clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Growing Legend of Bo Bichette Knows No Bounds

Toronto’s latest phenom to reach the bigs is doing more than just offering a glimpse of the Blue Jays’ future—he’s already matching records set by Ted Williams. Bichette has all of the tools to become MLB’s next young superstar. And he won’t stop raking.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

One day in 2017, Dunedin Blue Jays manager John Schneider was hanging around the cage, watching his new shortstop take batting practice. Bo Bichette, then all of 19 years old, had recently been called up from Toronto’s low-A affiliate in Lansing, Michigan, where he’d hit .384/.448/.623 over 70 games. As Bichette prepared to go against a superior level of pitching, Schneider and Dunedin hitting coach Corey Hart came to him with an idea. With less than two strikes, the 2016 second-round pick liked to rear back with a big leg kick and try to clobber the ball, whereas with two strikes he’d spread out his stance and moderate his swing in an attempt to make contact. Schneider and Hart wanted Bichette to moderate his leg kick early in at-bats too. “His batting average with two strikes was astronomically high that year,” says Schneider, who in November was promoted to a spot on the Blue Jays’ big league coaching staff.

The suggestion should’ve carried serious weight: Schneider had nearly a decade’s worth of minor league coaching experience at that point, while Hart had coached in the minors since 2006. But when the pair told Bichette what they wanted him to do, he looked back at them (up, really—Bichette is an even 6 feet; Schneider is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and said, “No.” By way of explanation, Bichette asked his coaches whether they remembered when Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the world.

“We said yeah, but we didn’t really know where he was going with it,” Schneider says. “Bo said, ‘He would get on the tee box and he would just let it rip. He’d crush the ball 360 down the fairway and he didn’t care if he was off in the rough a little bit because he had confidence in his short game to get it on the green in two out of the rough.’

“And he just looked at us and said, ‘My two-strike approach is my short game.’”

Schneider and Hart let Bichette keep his leg kick, and Bichette went on to hit .323/.379/.463 with Dunedin, earning the organization’s minor league hitter of the year award. Two seasons later, he’s emerged as Toronto’s starting shortstop, slashing .408/.453/.837 in his first 11 MLB games. He already has 13 extra-base hits, becoming the first rookie since Ted Williams in 1939 to record an extra-base hit in nine straight games. The Blue Jays, 39-67 when Bichette debuted on July 29, are 7-4 since. Toronto’s rebuild after turning over the roster that made back-to-back ALCS appearances in 2015 and 2016 isn’t complete just yet, but adding Bichette to the big league lineup marks a major turning point.

“It’s been everything I hoped for,” Bichette, now 21, says of his first stretch in the majors. “The team’s playing well, I’m playing well, so it’s pretty awesome.”

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays
Bo Bichette
Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Bichette’s last name should be familiar to baseball fans. His father, Dante, played in the majors for 14 years, most famously for the 1990s Colorado Rockies, for whom he made four All-Star teams. The elder Bichette was a slugging corner outfielder who hit above .300 every season from 1993 to 1998, and who in 1995 led the National League in home runs, hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, and total bases en route to a second-place MVP finish. Bo’s older brother, Dante Jr., was a first-round pick of the Yankees in 2011. Like his father, he’s a slugger bound to the corners—the infield corners in Dante Jr.’s case—whose bat is his stock and trade. Dante Jr. reached Double-A and is currently in independent ball at age 26.

Bo went into the family business, for the most part. Yes, he’s a ballplayer, and yes, he’s a gifted hitter. But he’s not the same player as his father or older brother. In fact, given that Dante Sr. was such a vast and powerfully built man in his playing days, the most surprising thing about meeting Bo might be seeing how small he is: 6 feet, 185 pounds, muscular but not big, with almost enough beard to cover his boyish face but not quite. He wears his hair down to his shoulders, in the kind of hairstyle college guys get in a last-ditch bid for freedom before they graduate and go corporate—fitting for a ballplayer who in a different life would be about to begin his final year as an undergrad.

