Astros’ World Series win, but has returned to the Jays this spring to fight for a job in the bullpen.
It’s all Astro-nomical, really with Springer being the lead man in it all.
“Our locker room, we were missing a guy like George,” Biggio said. “I think the biggest thing is he’s seen it, he’s done it and he’s done it well. He can provide insight and help us and guide us along the way.
“Just being around a guy like that who has done it, you can learn so much.”
CAVAN HOT FOR HOT CORNER CHANCE
Cavan Biggio is ready for the third degree.
Now that Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo has told him he’ll be the team’s regular keeper of the hot corner, the versatile third-year big leaguer is ready to embrace the challenge.
“I’ve very excited not only to just play third, but to go through a whole spring training preparing at just one position,” Biggio said on Thursday.
“Last year, I was thrown out there just to see what I can do.”
With Vlad Guerrero Jr. focussing primarily on first, Biggio will be the man at third base, a move away from the super-utility role that moved him all around the diamond last season.
“I’m really excited to see how good I can get at that position,” Biggio said.
“I think what I showed last year is just scratching the surface of what I can do there.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of spring with that.”