Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez’s awful defence in the right place to improve
His defence has been atrocious this year, but given that the Blue Jays are just beginning a rebuild, there is still time to see if Teoscar Hernandez can improve with the glove.
The Blue Jays will spend the remainder of the 2018 season evaluating the players that they’ve already got under contract, and deciding how or if those individuals fit into an inevitable rebuild. That’s the way things go after two straight losing seasons, and nobody in the clubhouse was surprised by the non-waiver trades, the minor league promotions, or anything that’s yet to come this offseason.
Being a part of the Blue Jays organization right now means an opportunity for a young player to not only show what they’ve got, but potentially move up the ladder pretty quickly with a solid performance. We’ve watched it happen already with Ryan Borucki‘s solid introduction to the big leagues, and if you don’t think he’s locked down a rotation spot for 2019 then you haven’t paid attention. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was well on his way to doing the same before he hit the disabled list, and should have enough time to prove he belongs for the immediate and near future in Toronto before the season is complete.
The roster turnover has already sent one outfielder to another team, with Steve Pearce having been shipped to Boston earlier in July. It’s also possible the Blue Jays could trade Curtis Granderson, who recently cleared waivers and could draw some interest from a contender before August is up. The veteran has stated that he’s happy in Toronto, but I’m sure the Blue Jays will move on if they can bring back a reasonable minor league asset or two.
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The situation has already created a regular playing time opportunity for Kevin Pillar (obviously), and also Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez. The latter started the season in Triple-A and had to wait until injuries allowed for his promotion, but after Thursday’s series finale against Kansas City he’s now played in 100 games in 2018. It’s given us a much better look at his long term potential on both sides of the ball.
While he’s provided enough on offence to warrant being moderately excited, his defence has been a growing concern all year long. He was eventually moved to pretty much exclusively left field in an effort to give him consistency, and has been taking extra reps to work on the weakest part of his game.
So far, it’s not working.
Hernandez made a couple more blunders on Thursday evening, further frustrating Blue Jays fans who have watched him struggle all year in the outfield. What’s truly maddening is that he looks like someone who should have the physical gifts to excel in the outfield, and yet he’s been the worst player on the team according to the defensive metrics. Going into last night’s game his defensive WAR rating was -1.7 according to baseballreference.com, the worst on the team, and I’m sure his latest effort isn’t helping the numbers. I wrote about the team struggles on defence here at Jays Journal earlier today, and Hernandez has been the leading culprit.
The good or bad news, depending on how you look at it, is the Blue Jays have the right opportunity for Hernandez to get a chance to improve. At just 25 years old, it seems foolish to give up on him altogether in the outfield, and I’m not sure that he’s a good enough hitter to have much a career as an exclusive DH. He’s going to need to play on both sides of the ball, and the best way to improve is to keep trudging your way out there, even when things aren’t going well.
To John Gibbons‘ credit (or detriment, again, depending on your stance), he’s allowed Hernandez that opportunity this season, and the Blue Jays are in a position where they can continue to run him out there. As I said above, he profiles as someone who should be an asset in the outfield, and was formerly considered to be a centre fielder as a minor leaguer. I’m not sure any MLB manager would line him up out there now, but there’s gotta be room for improvement here.
In addition to being in the early stages of a rebuild and having the time to be patient with Hernandez, the Blue Jays don’t have a lot of outfielders pushing for his spot right now either. Grichuk will be a staple going forward, and unless some youngsters step forward there’s a good chance Pillar will be a regular in 2019 again as well, despite many folks thinking he’d likely be moved in the rebuild.
If we’re looking at the minor league system though, the challengers aren’t exactly knocking down the door for playing time. The list includes Dwight Smith Jr., Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey, and new acquisition Billy McKinney who have played the most in Triple-A, and none of the above has forced the Blue Jays hands to make a promotion this year despite most of them being experienced minor leaguers. Each could fill the gap in 2019 if the organization chose to give them a chance, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely at this stage, which works in Hernandez’s favour.
All of this said, he’s going to have to figure out a way to improve in left field or he won’t have a starting job for very long regardless of who the Blue Jays are employing. He’s shown enough potential with the bat, in particular in the power department with 18 home runs, but he’s also in the top 10 in the American League in strikeouts, so there are downsides there as well.
However, the Blue Jays do have the time to be patient at this point in their rebuild, if they so choose. Whether or not Hernandez can play himself into or out of a job by the end of this season remains to be seen, but it looks like he’s going to get the opportunity, one way or another.