Blue Jays have familiar options for leadoff hitter in 2017

May 30, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Ezequiel Carrera (3) and center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) and right fielder Jose Bautista (19) celebrate a 4-2 win over the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
May 30, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Ezequiel Carrera (3) and center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) and right fielder Jose Bautista (19) celebrate a 4-2 win over the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

General Manager Ross Atkins stated at the beginning at the off-season that he wanted to make the team faster and more athletic. That hasn’t exactly panned out, and the Blue Jays still have a question mark atop their batting order

With 16 days to go until pitchers and catchers report, the Blue Jays still have many unanswered questions, including their need to evaluate the best options for their leadoff hitter.

Kevin Pillar was handed the job at the beginning of 2016, but did not excel at it. The Jays then experimented by plugging in Joey Bats to mixed results while both Devon Travis and Ezequiel Carrera also received significant time at the top of the order. With no clear front runner for the role in 2017, the Jays could get creative again.

I’m looking at the the batters who could have the biggest chance to make a splash for the Jays outside of Devon Travis.

Jose Bautista

Joey Bats is not necessarily the obvious choice for the role, but has all the skills needed to make an exceptional leadoff man. While his average has been lacklustre the last two years (.250 in ’15, .234 in ’16), his on-base percentage has remained relatively unchanged (.377, .366). This is largely due to Joey’s discipline at the plate. Bautista drew 110 walks in 2015 (the league high) and 87 in  2016. Bautista also drew fewer strikeouts in 2015 than walks, and only marginally more K’s last year.

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Lets compare this to another newsworthy bat, Chris Davis. In 2016, Davis drew one more walk in over 100 more plate appearances. Davis, however, struck out a league high 207 times (the second year in a row). While Jose’s nickname may be Joey Bats, he could provide real value as ‘Joey Walks’ going forward. Batting Jose first does come with downsides, as it would likely weaken the middle of lineup, but it would shorten the powerful portion of the lineup to 1, 2, and 3, whereas most lineups house their power in the 2-to-4 sports.

Kevin Pillar

Kevin Pillar brings a speedy presence to the batting order, and could utilize that more as the leading man in the lineup. He hasn’t posted an average below .250 in his two full MLB seasons. What a .266 average doesn’t show you however, is a low on base tool. Despite a decent average, Pillar only managed a .303 on base percentage in 2016. Pillar was removed in large part because of this.

What Pillar has so far lacked in power, he has more than made up for with speed. He has led the team in stolen bases the last two years, and could do much more damage on the base paths as the leadoff man. Pillar possesses the desired speed of a lead off hitter, but would need to show that he’s taken his on-base game to a whole new level during Spring Training to be considered for the position.

Ezequiel Carrera

While it is expected that Carrera will have a part-time role or platoon with Upton in left field, he could very easily force his way into a prominent role again. Carrera serves as a middle ground between Bautista and Pillar when it comes to his OBP. He has a decent batting average and a deceptive on base percent (.248, .323). However it’s Zeke’s playoff stats that really get enticing.

In the postseason, Carrera slashed his way to a .303 average, and a .343 on-base percentage. Carrera also collected 10 hits and six runs while stealing a base. In fact, only Josh Donaldson did more during the playoffs. Carrera batted leadoff in all but one playoff game. Being a leadoff hitter is not far from reality for Carrera, and if his stick is half as hot as it was in October he could easily become a staple at the top of the lineup.

Manager John Gibbons has shown a willingness to trust all three of these players in the leadoff spot. But they aren’t the only one’s who could have an impact in that position, the Jays have a dark horse candidate capable of running away with the role, quite literally.

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Dalton Pompey

Pompey has the lowest MLB average and OBP of the four mentioned here. Despite this, he has the highest upside in a pure leadoff role long term. Though he failed to capitalize on a starting opportunity in 2015, he still has much to offer the Blue Jays. The biggest factor about Pompey’s game is his speed. He is the speediest player on the Jays’ 40-man roster. A runner capable of scoring from 1st base on a routine line drive is as dangerous as it comes on the base paths. Pompey can force his way into the conversation with an excellent spring training showing.

If he can adjust to major league pitching, Pompey will absolutely be the stud atop the batting order that many expected him to be after his breakout 2014 season. With strong defensive skills, just a small showing of success during spring training could land him a harder look at a starting gig.

While the off-season did not go near as planned for the Jays, they have multiple routes for Gibby to take when filling out his lineup card. While they don’t have a flashy name like Dexter Fowler to headline their roster, that doesn’t mean the Blue Jays don’t have a dynamic force atop the order.