The Toronto Blue Jays roster is slowly rounding into shape, however, there is still no clear frontrunner to handle the lions share of the leadoff responsibilities in 2018.
There are two trains of thought on the importance of the leadoff position in the batting lineup as it generally only plays a role in the first inning. However, I still believe in the school of thought that your leadoff hitter should have above average speed with a high on-base percentage and the ability to work a count and draw a walk.
Last season manager John Gibbons employed 8 different players in the leadoff role throughout the season. They included Kevin Pillar (58 games), Jose Bautista (51 games), Teoscar Hernandez (13 games), Ezequiel Carrera (12 games), Steve Pearce (11 games), Devon Travis (8 games), Richard Urena (7 games) and Nori Aoki (2 games). The Blue Jays leadoff position in 2017 hit a combined .218/.285/.395 with 28 home runs and 14 stolen bases.
Kevin Pillar is not your prototypical leadoff hitter as the free-swinging outfielder does not make consistent contact or draw many walks. He does possess base stealing abilities, however, leading the team with 15 thefts last season.
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Ideally, Devon Travis is probably the best suited for the role of anyone on the current roster. Although not a speed burner, Travis gets on base and has the ability to take professional at-bats and work counts. The issue with Travis is his ability to stay on the field consistently as the 26-year old has been snakebitten with injuries for much of his career thus far.
The Jays newest addition Yangervis Solarte has spent the majority of his career hitting cleanup (152 games) however he has experience atop the lineup batting leadoff 69 times. In those 69 games, Solarte hit .273/.334/.396 with 6 homers and no stolen bases. Solarte would be better served in the meat of the order as he decent pop with home run power.
Teoscar Hernandez strikes out way too much, Carrera is a role player, Pearce is better suited in the 6th/7th spot, Urena will be in the minors Bautista and Aoki won’t be back with the team in 2018.
Not that the Blue Jays would impose the leadoff responsibilities on Anthony Alford out of the gate, he does have the raw tools to be a potential option if he can make the squad. Alford has the necessary speed to be a threat on the base paths and disrupt pitchers as the big bats come up to the plate. If he can become more well-rounded with consistent contact and cut down his strikeout totals he may be an internal option for the future.
Potential free agents who could slot in atop the order would be Cameron Maybin and Jarrod Dyson. I would actually like Lorenzo Cain in the leadoff spot even though he primarily hit third with the Royals. Cain hits for average with the ability to steal a base and draw a walk, he would also set the table nicely for Josh Donaldson and company.
We will have to see how the rest of the offseason plays out but internally my vote would be for Travis while externally Cain would be a nice fit. Where is Devon White when you need him?