Bo Bichette Climbing To New Heights

Bo Bichette fell to the Blue Jays in the second round of the 2016 draft, but Toronto hasn’t found a level to truly challenge the 19-year-old shortstop. He has hit .372 in 530 pro at-bats, despite complicated swing mechanics that give some pro scouts pause. (Photo by Cliff Welch)

In his first full season as a professional, Bo Bichette made baseball look easy. The 19-year-old Blue Jays shortstop hit .362/.423/.565 with 14 home runs in 108 games as one of the youngest players in two Class A leagues, winning the minor league batting title while placing himself firmly on the map as one of game’s best prospects.

Given his track record at his St. Petersburg, Fla., high school, his performance this season at low Class A Lansing and high Class A Dunedin shouldn’t be a surprise.

As an amateur, Bichette stood out even among a group of older, equally talented teammates. As a freshman, he hit fifth on his travel-ball team. The four players in front of him? Nick Gordon, Forrest Wall, Ryan Mountcastle and J.J. Schwarz.

That’s two first-rounders in Gordon and Mountcastle, a supplemental first-rounder (Wall) and a standout catcher on Florida, the reigning College World Series champions.

As a freshman, even getting on the field with that group would have been outstanding. But hitting fifth? That hinted at the potential for Bichette, a player who hadn’t yet shed his baby fat.

“He absolutely raked from the moment he got there,” said Jered Goodwin, the head coach of Bichette’s FTB Tucci team. “It’s really an interesting thing, because I’ve told a lot of people recently who have asked me (if his success surprises me). My answer is emphatically, ‘No, I’m not surprised.’ Nothing he’s done this year has surprised me.”

Another person who’s not surprised by Bichette’s success is his older brother Dante Jr., a third baseman in the Yankees system who was a 2011 supplemental first-round pick out of high school. He saw signs at an early age that Bo had the chance to be special. Whether it was swinging a bat before he could walk or throwing spirals with a football at 2 years old, or his uncanny mimicry of the batting stances of all-stars like Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra, his talent was undeniable.

Bo showed athleticism and aptitude. Eventually, Dante Jr. thought, there would be stardom.

“Bo was one of those kids who, from a really young age, his instincts and his movements and everything are natural God-given things,” Dante Jr. said. “It was kind of blatant from a young age that he was going to be very good. He’s also one of those guys who can watch somebody do something and immediately do it.”

So how with his bloodlines—his father Dante hit 274 home runs in 14 big league seasons—and his four-year track record on the showcase circuit did Bo last until the second round of the 2016 draft? He fell to the 66th overall pick, after Toronto had selected collegians T.J. Zeuch in the first round and J.B. Woodman earlier in the second.

Bichette faced questions about making the jump from amateur to pro ball. Would he stick at shortstop? Would the complexity of his swing—he has a large leg kick, hip turn and hand load that he uses to generate all-fields power—translate against better pitchers?

Despite Bichette’s pro success, those questions still linger for pro scouts who have seen and evaluated him.

Other questions are more difficult to answer with certainty. How much did Dante Jr.’s up-and-down career hinder Bo’s path? Those who have been around both Bichettes point to one separating factor.

While Dante Jr. wants to be a big leaguer, Bo leaves himself no other option. Everything he does is with that singular goal in mind.

“The best I could describe it is that Dante Jr. would be very happy being a guitarist in a band, and he loves baseball, and he works his tail off,” one evaluator familiar with the brothers said. “The only thing Bo will ever settle for is being a big league all-star . . . There’s nothing else he wants to do.”

Maybe the only person surprised by Bo’s success this year is Bo himself—but only slightly. He sets high goals for himself, but this season might have surpassed even his most vivid expectations. He flirted with hitting .400 in the Midwest League, finishing at .384/.448/.623 in 70 games before a July promotion to the Florida State League, where he continued to produce.

“I expect good things out of myself, but at the same time I don’t think I expected to do this well in terms of numbers,” Bichette said. “I just have consistency in my preparation and stuff. With that being said, it doesn’t surprise me too much.”

Even as a prospect who turned in one of the best minor league performances of the season, Bichette must perform at the upper levels to completely silence his critics. He knows it’s a long way from high Class A to major league stardom, but one thing is certain.

Bichette won’t be surprised by his continued success.

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