Toronto Blue Jays: The curious case of outfielder Teoscar Hernandez

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 06: Teoscar Hernandez #37 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits an RBI single in the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on August 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 06: Teoscar Hernandez #37 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits an RBI single in the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on August 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

Dominican native Teoscar Hernandez has had a rollercoaster tenure since joining the Toronto Blue Jays midseason in 2017.

While his defensive ability in the outfield may be a cause for concern, his power and hitting ability at the plate cannot be ignored when deciding if he should be in the starting lineup on a day to day basis.

In 2017, Teoscar Hernandez was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays just before the deadline closed, with veteran Francisco Liriano heading back to the eventual World Series Champions Houston Astros in return (asterisk or not).

Over the course of three seasons since joining the Blue Jays, Hernandez has seen time at both the AAA and MLB level, spending most of his time in both left and center field. He has spent a majority of the 2018 and 2019 seasons on the Blue Jays roster but did see a brief demotion to the Bisons last May when his average wasn’t able to climb over the Mendoza line.

His bat has always shown promise, with both raw power and the ability to put the ball in play being average to above average, but his inconsistency at the plate, elevated strikeout numbers, and his below-average defensive ability are a cause for concern when deciding if he should be an everyday player. With Lourdes Gurriel Jr. now vying for the left-field corner and Randal Grichuk sliding into center field, the 2020 season has also seen Hernandez shift over to right field in an attempt to keep him in the lineup but out of the designated hitter role.

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You may be asking yourself, “but if his defensive ability is below average, why don’t we slot him into the DH?”.

This is where the situation becomes more complicated.

While having Hernandez in the DH role would keep his glove out of the outfield, that would mean having to bench either Rowdy Tellez or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., something the Toronto Blue Jays most likely want to avoid.

With Guerrero Jr. shifting over to 1st base this season, Tellez and Junior have been splitting time between 1B and the DH, with newcomer Travis Shaw also playing a few games at 1B as well. If Hernandez were to move into the DH role, you would either have to take Tellez or Guerrero Jr. out of the lineup unless the Blue Jays want to shift Guerrero Jr. back to third base, which is another defensive liability on its own.

While both players haven’t really blown anyone away during the start of the shortened season, I personally can’t see a scenario where you want to take a younger bat out of the lineup in order to accommodate another power bat like Hernandez with the Blue Jays still attempting to navigate out of a rebuild.

Another issue with having Hernandez shift to the DH role is the lack of outfield depth behind him in the organization.

While the Blue Jays do have some younger outfield prospects in Anthony Alford, Jonathan Davis, Billy McKinney, and Derek Fisher, none of these players have really impressed the Blue Jays brass enough to prove that they could handle playing every day at the MLB level. Fisher and Alford have been the most impressive out of the group, but both players appear to be destined for a bench role rather than a permanent outfield position.

Factor in the fact that both Alford and Fisher are both out of player options, one of these players would have probably been left off the team if the season had the normal 26 man roster (compared to the 30 man roster for the shortened 2020 season).

So, where do we go from here?

Hernandez currently sits in the MLB top ten in home runs with 7 and has been impressive with his .292/.309/.677 slash line during the pandemic shortened 2020 season. His defensive runs saved this year has also seen an uptick and currently sits at +3 (as per Fangraphs), but history says that Hernandez is a below-average fielder and last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays shows that the right-hander still has some struggles when playing in right field.

Could 2020 be the turning point for Hernandez? Possibly.

He is only 27 years old (turning 28 soon) and is entering what many would be considered his prime years. While I wouldn’t go carving his name on the gold glove award any time soon, if Hernandez can consistently find a way to contribute when he steps in the batter’s box and keep his errors limited when he plays in right field, the conversation of where he should play this season would become a moot point.

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For now, manager Charlie Montoyo seems confident that Hernandez is capable of playing every day in right field, and his two home runs last night prove that his bat can be a weapon against one of the better pitching staffs in the league. Unless another prospect can provide the same ability at the plate and a better arm/glove in the outfield, Hernandez doesn’t appear to be going anywhere this season.