Blue Jays: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. needs a renewed focus on versatility

May 1, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (13) dives for the ball against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
May 1, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (13) dives for the ball against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

With the news that George Springer is getting close to a rehab assignment, the Blue Jays are likely going to need more versatility from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. going forward.

Once Springer returns and finally takes his place as the new centre fielder, chances are that will push Randal Grichuk to right field. In left field the Blue Jays have a few options, as they could use either Teoscar Hernandez or Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and I imagine the pair will split some time out there and at designated hitter at some point.

However, that doesn’t mean that things will be easy for Charlie Montoyo if he wants to keep all of his best hitters in the lineup. They can use one of their four outfielders in a rotation at DH, but they’re also going to need to work others through that position. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have had the occasional day off their feet from defence, and I’m sure Montoyo will continue with that practice. Springer’s return might also all but force Rowdy Tellez back to the minor leagues or maybe even turn him into a trade chip, as there won’t be regular playing time for everybody if they can get a fully healthy group of position players.

That said, if there’s a way to improve the Blue Jays’ situation and the cards that Montoyo can play, it’s probably asking for more versatility from Gurriel Jr. While his strong right arm is an asset in the outfield, otherwise he’s a below-average defender. That’s not to suggest that he’s unplayable, but at this point I would argue that he’s the weak defensive link of the four outfielders once Springer can return.

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When that time eventually comes I’m sure they’ll ease Springer back into playing full-time with routine starts as the DH. As they’re working him into that type of role, I’d like to see a similar patient approach while Gurriel Jr. and turning him into a bit more of a utility man. He’s likely going to see more time at first base when Springer gets healthy, as that could very well mean that Rowdy Tellez returns to Triple-A to make room on the 26-man roster, and he’s currently the back-up at the cold corner.

Beyond that, I think it would be worthwhile to see if Gurriel Jr’s job could expand further. He has plenty of experience as a pro at both second and third base, as well as shortstop, even if it’s been a while now. I don’t see the Blue Jays trying him back at second base, especially with Marcus Semien having an All-Star season at the position, but why not have him regularly taking ground balls at third and even give him the occasional look there? He probably has the strongest arm on the team, and that cannon could play well for the longer throw across the diamond.

It’s not so much that I’m advocating for Gurriel Jr. to bounce around, as it’s about wanting to keep the best hitters in the Blue Jays’ lineup as much as possible. The 27-year-old started pretty slow to begin the season, but he’s been one of the hottest hitters on the team over the last month. That’s not the type of bat you want to put on the bench very often, and you could say the same for Springer, Hernandez, and Grichuk as well.

With the way this roster has evolved it feels like the lineup is less reliant on Gurriel Jr. than you would typically see for a player of his talents. He’s routinely been hitting either 6th or 7th, and will more than likely settle in the bottom third once Springer does make it back. That is a reflection of the depth in the Blue Jay lineup, but also how they might value him compared to others they might view as the “core”. If that’s the case, and I think it is, there’s an argument for seeing if you can get even more out of him. Once Gurriel Jr. made the move to left field and put the “yips” behind him from his days at second base, there has been a belief that you shouldn’t mess with his position and just let him hit. Now that we’ve seen him make 164 starts as a left fielder, I don’t know that he’s solidified his defensive value there either.

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It might still be a while before Springer can re-join the Blue Jays, but that could also give Montoyo and the front office a little more time to evaluate and decide on the adjustments they’ll make once he does. If they want to maximize the options, asking for more versatility from Gurriel Jr. might be one of the best ways they could do it. In my view, it’s at least worth a shot.