The Blue Jays phenom didn’t live up to the hype in 2019, but he still might be the best third baseman in the AL East
As we march on towards opening day, we at JFtC continue our mini-series examining pitching and defensive positions of the Blue Jays – and how they rank and compare with all their AL East division competitors.
In this edition, we examine third base. I identified each team’s starting 3B as per Roster Resource and this is the order I ranked them in:
- Blue Jays – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
- Red Sox – Rafael Devers
- Rays – Yandy Diaz
- Yankees – Gio Urshela (of note, Miguel Andujar is listed on bench)
- Orioles – Rio Ruiz
To rank and differentiate this pool of candidates, I based my decisions on the combination of various factors:
- Career fWAR
- Age (whether they’re approaching their peak or closure to regression)
- Contractual situation – the length and cost of a players control influences their value
- Steamer fWAR Projections for 2020 – what is their anticipated production
- Offense – what is their track record
- Defense – what is their track record
#1 Toronto Blue Jays – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
|Contractual Situation||6 seasons control (2020-21 Pre-Arbitration; Arbitration Eligible 2022-2025)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||3.6|
For several years, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been the poster child for the future of Blue Jays contention. Topping numerous prospect rankings, as a fan base, we eagerly awaited his debut until we were rewarded one Friday evening in April of 2019. Although his debut season wasn’t one for the record books, it was still solid with some reasons for optimism. Based on his debut and his raw talent, there’s a reason Steamer Projections has him tied for 1st (with Bo Bichette) in 2020 fWAR for the Blue Jays.
Offensively, as a fan base, we likely had some unrealistic expectations due to his evaluations. But honestly, who wouldn’t take a slash line of .272/ .339/ .433, a 105 wRC+, and a .772 OPS from a 20 year old rookie in their debut season? Yes, we would have loved a blockbuster 2019 from this highly ballyhooed mega-prospect, but there’s still time (oodles!). Here are some points of encouragement. 1) He saw less pitches in the zone (37.8% Zone% compared to league average of 41.8%), the fact he was able to produce to the degree he did is impressive. The more protection this line up develops, theoretically, the more pitches in the zone he’ll see – which should benefit him. 2) As a point of strength, with the pitches he did see in the zone, he made contact at a rate of 87.2% (higher than the league average of 84.9%). 3) Amongst 3B in 2019, he ranked 15th in Statcast’s Avg. Exit Velocity with 89.4 MPH (and as a fun fact, had the highest single max exit velocity of 118.9 MPH).
As is well documented, his defense is a work in progress, with his 2019 debut too small a sample to make a definitive decision. We have to remember – the kid is only 20 years old – he still has ample time to learn, develop, and grow into the position. Analytically, next season he can only get better – 2020 saw him with a -3 DRS (approaching below average), and he ranked 35th amongst 3B (dead last) with a -16 Outs Above Average (Statcast).
Personal bias aside, Vladdy Jr. tops my list, and here’s why. His six (*6*) seasons of team control on an entry level contract (thanks to not opening 2019 with the Jays) has such a high potential for surplus value. He’s only 20, not even close to peak years – age related decline is so far off the map. But ultimately, it’s his absolute offensive potential – we saw it on display through his ascent in the minor leagues and with that eye test of a 2019 Home Run derby showing. His talent is too undeniable, and mixed with the age and control, he’s a sure thing for #1 on my list.
#2 Boston Red Sox – Rafael Devers
|Contractual Situation||4 seasons control (2020 Pre-Arbitration; Arbitration Eligible 2021-2023)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||4.7|
An international signing, Devers wasn’t an immediate stud in his first full MLB season in 2018 (sound familiar Jays fans?). However, in his follow up season of 2019, he absolutely announced his presence and impressed the league.
Offensively, after his 90 wRC+ 2018, Devers stormed the scene with a slash line of .311/ .361/ .555 and a 132 wRC+. It will be interesting to see what Devers can produce going forward, if this will be his consistent normal – or if he’s something between his results of 2018 and 2019. Of note, his BABIP of .339 in 2019 was far greater than his career average of .321. Was 2019 an indication of his true potential – or was it partially related to lucky batted ball outcomes with a chance at regression?
Defensively, much was questioned of his ability and long term potential at 3B (again, sound familiar Jays fans?). He showed defensive improvement in 2019– but depending on the metric used, he either became less awful or quite good. His DRS showed improvement, from a -13 DRS in 2018 to -6 DRS in 2019 (Awful in 2018 to below average in 2019). Statcast’s Outs Above Average paints a different picture with Devers – as it ranked him 32nd (of 35 3B) in 2018 at -7 OAA, but showed improvement in 2019 with being ranked 4th (of 35 3B) with +7 OAA.
If you think Devers should be first on this list, I’d be open to that debate. Although short, he has somewhat of a track record, and has clearly showed positive adjustments on both sides of the ball. His overall talent and age are desired by any team. However, he has 4 seasons of team control, combined with his talent and young age – which is good. However, my reason for putting him below Vladdy Jr., is that Devers has 2 fewer seasons of control – and as a result I don’t think Devers has the same potential for as monster a surplus value.
