May 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) watches his three run home run clear the wall against the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning at Rogers Centre. Toronto defeated Chicago 10-9. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Here at Jays Journal, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the performances of Jays players to monitor who impressed and disappointed each and every week. In last week’s piece, I pointed out that despite a rough start to the season that there is still plenty to be optimistic about in 2015. In the past week, the Jays took some good steps towards righting the ship, ending their ten game home stand with an even 5-5 record. During this stretch of play, there were some notable performances, and hopefully will serve as a launching pad for a strong month in June.
Josh Donaldson: The Bringer of Rain has been the Jays’ best player this year and has already provided us with a few highlights that will be talked about over and over again whenever he’s up to plate in the coming weeks. By Fangraphs, Donaldson is third in the MLB in WAR so far this year and has been a dangerous offensive weapon wherever he’s been slotted into the batting lineup. In the home stand that concluded yesterday, Donaldson hit .342/.357/.849 with an OPS at nearly .1200 while driving in 10 runs and collecting 9 extra base hits (5 were home runs). Donaldson has certainly been one for theatrics, hitting game winning and tying home runs in the past two games off David Robertson, who by all accounts is considered an elite closer in the American League. Coupled with his actual performances, Donaldson’s mix of determination and positivity is quickly making him a fan favourite in Toronto.
Drew Hutchison: Many pundits had circled Hutchsion as a breakout candidate for 2015 and despite a slow start to the year, Hutchison has shown us glimpses of his front-of-the-rotation potential in his last 3 starts. Over these outings, he’s put up a 2.49 ERA and only given up 6 earned runs over 21 and two thirds innings. Hutchison’s arsenal of pitches is by no means overpowering (in comparison to a pitcher like Aaron Sanchez), so his fastball command is of paramount importance for him to keep opposing hitters quiet. In his last start against the Chicago White Sox, Hutchison continuously painted the corners with his fastball and was able to elevate the pitch – hitting 94 MPH on the gun – to rack up 8 strikeouts on his way to a complete game shutout. Consistency has been an issue in his young career, but Jays fans are hoping that Hutchison can continue to build on his latest stretch of good starts into June.
Aaron Sanchez: Like Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez has recently enjoyed a stretch of good starts over his last 3 outings. By going into the 7th inning in two of these starts, Sanchez has registered a 3.38 ERA despite continuing to struggle with his command and issuing 14 walks. While Hutchison MUST command his fastball in order to be successful, Sanchez in comparison throws with more velocity and movement and has thus far been able post respectable numbers in 2015 despite being wild at times. With the Jays hopeful that R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle can shrink their ERA’s closer to their career averages that hover between 3.80-4.00, the pitching staff could see quite a rebound in June if Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison can continue their recent runs of success.
Kevin Pillar: With Dalton Pompey demoted to AAA and Michael Saunders still battling a lingering knee injury, Kevin Pillar has seen an extended opportunity in early 2015 to prove himself as an everyday major league outfielder. While Pillar’s glove is extremely valuable – especially when being flanked by defensive liabilities in Chris Colabello and Danny Valencia – it is clear that he struggled at the plate in May. This month, Pillar has hit .163/.212/.207 with only 3 extra base hits and has posted a disappointing .419 OPS. Beginning in Spring Training, Pillar has had a focus on cutting down his strikeouts and has succeeded in bringing his K% down to 16.4% from 23% in 2014, but that hasn’t translated into greater success as a hitter. Pillar’s BABIP of .257 doesn’t suggest that he’s been the victim of poor luck either, so it’s clear that he has struggled at the place as an everyday player. Despite his offensive woes, Pillar’s defensively prowess makes him indispensable for now and will continue to feature in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
Edwin Encarnacion: Now, it’s really tough to put EE on this list, as he’s continued to be a threat at the plate. In the recently concluded home stand, Edwin did drive in 8 RBI’s and hit 2 home runs but only had a batting average of .194 with an OBP at .302. While Encarnacion’s production and power is key to his success, we’ve become accustomed to the slugger also hitting for average and getting on base far more often. In the last three years with the Jays, Edwin’s batting average has fluctuated between .270-.280, so his .225 average and .309 OBP so far is a bit of a disappointment. However, we know that Edwin is a bonafide power hitter in this league and it’s likely that it’s only a matter of time before his average and OBP begin to creep up.