Blue Jays: The rise and fall of Santiago Espinal’s 2022 season
Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Santiago Espinal has seen the most playing time of his young Major League career and has certainly made the most of this opportunity.
The increased workload and opportunity have led Espinal to receive recognition and praise league-wide, culminating in an appearance at the All-Star Game in July.
However, it’s a long season and the youngster from the Dominican Republic has had a hard time maintaining the level of production he enjoyed in the season’s first half.
Blue Jays: Santiago Espinal, The Rise
There was a lot of talk about a bulked-up Espinal at the onset of Spring Training and, indeed, he showed up in Dunedin with an added 15 pounds of muscle.
Espinal quickly put that extra power to work, coming up with big hits in each of the first two games of the season despite not being in the starting lineup for either contest. He’d go on to get hits in five of his first 11 at-bats, showing an ability to drive the ball not seen before.
What happened next wasn’t so much about the numbers and more about the role. Coming into the season, most Jays fans and followers figured second base would be a platoon between Espinal and Cavan Biggio. Santiago took ownership of that spot from the get-go and didn’t relent. It should be noted that Biggio did spend some time on the IL and didn’t really get going until June.
Espinal continued to show more thunder in his bat, with eight extra-base hits in April, including two homers. His next hot streak occurred between May 4th and 21st when Espinal went 18-50 (.360) with five doubles.
He’d cool off for the remainder of the month but went 22-for-55 (.400) with three home runs and 13 RBI from June 1st to 15th in a stretch that raised his batting average from .262 to a high-water mark of .298. This was around the time the case for Espinal to be represented at the All-Star Game began building steam.
Santi wasn’t initially named to the team and over the next month, he hit just .218 and the Jays went 12-17. He was named a replacement player on the squad despite his inconsistencies and was recognized for a solid first half.
Espinal was a deserving participant at the ASG but hasn’t shown the same power stroke that he flashed earlier in the season. He‘s also dealt with decreased playing time with the acquisition of Whit Merrifield and Biggio continuing to be mixed in.
In the season’s second half, Santiago has started just 24 of 39 games and has hit .247 with four extra-base hits.
To make matters worse, Espinal left Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh after being hit in the hand by a pitch. He’s considered to be day-to-day with a hand contusion.
The encouraging thing is that even during his struggles, Espinal has continued to deliver good at-bats and remains among the best in the league at fielding his position.
The abilities of Espinal probably lie somewhere between his hot and cold streaks. He may or may not be a perennial All-Star, but he’s proven to be more than just a utility player this season.