Blue Jays: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. should stay in the outfield for good

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 09: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays catches a fly ball out against the outfield wall in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Rogers Centre on June 9, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 09: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays catches a fly ball out against the outfield wall in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Rogers Centre on June 9, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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While Lourdes Gurriel Jr. may have the skill set to be a valuable utility man in the future, his best path to stardom may be as a full-time outfielder for good.

One the Blue Jays’ biggest disappointments in the early part of the season was the performance of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who they had hoped would help lead this team in 2019 after a solid debut last season.

Unfortunately, the 25-year-old struggled both with the bat and on defence, which eventually lead to his demotion to Triple-A Buffalo. Since returning he’s been a completely different player though, and one that looks a lot more like the star he was developing into in 2018.

Since returning to the big leagues, Gurriel Jr. has been one of the biggest threats in a rather ineffective lineup. Over seven games in May the Cuban hit .393/.414/.964 with four home runs, six RBI, and four doubles in just 28 at-bats. Obviously that kind of production is going to be unsustainable, but he’s been solid in June as well, entering last night’s game with a slash line of .294/.351/.529 with three home runs, and 10 RBI in 51-bats.

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The biggest difference that’s clear to see is the confidence level of the talented young man. By the time he was sent down in April he was hanging his head and was clearly struggling with the mental side of the game, which is no easy task. Now, he’s brimming with confidence and has been one of the few difference makers in the lineup. He also looks like a locked-in piece of this rebuild, when that question was very much up in the air earlier this year.

The most significant change is that Gurriel Jr. hasn’t had to worry about playing in the infield as a big leaguer, at least not since coming back to the highest level. He’s been used exclusively as a left fielder on defence, and he’s showing more ability out there all the time as he continues to get comfortable and reacclimated with the position he played in his younger days back in Cuba.

The topic of whether or not he’ll continue to play the infield came up during last night’s broadcast in a discussion between Buck Martinez and Dan Shulman. The two voices of the Blue Jays both said that they felt that Gurriel Jr. will likely end up as a permanent outfielder, and maybe should remain on there going forward. As much as I liked the idea of him being a valuable utility man a few months ago, I have to admit that I agree with Martinez and Shulman on this one, at least for now.

Since he’s made the move to the outfield his defensive value has significantly improved. He’s now rating at 0.1 dWAR according to baseballreference.com, which is a huge improvement from the negative rating that he left the Blue Jays with in April when he was playing in the infield.

Normally I wouldn’t be in favour of abandoning a skill set like being able to play the middle infield positions, but Gurriel Jr. may be a valuable enough contributor with the bat to make that concession. It’s also easier knowing that the Blue Jays have a plethora of talented players in their minor league system that are on the cusp of making the jump to the big leagues. The future of shortstop at second base likely belongs to Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, but if not those two then there are others like Jordan Groshans, Kevin Smith, Santiago Espinal, Logan Warmoth, and more.

The Blue Jays are also facing a future without a lot of guaranteed answers in the outfield either, and Gurriel Jr’s defensive play in left has been very encouraging, both for the immediate and long term future. Randal Grichuk has been locked up to a five-year extension, but otherwise I would argue that the outfield is pretty much up for grabs as part of this rebuild. Charlie Montoyo has used plenty of different guys out there like Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, Socrates Brito, Alen Hanson, Jonathan Davis and more, and none have taken a job and run with it.

As Gurriel Jr. continues to perform well on both sides of the ball it appears he’s done what the others before him haven’t been able to do. Montoyo could give him the occasional appearance at second base, or even shortstop, but I’m not sure I’d mess with his confidence at the moment or his development as an outfielder.

Next. Looking for another Trent Thornton on the trade market. dark

I’ll admit that there was a time when I thought he should and would eventually claim the job as the shortstop of the future, but I’ll admit when I’m wrong, especially if it means the Blue Jays have found an answer in their outfield. If that’s what it takes for Gurriel Jr. to be the best big leaguer he can be, then so be it.

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