Lourdes Gurriel Jr. once had a promising future as a utility man, but seems to have settled in left field. Should the Blue Jays just leave him alone there?
It was an important learning year for several Blue Jays in 2019, which isn’t surprising when you consider that they had so many rookies on the roster throughout the season. However, it wasn’t just the rookies that learned some important lessons that will help this team get back to the contender status that they saw in the middle of the decade.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. began the year as the starting second baseman, and there was thought that he would spend some time backing up Freddy Galvis at shortstop as well. After struggling through the first 13 games of the season, Gurriel Jr. was sent down to Buffalo to get his groove back. His struggles at the plate were one thing, but Gurriel Jr. was clearly in his own head, and was even having troubles making an accurate throw to first base on routine plays from second.
His important stint in Buffalo provided a rebirth for Gurriel Jr., both in terms of his performance and for his defensive position. Despite getting some work in the infield in Triple-A, Gurriel Jr. returned to Toronto as an outfielder, a position he has stuck to ever since. That formula worked very well for him while he was healthy for the remainder of 2019, and the assumption is that he’ll fill that role full-time next season. However, I can’t help but wonder if the Blue Jays have completely given up on the idea of moving him around the diamond a bit.
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After reading the excellent article from Sportnet’s David Singh yesterday, I got thinking about whether the Blue Jays should give up on the idea completely, or if they should toy with the concept a bit in 2020 again once they have a fresh slate. On one hand, I can completely understand that they don’t want to mess with their talented Cuban’s development, both in left field where he improved throughout 2019, and at the plate, where he thrived after his return.
However, it’s tantalizing to think about what his roster flexibility could provide, even if it was something that was seldom used. And according to Singh’s article, Ross Atkins and the rest of the front office haven’t ruled out the possibility either, which makes sense given the possible benefits.
Make no mistake about it, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio will make up the keystone of this team until something drastic happens, but having the ability to slide Gurriel Jr. into either spot on their off days would be a welcome option for Charlie Montoyo. It would allow the team to carry a different type of bench, especially if they didn’t feel the requirement to carry a back-up that is a capable shortstop, which is usually a priority. The Blue Jays could then have the option of using a bench with a back-up catcher, a couple of outfielders, and a guy like Brandon Drury, who isn’t an ideal shortstop candidate, even if he can do the job in a pinch.
What also stuck out to me from Singh’s article was that Gurriel Jr. stated that he’s never lost confidence in his ability to play the infield, but instead is just open-minded to playing where the Blue Jays need him, and where he’ll fit best with team going forward.
"“… he knows he can still play the infield, but the Blue Jays need him elsewhere, so that’s where he’ll focus his efforts.”"
Personally, I’m all for the idea of the Blue Jays giving it another shot in 2019, but I think it should be a short-lived experiment if it starts to go sideways at all. The 26-year-old has proven he can be a valuable asset with his bat alone, and as long as he’s a capable outfielder in left field then he’ll have a place with the new core of this team. He was stronger as the season wore on as a defender, refreshing himself with a position he hadn’t played since 2016 while he was still in Cuba.
If he can get back to being able to move around the diamond and play even adequate defence, his value really starts to go off the charts for the Blue Jays. I still think he’ll be a significant asset regardless, but at this point in the rebuild, I say it’s worth seeing if they can push to get even more out of him in the future. The raw talent is there, and with the Blue Jays not expected to seriously push for a playoff spot in 2020, the time should be on his side as well. It’s worth another shot, if you ask me anyway.