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Photo Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Hmmm…: Gurriel Focused On Playing Shortstop

Shi Davidi has an outstanding Blue Jays notebook post up over at Sportsnet, in which — in addition to mercifully giving us something Jays-related to talk about — he gives us a updates on some of the club’s young players who are currently playing winter ball in Arizona, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. Via farm director Gil Kim, Shi gives us some glowing praise for Vlad Guerrero Jr. (about whom I don’t think a negative thing has been said in, like, a year-and-a-half), plus stuff on Max Pentecost, T.J. Zeuch, Teoscar Hernández (who’s seeing more time as a corner outfielder this winter — presumably in preparation for his potential 2018 role with the Jays), Adonys Cardona, and others. But most interesting, to me, as you will have surmised from the title of this post, is the bit on Lourdes Gurriel.

Cuban Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is also playing catchup after missing time this year with a hamstring injury, at the plate but especially in the field. “With Gurriel, it’s maximizing his defensive time at shortstop and catching up on at-bats. First pro ball season in the United States, we’d like him to gain that experience. The focus in the AFL would be on getting him more innings at shortstop, but that’s not to say he won’t be playing second base.

This is not necessarily what I would have expected to hear.

For one, I’d have expected that Gurriel’s bat was of the higher concern. Gurriel played for Industriales in the Cuban National Series in 2015-16, then defected, along with his brother Yulieski, in February of 2016. It’s not like he didn’t pick up a bat between then and this year’s spring training, but thanks to an early April injury this year, Gurriel went about 16 month without swinging it in genuine game (save for the action he saw in the Grapefruit League and a single appearance with Dunedin before his return on June 19th). It’s perhaps a good think that the Jays are less concerned about Gurriel’s bat, but interesting nonetheless.

More interesting? The focus on having Gurriel as a shortstop. That is, of course, a long way from being a bad thing. Someone who can hold his own at short while also being capable with the stick is a really valuable thing, obviously. And I get why the Jays might not be grooming Gurriel so much for the jack-of-all-trades role that most think he’s best suited to — the whole idea of depth isn’t that you have a Richard Ureña at short and maybe a Bo Bichette coming behind him, so you’re fine; the idea is that the more quality options you have at the most important positions on the diamond, the more likely you are to hit on someone who truly can be a top, top player. It just struck me as different than I might have thought the plan was — which I thought might have been less focused on one position (or two).

And also, as with Hernández, short and second are the two places we’re most likely to see Gurriel in the big leagues next season. Give his dearth of reps for so long, and his lack of game action during this season’s first three months, I’m not sure that we should be expecting him to reach the majors too soon, but if all goes well on his end, who knows what the next Troy Tulowitzki injury might bring?

The focus given to Gurriel here, and to Teoscar, perhaps also suggests something about the Jays’ off-season plans. I said on a recent podcast that I think the most reasonable approach to centrefield, though it would deny us the pleasure of a concrete moving-on from Kevin Pillar, is to let Anthony Alford — or Dalton Pompey, or Teoscar (provided he’s playing everyday in the big leagues in right) — wrest the job away from him. Getting Hernández, who is the clear first in line for an outfield callup, set to play in left or right would seem to jibe with that.

On the infield, the consensus seems to be that the club will look for strong cover for at the very least Devon Travis. Ideally they can bring in someone who might be able to cover for both Travis and Tulowitzki, while also being a good enough offensive player to play elsewhere from time to time, too. That’s a difficult needle to thread because good hitters who can play shortstop are so difficult to come by. Good hitters who can play at second base (but not short) aren’t exactly easy to find in their own right, but the task will be a whole lot simpler. Could, then, the Jays be telling us they’re expecting that they’ll be in the market for more of a second base type? And that, should Tulo go down, it will be some combination of Goins (if he’s tendered a contract), Ureña, Gurriel, possibly Donaldson at times, and (god willing) Bichette to pick up the slack? Maybe. And that seems pretty alright to me.

Hey, and speaking of all this stuff, here’s a funny thought: as far as finding that guy who can play multiple positions and has a decent enough bat to justify being pencilled into the lineup every night… um… do the Jays perhaps already have that in the form of Russell Martin? I’d imagine that they think — probably rightly — that he’s much too important to the pitching staff to be made a catcher-first super utility guy, but if you can open up a whole lot of innings behind the plate to entice a better backup option with, while also solving a part of the backup-second-baseman-and-sometimes-outfielder problem, does that make you better?

Totally just spitballin’ on that, obviously. But if the winter focuses given to Hernández and Gurriel are any indication — and they may not be! — I think it only strengthens the notion that those are the areas the Jays are going to prioritize finding a fix for this winter. I guess we shall see!

  • The Humungus

    I’m going to be completely honest here:

    I REALLY like the idea of getting Martin some reps in LF and having him available to rotate through the 2, 4, 5 and 7 positions while still spending at least 100 games behind the plate (about 20 starts per pitcher, assuming no injuries). Provided he’s got better batted ball luck than a .260 BABIP in him.

    I feel like there are at least a few worthwhile catching options on the market this year (Alex Avila jumps at me being left-handed) that might be available and could reasonably catch 60ish games.

    Anything that keeps the mid-30’s $20M catcher from wearing down in August is ok by me.

