Troy Tulowitzki’s bone spur will most likely force him to start the year on the disabled list, the Blue Jays announced. However, looking on the bright side, this opens an extra roster spot for another young player.
Aledmys Diaz is the likely recipient of the SS position on opening day if Tulowitzki is not healthy. However, there will still be an open spot on the 25-man roster to be filled. Since Ross Atkins has already announced the plan to carry 7 relievers and 4 bench players, it can be expected this extra roster spot will be filled by a position player.
Gnoepe has impressed manager John Gibbons and the Blue Jays staff early in spring training. At this time, Gnoepe seems to have the inside track to earn the extra spot.
Gnoepe doesn’t offer much on the offensive side of the game. Gnoepe currently has one hit in five games in spring training—a home run.
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Last year, in AAA, Gneope held a .221/.301/.391 slash line with 7 HR and 28 RBIs. He continued to hold similar numbers in his call-up to the major leagues—holding a .222/.323/.296 slash line in 54 at-bats, However, if Gneope makes the team, it will be because of his spectacular defense.
Gnoepe offers versatility and capability at second base, shortstop, and third base. Shortstop was Gnoepe’s best position in AAA last year. In 42 games, he managed a .983 fielding percentage with three errors. As well, he achieved a great 4.46 RF/9 at shortstop. For reference, Elvis Andrus led the American League in RF/9 at 4.86 last year.
Gnoepe played less but offered similar numbers at second and third. With just 14 and 21 games respectively, Gneope committed a collective 2 errors at second and third. Interestingly, he held an even more impressive 5.30 RF/9 at second base.
This defensive production was matched in Gnoepe’s call-up to the majors late last year. Spending most of his time at second and short, Gnoepe did not commit a single error in 26 games played. As well, he continued to hold impressive RF/9 numbers at both positions. Playing the most time at second—20 games and 10 starts—Gneope held a ridiculous 5.22 RF/9.
Hernandez will undoubtedly be with the Blue Jays in 2018. However, this doesn’t seem to be the right opportunity.
Hernandez held a respectable .265/.351/.490 slash line with 18 HR and 66 RBIs in AAA last year. Also, as most Blue Jays fans remember, he impressed in a September call-up, hitting 8 HR and held a very impressive 129 OPS+ in just 26 games.
Hernandez’s defence was lacking last year, though. Playing the most in right field—54 games—Hernandez held a .970 fielding percentage with 4 errors and 6 assists.
Hernandez hasn’t done much to force a move in spring training. Currently, in a very small sample size of four games, Hernandez holds a .222/.222/.333 slash line. Hernandez has to turn this around in order to force his way on to the 25-man roster over Gnoepe.
Without an obvious spot in the lineup, Hernandez will likely start 2018 as the every-day right fielder in Buffalo.
Alford is making the most of his spring training with the Blue Jays. In five games, Alford holds a .364/.333/.909 slash line with 1 home run and 4 RBIs.
Last year, Alford had his season cut short by a fractured hamate bone while playing for the Blue Jays. However, he still managed to impress offensively across three minor league levels. Hernandez hit for a .299/.390/.406 slash line with 5 home runs and 26 RBIs. As well, he added value on the base paths with 19 stolen bases in 22 attempts. Alford clearly has a bright future.
Alford’s defence continues to be a problem area in his game. Playing primarily in centre field in AA last year, Alford struggled to a .952 fielding percentage with 5 errors in 35 games. However, with a 3.10 RF/9, Alford has shown that he has the range to play a strong defensive outfield.
Currently listed as the Jays third overall prospect, Alford will likely start 2018 in AAA Buffalo as the everyday centre fielder. At the major league level, Alford would, at best, be relegated to a platoon role in the outfield. A reduced role could be harmful to his development.
With lots of playing time in AAA, Alford can continue to put up great offensive numbers and gain a feel for playing centre field at a high level.
Despite this argument, if Alford continues to tear through spring training, it is possible he forces the Blue Jays hand and finds a way on to the 25-man roster.
However, that would be the only real shot he would have to make the team. At this point, I would put my money on Gift Ngeope breaking camp with the Blue Jays. Alford and Hernandez can lead a strong Buffalo outfield to start the year.