And while Bichette père was one of the worst defensive outfielders of his generation, Bo has not only managed to stay on the dirt, but has stuck at shortstop, despite concerns early in his career that he didn’t have the skills or tools to play such a demanding position. “He came in as … not crude, but as a talented kid who we weren’t sure where he was going to play,” Schneider says. “I think it’s a credit to him to see the work he put in in the offseason physically to get himself stronger, to get himself faster. The work he put in the last two years defensively, that people really don’t see. He put in hours, and hours, and hours of work at shortstop to get to where he is now.”

Bichette has always had a lot of natural talent, and seeing his brother’s rough time in pro ball taught him that talent alone doesn’t guarantee success. That was one of the factors that turned Bo into a player who has willed himself into staying at shortstop. Dante Jr. “had a lot of anticipation, maybe even more than I did coming out of high school,” Bichette says. “To see that he wasn’t able to succeed right away, and how much talent and how good of a player he is, that definitely put an urgency in my career to make sure I was ready when I went out there.”

That urgency manifests itself as competitiveness and self-confidence, both of which Bichette has to spare. Aggressiveness is his star quality—not just because it’s made him a better player, but because it’s made him a certain type of player.

Think back to that Tiger Woods story. It’s one thing for Bichette to have a two-strike approach so good that he can spend the first few pitches of each at-bat swinging like he’s trying to drive a steel drill faster than a steam hammer. It’s another for him to be wired such that he wants to swing like that, so badly that he’s willing to talk his minor league coaches out of tinkering with his approach.

While Bichette has struck out 11 times in his first 11 major league games, he never posted a strikeout rate above 20 percent in the minors. That speaks to his bat-to-ball skills, as does the 11-game hitting streak at the start of his MLB career. His aggressiveness is apparent in his consistently low walk rate, which has never been higher than 9 percent. For a hitter with less bat control (Rougned Odor, for instance) or less power (Joe Panik), splits like this might be a problem. But Bichette makes enough hard contact that a low walk total shouldn’t matter.

“You look at the bat and you see that he’s able to barrel so many pitches in and around the zone,” says Cavan Biggio, Toronto’s second baseman. “He’s such a tough out with two strikes. I think because of his knowledge of the game from such a young age he’s been able to develop so much faster than other players.”

Once he gets on base, Bichette scrambles from bag to bag, sometimes with his helmet and sometimes without, until he’s either tagged out or he scores. It’s an incredibly proactive baserunning style that’s emblematic of his flashy and chaotic all-around game.

“He wants to beat you in everything he does,” Schneider says. “It’s the way he sticks to his approach, it’s the way he trusts his swing, it’s the way he goes about his work. He’s fiery. He’s not overwhelmed by big situations, or at least he doesn’t look it.”

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Bo Bichette
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

On any other team, Bichette’s baseball lineage would stand out. On the Blue Jays, it’s not particularly exceptional. Bichette plays in the infield between Biggio and third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., both sons of MLB Hall of Famers. Behind him is left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., whose older brother is Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel and whose father is Lourdes Gurriel Sr., a legendary Cuban player.

Bichette, Biggio, Guerrero, and Gurriel came through the minors at roughly the same time, when the Blue Jays’ core of the future learned to play together as a unit. At 25, Gurriel is the oldest of the bunch, and after spending six seasons playing professionally in Cuba, he was the most seasoned when he entered the Toronto system. He was also the first to reach the majors, and bounced between the big leagues and Triple-A Buffalo from April 2018 to May 2019.

The now-24-year-old Biggio was a fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2016, and played for Schneider briefly at Low-A Lansing before joining Bichette and Guerrero in Dunedin in 2017, and Double-A New Hampshire in 2018. Biggio made his MLB debut in May, less than a month after Guerrero did. All four played together in Buffalo this April; since Bichette’s call-up, at least three of the four have been in the Blue Jays’ starting lineup for all 11 games. “I think just having that experience of going through the minor leagues, going through … I wouldn’t say tough times, but not as great as it is up here, when you have to grind for a little bit,” Biggio says. “I think experiencing that together drew us closer, and now we’re here, the situation’s a little better, and we’re going to continue what we’ve always been doing.”

