Blue Jays call up Leo Jimenez and youth movement may only continue to grow

TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays’ youth movement continues to grow and could be a preview of things to come in the second half if the club decides to trade current veterans for young players and/or prospects at this month’s trade deadline.

The latest young player to join the Blue Jays is touted prospect, Leo Jimenez, who was called up from Triple-A Buffalo before Tuesday’s 7-6 win over the Houston Astros to take the place of infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was placed on the 10-day IL with a left knee sprain.

The injury is a blow to the Blue Jays’ lineup. Initially signed in the offseason to be a role player, Kiner-Falefa has been one of Toronto’s most consistent bats this season. He was hitting .292 with a .758 OPS in 82 games. In the week leading up to his injury, he was hitting .379/.438/.517.

Kiner-Falefa was preparing to play on Monday when he felt something in his knee. He was removed from the game only moments before it began and an MRI revealed a significant enough sprain that Blue Jays manager John Schneider said Kiner-Falefa’s status was “week to week” and that he would be on the IL for more than the minimum 10 days.

“Hopefully, he gets back quick because obviously, he was playing really well,” the manager said.

But the loss of Kiner-Falefa has made room for Jimenez, who was ranked the club’s No. 4 prospect by The Athletic’s Keith Law. Before his call-up, the infielder was having a strong season in Triple A, hitting .271/.416/.431 with seven home runs. Even with those numbers, Jimenez said he wasn’t expecting the call he got on Monday night from Bisons manager Casey Candaele telling him that he would be in Toronto the next day.

As chance would have it, Jimenez’s family, including his parents, sister and girlfriend, were in town so he could celebrate immediately with them.

“I went straight to my family and told them,” he said, sitting in the Blue Jays dugout. “They started crying. A lot of great emotions going on.”

Jimenez is a contact-oriented hitter who controls the strike zone and Schneider said Jimenez is “turning into the player that we envisioned when we put him on the roster a couple of years ago,” citing his increased physicality and intensity with which he plays as a reason for the growth on the field.

Jimenez wasn’t in the lineup against the Astros, but as the club did for their other prospects, including Spencer Horwitz, who homered on Tuesday, they’ll try to give Jimenez opportunities to play. Traditionally a shortstop, the 23-year-old from Panama will likely play more second base for Toronto. While not his natural position, Jimenez is a quick-handed defender with strong instincts and he said he’s comfortable playing second base.

Walking into the Blue Jays clubhouse and seeing familiar faces like Horwitz and Addison Barger, whom Jimenez was teammates with in Buffalo this year, has helped ease his whirlwind transition to the majors and made him “feel a little more comfortable,” he said.

“I asked them a lot of questions when it comes to what’s going on now, and how the guys are in the locker room. I heard a lot of great things about the locker room,” Jimenez said.

It’s a locker room that could look very different at the end of the month. So far, the Blue Jays have called upon their prospects because of injuries or underperformance from veterans they elected to move on from. However, with MLB’s July 30 trade deadline in four weeks, the Blue Jays could find more opportunities to start fielding an even younger lineup if they indeed become sellers.

Barring an unlikely surge up the wild-card standings, the Blue Jays will be among a select few teams selling at the deadline. And with the level of talent on their roster, they could be a deadline driver if they choose to be. Players such as Yusei Kikuchi, Yimi García, Justin Turner and Kevin Kiermaier will be free agents after the season and could be moved.

Trading any of the above players could usher in more youth in two ways — it would open up spots on the active roster and free up playing time, allowing for the Blue Jays to call on more of their prospects; and it could also net the club additional MLB-ready prospects in return who can fill out some of the team’s missing depth.

Blue Jays top pitching prospect Ricky Tiedemann continues to work his way back from ulnar nerve inflammation and is scheduled to pitch again in a rehab game in Florida on Wednesday. If the left-hander is healthy and can return to Triple A, perhaps he’ll be a second-half call-up and finish out the year either in the rotation (in place of Kikuchi) or in the bullpen (in place of García). Adam Macko is another of Toronto’s arms having a solid minor-league season.

The Blue Jays have tapped into a lot of their minor-league position player talent already, but Steward Berroa, Damiano Palmegiani and Alan Roden are all in Triple A and could warrant consideration for a call-up later this season if their performance dictates it.

Of course, trades could help infuse more talent into Toronto’s system, which was last ranked 20th by Law.

However, the return on rental players will be limited, though it could become more impactful if the Blue Jays consider more substantial trades involving players with years of control remaining, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Chris Bassitt, who are all free agents after 2025, and Kevin Gausman, who is a free agent after 2026.

The flip side, however, is that moving on from those players could signal the Blue Jays will be less inclined (or less likely) to compete in 2025 and could enter a period of rebuilding, or at least retooling.

Considering the club’s recent $300-plus million renovations to the Rogers Centre and franchise-record-level payroll, the appetite for an intentional step back from contention would likely be tough to swallow for ownership.

On the other hand, look at a club like the Washington Nationals, who traded franchise player Juan Soto in 2022 when he had two and half seasons of team control remaining, and netted a return that proved to be substantial. The return for Soto — along with other deals for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner — reshaped the Nationals organization and likely shaved years off of a painful rebuild, noted The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli. The Nationals aren’t quite a contender yet, but with the recent debut of top prospect James Wood, who came back in the Soto deal, they look as though they soon will be.

It’s a lot for the Blue Jays front office to consider in the coming weeks. For now, though, the Blue Jays are seeing what the kids already in their system can do.

(Photo of Jimenez: Jonathan Dyer / USA Today)

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