Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s 2019 campaign has been a tale of two different seasons, and thankfully he’s benefitted greatly from a reset in Triple-A Buffalo.
Not every young player thrives right away when they arrive at the highest level of baseball, and we’ve seen a few examples of that with the Blue Jays this year.
I guarantee we have yet to see the best of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, and more, but the best example of this idea may be Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who was expected to be a fixture in the Blue Jays’ infield this season. A lot has changed since then, and it started with a demotion to Triple-A in order for a struggling player to regain his confidence.
With the Blue Jays being in the very early stages of a rebuild, many of the young players throughout the organization are fighting for their place on the roster this season, and more importantly, trying to establish themselves as an important part of the future. Beyond a few names like Vlad Jr., there really aren’t going to be a lot of guaranteed locks on this roster. These young men are going to need to earn their place over the next few years.
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Which is why it was disappointing to see Gurriel Jr. start so poorly this season, especially after he looked like he could be a building block to the future in the 65 games he played last year. He set a rookie record for consecutive multi-hit games and nearly broke the all-time record during his hot streak. By slashing .281/.309/.446 with 11 home runs and 35 RBI in 249 at-bats, he had a lot of Blue Jays fans excited, including yours truly.
This year he started with a rough .175/.250/.275 line in his first 13 games, but it was the defensive woes that really set him back. Last year he showed off tools that made him look like a guy who could be a plus-shortstop if he could be more consistent, and at worst a very solid second baseman. However, in April he found himself in a position of lost confidence where he struggled to even make a routine throw to first base. In order to save his confidence from crashing to a level where there was no going back, the Blue Jays wisely elected to take the pressure off and send him to Buffalo.
If you’ve been following the team since his return then you know that decision has paid off in spades. He’s also been moved to the outfield on a full-time basis, where he’s really starting to come along, and the difference has been staggering for the talented Cuban. Entering last night’s game he had hit .330 with a .679 slugging percentage, adding 10 home runs and 19 RBI in the 29 games since he returned to the Blue Jays. All he did last night was go 3-5 with two home runs and four RBI to add to his totals.
In some cases, a demotion to Triple-A can be a death knell for a young player’s career, but it doesn’t have to be that way at all. Arguably the greatest Blue Jay of all-time, Roy Halladay, had to go all the way back to Single-A after having made his big league debut, and he went on to have a Hall of Fame career after working his way back to Toronto. It wasn’t that severe for Gurriel Jr., but the point is there can be positive things about returning to the minor leagues to work on your craft.
It looks like a short trip to Buffalo was good for Teoscar Hernandez this season as well, and the Blue Jays shouldn’t be afraid to do the same with more or their struggling players as they continue this rebuild. Ideally, the best of the Blue Jays’ prospects will be able to stick once they arrive in ‘The Show’, but not every big league player goes down the same path.
In Gurriel Jr’s case, it’s clear that some time in Buffalo was exactly what he needed to regain his confidence. If he keeps performing like this, people might forget that he was ever an infielder, let alone that he had to return to Buffalo for a for weeks.