Blue Jays: Don't overlook this speedy outfielder in Spring Training

Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day
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With games now underway, that classic Spring Training excitement is in full swing. You love watching the first five innings of games, as fans get the chance to watch their favorite stars get at bats for the first time in three or so months. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. already has two massive home runs, Yusei Kikuchi looked as sharp as ever in his first two innings, and the only two starters yet to appear are Brandon Belt and George Springer. 

The hype may die down once these players are removed from the game, but there’s still plenty of reason to watch the games finish up. Sure, guys like Addison Barger and Orelvis Martinez are guys to keep an eye on, but there’s one minor league journeyman with the tools to potentially impact the Jays right out of camp this year, his name's Wynton Bernard.

Bernard, a former top prospect in the Tigers system, signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays after finally making it to the big leagues last season with the Rockies after 10 seasons in the minor leagues. He seems excited to be joining the Blue Jays organization.

Bernard said in a conversation with Jays Journal, "I was excited about the talented group of players, the energetic style of play, the loyal fans, and the city itself. I also heard great things about the hard working coaching staff and organization as a whole."

The Blue Jays roster is mostly set, with one or two depth roles possibly still up for grabs, one of those spots being the last bench man. The bench is slated to feature at least one of Danny Jansen or Alejandro Kirk, and the two odd second basemen out between Merrifield, Espinal and Biggio. This three man bench leaves room for one more guy, preferably an outfielder.

This conundrum makes Bernard an intriguing non-roster candidate to watch throughout the spring, as his tools make him a good fit to take that last bench role. His speed alone puts him into that conversation right away. Despite only playing in 12 games last season, he made the 99th percentile in sprint speed as per Baseball Savant. This plays on both sides of the ball, as he remains a solid center fielder into his thirties and swiped 30 bags last season in Triple-A. This element of speed fits in well with this new look roster, joining the likes of Merrfield, Bichette, Springer, Kiermaier, and Varsho as guys who could all steal 15-plus bases.

The second, though more important part of Bernard’s game is his ability to hit lefties. Through 127 plate appearances against left handed pitching last season in Triple-A, Bernard slashed .353/.378/.639 to the tune of a 1.017 OPS. These splits go back multiple seasons, showing Bernard clearly handles left handed pitching. Surprisingly, this area is now all of a sudden a spot of need for the Jays.

While Kiermaier and Springer are expected to be in the outfield daily, regardless of matchups, Varsho may find himself platooned for, given his struggles against left handed pitching last season. This leaves the door open for Bernard, given that he’s a legitimate outfielder who fits the team’s platoon needs. Priority at-bats against left-handed pitching, as well as being a pinch-running option late in games, are all suitable roles for Bernard on a major league roster.

With Bernard being on a minor league deal, a spot on the 40-man roster would have to be made available should the Jays wish to purchase his contract. It's worth noting that Chad Green and Hyun-Jin Ryu yet to be placed on the 60-day IL. Once this eventually happens, two 40-man spots will be available at the end of Spring Training.

Bernard fits a multitude of needs for the Blue Jays roster at this point in camp, and is no doubt a name to watch this next month. He is set to bat seventh and play right field in Monday's Spring Training game against the Atlanta Braves.

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