Lourdes Gurriel Jr. made his return to the Blue Jays lineup in the opener of their three-game series against the Padres. But unlike before, the 25-year-old will now be positioned in left-field with the opportunity of earning everyday playing-time.
The Blue Jays are currently lacking in depth of quality outfielders that are ready to be called-up to have a major impact on the Blue Jays. Other than Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford, who both have had their struggles this season, the Blue Jays just don’t have any other outfielders who are viable options for this season or the next.
Which has now paved the way for Gurriel Jr. to transition into an everyday left-fielder for the Blue Jays. But, the Cuban-native will have to earn that role. Gurriel Jr.’s time earlier this season was anything but successful. Through the 14 games played with the Blue Jays this season, Gurriel Jr. hit just four doubles and a lonely home run, along with slashing a line of .186/.255/.349/.604 and striking-out 13 different times.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) May 25, 2019
Along with Gurriel Jr.’s laughable defensive miscues, his inability to reduce his strikeouts were a big reason for his demotion last month. Gurriel Jr. has so far struggled to reduce his strikeout rate and improve his walk rate throughout his professional career.
The man with the best-hair throughout the entire Blue Jays organization has failed to improve those numbers particularly over the past few seasons. In 65 games last season with the Blue Jays, Gurriel Jr. recorded a walk rate of 3.4% and a strikeout rate of 22.4%. What’s troubling is that those numbers are basically the same through his 30 games played at triple-A this season.
In those 30 games, Gurriel Jr. recorded 13 doubles, four home runs and 26 RBI. However, he also struck-out 23 times and walked to first-base just three times for a strikeout-rate of 18% and a walk-rate of 2.3%. So while Gurriel Jr. hit an impressive .207 ISO, he also recorded a wRC+ of just 94. Which means while he was hitting for extra-bases, he was proving to be a liability at the plate because of all the strikeouts.
So along with Gurriel Jr. needing to show improvements at the plate during his call-up, the talented young-player will also need to display that he’s a changed player defensively as well. Most of us wish that those terrible throws to first-base by Gurriel Jr. were just a bad nightmare, but unfortunately they’re all too real.
Just like the throws to first were a nightmare, so are Gurriel Jr.’s defensive numbers over the last two seasons. Let’s just pretend that those three games at first-base for Gurriel Jr. never happened and just focus on his middle-infield and outfield statistics.
Gurriel Jr. split 65 games between shortstop and second-base last season with the Blue Jays. What was thought to just be a learning curve, turned into a cause for concern for Gurriel Jr. He committed a combined seven errors in his time paroling the middle of the infield last season.
To make matters worse, Gurriel Jr. also recorded a -9 DRS, and a -6.8 UZR in his 351.1 innings at shortstop last season. While he only played in 14 games before being demoted this season, Gurriel Jr. clearly showed that a change in position was needed in hopes to turn his career around.
Despite advanced metrics not being recorded in the minor-leagues(which is very annoying BTW!), there are still ways to depict how Gurriel Jr. performed in his seven starts in the outfield at triple-A this season. I will admit that seven games is too small of a sample size to completely judge how effective a player performs, but we’re going to attempt to do it anyways with Gurriel Jr. here.
In those seven games, Gurriel Jr. recorded eight putouts in nine opportunities. So while that’s a positive note, he did also commit an error as well. However, Gurriel Jr. will likely receive the benefit of the doubt for the majority of his time back up at the major-league level. As long as he’s able to contribute offensively, and not turn into a liability like he was at triple-A earlier this season.
This seems to be Gurriel Jr.’s last opportunity at becoming a everyday-player in the MLB. So with the lack of quality depth in the outfield at the lower-levels, left-field is Gurriel Jr.’s to win, if he can prove he deserves it.