After an offseason of outfield question marks, the Blue Jays seem to have a rather nice group in place
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Before the 2020 MLB season began, it appeared that one of the biggest needs for the Jays was every day outfielders. Lourdes Gurriel jr had a breakout season in 2019 as a left fielder, good enough to be penciled in to a starting role.
Beyond that, the picture was a lot murkier. There was no shortage of candidates with some talent, but nobody who had managed to consistently perform well in the majors. Names on the 40 man roster included Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford and Jonathan Davis.
The thought held by many people was that if the Jays were to contend in the future, they might need to go outside the organization for one, maybe even two proven performers to improve their chances. Doing so would either cost them money (to sign a free agent), prospects (in a trade) or possibly both if they were to trade for a star player under contract with another team.
Two of the most pleasant surprises for the Jays so far in 2020 have been the performance of Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez.
April 2, 2019, the Blue Jays signed Grichuk to a 5 year, $52 million contract extension through the 2023 season. His performance in 2019, however, likely fell short of what the Jays had hoped for. His .738 OPS was a significant decline from the ,803 he posted just a year earlier in 2018. In particular, his .280 OBP which ranked him last out of 135 qualifying players, was a serious concern. In spite of his contract, management had to wonder if Grichuk could contribute to a future contending Jays team.
The addition of retired MLB player Dante Bichette to the coaching staff has paid dividends. Specifically with Grichuk, Bichette helped him to change his approach at the plate. The result has been his best season to date as a Blue Jay, second best in his major league career, with a slash line of .280/.320/.524. If he can continue this for the rest of the season and beyond, he can be a valuable contributor to future Blue Jays teams.
The Jays traded for Teoscar Hernandez at the 2017 trade deadline. Hernandez has always had a world of potential in terms of his tools, but his MLB performance has been maddeningly inconsistent.
Through May 15th, 2019, Hernandez had an OPS of .563. That earned him a demotion to AAA Buffalo where he remained until his recall on June 5th. From then until the end of the 2019 season, Hernandez looked like a different hitter with an .873 OPS. He was especially hot after the all star break with a .939 OPS.
While some believed he had finally found his stroke as an MLB hitter, others feared it may have been an unsustainable hot streak.
So far in 39 games in 2020, Hernandez has not only continued his hot hitting, he has exceeded his 2019 second half performance. He is currently 2nd in the AL in home runs (14), 3rd in slugging percentage (.637), and 3rd in OPS (.996). He has easily been the Jays best position player this season and is a big part of the reason they currently hold the 5th seeded playoff spot.
If there had been a MLB all star game in 2020, Hernandez would have been on the team.
At the time of writing, Hernandez is currently out for an indefinite time period with an oblique injury. The Jays hope he will miss as little time as possible, as they battle for a playoff spot in the final three weeks of the season.
Assuming Grichuk and Hernandez can continue to be consistent performers for the next few seasons not only helps them fill future roster spots, it could also have a domino effect. If they consider their starting outfield to be set for the foreseeable future, they can save their resources to address other areas where upgrades are needed.
It can also allow them to pencil Austin Martin, the 18th ranked prospect in MLB, as the 3B of the future. Martin has played infield and outfield in his college career, and has played the majority of games at 3B. Prior to 2020, I had assumed he would play outfield for Toronto, mainly because of a perceived need for the team. The emergence of Grichuk and Hernandez may have changed this.
More and more, the Blue Jays future looks very bright.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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