Blue Jays: Give Lourdes Gurriel Jr. one position to focus on
The Blue Jays have had designs on Lourdes Gurriel Jr. becoming a super-utility player, but he may need to focus on just one position for now.
On Sunday the Blue Jays had to make the unfortunate decision to send Lourdes Gurriel Jr. back to Triple-A Buffalo after he struggled defensively once again. After a throwing error on a routine play at second base for the second consecutive game, Charlie Montoyo even made the choice to remove him from the game immediately and replace him with Alen Hanson at second.
The Blue Jays are hoping that a short stay in Triple-A will be the kind of confidence boost that their talented 25-year-old needs, as he looks pretty lost in the big leagues right now.
While he has struggled at the plate as well, slashing just .179/.256/.282 in his first 39 at-bats, his defence is the far greater concern right now. It’s not exactly a medical diagnosis, but it’s pretty clear that he’s got a case of the “yips”, and hopefully it’s something that he can work through in short order now that he’s been moved to a less pressure-filled environment in Buffalo. It’s gotten bad enough that even Montoyo is openly talking about the mental part of the game, and how it’s been a battle for Gurriel Jr. lately. Here’s a direct quote from yesterday’s article from Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair:
"“It’s all right here I’m telling you,” Montoyo said, pointing to his head. “It’s tough, I’ve seen it before; people have worked through it and hopefully he can. You can tell it’s got bad, and he knows it.”"
We’ve witnessed this type of thing before with talented players like Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch, and to a lesser extent with several others. It’s not a death knell for Gurriel Jr’s career by any means, but it’s probably a good thing that the Blue Jays are making this move now rather than letting it compound and get worse. For many players struggling with the “yips”, or whatever you want to call it, it’s something that can be worked through. For a guy like Knoblauch, he eventually moved to the outfield and far, far away from second base.
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While you can’t really blame Gurriel Jr’s struggles on his ability to serve as a utility type of player, I wonder if the Blue Jays may drop the idea for now and just let him focus on one position. So far he’s appeared in eight games at second, and three at first base (one start), and two as the designated hitter. However, he’s got experience at shortstop, third base, and in the corner outfield as well. The club has frequently talked about developing that utility type of skill set for Gurriel Jr., but I can’t blame Montoyo for being reluctant to move him around too much so far.
It’s hard to say how this situation will be handled for him in Buffalo. Right now the Bisons’ roster includes fellow infielders like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Richard Urena, Andy Burns, and Gunner Heidt. Eric Sogard was there as well, but he’ll move to Toronto to take Gurriel Jr’s place for now, but they’re still going to have a juggling act to get everyone in the lineup as frequently as they need to. That said, giving Gurriel routine playing time is a must right now, and even though the Bisons have others that need reps at second base, sacrifices may need to be made.
Maybe that means Biggio spends more time in the outfield, where he played a fair bit during his Arizona Fall League appearance. The Blue Jays will likely call Urena back up to Toronto at some point, and of course, Vlad Jr. is going to make his MLB debut “at some point soon”, so Biggio, Heidt, and others could play some third base soon as well.
As Blair pointed out in his article as well, Gurriel Jr. will need to find at least one position to excel at, even if he does become that utility player the Blue Jays hope he can become. With Freddy Galvis playing so well this season, and a long line of high-end shortstops and infielders in the MiLB system, second base makes the most sense for him as a default position. That’s where he’s struggled lately in Toronto, but I don’t know that it means the Blue Jays should move him away from there. Personally, I’d prefer that they tackle the problem head on and let him sort it out there before he starts shifting around the diamond.
We saw his offensive gifts last year, and he has displayed enough tools defensively to show that he should be an asset on that side of the ball as well. However, right now his focus should be all about building his confidence back up. He’s a fun-loving personality on the diamond, and it’s been difficult to watch his struggles.
Even the late, great Roy Halladay had to return to the minor leagues before he became the Hall of Famer pitcher that dominated for more than a decade. While Halladay’s developmental needs were mechanical, Gurriel’s appear to be exactly as Montoyo said, a tough mental battle for a gifted player. Hopefully a brief return to the minor leagues will be exactly what the doctor ordered for Gurriel Jr., and I really do think that sticking to one position, at least for now, will be the best thing to help him get his groove back.