ARLINGTON, TEXAS—Chances extended, with no rhyme or reason. Chances denied, willy nilly.
Why is Socrates Brito on this team?
Why is Cavan Biggio not on this team.
Oh sure, we get the conventional thinking. (Lord knows baseball is stuffed full of conventional thinking, even in the over-amped analytics era). Biggio is just one winter removed from his Eastern League MVP season, advancing from Double-A to Triple-A, and he needs a full complement of Buffalo reps. He was at second base Saturday against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, but he can also play shortstop or third and might even get a look in the outfield, to hear tell. That’s because second, short and third are all clogged up with the Blue Jays.
And that’s before Lourdes Gurriel Jr. returns from Buffalo perdition — presumably cured of his throwing yips — likely within the next fortnight.
Meanwhile, Brito, obtained by Toronto in a footnote early April transaction, lugged an .067 average to the plate with him Saturday in his 14th start with the club, playing right field. He grounded into a double play in his first at-bat.
The other half of that fourth-outfielder experiment was Alen Hanson, who got DFA’d this week following a brutal catching cock-up in Anaheim. But, hey, manager Charlie Montoyo made him his go-to guy pinch-running late for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a totally unnecessary intercession.
Anyway, if Montoyo is looking for speed — plus the added bonus of stalwart defence – there’s Jonathan Davis Jr. down Buffalo way, hitting .314 in a dozen Triple-A games, about to turn 26 next week, with big-league dreams fading.
How come not Davis? How come not Biggio? Or even Gurriel in the outfield, where he played 40 games with the Industriales in his native Cuba in 2015-16.
Ross Atkins has an explanation for that , an exculpation, of course he does.
“It’s a great question and I think there’s two things that are factoring in there,” the youthful general manager was saying late Saturday afternoon, in a state-of-the-nation session with reporters in the dugout pre-game. “The first one is, just making sure when there are transitions that we’ve maximized their opportunities in the minor leagues and they are in a position to hopefully never go back.”
Which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, you know. Players are going up and down all the time without psychic injury.
“But the more important piece to the equation is making sure, once they do come, they’re playing every day, or the bulk of the playing time. As you’ve seen with Socrates Brito, he’s had very limited playing time. Alen Hanson had limited playing time and was pinch-running often. When we bring a player to the big leagues, we want him to play on a regular basis.”
For those who are expected to become everyday players, sure. But Davis, as an example, has never been projected as that guy. Can’t see how his development would be curtailed, playing every third or fourth game up with Toronto, especially given his superior glove.
Yet this cautious, conservative approach persists. So of course Biggio — hitting .333 with six home runs and a 1.098 OPS in 21 games through Friday — is being kept down on the farm, likely not to be seen around the big club for a long while yet, if doubtless the next Bison promoted.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about it,” Biggio, 24, told The Canadian Press last week. “We’re in Triple-A here and playing at the second highest level of baseball is amazing, but don’t get me wrong — we all want to be in the big leagues.”
If the Jays are going all-in young, then go young, while these marinating minor-league players are actually still youngish. Recent reports suggested the tall foreheads would like to flesh-peddle Aaron Sanchez and/or Marcus Stroman sooner rather than later, which would be colossally dumb, converting both their mound dillies for more assets, especially if those returning assets are in the shape of more pitching arms, starting this grooming and nurturing process all over again. Speculation has it the Jays would like to surround Guerrero, who had his first major-league RBI in the first inning Saturday, with more teammates around his own age, so they could all ripen together.
Yet what if this team actually vies for a wild-card spot this season? It could happen. The American League East is, at least at the moment, an unintimidating baseball blob, with only Tampa faring well.
You reckon this Toronto executive echo chamber would actually freak out if the Jays stumble buoyantly into wild-card territory? Because the suits aren’t organizationally ready for this Jays troupe to actually compete with some lead in their pencil. In fact — I will state it as fact — they seem far more preoccupied with fielding top-notch minor-league teams (that’s all the thing now in baseball) rather than optimizing the senior Jays right now.
Versatility is what both Atkins and Montoyo are preaching. Which is why, say, Luke Maile has been taking groundballs for the last week at first base. Though heaven knows why the Jays would be looking to expand personnel at the bag, unless they intend to move Justin Smoak (as rumoured) in the soon hereafter.
“We’re also really encouraged by Lourdes Gurriel and he’ll start to get outfield reps as well, so he could be a potentially more versatile piece for us,” Atkins added.
Versatility is another way of saying there’s no one who absolutely owns a job.
While Atkins claims to be generally pleased with how these Jays have acquitted themselves — rising to .500, falling back with that sweeping dispatch in Anaheim before arriving in Texas — the general manager does concede, has to concede, that this version of the Jays is hit-shy (despite wracking up 11 in Friday’s 1-0 extra innings win over the Rangers) and seriously not situational-hitting adept.
“The area where we feel we can be better is scoring runs. A lot of our individual performances have turned. You’ve seen a significant turn from Brandon Drury — he’s a major-league-average hitter right now. Two or three weeks ago that was not the case. Eric Sogard has added a lot to the lineup. The professionalism of his at-bats has helped others. It looks like Teoscar (Hernandez) is slowly climbing out.”
Of his hitting hole, Atkins means.
“Still projects to be a very good major-league hitter that hasn’t run into the home runs yet.”
Not yet. That appears to be the Blue Jays motto, six ways from Sunday.
Works as a pre-set default epitaph too.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno
Published at Sun, 05 May 2019 01:59:31 +0000