Blue Jays: Yes, be excited about Teoscar Hernandez in 2020

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 28: Teoscar Hernandez #37 of the Toronto Blue Jays rounds third base as he hits a solo home run during first inning of their MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays Rogers Centre on September 28, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 28: Teoscar Hernandez #37 of the Toronto Blue Jays rounds third base as he hits a solo home run during first inning of their MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays Rogers Centre on September 28, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /
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Teoscar Hernandez was so bad in May last year, the Blue Jays had to demote him. A big second half changed things, and there are reasons to be excited about his bat in 2020.

Not everyone takes the big leagues by storm the way that Bo Bichette announced his arrival last summer, and the Blue Jays have been home to plenty of late-bloomers over the last decade or two.

After seeing Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, and more become stars in their late 20’s, they could have another slugger developing into a star a few years into his career. At least that’s what the Blue Jays are hoping for from 27-year-old Teoscar Hernandez.

The Dominican-born slugger has had an up and down career at the MLB level so far, and has often been the source of frustration for Blue Jays fans since he arrived in a trade with the Astros in 2017. His defence has been very rough at times, and he’s struck out far too often, but the fact that his potential is fairly obvious makes things more aggravating, knowing there is more talent than he’s been able to put together.

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And then the second half of last season happened.

Hernandez was so bad in the early part of the 2019 campaign that the Blue Jays ended up demoting him to Triple-A Buffalo to join the also-struggling Lourdes Gurriel Jr. He returned in early June and was a different hitter, but especially so after the All-Star break. From that point on Hernandez slugged an impressive .259/.346/.592 with 18 home runs, 11 doubles, and 38 RBI over 201 at-bats. Suddenly Hernandez was putting together the type of production at the plate the Blue Jays had always hoped to get from him.

It’s hard to say whether or not he’s unlocked his full potential, and from recent Blue Jays’ history we know that a half season isn’t quite enough to make a permanent move from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Look no further than Hernandez’s outfield mate in Randal Grichuk who slashed .280/.326/.569 with 14 home runs and 21 doubles in the second half of the 2018 season. It was enough for the Blue Jays to buy in a little early and reward him with a 5 year, 52 million dollar extension before last season. Unfortunately he started off his new deal by slashing .232/.280/.457 last season. Even with a career high of 31 home runs, that wasn’t what he or the Blue Jays were hoping for.

That said, Grichuk and Hernandez are different players, and it would be unfair and even a little foolish to lump them in together. You can take the lesson from Grichuk that a half-season does not bring any guarantees, but that also doesn’t mean that Hernandez is doomed for a .280 OBP this year. Most of the projection systems have him in the .302-.306 range, but he showed he that he’s capable of more last summer, and hopefully he can carry it over.

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For now it sounds like the Blue Jays won’t be asking him to play centre field on a regular basis, as that job looks to be going to Grichuk, and hopefully being able to focus more on his hitting will help Hernandez even more. And even if he’s been a bit of a polarizing figure in the past, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in 2020, and if he last few months of 2019 were legit. If so, the Blue Jays offence is going to be even more dangerous.

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