#3 Tampa Bay Rays – Yandy Diaz
|Contractual Situation||5 seasons control (2020-21 Pre-Arbitration; Arbitration Eligible 2022-24)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||2.1|
Part of a three team trade with Cleveland and Seattle, the Rays acquired the Cuban infielder in December of 2018. With limited career exposure in the big leagues (49, 39, and 79 games respectively from 2017-2019), the Rays are in the process of finding out what they have in their acquired player.
With the bat Yandy has a respectable career average of 107 wRC+. In 2019 he slashed a .267/ .340/ .476 with a .816 OPS and a 116 wRC+. Although a very limited 79 game tenure with his new team, the Rays hope that 2019 was a sign of things to come.
With the glove, in his limited tenure, he’s been below (but close) to average with a 0, -2, and -1 DRS from 2017-2018 respectively.
In ranking Diaz, there’s a lot to like – his affordable control for 5 seasons, his recent 2019 outburst (career high1.5 fWAR), and 2020 projections. However, he ranks here on this list as he isn’t as young as the other 3B stars, wasn’t as ballyhooed as a rising player, and just has very limited major league production to this point.
#4 New York Yankees – Gio Urshela
|Contractual Situation||4 seasons control (2020- $2.4 million; Arbitration Eligible 2021-23)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||1.4|
Well, as they say of Yankee Stadium, it’s the house that Gio Urshela built (not my idea, saw it on Twitter ages ago, but loved it). Joking aside, many in Jays land flung some blame on to the front office – for letting such a hidden gem out of their grasps to the Yankees. A journey man known for his glove up to that point in his career, he came up big for a 2019 Yankee’s team decimated by injuries. I’m not convinced of his sustainability, and would have put Andujar ahead on the depth chart .But we’ll see.
In his career 167 MLB games prior to 2019 (Cleveland and Toronto), offensive output was at an anemic level of 58 wRC+. But as he showed in 2019, “new year new Gio Urshela” – blasting a .314/ .355/ .534 slash line with a .889 OPS and 132 wRC+ (coincidentally in 132 games).
Defensively, prior to 2019, Gio had been quite league average at 3B – quite literally, with 0 DRS ratings from 2015-2018. However, in 2019 he saw a slight dip with a -4 DRS (approaching below average). I guess you can take a dip like this when you offensively have a monster break out season?
Look, I don’t mean to rain on Gio’s parade. What he did in 2019 was impressive, and on an individual level, I’m happy for what he was able to accomplish after many seasons of mixed (*poor) results. Although late career break-outs occur (looking at you Joey Bats), being realistic– you have to wonder if this was a one season wonder based on smoke and mirrors. For that reason, and the bland defensive metrics of a historically ‘glove only’ player – Gio finds himself here on my ranking list.
#5 Baltimore Orioles– Rio Ruiz
|Contractual Situation||5 seasons control (2020-21 Pre-Arbitration; Arbitration Eligible 2022-24)|
|2020 Steamer fWAR Projection||0.9|
There always has to be someone in last, and who better than the Orioles to represent. Ruiz’s career as a bench player with the Braves (72 games in 3 seasons) changed upon his arrival to the O’s in 2019, where he played a career high 127 games.
For his career, he’s a well below average hitter, with a 71 wRC+. In 2019, he saw a slight upshift in his offence with a 79 wRC+ – and a .232/ .306/ .376 slash line.
Defensively, he doesn’t hurt a team at 3B. He was very consistent in his career with a 0 DRS (league average), until a 2 DRS in 2019.
As seems to be the case in many of these rankings, this O’s player rounds out the bottom of the list – indicative of a below average player afforded ample playing time on an awful team.
There’s a lot to be excited about with this young and coming Jays team, but arguably leading the RYU (Royal Youth Uprising – as per super agent Boras), is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Although some fans are disappointed by his debut, I’ll say it again, *IT WASN’T A BAD SEASON* – especially by someone his age. Sure, we can hope for and would love some defensive growth at the hot corner – but give him time. To me he’s clearly the undeniable 1st in this ranking – when taking his solid debut season as a baseline, combined with his young age, his undeniable raw talent, and ample 6 seasons of team control! He’s got a huge opportunity to not only have incredible value, but be a fun face of the franchise (or co-face, if you’re in the Bo camp) for seasons to come.
In the AL East, the third base position is represented by a variety of player types – the newly established, the highly touted prospects, the unknown upside player, and the journeyman veterans (both of the breakout and non break out variety – looking at you Urshela and Ruiz). It will be interesting how this list changes with the passing of time, and how accurate these rankings turn out.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Pete is an avid baseball fan – primarily focusing on the Toronto Blue Jays. Once a timid fan in his adolescence, a 54 home run season won his heart over. He could be heard screaming triumphantly one October evening after an infamous bat flip. Approximately 12 months later, he reacted similarly to the Donaldson Dash. He eagerly awaits the next chapter of October jubilation for his team.