Blue Jays: Where does Santiago Espinal fit into the future plans?

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 30: Santiago Espinal #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays heads into the dugout ahead of their MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 30, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 30: Santiago Espinal #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays heads into the dugout ahead of their MLB game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 30, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays had a great 2021 campaign, leading the league in quite a few offensive categories and getting contributions from players up and down the entire lineup and in the pitching corps.

Finishing with 91 wins on the season, the magic number would end up being 92 and the Blue Jays would miss out on the playoffs and will see their AL East rivals in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees go head to head in the Wild Card game later today.

While the headlines were dominated by the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Robbie Ray for most of the latter half of the season, there was one player who found a groove late in the campaign but also put up sneakily good numbers throughout his time on the active roster.

Santiago Espinal had a great season for the Blue Jays while he rode the options bus early in the campaign, with the potential for a bigger role next year.

Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Steve Pearce back in 2018, Santiago Espinal made his Major League debut last season and rode the options bus between the alternate training site and the active roster, finishing the year with a .267/.308/.333 slash line with six RBI through 26 games and 60 at-bats.

This season, Espinal did not make the Opening Day roster but would be called up to the club on April 10th and would once again ride the options bus between the Blue Jays and AAA until mid-June, eventually finding a spot on the diamond and in the Blue Jays bench but seeing an increase in playing time at third base. He would miss a few weeks late in the season with a right hip flexor strain but would return in mid-September and would finish the year on a very high note, crafting a .500 batting average through his last seven games where he would amass 11 hits in 22 at-bats with two RBI, four walks, and one strikeout.

To end the year, the Dominican product would finish the season with an impressive .311/.376/.405 slash line along with 13 doubles, two home runs (his first in the Major Leagues), and 17 RBI. He would also walk 22 times this year compared to his 30 strikeouts and would also add six stolen bases to his record, finishing the year with a .781 OPS.

Defensively, Espinal was one of the best options at third base, crafting a .980 fielding percentage at the position with 159 assists, 16 double plays, and four errors through 555.2 innings at the hot corner. He also made a highlight-reel play in the Blue Jays’ first game back at the Rogers Centre this year, a bare-handed over-the-shoulder grab to win the game and start a crazy win streak in early August for the club.

While Cavan Biggio was tagged as the Blue Jays third baseman to start the season, it was Espinal who shined when Biggio was underperforming and when he was on the injured list. He may not have been making consistent starts for the club this year but Espinal was easily one of the best defenders out of the numerous players they threw out at third base when all was said and done this season.

This begs the question – what does next year hold for Santiago Espinal?

One would think that he will make the Opening Day roster in 2022 unless he really comes out of the gates slowly in Spring Training, whether it be in a bench role or as the club’s third baseman. He could platoon with Biggio at the hot corner if the club wants to play lefty/righty matchups but the club could also utilize the lefty-batter as a utility option rather than being stuck at the one position.

There is also the potential that the Blue Jays could go out and snag a third baseman this year during free agency or via trade. Kris Bryant and Kyle Seager are the biggest names on the FA market while the club could try to swing a deal for Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, who would be an excellent addition to the Blue Jays lineup but would require a significant amount of prospect capital given his two years of very friendly contract control at just $26 million dollars.

Within the farm system, there are a few different players who could be on Espinal’s heels in Kevin Smith and top prospect Jordan Groshans. A strong spring for either player could change the dynamic of the Blue Jays active roster and potentially send Espinal to AAA but it would appear that he has the hill over the other two at the moment, with Groshans more likely to start in Buffalo alongside Smith.

Next. How Cavan Biggio will play an important role in 2022. dark

This off-season could get very interesting given how close the Blue Jays were to making the playoffs and with Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray looking to cash in this Winter. Santiago Espinal appears to be a pretty viable option for the Jays next season whether it be at third base or on the bench and I would not be surprised if the organization gives him an opportunity to find an increased role on the big league club for the foreseeable future.