Lourdes Gurriel Jr is showing the kind of performance needed to call the Toronto Blue Jays’ rebuild a “win”.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been dominating at the plate for the Blue Jays since his recall from AAA Buffalo back in May. Over his first five weeks back in the majors, he posted a 187 wRC+, on the back of lots of good contact (.289 xISO and a .336 xBABIP) and some good batted ball luck (.380 ISO and a .390 BABIP).
In the three weeks since, he has still been more productive than most at the plate (121 wRC+). While he has continued to make good contact (posting a .270 xISO and a .301 xBABIP), his luck has been more of a mixed bag—he’s collected a slightly higher rate of extra bases (.290 ISO) than expected given his underlying contact, but his balls in play haven’t turned into base hits as frequently as expected (.267 BABIP).
Gurriel’s 141 wRC+ for the season—which breaks down to a 41 wRC+ to start the season and a 163 mark since his recall—is the 21st-best mark in baseball (min. 200 PA). Moreover, he has displayed defensive quality in his first 44 games as a major league outfielder, getting average grades in left in terms of both defensive runs saved (1) and ultimate zone rating (0.2). He’s shown a particular aptitude with his arm, gunning out seven runners so far, the most assists at his position across the majors.
Over the 2019 season, Gurriel has been worth 1.8 wins above replacement, the 76th-best mark in baseball. If we zero in on games since his May 24th recall, Gurriel’s 2 wins above replacement rank 12th in the majors.
It is too early to be certain that Gurriel will be an above-average major league corner outfielder for the foreseeable future. However, his underlying contact over 200 plate appearances this season is certainly evidence that he has tapped into his 55-grade raw power (FanGraphs 2018), while his seven outfield assists are certainly evidence of his 60-grade arm (also FanGraphs 2018). Moreover, the trajectory of his 50-game rolling wRC+ just looks like a good young batter figuring out how to hit in the major leagues.
Gurriel’s breakout over the last two months feels like one of the first major wins of the Blue Jays rebuild—he was a young professional signed to a long-term deal with tons of upside and he’s now showing it consistently at the major league level.
In contrast, it feels like one could make a pretty long list of instances where things just haven’t gone the Blue Jays way when it comes to some aspect of their rebuild, particularly at the major league level:
•Vlad Guerrero Jr. not going out there and hitting for .320 to start his career.
•Danny Jansen‘s .289 on-base percentage.
•Ryan Borucki‘s elbow issue, which is hopefully trending in a positive direction.
•Randal Grichuk‘s 0.1 fWAR since he signed his extension.
•The countless upside plays that just didn’t work out, be they veterans acquired with the hope that good performances might lead to a useful trade return (Jaime Garcia, Clay Buchholz, Tyler Clippard and Yangervis Solarte) or youngish players acquired for their own upside (Socrates Brito, Alen Hanson and Taylor Guerrieri).
•Matt Shoemaker, an upside play that seemed to be working out, only to suffer a season-ending knee injury while fielding a run down.
It’s not been completely doom and gloom—Vlad Jr. will be fine, Cavan Biggio has had a solid start to his career, Elvis Luciano looks like he’ll meet the Rule 5 requirements to remain a Blue Jays post-2019 and Seung Hwan Oh’s return was okay, especially with Forrest Wall now impressing at Double-A—but the wins have felt few and far between in the major league part of the rebuild. Given the limited high-quality outfield depth in the upper levels of the system, Gurriel developing into a good MLB left fielder would definitely be an important win for the Blue Jays rebuild, a win that has felt a long time overdue.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.