Blue Jays Prediction: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will surpass his projections

TORONTO, ON - MAY 26: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a solo home run in the fourth inning during MLB game action against the San Diego Padres at Rogers Centre on May 26, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 26: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a solo home run in the fourth inning during MLB game action against the San Diego Padres at Rogers Centre on May 26, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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When Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been on the field for the Blue Jays he has produced, and I suspect he’ll surpass most projections for his 2020 season.

As the hype is starting to build around the Blue Jays ahead of the 2020 season, you can find all kinds of discussion about the bright future of the Blue Jays’ core. That narrative is usually headlined by the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, but there are plenty of other Blue Jay youngsters with exciting MLB careers ahead of them.

Near the top of that list would be Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who is viewed a little differently than his younger teammates for a couple of reasons. First, he arrived and made a name for himself with Blue Jays fans in 2018 rather than last year, so he sometimes gets lost in the discussion about the future in Toronto. Secondly, he signed as an international free agent back in 2016, and the Blue Jays got him under contract for seven years at the time.

Despite those small differences from the rest of the budding core in Toronto, I’m surprised that Gurriel Jr. isn’t more of a central figure. For example, the Blue Jays chose to use Vlad Jr., Bichette, Biggio, and Randal Grichuk to reveal their new baby blue alternative jerseys, and you could argue that Gurriel Jr. would have been a good choice for that effort as well.

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It wasn’t until I got looking at Gurriel Jr’s projections for 2020 that I really started feeling like he’s flying under the radar a bit right now, and that might not be a bad thing. However, after looking at the projections for the 24-year-old, I feel like he’s quite underrated at this stage, and that there’s a great chance he’ll blow those predicted numbers out of the water.

For example, Fangraphs provides us with the Steamer projections, and they like Gurriel Jr. for a slash line of .265/.307/.472 with 27 home runs and 84 RBI over 142, and there are similar ideas from ATC and Depth Charts as well. Those look like encouraging enough numbers, but there are two problems if you ask me. First, I believe he’ll be able to do better than that in the on-base department, and likely with his power numbers as well, especially if he’s healthy enough to play in 142 games. Secondly, they only have him slated for 1.4 fWAR, and that confuses me.

You’re likely at least vaguely familiar with the term WAR in baseball, as it’s a widely used measurement these days. It’s essentially a more advanced assessment of the overall value a player brings to all aspects of the game. With that in mind, Gurriel Jr. looks to like he’s being penalized for his defensive projections in left field, but I feel like that could be short-sighted. As he re-familiarized himself with the outfield last year, a position he hadn’t played since he was in the Cuban League back in 2016, he showed steady improvement and real potential that he could be an asset in left field. He also picked up nine outfield assists, showing off the potential of his strong throwing arm from an outfield corner.

I’m not ready to suggest that Gurriel Jr. will ascend to a MVP-level status, or even push for a spot on the AL All-Star team, but I do think the projection systems have him undervalued, as the Steamer projections are more kind than others like baseballreference.com, for example. When you consider that that same projection system expects a 3.6 fWAR season from Vlad Jr., the same for Bo Bichette, and 2.1 fWAR for Cavan Biggio, does it seem odd to anyone else that Gurriel Jr. is viewed as a step behind?

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To me, the only thing that will hold him back from keeping up with or exceeding that trio in 2020 will be his health, as he’s spent time on the Injured List in both 2018 and 2019. That said, there’s no good reason to suspect any chronic injuries from the talented Cuban, or that he could miss any more time than the others. What I do suspect is that as long as he’s healthy, Gurriel Jr. could be one of the more dangerous hitters in the Blue Jays’ lineup, and maybe even the American League. If he proves me right and produces the 2.5-3 WAR season I personally expect from him, his pre-season projections are going to look a little silly.

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