If the Blue Jays are unable to find an upgrade in centre field, who are the best in-house options to captain the outfield during the 2020 season?
The biggest priority for the Blue Jays this off-season, and pretty much every winter, is to improve their starting rotation. Thankfully they’ve taken care of that checklist item already, and can now move on to their secondary needs, which could include an upgrade in centre field.
Last season was a bit of a roller coaster at the position for the Blue Jays and new manager Charlie Montoyo. They started the year with Kevin Pillar back up the middle, but he was traded to San Francisco in early April and the job was handed to Randal Grichuk, who made 56 starts (62 total games) as the new centre fielder. That worked out okay for a while, but Teoscar Hernandez surprisingly ended up making more starts at the position by season’s end, starting for 72, and playing in 79 games as the outfield captain.
Both players figure to be a part of this team’s plans for 2020 and likely beyond, but there is a desire to find a more natural fit, especially on defence. The Blue Jays seem to prefer Grichuk in right field, and Hernandez is likely better off as a corner outfielder, or maybe even a designated hitter. The Jays will have to fill the position one way or another though, and unless they make a trade before Opening Day, chances are they’ll be looking to their in-house options.
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With that in mind, let’s have a look at who that could include, at least as of this writing.
#6- Cavan Biggio
Yeah, oddly enough I am serious, although I’m ranking him at the bottom of the list because I see this as the least likely solution. I could have put Santiago Espinal on the list as well, but I’m not sure I’m ready to assume he’ll make the team, even as the best candidate for the utility-man job currently on the 40-man roster.
As you likely know, Cavan Biggio had a successful rookie season in 2019, and more or less settled in as the every day second baseman. That said, he has the ability to bounce around the infield to first and third base as well, and has played in the outfield corners a bit as well, although that was mostly last season prior to being promoted to the big leagues.
There are rumours circulating that the Blue Jays could consider trying Biggio out as an option in centre field, but it doesn’t seem terribly likely. While he’s deceptively quick, he doesn’t have any professional experience at the position, and would probably need to spend some time in Buffalo working on it. If he struggles at some point in 2020 and needs to be send back to Triple-A for a while then maybe he works on it, but I have a hard time seeing this come to fruition, even if it’s a fun idea.
#5- Jonathan Davis
Arguably the best defensive option the Blue Jays have, Jonathan Davis has an outside chance of making the team in 2020. He’s currently on the 40-man roster, however, that could actually work against him if the Blue Jays decide they need his spot to bolster the bullpen. He also has minor league options, and with a fairly full outfield picture at the moment, I’m guessing he’ll start the year in Buffalo.
#4- Derek Fisher
I agree, Derek Fisher didn’t look very good one either side of the ball during his 40 games as a Blue Jay, but I still think the front office wants to see more of him before they move on. He’s probably better suited to playing in an outfield corner, especially because of his underwhelming throwing arm, but he does have a fair bit of a speed and could cover enough ground to handle the centre field duties.
If he can hit like the Blue Jays believed he would when they traded for him, Montoyo will have to find a spot for him one way or another. However, we’ve yet to see him scratch the surface of that potential in Toronto, which is why I’ve ranked him here.
#3- Anthony Alford
Anthony Alford probably has the longest shot of making the team out of any of the six options I’m mentioning today, but I think he has a better chance of win the starting gig than anyone I’ve ranked so far. He’ll just have to start by earning a spot on the 26-man roster to begin with.
If the Blue Jays find a way to carry him through Spring Training and into the regular season, Alford arguably has the greatest potential of any of their centre field options. The problem is, injuries and underwhelming development have turned what was once a top-100 prospect in baseball into a big question mark that has only accumulated 55 at-bats at the MLB level.
#2- Teoscar Hernandez
I realize that Hernandez made more starts in centre field than anyone else on the roster last year, and that he wasn’t as bad as many of us feared he would be. However, he would be much better off in an outfield corner, or even used as the primary DH.
That said, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him return to the middle of the outfield, especially because the Blue Jays haven’t been able to secure an upgrade for the position just yet. It’s even possible that he continues to improve and ends up being a reasonable defender, but I don’t think the Blue Jays should count on it. Instead, if they need Hernandez to help fill the hole until a long-term option comes along, he can probably handle that much again.
#1- Randal Grichuk
In my mind, I’m not sure why the Blue Jays are so reluctant to just roll with Grichuk as the full-time centre fielder, at least until they come up with a more permanent solution. It sounds like he prefers to be in right field and that the team would rather he be there full-time, but for the time being I would argue that he’s the clear-cut best option.
Last season Grichuk played 486.2 innings in centre field and rated as a -0.2 for UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) according to Fangraphs. That number isn’t anything to write home about, but when you compare it to the -7.3 that Hernandez was worth in 635.2 innings, Grichuk provides a significant upgrade over his teammate.
Ideally the Blue Jays will be able to find someone who can play centre field on an every day basis, and hopefully be a part of the rebuild of this team for the next few years as well. It’s debatable whether or not they have a potential fit on the roster at the moment, and don’t be surprised if an in-house audition carries into the 2020 regular season.