Jays From the Couch ponders if SS is the right place for Toronto Blue Jays’ Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
Let me preface this with the fact that I am a huge Lourdes Gurriel Jr. fan. Signing the then-22 year old son of a Cuban legend to seven-year, $22 Million contract, in the end, will likely be one of the greatest coups in the history of the Shapiro-Atkins front office for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Now, there’s not a huge sample size to judge Gurriel on so far this season, as he missed Dunedin’s first half with a leg injury. Almost everyone seems confident in his ability to hit – as evidenced by this majestic tater from spring training. Unfortunately, the story in the infield dirt is…sub-optimal. In 21 fielding chances, all at shortstop, Gurriel has made seven errors. Seven! Six have come on throws, with one fielding error. A few errors in a player’s debut professional (stateside) season is forgivable, even expected – but seven errors in 21 chances is concerning.
Even before his stateside debut, his positioning was a concern. Jeff Paternostro at Baseball Prospectus, who left Gurriel out of the Top 10 (but also put him in the Top 4) Blue Jays Prospects wrote this in December:
“What do I think?
I don’t think he’s a shortstop, although I see no harm in trying him there. I expected him to get more than 22 million. That probably means something. I guess the play here is something like OFP 55/Likely 45, maybe at second base, probably other positions as well at the low end, certainly high risk either way. But it still feels like a dart throw. I’m sure I’ve ranked prospects like Gurriel already in this process. I’m just not sure which ones.”
Sure. There’s no harm in it. I’ll agree with that. In fact, in graduate school, we had a saying: “Every paper is a Science paper. Until it isn’t.” The idea here being you shoot for the highest prize possible, or shortstop for Gurriel. Then, second base or center field. By the end, hopefully your paper, in this case, can play all over the diamond, but has also found a comfortable resting place at a home position.
Jeff mentions that a move to 2B (at best) is likely, and by low end he probably means 1B, 3B or a corner outfield spot. Which, for 7/$22 Million and carrying Gurriel into his age-29 season, seems fine. In comparison, Melvin Upton is “making” $16,450,00 to not play baseball in 2016.
Some of it might even be rust. As Paternostro said in his piece at Baseball Prospectus, since defecting Cuba and signing with Toronto, Gurriel had not played in games in over a calendar year. In his most recent SS start over the weekend, he made zero errors.
For the foreseeable future, the Blue Jays will be flush with shortstops, all presenting a range of talents with the glove and with the bat. Troy Tulowitzki is currently king, and while he’s often injured and absolutely in decline, there’s far worse options out there. With his contract, he’s also not going anywhere (he’s making $54 Million through 2020.) Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins are next in line should Tulo spend time on the DL, and while they might eventually flee for more promised playing time elsewhere, or be trade bait for a team looking for utility guys at the deadline, one of the two might be replaceable, at least offensively, by Jason Leblebijian at Triple-A Buffalo.
At Triple-A and Double-A there’s not an immediate answer at shortstop. With Richard Urena‘s regression in 2017 (and his similarly poor defense), some have wondered if he might actually be trade bait as well, come this July’s deadline. Shane Opitz is getting SS time with Triple-A Buffalo, but as a 25-year old non-prospect without encouraging numbers in any category, he’s likely falling into an “org guy” position.
The Blue Jays do have shortstop and middle infield depth at the youthful levels, though. After the 2016 and 2017 drafts, the Blue Jays now boast the likes of Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Gunnar Heidt, J.C. Cardenas, Kevin Smith, Yeltsin Gudino, Deiferson Barreto, Mattingly Romanin, Kevin Vicuna and Cullen Large all playing for New Hampshire, Duenedin, Bluefield, Lansing and Vancouver this season. Some of these players are old for their levels (Heidt) and some might be quick risers (Smith.) There’s a good mix, but importantly, there are plenty of options for the future. And yes, you can even add Lourdes Gurriel into this mix, since he’s receiving the bulk of his playing time their with Dunedin.
And this goes without mentioning their 2017 first-round pick, the 22nd-overall Logan Warmoth, who we’re still waiting on to officially sign. Scouts have been a bit divided on Warmoth, but chances are he sticks at shortstop and with all things going perfectly – he’s the answer at shortstop in the future with Bo Bichette moving to 2B, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the hot corner (big IF) and fan favourite Rowdy Tellez at 1B. This all falls under the gigantic “IF” umbrella, of course.
Lack of Outfield Depth
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays are not deep elsewhere in the outfield. There’s some interesting names such as Darrell Ceciliani, Jose Tabata and Anthony Alford – all of whom are injured. Alford will likely come back at some point and could very well be manning the Blue Jays OF in the near future. Roemon Fields is also another fun name to throw around – especially if you’re a student of the Speed Kills brand of baseball. Fields can fly, but he’s probably not an every day guy at the MLB level. Other prospects such as Harold Ramirez have taken a step back this season. He’s a bit far off, but 2017 pick Brock Lundquist is also a fun player to dream on.
After Anthony Alford although, there’s no Blue Jays prospect within Baseball America’s Top 10 for 2017. It’s the same at Baseball Prospectus, as well. Does that change when you put Lourdes Gurriel on the list, perhaps with an “OF” next to his name rather than a “SS”? Maybe so. There’s certainly no harm with starting his development at the highest-demand position, and perhaps that aided in making the decision to sign with Toronto. However, should his should his infield struggles continue and with his past success in the outfield (in Cuba and with their national team) and the Blue Jays new found middle-infield depth, maybe it’s the direction the Blue Jays need to go.
*Featured Image Credit: WEBN-TV UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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