Blue Jays: The rationale behind stockpiling middle infielders

TORONTO, ON - JULY 3: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays turns a double play at second base in the third inning over Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the New York Mets at Rogers Centre on July 3, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 3: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays turns a double play at second base in the third inning over Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the New York Mets at Rogers Centre on July 3, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays have a great deal of depth in the middle infield in their minor league system, and continue to add more in the draft and through international signings. The reason for that isn’t exactly complicated.

Despite the fact that the big league Blue Jays have faced a plethora of frustrations this year, quietly there is a lot to be excited about within the organization.

Sure, that’s mostly in the minor league system right now, but there are a lot of different success stories this season across most levels. Vladimir Guerrero‘s heroics in Double-A have been the headliner even with his injury and missed time, but there have been plenty of others making significant advancements in their development, and even changing the way the front office might view their future in Toronto.

General manager, Ross Atkins, recently sat down with Richard Griffin of the Star and admitted a lot of what I’ve summarized above, and a whole lot more. Griffin’s piece offers a sobering, yet very accurate picture of the state of the franchise these days, and how the front office perceives things going forward.

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As much as the thoughts of building for the future dominated most of the article, there were a couple other interesting nuggets to take away. Atkins discussed why the Blue Jays have drafted and signed so many shortstops and middle infielders in general. The depth in the minor league system is incredibly strong, with names like Bo Bichette, Kevin Smith, Lourdes Gurriel, Cavan Biggio, and several more.

That also didn’t stop them from selecting another shortstop, Jordan Groshans, in the first round of the draft this year. They also made the signing of Orelvis Martinez official on Wednesday, another middle infielder who was ranked as the #4 prospect available from the international signing pool. They also got Santiago Espinal back from the Red Sox in the Steve Pearce trade.

When asked about this development over the last couple of years and especially more recently, Atkins had a pretty simple explanation, and one that’s music to my ears in terms of the draft philosophies I’d like to see used.

"“The easiest answer is we’re always looking to acquire the best talent available. Part of that is athleticism and versatility. With middle of the diamond players, what comes from that is it’s easier to move off of that position to a corner than to move to the middle.”- Ross Atkins"

There are different schools of thought when it comes to drafting in baseball, and it’s definitely a different animal than the other major sports in North America. In basketball or even hockey, one player in the first round can dramatically change everything as the first overall pick. The same can happen in baseball too, but it’s far less of a guarantee, with many prospects never fulfilling their promise, and others who far exceed expectations. For example, Jose Bautista was a 20th round pick of the Pirates in 2000, and he turned out alright, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t know that having too many shortstops is ever a bad thing, especially for a GM that is looking to build the next generation of this team. It’s likely that most of the above mentioned players will gain some positional versatility as they develop, and ultimately settle at the place that makes the most sense. If that means they have more middle infielders that develop into big leaguers than they can handle, a player with that description generally has value in the trade market, especially as a prospect.

Just imagine this for a moment, even though I can’t exactly see it happening. Suppose Atkins and Mark Shapiro decide they can build their future keystone around Gurriel, Biggio, Kevin Smith, and Devon Travis. That’s a very plausible scenario, especially with younger talent like Groshans and Martinez yet to come as well. It also leaves out one pretty significant name in Bo Bichette. Again, I’m not suggesting that the Blue Jays would ever entertain moving him, and I really hope they don’t. The reality is, however, they probably could get away with it. Even elite prospects are a gamble to develop into legitimate big leaguers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring back a pretty significant haul in a trade. (Let me reiterate again, I’m not suggesting they should trade Bichette. Calm down)

As the front office examines the July trade market and looks ahead to beyond this season, having anything that’s perceived as “extra” is an excellent problem to have. Until these players land on the major league roster it really doesn’t matter what position they’re playing, as long as there is playing time for all the prospects that need it, and they get a chance to develop properly. As things stand, that’s not an issue for the Blue Jays minor league system at all, so I say carry on with the “best player available” philosophy.

Next: Blue Jays already holding auditions for 2019

Even if this season has been an enormous let down for Blue Jays fans, the future is very bright, even if we don’t know for sure which players will stick in Toronto. As I said, it’s a good problem to have.