Blue Jays: How Teoscar Hernandez will force his way on the roster
There will many folks who believed the Blue Jays should have taken Teoscar Hernandez north to start the season, and since he’s been called up, he’s definitely proving them right.
It’s funny to think about the Blue Jays outfield picture when you look back not even four or five months ago. The team finished the year with an outfield group that included guarantees in Kevin Pillar in centre, and the likely use of Steve Pearce in left field, but a lot of question marks after that.
Of course, the depth was greatly improved this winter with the additions of Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk, and even Yangervis Solarte has a bit of experience in the corners as well. Add in some near-MLB ready depth in the minor leagues, and the situation was far better than a year ago when the Jays regularly trotted out a struggling Jose Bautista, and an underwhelming Ezequiel Carrera. The general feeling around Kevin Pillar wasn’t terribly optimistic this winter either, so the need for an upgrade felt very real.
For all of the improved depth in the outfield, one of the big questions was whether or not Teoscar Hernandez was ready for a full time job as a big leaguer, and whether the Blue Jays should carve out that spot for him. Despite an excellent September showing where he mashed eight home runs, relying on a relatively inexperienced player with a high strikeout rate would have been a risky proposition for a team hoping to contend. When you considered that they had question marks in left field, and arguably in centre as well, the front office elected to bring in a few bodies and it’s hard to blame them.
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That said, now that Hernandez has made his way to the big league club, it’s getting to the point where it’s almost impossible to deny him a spot in the lineup. The question now becomes, how do they keep him around?
He was the easy choice as the odd man out this spring, mostly (only) because he had minor league options remaining, while the other outfielders are beyond that stage of their career. He was arguably their best hitter during Grapefruit League action, but it ultimately didn’t matter when they broke camp with a healthy group that included Pillar, Granderson, Pearce, and Grichuk. They even had to designate Ezequiel Carrera for assignment and ultimately release him, as there just wasn’t room with the new acquisitions brought in this winter.
Getting back to how they fit him in now though, for the time being it’s pretty easy. Even with Kendrys Morales coming back, the Jays could elect to try and pass Gift Ngoepe through waivers, something that should be relatively easy to do. In the event that he’s picked up elsewhere, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker for the Jays either, with all due respect to the likeable infielder. They could also send Tim Mayza back to the minor leagues, as having an eighth reliever is a bit of a luxury, especially after coming off extended rest due to rainouts.
In the long term, Hernandez can probably stick around pretty easily until Josh Donaldson returns, and we don’t know when that’ll be at the moment. We know it won’t be after a minimum stay on the disabled list, which means he’ll miss this weekend’s series with the Yankees for sure, and likely beyond that. Hopefully it won’t be an extended absence, but the solid play of those remaining in the lineup has sure made it easier to swallow not having him around.
However, Donaldson will return, and eventually Troy Tulowitzki could as well, but I don’t know that we need to worry about that for now. When Donaldson returns, the team likely has to the decide whether a) They can afford to be short the extra infielder, which currently would be Ngoepe, or b) If something needs to change in their regular lineup in order to keep Hernandez around. And don’t kid yourselves, if he keeps performing anywhere close to how he has been since being acquired from the Astros last year, the Jays will have to hang on to him somehow.
The thing is, they’ll want to find Hernandez a regular spot on the lineup card and that could be tricky without another trade of some kind. In order to play the outfield he would need to take the spot of either Grichuk in right, the platoon of Granderson/Pearce in left, or maybe even Pillar in centre. Right now that whole group has been excellent this year with the exception of Grichuk, and he doesn’t have any minor league options remaining, and is a good bet to get things turned around at some point. He’s certainly hitting the ball a lot better the last few days, and has a similar skill set to Hernandez as well.
The Blue Jays have used Hernandez in left and platooned Pearce and Granderson at DH in Morales’ absence, which is something they may look at a little more as well depending on how everyone performs going forward. Hernandez brings the potential for plus defence in the outfield corners, so having him out there is an upgrade on defence, regardless of how he is performing at the plate. If the team ultimately prefers to sit Morales on occasion to keep Teoscar in regular playing time, that could be an option too. They can make it work, but it’ll come at the expense of the extra infielder, which is something that’s been useful as Devon Travis has been given regular rest.
We could talk about all the different scenarios that could play out, but the reality is the Blue Jays can keep him around and playing pretty regularly until at least Josh Donaldson returns, and a lot could happen before then. Hopefully the entire roster can stay healthy, but there’s point in panicking about needing to make a trade to make room for Hernandez, when that might not be necessary at all. For now, the Blue Jays have the luxury of having an impact hitter they could call up in Donaldson’s absence, one who has flourished hitting in Donaldson’s second spot in the lineup, and who is making it almost unthinkable to send him back to Buffalo.
Next: Jose Bautista's options had clearly dwindled
Unless he completely craters in the next few weeks, you can probably expect that Teoscar Hernandez is around for good this time. With minor league options remaining, an extended struggle could make him vulnerable later in the year, but for now the club is pretty high on the 25 year old, and for good reason. There’s no such thing as having too many good outfielders, but one way or another it looks like Hernandez will force the Blue Jays hand to keep him around.