Blue Jays: Maybe they already have their “outfield of the future”

ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Randal Grichuk #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

While many folks feel that the Blue Jays have at least one complete set of infielders for the future, it might actually be the case in the outfield as well.

We’ve witnessed an awful lot of turnover take place with the Blue Jays’ infield over the last few months. Russell Martin was traded to the L.A. Dodgers before the final year of his contract, mostly in order to clear the way for the budding talent of Danny Jansen. The same happened to Aledmys Diaz when he was shipped to Houston, and the decision to designate Troy Tulowitzki for assignment, as it was done in the interest of clearing space for guys like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and eventually Bo Bichette.

The Blue Jays have a lot of exciting infield prospects, and depending on who you ask they might even have too many. That’s never the case in baseball of course, especially with an increase in positional flexibility, and the ever-present need for trade bait in order to supplement an already talented roster. In all though, I’m particularly excited about Jansen, Bichette, Gurriel Jr., Kevin Smith, Jordan Groshans, Cavan Biggio, Rowdy Tellez, and of course, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. One way or another, it feels like they should have a talented, homegrown infield.

The same hasn’t been said for the future of the outfield, and there’s no hiding the fact that there are no top 10 prospects in baseball on the depth chart. There are talented players of course, and we all know that some of the best players to ever put on a Blue Jay uniform weren’t taken in the first round of any draft. For example, Jose Bautista was a 20th round pick and didn’t blossom until his late twenties. It does happen, I just don’t think you plan for it.

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However, we know that Ross Atkins and the minds in Toronto’s front office are looking at things with a longer term lens, and I’m sure that evaluating the future of the outfield will be one of the bigger priorities for them. While discussing it with friends, I’ve often mentioned that there are some potential pieces that could work long term already, but that the Jays could always sign a free agent or two later on, as they should have plenty of budget with so many talented youngsters filling out the roster. That said, the more I look at what could happen in a year or two from now, the more I’m not convinced that the solution isn’t already on the roster.

I’m not suggesting that the Blue Jays should pass on a premium outfield upgrade if the opportunity presents itself in the future, but they could already have some pretty solid options in-house, and may need to find a position for some talented players. It only takes three or four good players to make up a solid outfield group, and I think the Blue Jays could have just that.

Allow me to explain:

1) Randal Grichuk

I’m definitely in the believer camp when it comes to Randal Grichuk, and I feel like he unlocked some confidence and potential after a tough start to the 2018 campaign. He was excellent in the second half last year, and with an above average glove, the ability to play centre field, and some home run power, he could be a nice compliment to the roster beyond the two years of control he has remaining. Ideally I think he would work best in a corner OF spot as a power hitter capable of hitting 30 or more home runs in a full season, but that could depend on how the Blue Jays construct the rest of the group. Either way, he fits and shouldn’t cost a king’s ransom to extent, and the Blue Jays have two more years to evaluate his potential.

2) Lourdes Gurriel Jr. 

While I’ll openly admit that I am disappointed that Gurriel Jr. won’t be given the everyday job at shortstop this year, especially before Bichette eventually arrives, that does open up some other possibilities.

It could be someone like Smith, Biggio, or Groshans that eventually forces their way into the infield picture, and that could happen even if Vlad Jr. eventually has to move to first, and third base opens up. There are several other talented infielders in the system as well, so I can understand why the Blue Jays want to keep their options open with Gurriel Jr., especially with his reasonable contract locked up for five more years.

With a very strong arm and above-average athletic ability, Guerriel Jr. could be an asset in the outfield if the Blue Jays decide that’s where he ultimately belongs. He might end up being a utility type, a la Marwin Gonzalez. but he could certainly work in a corner outfield spot, or maybe even up the middle. My guess is he’ll see plenty of playing time in the outfield this year as Charlie Montoyo tries to sort out the talented young roster he’s working with.

3) Cavan Biggio

I’ve already mentioned him twice, but Biggio is another infielder that has the ability to patrol the outfield, at least after working on it last season. The 2018 Eastern League MVP has some serious power, but he’s going to have an uphill battle to wrestle a job away from the other premium infield prospects in Toronto. Instead, it looks like they might be getting ahead of the problem, and having him capable of playing in a corner outfield spot would give them that opportunity.

Baseball has evolved, but the corner spots have always been a power hitter’s position to play, and Biggio certainly qualifies for as much. I’m sure he’ll see plenty of time around the diamond with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets called up to the big leagues later in the season either, especially if the Blue Jays trade an outfielder before the deadline.

4) Teoscar Hernandez

I include Hernandez here, even if many folks have already written him off as a long-term solution. Here’s the deal, he’s still only 26 years old, and he’s already shown that he can hit for power, it’s his defence that has been the problem. That’s something he’s more than aware of, and actively worked on this offseason while playing winter ball.

If Jose Bautista can turn into a 6x All-Star at 29, is it impossible to think that Hernandez can become decent enough with the glove to warrant an outfield spot? He wouldn’t have to be the star hitter in this lineup at all, just a serviceable power hitter. I’m willing to bet he’s capable of that, especially with another year or two of experience under his belt.

5) Dalton Pompey

I’m including Pompey here as well for a couple of reasons. One, I’m rooting for the Canadian to show everyone that the last few years have been a bad dream, and that he’s belonged in the big leagues for a while now. Two, I really like his skill set with this team, especially in the long run.

You could argue that Anthony Alford fits in much the same way, and I’d love it if the Blue Jays could have a speedster in centre field to anchor the defence, and to provide a disruption on the base paths. Pompey has shown the ability to do both of those things well when he’s been healthy, and I could see him being a solid fit up the middle for a while if things break right for him this spring. He’ll face a battle against guys like Billy McKinney and Jonathan Davis, who I haven’t even talked about here either, and I wouldn’t say either is a write off for the long term picture yet.

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When you look at the long-term forecast of the Blue Jays and their roster build, there should be money to spend on to complement the strong core of the next generation of players, and it’s entirely possible that could be done with the outfield. Maybe that will ultimately prove to be the best way to round up a lineup with a boat load of young talent in the infield, but if that doesn’t work out for one reason or another, there is enough talent kicking around to make up a pretty good trio for the future.