When the Blue Jays signed George Springer this past off-season, a few questions arose as to how the organization was going to shuffle an outfield that already consisted of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk, and Teoscar Hernandez. Springer was obviously going to play regularly before he got hurt, but no matter how the Blue Jays re-organized the outfield, someone was going to either have to sit or play in the designated hitter position when looking at the numbers.
At the start of the season, most fans would have probably voted for Grichuk to ride the pine, but the tides have changed with the right-hander performing well early this season to the tune of a .275/.314/.458 slash line with six home runs, 28 RBI, and a .772 OPS in 131 at-bats. Hernandez is also playing well early, with the slugger slashing .304/.353/.506 with five home runs and 18 RBI, finding a way to get on base with his .859 OPS even after missing roughly three weeks earlier this season.
That leaves Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has struggled to begin the campaign, hitting for just .195/.215/.276 while only batting in ten RBI with just two home runs. While Gurriel Jr. isn’t known primarily for his power, he is struggling to get on base this season, evidence by his .492 OPS and three walks so far this year.
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While Springer is still a week or two away from being healthy again and returning to baseball, he will most likely ease back into things as the designated hitter before being integrated back into the outfield. Once he does return to playing defence, someone in the outfield is going to lose playing time, and the player currently trending towards being on the bench appears to be Gurriel Jr.
The Cuban outfielder has not looked comfortable in the batter’s box this season, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and not getting hard contact on the ball at just 35.1%. His weak contact percentage is up (5.3%) compared to his previous seasons as well as a significant decrease in his barrel percentage (5.3%). He seems to be free-swinging at a lot more pitches, especially the breaking pitches where he can get contact on the ball but can’t find a way to muster those into getting on base.
One thing going for the right-handed hitting outfielder is that he is starting to find his stride defensively, taking better routes to the ball and hitting relays as one would expect in the major leagues. He also features a wicked arm, showing off his strength with a flat-footed throw this past weekend to nail Houston Astros outfielder Myles Straw at the plate.
While Gurriel Jr. is a fan favourite amongst the Blue Jays faithful, his batting line may be his downfall this season, as he is just struggling to find a way to put the ball in play and keeps finding himself in tough counts. His aggressive nature in the strike zone is not working for him this season and the pitchers may have his number, meaning he will need to adjust in order to muster some hits over the next few weeks.
The Blue Jays could move the outfield core in a variety of ways if they truly want to keep all four outfielders in the batting order on a consistent basis, but if the organization doesn’t want to use one of them as the designated hitter, somebody will have to sit.
If Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can’t find a way to string together some quality at-bats over the next couple of weeks, he could be the odd man out of the outfield when George Springer returns to the active roster.