Blue Jays: It could be a battle for roster spots in the outfield

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 22: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays and Randal Grichuk #15 celebrate their victory with teammates during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on August 22, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 22: Billy McKinney #28 of the Toronto Blue Jays and Randal Grichuk #15 celebrate their victory with teammates during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on August 22, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

While the Blue Jays have a couple of established veteran outfielders, the playing time is hardly set in stone and that should create a healthy competition this Spring, and into the season.

The Blue Jays coaching staff and front office are going to have a lot of interesting competitions to monitor throughout Spring Training this year, and will likely have a few decisions to make as well.

Slowly but surely we’ve started to see a clearer picture of the plans for the latest rebuild in Toronto. The trade of Russell Martin and release of Troy Tulowitzki were defining moves toward a more youthful generation of players, and we’re about to see a new era of this team in a hurry. However, Rome wasn’t built overnight, and this rebuild is far from complete, and with that comes many steps such as figuring out the value of what you’ve already got.

The Blue Jays should feel confident about the future of their infield right now, especially because of the presence of emerging youngsters like baseball’s top prospect in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and several other high-end prospects like Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Kevin Smith, and more. The outfield picture is a different story though, both in the short and long term.

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It’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll see both Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk getting regular playing time in 2019, at least as long as they’ve on the roster. There were rumblings related to Pillar on the trade market this winter, but nothing came of any of it. Both have two years remaining of contract control in Toronto, and that makes each of their futures as Blue Jays pretty up in the air, even if it feels like Grichuk could be a potential building block.

If Pillar and Grichuk occupy centre and right field respectively, that leaves left as the only other outfield spot to compete for playing time. There could be sprinkled opportunities for injuries or off days for Pillar and Grichuk, but otherwise it’s going to be a battle in left field, and probably a bit at designated hitter as well. Kendrys Morales is going to get a fair share of the DH duties, but he’ll likely give way to a few more at bats this year, especially if the left field competition ends up being as busy as it appears it could be.

At the top of the list of candidates if Teoscar Hernandez, who was a polarizing figure in 2018 and will look to prove that he’s worth being a full-time MLB starter in 2019. He managed to hit 22 home runs in 462 at bats last year, but his defence was a whole other story, as he earned a -2.0 dWAR rating according to If he can take an important step forward with the glove then he likely receives the majority of starts in left, but it’s debatable whether or not that’s likely, even if he did play winter ball during the offseason in an effort to improve.

There’s also Billy McKInney, who was quietly very good after his arrival in Toronto last year. He came over as part of the return for J.A. Happ along with Brandon Drury, and he was a pleasant surprise in a small sample size, hitting .252/.316/.462 with six home runs and 14 RBI in just 115 at bats and 36 games played. Because he’s got minor league options remaining it’s possible that he starts the year in Buffalo, but it also feels like he’s got an inside track to a spot on the team at this point. Maybe that’s just me.

Speaking of minor league options, Canadian-born outfielder Dalton Pompey is out of them, and will have to make the team if the Blue Jays intend on keeping him in the organization. I wasn’t sure if the Blue Jays would keep him on the 40 man roster through the winter or not, but as of this writing he remains and that likely means he’s going to be given a chance to win a spot on the team in Dunedin. That might come in the form of a 4th outfielder job, or as a part-time starter, but because he’s still on the roster I feel like he’s going to be part of the equation somehow.

Beyond those three, the Blue Jays mentioned recently that they might experiment a little bit with Devon Travis in left field in an effort to get him more at bats than he might receive in a clouded infield picture. I’m not sure that he’s going to have a much easier time finding starts in left field, but performance will dictate that of course. It’s also possible that we see Brandon Drury get some starts in a corner outfield spot as well, as he’s got experience playing out there in the past.

Lastly, there’s another tier that’s likely on the outside looking in, at least the begin the year anyway. Dwight Smith Jr. could be a fringe candidate to compete for a roster spot, as could Anthony Alford and Jonathan Davis, but I feel like they all serve as depth and wait for an injury opportunity. The Blue Jays have been waiting for Alford to take a big step forward for a couple seasons now, and it’s possible that he does that this season and forces their hand, but otherwise this trio likely have to wait for the depth chart to get thinned out above them before they become serious factors.

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While Ross Atkins and company didn’t go out and acquire a shiny new hitter to put in the Rogers Centre outfield, like say, a Bryce Harper type or something, that doesn’t mean they are lacking for feasible options. None of them are going to be MVP contenders this year of course, but the Blue Jays should have more than enough depth to get them through the year, and it should be an interesting competition to monitor until Opening Day.