Schneider and his staff encouraged the four to get to know one another during their time in the minors, knowing they’d have to get along if they were going to comprise Toronto’s infield of the future. “They need to know what makes each other tick, they need to know what makes each other mad, or how to approach good or bad situations, and I think they’re in a pretty good spot,” Schneider says. The last great Blue Jays team, the club that went to the ALCS in both 2015 and 2016, was defined by its big personalities—Edwin Encarnación, Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, José Bautista—and positively dripped with chemistry. Bichette hopes to follow that template. “We’re going to have that camaraderie, we’re going to have a lot of fun, and hopefully we can perform the way those teams did and hopefully win a championship,” he says.

As it turns out, Toronto’s top prospects have done more than just gotten to know each other. They’ve blended well from a personality standpoint. When Bichette describes the four guys, it sounds like he’s listing off the cast of a good sitcom: a goofball or two, a competitive type, and a straight man. (Or in terms of, say, New Girl: a Nick, a Winston, a Coach, and a Schmidt.) “Vladdy brings a lot of fun to the game, the same with Lourdes,” Bichette says. “Cavan’s very disciplined and the mature one of the group. In here he’s funny but on the field he’s always prepared and always keeps us on our toes. I think I’m the fiery one.”

Schneider, who refers to Biggio as “the chaperone at the prom,” finds that the Blue Jays’ four key young hitters work so well together because they’re such a different mix of personalities. “It’s a sitcom I would watch,” he says.

It’s a lineup worth watching, too. Guerrero got off to a slow start after his major league debut ended a year’s worth of public anticipation, but broke out at the home run derby and is hitting .392/.438/.689 since July 19 and .273/.344/.457 overall. Gurriel is slashing .295/.344/.591 since his promotion on May 24, and while Biggio’s .211 batting average isn’t pretty, he has an OBP of .341 with 10 home runs and nine stolen bases in nine attempts.

Bichette was supposed to be called up shortly after those three, but broke his hand in April and soon found himself crowded out of the infield not only by Guerrero and Biggio, but also by veterans Eric Sogard and Freddy Galvis, both of whom are having the best offensive seasons of their careers. Gurriel, a second baseman by training, was already surplus to requirements—he’s played left field and hasn’t spent so much as an inning on the infield since returning to the big leagues. Sogard was traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline, though, and the Blue Jays found a way to shoehorn Bichette into the lineup by rotating one infielder at a time to DH. And now that he’s up in the majors, Bichette isn’t concerned with the fact that it took him longer to get here than he would’ve liked.

“It’s hard to be patient, but to be honest I’m not even thinking about that anymore,” Bichette says. “I think it was a great spot for me to get called up, for me to get acclimated on the road without all the stuff surrounding a home debut. I’ve been really happy with everything and it’s gone pretty smoothly.”

Bichette hasn’t needed much acclimation, either in terms of teeing off on big league pitchers or getting to know his teammates. Schneider concedes that having so many familiar faces around the locker room probably eased his transition, but says the shortstop is so confident that he would thrive in any clubhouse. “If there are going to be doubters,” Schneider says, “he’s going to prove them wrong.”

If he keeps playing like this, Bichette will run out of doubters in a hurry. He looks like the last core piece of the next outstanding Toronto lineup. The Blue Jays still have to mature, add a few pieces around the edges, and fill out the pitching staff. But Toronto’s foundation of the future has arrived.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Dunedin Blue Jays hitting coach Corey Hart had played in the major leagues for 11 years and appeared on two All-Star teams. This information applies to a different Corey Hart.

Sports Cards Nonsense

Breaking Down Collectors’ Purchase of SGC With Darren Rovell

Off the Pike

Adam Kaufman on the NFLPA Survey. Plus, Is It Time to Give Mazzulla Credit?

The Ringer's Philly Special

Eagles’ Position-by-Position Free Agency Needs, and Dollar Dog Dilemma

View all stories in MLB