When Spring Training came to an end back in late March, infielder Santiago Espinal was a contender for one of the last spots on the Opening Day roster. When the Blue Jays informed veteran Joe Panik that he would be making the team as the club’s infield bench option, that all but sealed Espinal’s chances of making the club for the first series in New York City against the Yankees.
Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Steve Pearce back in 2018, Espinal made his major league debut for the Blue Jays last season, crafting a .267/.308/.333 slash line with six RBI and a .641 OPS in 26 games over 66 plate appearances.
While he did not make the roster to begin the 2021 season, Espinal has been riding the options bus multiple times this year between the big leagues and the alternate training site with all the various injuries to the active roster. So far, the 3B/SS has appeared in 16 games and has 31 plate appearances, slashing .300/.323/.433 with two doubles, one triple, and two RBI on his way to a .756 OPS. While the sample size is small, the results have been promising so far for the Dominican native as the Blue Jays bench infielder.
While his bat has been impressive through the few at-bats he’s had this season, Espinal’s glove is what is gaining him attention from the Jays fanbase, with the Miami Dade Community College alum performing well on the hot corner this year.
Considering the Blue Jays have had to deal with numerous errors and inconsistencies from Cavan Biggio and Joe Panik at third base, Espinal has by far been the most consistent and dependable at the position early this year. He is able to make the plays that one would expect from a major league third baseman and is able to turn double plays at second base, getting the team out of tough situations on a few occasions with his perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
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To summarize, Espinal is having a great start to the season but because he has minor league options, his stay on the active roster will most likely be over when players return from the injured list like Panik (calf) or one of the numerous pitchers on the evergrowing list. Espinal may be able to extend his stay with Rowdy Tellez possibly heading to the IL after leaving yesterday’s game in the 8th inning but because of his options, he will always be a possibility to be sent down to the minor leagues.
If Tellez does go to the IL over the next few days, this will probably be one of the best opportunities for Espinal to show manager Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays management team that he belongs on the major league roster. Panik has not yet returned and even though Biggio may get some more starts at third, if Espinal can keep producing like he currently is every time he steps on the field, it will be a tough decision to send him back to AAA or the taxi squad.
Even though he does have the option to be sent down to the minor leagues, Santiago Espinal is proving that he belongs on a major league roster at least in a bench infielder role. Considering he is outperforming his counterparts defensively at third base as well, a few more quality outings could see the 5’10” righty batter manipulate his way into more playing time further down the stretch, a move that just might make sense if the Jays left side defence keeps committing errors because of a double-clutch or an errant throw across the diamond.