A Quick Thought About Every Blue Jays Starting Position: April Edition

This is designed to be a quick piece to simply write my thoughts down as April has progressed, so I’ll keep this intro brief: this is being written on April 17th, 2021. This is a small sample size for every single position that’s about to be listed. There will be no major trades for a while, so if I suggest that they should think about one, I don’t mean that they should rush and do that immediately.

I tend to write in a longer style, generally, but I’m going to keep each positional thought reasonably brief (with exceptions for the trending topics, e.g. catcher) and reserve longer thoughts for their own articles. There will be no recap at the end.

Catcher

Danny Jansen’s been worrying a lot of fans with his 2-for-25 start to the season, and it’s easy to see why. He doesn’t look especially confident in the batter’s box, and any hints of the 2018-era optimism surrounding his approach seem to be evaporating. That said, his defense continues to be excellent, and it’s well-documented that he works tremendously with pitchers.

The only way the Blue Jays would likely move on from Jansen is if they decide to add a veteran for a playoff push. Jansen still has exceptional estimated trade value on Baseball Trade Values, and I can imagine that the possibility exists where they’d move him for rotation help.

That will only happen if they acquire a veteran; Alejandro Kirk is the only viable alternative right now, and he’s not faring any better than Jansen in 2021 so far. Kirk’s inexperience above single-A is becoming more apparent as pitchers adjust to having more data in matchups with him, and neither Gabriel Moreno nor Riley Adams have enough MiLB experience to warrant a call-up yet, either. Reese McGuire and Juan Graterol are not upgrades to the current situation. Kirk’s worth sticking with, obviously, but a strong 2021 might be optimistic as he adjusts to MLB life.

If the Blue Jays are a playoff team in 2021, and they’re hovering around the “maybe” point at the moment, Danny Jansen likely won’t hold them back. They can afford to have a spot in the current lineup that’s not projected for above-average offense. An upgrade would be helpful, but I can’t imagine it’s a priority; Jansen’s defense and pitcher chemistry are more valuable than his offensive statline.

Thoughts so far? Not worrying as much as the consensus, but it doesn’t look amazing either. Please don’t pencil in Riley Adams or Gabriel Moreno yet.

First Base / Designated Hitter

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been working so hard on becoming a better first baseman, and it’s so obvious to see. He’s been really solid out there (if not better), and his hitting has finally turned around as his fitness has gotten to a point he’s more comfortable with. I wasn’t optimistic about his chances as a third baseman during his 2020-21 offseason run with Leones Del Escogido, so I’m happy they’re committing to him at first. He hit .359 through ten games in LIDOM, and he hasn’t slowed down in MLB throughout this first month. Seems like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is here.

Rowdy Tellez has been cold to start the season, which won’t benefit him in a lineup battle with Randal Grichuk. Coming into the year, the glass-half-empty thought with Tellez seemed to be that last year was too short a sample size to judge him too much in either direction for 2021. (I remember Mike Wilner of the Toronto Star bringing up that point in a live pre-season discussion, I believe.)

Almost all of his percentile rankings have gone in the wrong direction in 2021, which is admittedly an even smaller sample size, but if it continues trending this way, there’s not going to be an argument for Tellez over Grichuk in the batting order if you’re choosing. It might only be a month, but this was always going to be an important month for Tellez.

Thoughts so far? Excellent news all around for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the first base position. Not so much for Rowdy Tellez.

Second Base

Marcus Semien has been exactly what the Blue Jays hoped for when they signed him. I still don’t think he’s a leadoff hitter, but that’s really my only negative thought here. He might end up moving to shortstop, but that’s a good thing for Semien. He should improve even more at the plate as the year goes on, but his 0.6 bWAR/0.4 fWAR in 13 games is nothing to overthink. He’s not elite, but he’s been good.

Joe Panik is Joe Panik, and he’s not changing much at this point in his career. He’s a solid player, but he’s not spectacular and doesn’t hold a particularly high ceiling.

Thoughts so far? Marcus Semien, despite a low batting average so far, has been essentially what the Jays signed him for. If I were in charge of the lineups, Bo Bichette and Josh Palacios would both see time in the leadoff spot instead.

Shortstop

Bo Bichette is clearly an excellent hitter who’s only getting better as he gains experience. His defense has not been as good, and I say that in a way that favours eye-test over metrics. His throws have been wild in all directions, and he’s prone to late throws. It may benefit him to take a week’s worth of games at DH while he trains more with Marcus Semien. If it continues, there will be discussions about him switching spots with Semien permanently. There were pre-draft thoughts that Bichette would eventually move to second or even third base, and it seems like it’s still a possibility. His bat would fit perfectly at third, but defensively it seems like second might be a better fit.