    • Just Jeff

      I like the idea of Martin getting reps somewhere other than catcher, assuming we have someone competent to take those reps behind the plate. I have to say though, I’m skeptical that they’re going to go for a bigger name catcher in free agency this winter. They will have to add Dan Jansen, Reese McGuire and Max Pentecost to the 40 man roster this winter or risk losing them. Throw in a MLB ready backup catcher and that’s 5 spots on your 40 man roster taken up by catchers. That’s probably unavoidable in the short run unless you move one of the prospect catchers, but I would think they would be looking at a Lopez/Maile type so that when Jansen or McGuire or Pentecost are ready for MLB reps, they can easily dump that contract. Signing a bigger name means either finding a trade partner or eating salary.

        • The Humungus

          I just did a quick Google waiting for dinner in the drive thru and I couldn’t find it. Has anyone written or talked about the 40 man crunch outside of when Blair did it on his show post-mortem? I missed that segment, and I know they’re in a bind with some guys. I’d digest the shit out of that content.

          • Just Jeff

            Bluebird Banter has a comprehensive list in their library, although it hasn’t been updated with this year’s draftees.

            According to MLB.com, if a player is 19 or older when drafted, then it’s 4 years, if you’re 18 or under, it’s 5 years. Pentecost was drafted in 2014. He also played in 2014 so this is his 4th year.

        • Mule or etc...

          I don’t know if Pentecost will be added to the 40 man. An oft-injured 24 year old who hasn’t played above A ball probably isn’t that attractive to other clubs.

    • Holly Wood

      I am not sold on Martin getting significant time at other positions at this point of his career. He could likely play at several different positions but that will not give him the required rest. So with that in mind, 100 starts behind the plate and pinch hit duties would be my choice. But if I knew what I was talking about I might actually work for a MLB team. Lol

  • Just Jeff

    I’ll start with this: I don’t think either Gurriel or Urena hit enough to warrant a promotion to AAA. That said, Bo Bichette could probably start the year in AA, but even if they opt to send him back to Dunedin, it won’t be long before he’s promoted to New Hampshire. That would displace one of Gurriel or Urena if they’re still both in AA. You also have the problem of both guys already burning one of their three options this year. It’s not ideal to have two guys burning options that aren’t close to ready for the majors. So perhaps this is all about priming Gurriel for some competition with Urena for the AAA shortstop job? If not to start the season then whenever Bichette is ready for promotion? Gurriel might be the more logical candidate to start in AAA over Urena if only because he’s older and is being paid a lot more due to the contract he signed last year. Management is in a bit of a tough spot here, because you don’t want to rush a legitimate prospect like Gurriel or Urena, but you also don’t want to stall a top prospect like Bichette either. Unless you trade somebody, something’s gotta give. These are good problems though.

    • ErnieWhitt

      Reps at short for Guriell doesn’t mean they are locked in at all. They could easily split time at SS and 2B if they end up at the same level. That said, I would expect there is 0 chance that anyone in the organization blocks out Bichette once he’s ready to move. It doesn’t matter if it gets tricky for a month or two with other guys.

      • ErnieWhitt

        I also think that one of the ways in which they will clear the log jam is to trade and guys who are seen as Shortstops are a lot more valuable than guys who profile as 2B/LF candidates.

  • Otto Velez

    I like how the Jays are having their premium prospects in the lower levels ‘play up’ to more challenging positions. I see Gurriel at SS as a chance to expand his defensive ceiling (as it’s the most challenging IF position) similar to how they’ve got Vlady working on his footwork at 3b. There’s a good chance Guerrero will end up at 1b or maybe in the OF but he’s a lot more valuable at 3b so why not challenge him at this stage of his career. It also creates a lot more lineup flexibility and hopefully prevents future seasons of having a DH profile at 3 different positions.

    • Mule or etc...

      They stole my OOTP baseball strategy. Why have a guy play one position when he can play three?

      (note: I know they didn’t steal it and that this is just a sad attempt at saying, “Look, I’m smart too.” But you really didn’t have to point it out as I was feeling pretty good about my day up until now. And frankly, this is why you’ll die alone.)

    • The Humungus

      Where’s the hype? All I’ve ever seen is the acknowledgment that he’s being groomed as a multi-positional player by the organization, and, given that he came over with most reports stating he’s a better player than his older brother (the current starting first baseman for the Houston Astros), it makes sense that anyone writing on the team would have at least some expectation that the franchise wants him to be in the majors at some point next year.

        • The Humungus

          I was reading on it, and yeah, but it seems like High-A, bordering on AA. So, a 21 year old is generally in his typical development wheelhouse at High A/AA, which means he looks like he could be a good player based on that stat line at that age in that league

          • Mule or etc...

            Certainly. My concern would be that he spent five full years in the CNS which means for five years of his development he wasn’t facing increasingly challenging pitching. He also would’ve gotten to know his opposition quite well which is something he won’t have the luxury of doing in the minors.

            That being said I’m fully on board the Gurriel train and I don’t think his numbers last year mean much (as with any 200 AB sample size) and next year is when we see who he really is. If he only turns out to be a light-hitting, decent OBP, super-utility guy then he’s still a steal at 2 mil a year. Although wait, for that you could buy half of a Justin Smoak.

            Check out his crazy home/road split though:
            H: .298/.347/.465
            A: .164/.192/.221

        • The Humungus

          hitting pretty well in the AFL, though (except he hasn’t taken a walk through 8 games)

          .290/.290/.613 with 2 HR, 4 2B on a team that has some pretty highly touted prospects, including Josh Naylor, Alex Jackson and Luis Urias