The 2019 Dunedin Blue Jays had obstacles to overcome before the season even began. The team found themselves without a home ballpark because of renovations taking place at Dunedin Stadium, and they would be playing all of their home games by busing to Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in Clearwater. Dunedin would have to embrace the grind of traveling to every game, while still being able to perform and win on a nightly basis. The team did not intend to make these excuses as first-year Dunedin Manager, Cesar Martin, was at the helm trying to get the team back in the playoffs after missing out in 2018.
Six of Toronto's top 30 prospects highlighted Dunedin's Opening Day roster. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. started the year on the team as baseball's number one prospect, while he rehabbed an oblique injury sustained in Spring Training. RHP Nate Pearson (5th), OF Chavez Young (22nd), INF Samad Taylor (24th), OF/1B Ryan Noda (25th), and former Blue Jay OF Cal Stevenson (29th) rounded out the prospects to begin the season. C Riley Adams returned to be the starting backstop and a clubhouse leader after a solid season in Dunedin in 2018.
The season started out in an unorthodox way playing the Threshers at their home ballpark, but Dunedin was the home team. The first series gave a glimpse into how dominant Nate Pearson could be after sustaining an injury in his first outing of 2018. The flamethrower touched 100 mph a couple of times with his fastball, and he won his first game with six strikeouts, one earned run, and four hits in five innings pitched. Pearson would go on to pitch in five more games with Dunedin giving up just one more earned run and a 0.86 ERA before being called up to AA New Hampshire. The team went on to go 15-9 in their first month for an early North Division lead, which they kept through the entire first half.
Into May, Dunedin separated themselves having their best record in the month finishing 19-10. Alejandro Kirk received the call-up at the beginning of the month when Riley Adams moved on to Double-A, and the transition was seamless between the two. Kirk hit a double to plate the go-ahead runs in his first game with the team. The catcher went on to hit 25 doubles in 71 games, and he finally got his first home runs for Dunedin three months after coming up during a two-home run game on August 9th against the Bradenton Marauders. There were plenty of accolades for Dunedin as the end of May started to roll around. Five total Blue Jays were selected to play in the Florida State League All-Star Game hosted by Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Palm Beach. LHP Nick Allgeyer, RHP Graham Spraker, RHP Brad Wilson, and INF Cullen Large were selected while still on the active roster. Riley Adams received the honor; however, he was already in Double-A at the time. Allgeyer posted a 2.89 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in the first half, and Spraker was just as good on the bump with a 2.04 ERA and 37 strikeouts. Brad Wilson specialized as a closer in Dunedin with a 0.76 WHIP and five saves in the first half, and Cullen Large steadied the lineup to become an All-Star with 26 runs driven in and a .277 AVG.
Through the first half, the Blue Jays were successful with a mixture of an explosive offense and a starting rotation that got the team off to hot starts. Dunedin scored the most runs in the first half with 299 and gave up the second fewest runs at 217. The 41 win in the half were the most for Dunedin since the team won 43 games in the second half of 2016. A first half victory did not satisfy this clubhouse though as they were hungry to be dominant in the playoffs and get another championship for Dunedin.
Demi Orimoloye was the bright spot to begin the second half. The Canadian hit just .199 with two home runs in 50 games before the All-Star break, but he went on a tear when the break ended. In June, Orimoloye drove in 21 runs, hit .342, had a 1.051 OPS, and smashed five home runs. All of these stats gave the outfielder the Florida State League Player of the Month Award presented by Uncle Ray's. He was the first Dunedin Blue Jay to win the award since Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won the award in 2017.
The team had an up and down start to the second half losing their lead of the division for the first time all year. This only lasted 11 days, as Dunedin would use an 11-game win streak from June 28th until July 9th to get their lead back and extend it to 4.0 games. As the second half got underway, the roster began to turn over as much deserved call-ups occurred. RHP Justin Dillon, RHP Brad Wilson INF Logan Warmoth, and INF Cullen Large all received the opportunity to play in New Hampshire. This meant the arrivals of RHP Josh Winckowski, RHP Jackson Rees, and INF Nick Podkul would have big roles to fill. Rees stepped up to finish the year out of the bullpen with a 0.99 ERA in 26 appearances, which he achieved the mark on the very last day of the season. Winckowski had some dominant starts, while Nick Podkul gave a versatile infielder that could make all the plays needed.
The second half was not perfect though as the team hit a rough patch once their winning streak ended. They went 7-20 when the streak finished as Dunedin looked to find their rhythm again with bad weather and plenty of doubleheaders keeping the players a little off schedule. Things turned around to get out of the rut with the team winning 10 of their next 14 games to try to win both halves since Tampa in 2017. The MLB trade deadline did bring more change for a team that had been dealing with so much already during the season. Dunedin saw RHP Simeon Woods Richardson and RHP Kyle Johnston become new faces in the clubhouse, while a trade including Cal Stevenson sent him to the Houston Astros' organization. Stevenson had been a force at the top of the lineup for Dunedin with a .298 AVG, a .388 OBP, and a .781 OPS. The team did not miss a beat with the trades and Simeon Woods Richardson was electric as the first 18-year-old in the league since Sixto Sanchez played for the Clearwater Threshers in 2017. Woods Richardson pitched in six games for Dunedin striking out 29 batters with seven walks. He held opponents to a .182 AVG with a 0.88 WHIP.
As August came, and the playoffs grew closer to race got tighter for the second half North Division crown. Dunedin never took more than a 2.5 game lead in the division through August. The Blue Jays went on another six-game win streak in the middle of the month looking to finish of their season division sweep. A stretch of wins and losses gave the opportunity for other teams to creep in. A series against Fort Myers with just a week left to go in the year would turn out to be extremely important. Dunedin took four of five games from the Miracle to get their 80th win, but the threat of Hurricane Dorian would end the season on a bittersweet note. The Blue Jays would not have a chance to go for their second Florida State League championship, but they did lock up another North Division second half championship. In a year filled with obstacles for Dunedin, the team pulled through for one of the best seasons. The clubhouse made up of high character people willing to lead brought success in a tough situation, and the coaching staff led by Cesar Martin gave every player the chance to be successful.
As the season closed, a league-high four players from Dunedin were named to the End of Season All-Star team. OF Ryan Noda, OF Cal Stevenson, RHP Brad Wilson, and RHP Maximo Castillo each had incredible seasons finishing on top of multiple leaderboards. Maximo Castillo recorded the second most wins in the league with 11 while having the third lowest ERA at 2.69. Ryan Noda did his job in the middle of the order driving in a league-high 74 runs, just 10 away from being on the Dunedin Blue Jays top 10 single season list. Noda also hit 13 home runs, walked 74 times, and posted a .372 OBP to complete an all-around great offensive season. Cesar Martin was voted as Manager of the Year for his outstanding season guiding a team to 80 wins with fewer top 30 prospects and a unique situation. The year may not have ended the way the club wanted to, but there were many accomplishments by this group deserving to be recognized. This Dunedin team acted as a family, and it showed out on the field every game. This group has already achieved some much, and they will certainly have more to come as they keep moving up the Blue Jays ladder.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.