Blue Jays, Position by Position: Outfielders, and decisions the Jays must make for 2023
Photo credit:© Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
The Toronto Blue Jays outfield is the most interesting position as they head into the off-season.
Unlike the catching position and the infield, the outfield is where the Jays may be able to sign a free agent. Just like with both the backstop and the infield (namely second base) the Jays could conceivably trade on an outfielder for a position of need.
Like the other two articles, we’ll also look at a few prospects that could impact the Jays’ roster in a few seasons. There are of course infielders who also play outfield positions, such as Otto Lopez, Davis Schneider, Tanner Morris, Zach Britton and Spencer Horwitz, but they were mentioned in the last article.
This isn’t to say that the 2022 Jays had a bad outfield, in fact, it was actually pretty good (at least in terms of with the bat). Let’s look into how the Jays’ outfielders did in 2022.
How did the Blue Jays outfielders do in 2022:
Just a quick note: I won’t be including Cavan Biggio or Whit Merrifield, as they are natural second basemen. I will include both Bradley Zimmer and Jackie Bradley Jr.
After each season, there are some people that believe that the year Hernandez had just had was a fluke, but time and time again, he produces. It was a slow start for Herandez, mainly because of injury (a trend that we’ll see often here), but overall the 30-year-old right fielder had a great season.
He slashed .267/.316/.491 with 25 homers in 535 plate appearances. As to be expected, Hernandez had a high K% of 28.4% and a low BB% of 6.4%, but he finished with a 129 wRC+.
This was the third straight season that Hernandez had performed well, as he had a 142 wRC+ in the COVID shortened 2020, and a 132 wRC+ in 2021. His average did drop quite a lot, as it sat at .296 last season, while his K% jumped from 24.9% in 2021 to 28.4% this season.
Defensively, we know who Henandez is. He’s a slightly below-average right fielder with a strong arm. He had a -3 Defensive Runs Saved and a -5 Outs Above Average, but he still managed to post a 2.4 fWAR (down from 4.3 in 2021).
Overall, Hernandez is a darn good hitter, and arguably the Jays’ best power hitter. He’s expected to make around $14,000,000 in his final year of arbitration. He’ll become a free agent after the 2023 season.
It’s not a stretch to say that losing George Springer in 2021 cost the Jays a playoff spot that season. He slashed .264/.352/.555 with a 10.8 BB% and a 23.1 K% in 342 plate appearances. He had 22 homers and a 140 wRC+, and the difference between having Springer in the lineup was huge.
Although Springer didn’t stay healthy this season (namely, one of his elbows acted up), he did get quite a few more at-bats. He slashed .267/.342/.472 with a 9.3 BB% and a 17.2 K% in 583 plate appearances. He had 25 homers and a 132 wRC+. Without question, Springer is one of the best hitters on the Jays, and we’re very lucky to have him, even at half health.
In centre field, he’s an average defender with a -4 DRS and a 1 OAA. He definitely has the range to cover the position and has a solid arm. The question is whether or not he can play a full season’s schedule at the position.
In 2022, Springer played 86 games in centre, but 40 games at the Designated Hitter spot. As the 33-year-old continues to get older, he’ll start playing in right field more often, which leaves the centre field position in limbo (which we’ll get to).
With all that being said, although we haven’t had a full healthy Springer two years into his contract, we are incredibly lucky to have him. Without Springer in the lineup, the lineup is significantly weaker.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.:
Gurriel recently underwent wrist surgery, which the Jays say didn’t impact his drop in power totals in 2022. In 2021, Gurriel hit a career-high 21 homers in 541 plate appearances (the previous high was 20 in 343 plate appearances), and slashed .276/.319/.466 for a 107 wRC+.
In 2022, Gurriel slashed .291/.343/.400 with five homers in 493 plate appearances. Despite the difference of 16 homers, Gurriel actually had a 114 wRC+ this past season, although that is below his 125 wRC+ of 2019 and 134 wRC+ in the plague year (I forget where I heard that, but I appreciate the wording a lot).
In my opinion, hitting for average is a lost art, and has become incredibly undervalued in today’s game. If Gurriel can hit for power as he did in 2021 while still hitting for average, he could be instrumental in the Jays’ 2023 season.
Gurriel was also the best Jays’ hitter when it came to facing pitches of 95 mph, so yeah, I’d say he’s one of the Jays’ best pure hitters.
Although there’s no good metric for it, Tapia always seemed to be one of the most clutch Jays hitters. In 2022, he slashed .265/.292/.380 with seven homers in 433 plate appearances. The 28-year-old had a 90 wRC+ and an 0.2 fWAR with below-average defense.
Interestingly, once Hernandez returned, Tapia performed much better. He slashed .279/.309/.405 with a 103 wRC+ and six homers in 343 plate appearances. His defense and fWAR also improved, as Tapia, to put it simply, wasn’t very good in right field.
However, Tapia actually performed well in centre field, with a 0 DRS and 2 OAA. Filling in for Springer, Tapia was definitely adequate at the position and overall was a good fourth outfielder.
He’s projected to make $5.2 million in arbitration his off-season, so he may well be a non-tender. If he is, the one year of Tapia was a lot of fun, and hopefully he lands on his feet elsewhere.
