Ezequiel Carrera appeared in parts of110 games for the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays, further establishing himself as a trusted piece of MLB-level depth
The jobs of fourth and fifth outfielder remain in a state of constant flux on most Major League rosters, but Ezequiel Carrera has now held the title for two years with the trust of the Toronto Blue Jays staff.
Carrera, now 29 and a career part-time player, racked up a surprising 310 plate appearances in 2016 and was often the first man up when injuries or poor performance hit the everyday outfield trio.
Manager John Gibbons never hesitated to test Carrera, either, as he subbed the Venezuelan in to 42 games in which he was not a starter and pinch-hit with him nine times. He was also tasked with batting leadoff for 36 starts, and while his role(s) often demanded more than his skill set could offer, Carrera rose to the occasion a fair amount and saved the club from digging too deep into the minor leagues.
Carrera’s defence was much improved in 2016, especially when compared to his 2015 season with the Blue Jays.
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His Ultimate Zone Rating — a cumulative defensive metric measured in ‘runs above average’ — jumped from -2.9 last season to a much stronger 5.2 this year. His range and routes were more comfortable, and while he’ll never be a feared outfield arm, he did enough in the outfield to keep his value afloat.
This all boosted Carrera to a career best 0.7 Wins Above Replacement. He improved both his walk rate and strikeout rate, helping him to a .323 on-base percentage. Carrera also hit six hime runs, which was tied for the most he’s hit at any level in one season since 2008 in advanced-A ball with the New York Mets.
Carrera’s bat was especially lively at the Rogers Centre, where he hit .288 with an on-base percentage of .365 and a .796 OPS. His OPS was nearly .200 points higher against left-handed pitchers this season, albeit over a limited sample size of just 78 plate appearances.
In the playoffs, Zeke went 10-for-33 (.303) with a home run, two doubles, and three RBI.
Despite being an athletic player, Carrera regressed this past season in terms of base running value. The raw stolen base total experienced an uptick, but only to seven.
If Carrera is to stick as the team’s fourth outfielder — or potentially even more — adding a greater speed dimension to his game would be ideal as none of his other tools are standouts. He did record back-to-back seasons of 43 steals at the triple-A level in 2013 and 2014, so even while that won’t translate directly over, Toronto would surely love to see 15-to-20.
A dip in Carrera’s BABIP this season also led to a regression in his batting average (.273 to .248) and slugging percentage (.372 to .356). This can also be blamed on a handful of cold streaks that broke up Carrera’s stronger runs.
The Blue Jays have Carrera under team control until 2020, and MLBTR projects him to earn $1.2 million in his first arbitration year entering 2017. That shouldn’t be a difficult decision for the Blue Jays, but in seasons beyond 2017, Carrera may need to show Toronto’s management that he is capable of just a bit more.
For now, Carrera is a stable and quietly versatile piece of organizational depth that many teams would be pleased to carry with their 24th or 25th roster spot.
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