Teoscar Hernandez has hit well enough that the Blue Jays could use his services in their rebuild, as long as they keep him out of centre field.
The month of September has been a bit of an audition for several players on the Blue Jays roster as the young team works to finish off a year of rebuilding. The front office is going to have some decisions to make over the winter, and one of the main areas of focus will be on the outfield.
There’s a very good chance that both Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk are locked into their jobs for the 2020 season, but the third starting job is still up in the air. There are several in-house candidates, and arguably the leader of the pack would be Teoscar Hernandez, who has had a reasonably successful second full season in the big leagues.
For those who don’t remember, Hernandez struggled in the early portion of the calendar, so badly in fact that he was demoted to Triple-A to work on his game and get his groove back. Fortunately, he was able to do just that and was a much more valuable contributor after he returned to the big league club.
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The surprising part was that the Blue Jays made the curious decision to make him their centre fielder the majority of the time after he returned, as Gurriel Jr. had settled into left field by the time Hernandez was called back up on June 5th. Oddly enough, Hernandez actually looked pretty decent out there at times this season, and for a while it looked like he might even stick at the position for the long term.
However, as the season wore on it’s become apparent that Hernandez is a little over his head up the middle, even if he’s proven to be far more capable than most of us would have expected. With one game remaining in the season, he’ll finish at or near -0.8 dWAR, which isn’t ideal from the captain of your outfield. That said, it’s a pretty significant improvement from his -2.0 rating in 2018, and I’ll concede that it’s possible that he could continue to trend in the right direction with more opportunity. That said, most of the discussion around the Blue Jays’ rebuild these days is around two areas; the pitching staff, and the outfield, which really boils down to Hernandez’s spot.
It’s possible that the Blue Jays could enter next season with some a similar set up to the one they have now, but they’ll also have some roster issues to sort out, depending on what happens this winter. Even if Hernandez were to join Gurriel Jr. and Grichuk as the starters, the Blue Jays will have to decide what to do with Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford as well, who are both out of minor league options. They’ll likely carry at least one of them, but it’s going to be hard to make the 25 and 40 man roster work the way things are now. I’ve even written about how I expect there to be a trade from this group, if for no other reason than the impending roster situation.
Having said all of that, I believe that the Blue Jays could go out and trade for an established centre fielder (there won’t be much on the free agent market) and still find a way to make use of Hernandez on the roster. While his slash line of .227/.302/.436 could use some improvement, he’s continued to hit the ball with authority when he does make contact, picking up 26 home runs and 19 doubles in 414 at-bats this year. If you look at just his second-half numbers, he’s sitting at .250/.332/.561 with 17 home runs coming after the break. Despite his negative dWAR numbers, he’s rated at 0.8 bWAR by Baseball Reference, and 1.1 fWAR according to Fangraphs, so he’s brought some value to the table.
Could the Blue Jays find a better way to use his talents, and maybe even get him to focus his energy more on his hitting? With Justin Smoak set to become a free agent, the option is there for the front office and the coaching staff if they want to use him more as the designated hitter next season. I wouldn’t blame Ross Atkins and company if they wanted to re-sign Smoak or bring in a veteran first baseman to push Rowdy Tellez, but there are still ways to distribute at-bats, and I think there’s a decent role for Hernandez that could be carved out.
Because he’s shown that he’s at least capable in centre field, he could be somewhat of a 4th outfielder/DH, which could allow for Charlie Montoyo to find plenty of ways to keep him in the lineup. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are potential upgrades available this winter, but I also feel that with continued development that Hernandez could be a very valuable contributor to a winning club, provided he’s in the right role. If he had 600 at-bats this season we’re probably talking about a 35-40 home run hitter. He still strikes out too much, and you have to actually put everything together for an entire season in order to reach those marks, but the potential is there.
So while it’s possible that the Blue Jays could even shop him this off-season, especially since he’s improved his stock in the second half, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a Blue Jays uniform in 2020, and maybe beyond. I just hope it’s not as the everyday centre fielder.