Jackie Bradley Jr.:
Jackie Bradley Jr was the fifth outfielder that saw the most plate appearances with the Jays. He slashed .178/.250/.274 in 80 plate appearances with the team but still managed to put up a 0.2 fWAR.
Although he started his fair share of his games, Bradley Jr. often came into games as a defensive replacement. He played 88.1 innings in right field with the Jays and posted a 4 DRS and 2 OAA. Overall, he had a 10 DRS and 4 5 OAA in 614 innings played in right, eventually earning a nomination for a Gold Glove in right field.
He also hit a homer off former Blue Jay Brad Hand, so take that! Bradley Jr. and the Jays have a mutual option for the 2023 season, but I have no idea if they’ll take it.
A lot of “Brad’s” have been mentioned in the past two sections. Their other fifth outfielder offered different tools than Bradley Jr. It’s impossible to sugarcoat the fact that Zimmer’s ability with the bat isn’t great (despite a ton of raw power), but he offered elite defense and speed.
He was in the 93 percentile in sprint speed, but he was even better defensively. In centre field, he had a 3 DRS and 3 OAA in just 306.2 innings. Overall, Zimmer finished with a 6 DRS and 4 OAA, as he spent time with the Philadelphia Phillies before being reclaimed off waivers by the Jays.
So yes, if the Phillies do go on to win the World Series, Bradley Zimmer will have a World Series ring, but so too will Brad Hand. You win some, you lose some.
Zimmer is projected to make $1.3 million in arbitration, so like Tapia, he may end up being a non-tender.
Prospects that could make an impact soon:
Unlike in the infield position, the Jays don’t have any pure outfielders who could make the jump to an everyday outfielder on the big league team. They do have a few MLB ready prospects who play the outfield, such as Otto Lopez and Spencer Horwitz, but most of their best outfield prospects are still young.
So how about Gabriel Martinez, eh? Before the start of the season, he ranked as my 17th best Jays prospect but has elevated his stock significantly in 2022.
With the Dunedin Blue Jays, he slashed .288/.348/.483 in 264 plate appearances. Although he didn’t walk more than he struck out like he did last season, he limited the K% to 17%, while walking 8.3% of the time. Martinez didn’t hit a homer in his 125 plate appearances in the Florida Complex League last season, but he hit eleven in Low A.
He didn’t slow down after his promotion. With the High A Canadians, he slashed .324/.381/.490 with three homers in 113 plate appearances. His K% dropped to 15%, while he had a solid BB% of 8%.
Martinez has a plus arm with good speed as well. There’s a possibility the 20-year-old makes his way on top 100 lists soon due to his ability to hit for average and power but is also a good defender.
The outfielder will also be Rule 5 eligible in December, and I think there’s a good chance the Jays will add him to the 40-man roster.
The Canadian outfielder was selected in the third round of the 2019 draft. Brown was always toolsy, it was just a matter if he would develop those tools to become a top prospect in the Jays organization.
Well, 2022 was somewhat of a breakout year for the then-20-year-old. In Low A, he slashed .279/.369/.450 with four homers, a 10.5 BB%, and a 27.8 K% in 162 plate appearances. His numbers improved upon his promotion to Vancouver, where he slashed .298/.392/.411 with two homers in 176 plate appearances.
What’s not noted on his Fangraphs page is the fact he also hit three home runs in only three games in the Northwest League playoff as well. This showed the ability to perform under pressure.
Defensively, he can easily cover range in the outfield. He’s athletic and has an 80-grade speed tool, meaning he’s also a menace on the base paths, stealing 22 of 31 bases in 2022.
Overall, Brown has drastically improved his stock and could play in Double A as a 21-year-old at some point in 2023. He’s still a few seasons away, but it was a promising season for the 21-year-old.
The Bahamian is an MLB-ready prospect, albeit not a top prospect. The 25-year-old slashed .234/.331/.350 with five homers in 248 plate appearances for a wRC+ of 86. He had a 23.4 K% and a 12.1 BB%, the latter of which was a career-best.
However, the numbers don’t immediately jump out, so why is the centre fielder in this article? Well, Young (a switch hitter) is a fantastic defender, like better than both Bradley Zimmer and Jackie Bradley Jr.
The range he makes up in the outfield is incredible. Young is also super athletic and is absolute chaos on the base paths. If the Jays don’t tender Zimmer and Bradley Jr doesn’t want to re-sign, I could see Young filling the fifth outfielder role.
He’s also a hell of a dude, becoming a fan favourite wherever he has played.
What could happen:
I can see a number of things happening in the outfield this season. The least likely of which is the Jays trading Teoscar Hernandez and signing a centre fielder like Brandon Nimmo (a left handed batter).
While this is the most ideal (or keeping Hernandez and still signing Nimmo), I just don’t think the Jays have the structure to sign one player for an annual average of $20 million over numerous years.
Another option that I believe to be more feasible is just upgrading Tapia with a guy like Tyler Naquin or David Peralta. Both Hernandez and Gurriel will be free agents after the 2023 season, so the Jays can then make decisions on what to do with the outfield afterward.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what the Jays do with their outfield heading into 2023!
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D.
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