Blue Jays: Power in the cleanup spot may be secondary

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 06: Robinson Chirinos
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 06: Robinson Chirinos /

The Blue Jays have one of the more powerful lineups in baseball from top to bottom so far. With that in mind, having a prominent power hitter in the cleanup spot isn’t as important for this lineup as it might be for other teams.

I’m more than aware that we’re talking about a small sample size here, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been enjoying the new look Blue Jays this season.

It hasn’t been easy for fans to adjust to life after Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and other beloved Blue Jays, but winning generally fixes everything, and this team has done just that in the season’s first eight games. With a win over the Texas Rangers in their series opener, John Gibbons‘ ball club has moved to 5-3, and there have been a lot of encouraging signs.

One of those encouraging signs has been the play of the newcomers to the roster. Randal Grichuk has struggled a bit with the bat, but has been doing the little things well, Aledmys Diaz had looked solid before tweaking his back earlier in the week, and Curtis Granderson has been what the Blue Jays had hoped for too, on and off the field. Jaime Garcia looked like much better than a #5 pitcher in his first start as well.

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However, the biggest difference maker so far has been Yangervis Solarte, whose energy has been infectious for his new teammates, and for a fan base getting to know the 30 year old Venezuelan. Again, the sample size is small, but he’s already made an impression on everyone who has watched him in his first six games.

His value comes in a variety of ways, as he’s slashed .273/.407/.636 in his first 22 at bats, adding two home runs and three runs batted in. He’s also been a valuable source of depth across the infield, covering for Josh Donaldson while he got over his “dead arm” at third, playing second base on Devon Travis‘ maintenance days, and getting the start at shortstop on Friday. The fact that he’s a switch hitter is tremendously helpful as well, especially in a lineup that has been heavily right-handed for a few years.

More important than any of that has been the previously mentioned injection of energy he brings to the diamond, and to the lineup. Whether it’s the dancing in front of the dugout, or the smile from ear to ear, it’s those intangibles that make him so easy to like, and such a positive impression on this Blue Jays team. This is a team that has a lot of pressure on them, and a personality like Solarte’s is definitely a positive influence.

He’s also been the closest thing to a regular cleanup hitter that the Blue Jays have employed so far, again, in just eight games (six played by Solarte). He hit sixth in his first start against the Yankees on March 30th, and fifth the following day. He was then slotted in as the cleanup hitter for his next four starts, including last night against the Rangers. He picked up two more hits and three walks on Friday, including his second home run of the campaign.

Solarte does have some pop, and hit a career high 18 home runs last year for the San Diego Padres in 466 at bats. He also hit 15 in 2017, and 14 in 2016, so he’s always had decent power for a middle infielder type. With the move from San Diego’s Petco Park to the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, it’s entirely possible he could surpass 20 home runs this season as well, assuming he gets regular playing time throughout the year.

However, it’s not just the power that he could bring to the lineup that has made him a good fit in the four spot. That’s a plus for sure, but he’s found a way to get everyone’s attention when he comes to the plate, as if we’re all expecting him to make an impact on the game in one way or another. There isn’t an obvious fit for the clean up role, at least not if Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak are hitting 2nd and 3rd, and because those two are in the top third the need for power isn’t as great in the middle of the order. I like that he doesn’t strike out as much as the other potential choices like Grichuk or Kendrys Morales, and it’s not the worst thing to break up the slow-footed duo of Smoak and Morales either.

Without that obvious choice like the Blue Jays have had in the past like an Encarnacion, why not utilize someone like Solarte in that spot? While he’s not a traditional cleanup type, he works as well as any of the other options the Blue Jays have right now, and like I said earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit 20 or more in a friendlier hitting environment anyway. Add it all up, and I don’t blame Gibbons for using him in the role, and I’m perfectly fine with it, even if it’s a little odd to have the projected “back-up infielder” hitting fourth.

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