Blue Jays: The hurdles before Santiago Espinal’s debut
Santiago Espinal has arguably been the Blue Jays’ best player in spring camp so far, but he’ll have plenty of obstacles to overcome in order to make the team to start the year.
One of the position battles for the Blue Jays during Spring camp this year will be for the utility-man job, with several candidates shooting to earn the gig.
There is returning veteran Brandon Drury, new signings like Joe Panik and Ruben Tejada, and then there’s Santiago Espinal, who has looked very good in the early going. Granted, it’s a very small sample size, but after going 1-3 against the Tigers on Friday he’s 4-7 (.571) thus far. With his ability to play all over the infield, and getting 12 games in centre field last year, he could be a prime candidate to fill the utility role. He’s even already on the 40-man roster.
And yet, it’s likely a long shot that Espinal wins the job, even if he continues at this pace throughout the Spring.
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I say that because it would mean the Blue Jays would have to make some other tough decisions. The most likely would be that they would have to cut loose one or both of Drury and Panik, and I doubt they want to lose that kind of depth in the early going. Drury is set to make 2.05 million after being arbitration eligible for the first time this off-season, but if Espinal makes the team, there’s a very real chance he gets designated for assignment. With a minor league option, he could spend some time in Buffalo, but the Blue Jays may elect to go in another direction if they’re not going to carry him on the big league roster.
As for Panik, he’s signed to a MiLB deal and he’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster in order to make the team, but buzz so far this spring is that he’s the leading candidate for the role. He’s been almost exclusively a second baseman as a big leaguer, but with experience at shortstop during his minor league days and a Gold Glove on his shelf, the 29-year-old can likely handle the job quite well. That said, if the Blue Jays on in another direction, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him push to look for an opportunity elsewhere. I’m not sure if that type of agreement is in place with the Blue Jays, even if it’s verbal,
In addition to thinking about Drury and Panik, the Blue Jays might prefer to let Espinal gain a little more experience in Triple-A, and maybe even spend some more time in the outfield before they bring him up to the highest level. The reality is, their infield depth chart is fairly set for the foreseeable future, and if Espinal can prove to be a solid centre fielder, there could be a future for him in the role. It might make more sense to start his season in Buffalo, and even give him most of his reps in the outfield.
Whatever the Blue Jays decide to do, it looks like Espinal could have a future in the big leagues, and may even be a contributor in 2020. There could be a few obstacles in his way if he’s hoping to win a job for Opening Day, but his time will come sooner than later.
When you consider that they acquired him for a half season of Steve Pearce in 2018, that trade is looking pretty solid for both sides. I’m liking what I’m seeing for the Blue Jays with Espinal, and of course, Pearce won a championship and the World Series MVP, so it worked out alright for the Red Sox as well.