Semien made headlines by pushing himself to improve dramatically with his defense in Oakland. It’s possible that one of the reasons he was brought in was to help Bichette with something similar in a year where Jordan Groshans is putting the final touches on his minor-league career.

Thoughts so far? Bo Bichette’s defense isn’t inspiring confidence, but his bat sure is. It’s time to consider a stretch of games where Bichette is the DH, just to get him more confident in his throwing. He should also be the primary leadoff hitter.

Third Base

Cavan Biggio is a player that’s never quite found a consensus among analysts, but his defensive flexibility and precise eye at the plate have kept his value high within Toronto. A slow April won’t change that, but it could change his primary role to super-utility, where he can be himself on both sides of play and not have to worry about the lofty batting expectations at third base.

I’m beyond impressed with Santiago Espinal, but his offense doesn’t project to be quite good enough to write him in as an everyday third baseman, especially with an offensive uncertainty at catcher already occupying a lineup spot. He’s undoubtedly earned a spot on this team in my mind, though.

Thoughts so far? Adding an offense-first third baseman might emerge as a priority at the trade deadline if it keeps in this direction. Cavan Biggio might be an above-average super-utility guy right now. Santiago Espinal deserves to be with the main team.

Left Field

My evaluation of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hasn’t really changed at all since the start of the year. I know that’s not terribly exciting, but it’s been 11 games for him and he’s been below-average to average. Nothing jumps out positively that wasn’t there before, but I’m not worried about anything either. The defense has been worrying.

Thoughts so far? Any issues with Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s current statline should be evened out when he gets into his first hot streak of 2021. Barring a shocker of a month or a surprising trade, he’s the left-fielder for this generation of the Blue Jays.

Centre Field

Randal Grichuk’s approach shifted in the middle of 2020, and since then, he’s really impressed me. He’ll continue to take everyday at-bats for the foreseeable future, and it’s well-deserved. Of course, George Springer will have this position full-time when he returns, but there will remain spots for Grichuk most days when that happens. His paycheque would probably require that anyway, but his bat is also making sure he’s staying put.

The Jays are wisely taking their time with George Springer’s injuries, leaving chances open for Jonathan Davis and newcomer Josh Palacios. Davis has had moments, but it’s been Palacios that’s taken this opportunity and run with it. I think he’s been very strong, to the point where I’d experiment with placing him in the leadoff spot against mid-to-low-end starters. Seriously, his OBP so far suggests it’s a good idea, and you don’t want to miss a hot streak.

Thoughts so far? Consistency seems to be the biggest conversation around Grichuk, but I’ll be honest – that would worry me more if there wasn’t a noticeable shift at a certain point in 2020. I think he’s legitimately a good enough hitter to be in this order every day. As I mentioned, Palacios should see some games at the top of the order.

Right Field

When Teoscar Hernández returns from the COVID-19 IL, this job will be his. Until then, it’s a combination of players we’ve already spoken about. Not much to touch on here.

Rotation

Hyun-Jin Ryu and Steven Matz have been excellent, the latter showing exactly why the Blue Jays took a chance and acquired him. Injuries have made it so Anthony Kay, TJ Zeuch, and Tommy Milone are making starts – if the Blue Jays needed another starter before this season started, the need has only increased.

Robbie Ray’s return is encouraging, and he looked fine in his first start back from injury. It doesn’t project well for Tanner Roark’s roster spot that Kay, Zeuch, Milone, and Ross Stripling (currently injured) have all jumped past him on the depth chart.

Thoughts so far? It’s time to get on the phone with GMs and ask if the price for starters has shifted at all. When they get the response that it’s April and nothing’s changed, it might be time to call Rick Porcello and see if you can get a decent season from the 32-year-old. Why they’re waiting to give a chance to Alek Manoah, I’m not entirely sure. The situation looks much better if Anthony Kay, TJ Zeuch, and Thomas Hatch (when he returns) can be trusted for positive outings.

Bullpen

Rafael Dolis and Ryan Borucki have the highest ERAs of the group (excluding the aforementioned Tanner Roark), which should say everything it needs to – the bullpen’s been very strong, and it’s a shame that injuries keep appearing.

Jordan Romano and Julian Merryweather have been absurdly impressive when healthy, and if resting them for the first half and keeping cautious sets them up for great playoff push outings, that would be the best-case scenario.

Thoughts so far? Not sure there’s an additional summary here, which is good. It’s rarely positive when there’s a lot to talk about in the bullpen. It’s just a shame that injuries are interfering with the full plan.


“Houston Astros @ Toronto Blue Jays – July 28, 2013” by fabfotophotography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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