Toronto Blue Jays News

Blue Jays: Upton could do more than platoon

Mar 14, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA;Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. (7) is congratulated by center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) after he hit a solo home run during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA;Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. (7) is congratulated by center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) after he hit a solo home run during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Blue Jays have 3 weeks to make a few of their spring decisions, including who will play in left field. It could be a pretty flexible position, but there’s an argument to be made for Melvin Upton starting full time, whether you like it or not.

Considering how poor their spring record looks at the moment (5-12), the Blue Jays have plenty to be optimistic about for the upcoming season. Hitters like Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales have looked locked in early, and pitchers like Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano look like they could start the season tomorrow.

While there are plenty of players written in ink on the lineup card, the left field picture remains murky, even with 3 weeks to go before Opening Day. The options are well documented, including Ezequiel Carrera, Melvin Upton, Dalton Pompey, and possibly Steve Pearce, if the Jays elect to use him in the outfield.

The beginning of the season may not reflect the 25 man roster the Blue Jays ultimately employ, as they’re dealing with a handful of minor injuries to likely starters, such as Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson. Both made their Grapefruit League debuts on Tuesday, and Donaldson insists he’ll be ready for Game 1 of the schedule. It’s good to see Travis in the lineup, but his status remains up in the air for Opening Day, at least at this point.

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As a result, it’s increasingly likely that Carrera will make the team out of spring training. Someone like Pearce could be employed at second base if need be, which makes it easier for the Blue Jays to hang on to Carrera, as he’s out of minor league options. Pearce will make the team, but it’s just unknown what position he’ll play the majority of the time.

Pompey had to be removed from a game on the weekend in the WBC, when he felt some dizziness after sliding into second base on a stolen base attempt. He had a concussion last year in AAA Buffalo, so it’s likely the Blue Jays will take their time with him.

Which brings us to Melvin Upton. Upton is going to make the team one way or another, and has been frequently mentioned as the right-handed half of a platoon in left field. That role is one he can certainly handle, but it’s worth asking if he shouldn’t get consideration for a bigger role. Let me be clear, I’m a little surprised I’m even suggesting it, but let’s take a look at the numbers before we completely dismiss it.

As of right now, it looks like the Blue Jays will employ a platoon of Carrera and Upton. As we’ve discussed here at Jays Journal, and is well-documented in baseball circles, Carrera isn’t an ideal platoon partner, as he doesn’t hit righties especially well.

To the numbers:

Carrera

Upton

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

Generated 3/14/2017.

*Note- the games column reflects how many times he saw a lefty or righty, so it adds up to more than 162, for anyone confused.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a fan of “Zeke”, and I’m not opposed to him getting a legitimate shot to earn a starting role this year. But if the playoffs were an aberration and Carrera is actually a .218 hitter against right-handers, he won’t last that long in the gig, assuming most of the rest of the cast is healthy.

By that time, maybe the Blue Jays are ready to give Pompey a shot as a platoon partner, but it might also be worth looking at Upton in more of a full-time role. I know, the strikeouts are tough to stomach, but there a couple arguments to be made in his favour.

Upton finished last season with 20 home runs, quietly putting together a decent power campaign. Add his 27 stolen bases to the picture, and he was one of the most under-the-radar 20/20 players, maybe ever. It’s easy to lose track of those numbers when you strike out 155 times in 492 at bats, but it’s still impressive.

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I’m not suggesting that Upton becomes an MVP candidate if he plays full-time, but maybe the strikeouts get a little less frequent if he’s playing every day? The 32 year old still runs well, so if he can find a way to put the ball in play more consistently, he wouldn’t have to make drastic improvements to exceed Carrera’s production, assuming it doesn’t also improve.

Upton may be deservedly cast as a platoon player after more than 1400 MLB games, but it’s possible he’s needed in an extended role this season, and maybe, just maybe, he might surprise us.

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