A breakout candidate waiting to happen
A friend asked me the other day if I thought there were any breakout candidates for the Blue Jays heading into the 2022 season. That’s not a description that works for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. anymore, as he was an All-Star and finished second in AL MVP voting this year. Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez were also All-Stars, and the latter was a Silver Slugger award winner as well.
The more I thought about the candidates in the lineup, the more I kept coming back to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., even if it’s a bit of a stretch to consider the 27 year old as a potential breakout candidate. In a lot of ways, that breakthrough happened in the second half of the 2021 campaign when he hit .296/.360/.529 with 11 home runs, 11 doubles, and 48 RBI over just 208 at-bats after the All-Star break. There were times that Gurriel Jr. legitimately carried the lineup and was arguably the hottest hitter in baseball.
In a lineup that features all of the other names I’ve already mentioned, Gurriel Jr. doesn’t have to be that mega-star with this group, but the Blue Jays will hope to receive more consistent production from him next season. He slashed just .262/.288/.422 prior to the All-Star break, and really struggled to find his footing in the batter’s box in the early going. Every hitter is going to have ebbs and flows in their production over the course of a 162 game season, but Gurriel Jr. has shown himself to be a pretty streaky hitter.
That said, he changed his approach at the plate in the second half and the adjustment really seems to have worked for him. If that’s an improvement that can be applied in a sustainable way, his bat really lengthens the lineup. The Cuban-born slugger spent the majority of last season hitting either sixth or seventh, and that kind of production in the bottom half is a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
We’ll see if Gurriel Jr. can keep up the elite production that he provided in the second half of last season, but if he can get even close that will make a massive difference for Charlie Montoyo’s lineup card. As far as progression as hitters go, the same thing could still happen for players like Vlad Jr., Bichette, and Hernandez, even if they’ve all arrived in a sense already.
The reality is, even without Marcus Semien the Blue Jays should still have a very deep and dangerous lineup. If they can find an above-average infield replacement, and can get the most out of players like Springer, Biggio, and Gurriel Jr., they should be more than fine.