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Blue Jays: What to expect from Teoscar Hernandez in 2021

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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After a strong 2020 season, Teoscar Hernandez was nominated for the American League’s Hank Aaron Award and is poised for another big year in Toronto.

On Wednesday, one day before his 28th birthday, Toronto Blue Jays’ slugger Teoscar Hernandez was named a finalist for the Hank Aaron Award. The annual award was created in 1999 and is given to the most prolific offensive player in each league. This season seven players in both the American and National Leagues were nominated for the Hank Aaron Award, including past winners Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

While Hernandez is unlikely to win the trophy this year, his inclusion among the nominees shows just how far he’s come since arriving in Toronto in a deadline deal for Francisco Liriano back in 2017. It also raises questions regarding his ceiling going forward, with Blue Jays fans hoping he can age in a similar fashion to two-time Hank Aaron Award recipient Jose Bautista. “Joey Bats” won the award in consecutive seasons while also leading the MLB in home runs back in 2010 and 2011. Carlos Delgado and Josh Donaldson are the only other Blue Jays to receive the honour during their time in Toronto.

The comparison between Hernandez and Bautista is one fans of the team have heard ever since Teoscar arrived in Toronto and hit eight home runs in 26 games down the stretch in 2017. That strong finish mirrored the end of Bautista’s 2009 season. Joey Bats hit 10 homers and drove in 21 runs over the final month that year, setting the stage for his breakout 2010 campaign. Unlike Bautista, Hernandez’ next two seasons in Toronto featured plenty of ups and downs. He was able to hit 20 home runs in both 2018 and 2019, but struggled with a low batting average and high strike out rates. His struggles led to demotions to Buffalo in both seasons.

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With so many young bats in the organization, another year in that range might have brought an end to Hernandez’ time in Toronto. However, a strong 2020 has Hernandez locked into a starting role in right field going forward, while his bat will be a mainstay in the heart of the Blue Jays order. He’ll be 28 on opening day next season, one year younger than Bautista was in 2010, and has the potential to solidify himself as the long-term solution at the position like Bautista once was.

So what can we expect from Hernandez in 2021? He’ll be coming off a breakout season that saw him post a .919 OPS, while hitting 16 home runs and driving in 34 runs. Hernandez finished the season with 55 hits and slashed career-best totals across the board, .289/.340/.579, in just 50 games played. An oblique injury derailed his season briefly, but Hernandez was able to return for the final two weeks of the season and help Toronto into the playoffs.

Hernandez’ stats in the abbreviated season prorate to 52 home runs and 110 RBI’s over a full 162-game schedule. Obviously injuries and other factors will come into play, but a 40 home run season isn’t out of the question for the Blue Jays slugger. With a strong lineup around him, Hernandez will at the very least have an opportunity to hit 30 homers and drive in 80 runs for the first time in his career. Keeping his batting average north of .270 and avoiding a regression to his career mark of .245 will be a big key to Hernandez’ future success as well.

Teoscar’s game does have some flaws, however. His strikeout to walk rate remains a concern. Hernandez struck out 63 times this past season while earning just 14 free passes. Defensively, he has a strong arm, but at times struggles with decision making and has committed some ugly lack-of-hustle errors. A commitment to the fundamentals of baseball is needed for Hernandez to reach his full potential.

As one of the oldest members of the young core, Hernandez has an opportunity to step into a leadership role as well and set a positive example for the other young bats. Jays fans saw the team commit plenty of frustrating mental errors this past season and will be expecting better things from the team in that regard next season. An improvement from Hernandez defensively will go a long way towards keeping the team in the playoff mix in 2021.

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Entering his first off-season of arbitration eligibility, Hernandez also has the potential to provide the Blue Jays with some great value over the next couple seasons. If he can take another step forward, he could even earn himself a long term deal before he becomes eligible for free agency in 2024.

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