With the recent suspension of Chris Colabello it has brought to light the unexpected contribution he gave to this team last year. I don’t think there is a soul out there who could say they predicted the impact that Colabello would have on the 2015 Toronto team, as he kept coming up with the big hits when the Jays needed them.
Every season you will find players like this on a teams roster, players that should not, by any reasonable explanation be producing at the level they are. Every season you will find those hidden gems that put a team over the top.
And while the Blue Jays have had a slow start to the season, in recent days a few candidates have emerged for those “What-The-Heck!?” types of players who could bring more to the 2016 Blue Jays team than anyone could have expected.
From Ezequiel Carrera dazzling on both sides of the ball to Josh Thole showing he is more than just R.A. Dickeys caddie, a few of these candidates have really begun to make their presence known in the past week.
So while these players may not be complete breakout candidates in the way that Colabello out last year, these are a few players who have recently taken advantage of the opportunities given to them, and performed above the public expectation. I say “public” because the people in charge of this team obviously picked these players up, or held on to them, for a reason, so they may not be as surprised by their play as the fans are.
So without further ado, here are some early season candidates for “What-The-Hell!?” players of 2016.
In the absence of regular starting left fielder Michael Saunders, who was nursing a hamstring issue for a few days, Carrera was thrust into a larger role than usual. Tasked with the everyday duties in left as well as being the table setter at the top of the order (as Saunders had recently Been promoted to that role), Carrera responded as nobody could have guessed.
Beginning on April 22nd, his first start in almost a week, Carrera finished the game against the Oakland Athletics a mere 1 for 5 with a double. But what would follow the next day may have changed Carrera’s role and value within the context of the 2016 Jays.
Batting leadoff in front of the Murderers Row of hitters that the Blue Jays employ, Carrera went off for a career high four hits, finishing his day 4 for 5 with a double, three runs scored, a stolen base and two dazzling diving catches in the outfield for good measure. In one day Carrera raised his season batting average from .176 to .318.
And while hitting safely four out of every five times is unsustainable in the highest sense of the word, Carrera did not slouch by any means over the next two games.
In the series finale against the A’s, Carrera hit a first home run to go along with a single and a walk in four at bats. And to top it all off, he went 2 for 5 in the series opener against the Chicago White Sox last night.
So if you put that all together, in his last four games (all starts), Carrera has hit 9 for 19, with 1 HR, 2 doubles and 4 runs scored. Not a bad stretch for someone who has been viewed as a fourth outfielder at best.
With Saunders’ recent return to the lineup, Carrera may find it tougher to get regular work, but with the recently acquired DH flexibility caused by the Colabello suspension, look for John Gibbons to get creative in an attempt to keep this guy’s hot bat and glove in the lineup.
Like Carrera, Josh Thole is another player who has received unexpected at-bats due to another players injury. With Russell Martin dealing with neck spasms of late, Tholes role was upgraded up from R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher.
While Thole hasn’t gone off to be the All-Star of the week as Carrera did, he did hold his ground a bit better than most expected.
Since having to replace Martin in the latter stages of the game against Oakland on the 22nd, Thole has been called on to make two starts, gathering 9 at bats he normally would not have gotten. And sure, 9 at bats is about as small a sample size as one can get, and yes Thole hasn’t made any of the game-changing type of plays Carrera has over the past few games, but for Thole this was still more than usual.
Collecting three hits in those aforementioned nine at bats Thole has for the time being raised his batting average to a more acceptable level for a back up catcher (it currently sits at .227).
So along with the homer he collected at the beginning of the year (it was said that Thole had revamped his swing to gain additional power this spring) this year may just be the year that Thole shows to the city of Toronto that he is more than Dickey’s best bud, he may just show that he can be a contributing factor on this team all year.
SPOILER ALERT: The small sample sizes continue. So please bear with me. It is the beginning of the season and analyzing players who don’t start everyday requires dealing with the dreaded small sample size. Trust me, I hate it as much as you do.
Since coming over to the Blue Jays in a low-hype trade with the Dodgers late last year, Barney has had to fight every minute just to survive on the Jays roster. First he was seen as just a roster spot holder until Troy Tulowitzki came back from injury, then he was exempt from the playoffs due to the timing of his acquisition, then he was released, resigned and finally started the 2016 season in Toronto.
And while many see him as the same placeholder as he was last year (in this case for Devon Travis), he may have at least played himself into the conversation even after Travis returns to health.
A minor injury to Josh Donaldson early in the year gave Barney the chance to start at third base for a few games. With that and the need to rest JD to not re-aggravate the injury, Barney has managed to collect himself 25 at bats on the year.
In what equates to about six starts worth of at bats, the former top prospect of the Chicago Cubs has put together a respectable .280/.357/.400 batting line with one home run, four RBI’s and five runs scored.
While many expect Travis to at the very least split the second base duties with Ryan Goins upon his return, if not seize the job outright, it is still plausible that Travis isn’t up to the task yet. In this case it could leave the door open for Darwin Barney to remain on the roster, and continue to impress the Blue Jays brass.
Speaking of small sample sizes, I present to you the smallest of all sample sizes: one start.
Battling for the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training, Drew Hutchison was beat out by the phenomenal play of Aaron Sanchez. This coupled with the disaster of last season, it was decided it was best for Hutchison to be sent down to Buffalo to continue his development, with the door open for a spot start when the starters needed a rest.
That time came on Sunday. Pitching against the Oakland Athletics, Hutchison did what he does best: win. While not collecting a quality start by definition (he fell one out shy of 6 innings), Hutchison was definitely quality by definition of the word.
Allowing three runs in 5 and 2/3 innings, Hutchison struck out 5 and walked 3 en route to his first win of the season.
Although he was sent back down to triple-A, with this strong showing coupled with a decent start in Buffalo (3 starts, 15.1 innings, 4.11 ERA), Hutchison has shown exactly why the Blue Jays haven’t given up on him.
Barring an unfortunate injury in the rotation, Hutchison may only get the spot start here and there, but if he continues to capitalize on his chances as he did on Sunday, he may just play himself back into a position where he can be a major contributor for the Blue Jays in 2016 and beyond.
As I said, it’s all still very early, and these guys may only get the playing time while the starters are nursing injuries, but as Chris Colabello showed us last year, when a player is given an opportunity, sometimes he runs with it and never lets it go.