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!