Blue Jays: Does Hernandez’s play affect Pillar’s future?

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Teoscar Hernandez
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Teoscar Hernandez /

With Teoscar Hernandez tearing the cover off the ball in September, he could be playing himself into a job in next year, and maybe even in centre field.

The Blue Jays have just three games remaining in their 2017 season now that they’ve closed out their season series with the Boston Red Sox. They’ll play their final three games against the Yankees in New York, which gets underway on Friday.

As the season’s final month as winded down, Blue Jays fans have been treated to some good baseball from their team, and an exciting look at a couple of the prospects in the pipeline. One of those prospects is Teoscar Hernandez, who was acquired from the Houston Astros in exchange for Francisco Liriano, with Nori Aoki also coming to Toronto in the deal.

Hernandez has been pretty incredible this month, slugging his eighth home run of the month on Wednesday night, knocking in 20 RBI and tying a Blue Jays’ rookie record for September with 22 hits. Right about now the Astros are looking like fools for letting him go for Liriano, but the future will tell the tale on that.

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His excellent play doesn’t guarantee him anything, but you have to think the Blue Jays’ brass likes what it’s seeing, and is growing more comfortable with the idea of him as an every day outfielder in 2018. Nobody should expect this level of production from him, but he looks like he’s ready to give playing full time a shot at the highest level.

Except that the Blue Jays have designs on contending in 2018, and doing that with a rookie in the line up can be a difficult proposition. I realize there are a lot of recent examples to prove the contrary, but Hernandez is caught in an interesting position with the Blue Jays. As it stands, he would be replacing Jose Bautista in right field, which is a loaded responsibility for a number of reasons. He’ll have big shoes to fill, but the Blue Jays are also hoping for a bit of a shift in philosophy. Hernandez has the kind of tools they’re looking for, but it might be unfair to expect a great deal from him in his first full season, especially once the pitcher’s get a better scouting report on the young slugger.

It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to me to see him in a corner outfield spot next year, but I still expect the Jays to pursue a corner outfielder this offseason. They’ve currently got Kevin Pillar and Steve Pearce slated to return, as well as additional control of Ezequiel Carrera if they so choose. However, the Blue Jays could badly use someone who excels in the on base percentage department, and the popular thought is that they would use right field to improve this area, as well as with speed and defence in an ideal world.

That’s great and all, but there aren’t a lot of great options who fit that description. The Jays could elect to pursue someone like Jarrod Dyson, but he’s not an outstanding hitter by any means, and he’s 33. Lorenzo Cain would be a great fit, but he’ll be expensive and doesn’t really fit with the Jays trying to get younger either. The more likely scenario is they end up offering a short deal to someone like Jay Bruce or even Dyson, while they wait for prospects like Hernandez and Anthony Alford to fully blossom. Which takes me back to Hernandez in 2018.

The Blue Jays will want him playing every day, so if they do bring someone in to compete for the right field job then I would expect him to start the year in Triple A. If someone were to get injured, he would be the first man called up to replace them, regardless of which spot was needed in the outfield. I also believe that his ability to play centre field puts him in a key position next year, as he’ll be indirectly pushing Kevin Pillar to earn his starting job in the middle of the outfield.

If Pillar can’t take a step forward on offence, or shows any more regression on on the defensive side, don’t be surprised if the Blue Jays start looking at Hernandez as a potential option in centre, even if it’s just until Alford is ready. While former Blue Jays’ GM, Pat Gillick, warned that getting excited about a player’s September performance is foolish, it’s getting hard to ignore what Hernandez is doing at the plate.

Outside of Josh Donaldson, he’s been the Blue Jays’ most potent weapon this month, and that makes people pay attention regardless of what the calendar says. He might not be guaranteed a job in 2018, but if he keeps hitting the ball the way he has this month, it won’t be long before he’s a regular in the big league lineup. And if Pillar’s not performing next season, Hernandez could be on his doorstep sooner than we think.

Next: Donaldson's second half surge continues