After trading ledmys Diaz and releasing roy Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays have created a pretty clear path for ourdes Gurriel Jr. at shortstop, at least for now.
It’s pretty clear that the youth movement is in full swing in Toronto this winter, as the front office has stated that they’re going to be actively rebuilding the roster. So far, their actions have backed up their words.
Last summer they traded veterans like Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Curtis Granderson, Steve Pearce and more, and they’ve already added more changes this winter. Aledmys Diaz was traded to the Astros in exchange for Trent Thornton, and most recently Ross Atkins and company decided that releasing Troy Tulowitzki and paying him the 38 million left on his contract was the best decision. As crazy as it sounds, they’re probably right.
One of the biggest reasons is because it clears up roster space and playing time for the young talent that’s on the way, and more specifically at shortstop, the talent that has already arrived. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was very impressive in his brief MLB experience in 2018, and the Blue Jays are looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full season in the big leagues.
Last year he was able to play in 65 games and slashed a solid .281/.309/.446, adding 11 home runs, eight doubles, and 35 RBI in 249 at bats. He also broke the MLB record for consecutive multi-hit games, and took a serious run at the all-time record.
The decision to move on from both Tulowitzki and Diaz will have a direct impact on Gurriel Jr’s opportunity, and likely his primary position. He spent time at both shortstop and second base last season, and he also has experience at third base and in the outfield corners during his time in the minor leagues. At this stage it looks like the Blue Jays are prepared to hand him the everyday job at short, even if Atkins is admittedly keeping his eye open for some veteran infield depth.
Personally, I love the idea of going to Gurriel as the everyday shortstop in 2019, as it’ll give the Blue Jays a chance to see what they’ve really got in the 25 year old. His potential is off the charts, and with a rocket of an arm he could be a plus shortstop as long as he can harness his many tools. Last season he was much better at second base than at short, but I’m nowhere near ready to give up on the idea of him as a shortstop. If he ends up as a second baseman then so be it, but with that throwing arm it would be nice to see it utilized on the far side of the diamond.
The timing works well because the other top shortstop prospect in the organization is Bo Bichette, who likely won’t be quite ready to push for an MLB job by Opening Day. More likely, he’ll spend most or all of the 2019 season in Triple-A Buffalo, but as Ross Atkins said the other day, the Blue Jays would love it if he “forced their hand”. Ideally he’ll have at least a decent chunk of the season to develop in Triple-A before being called up, which will allow Gurriel a proper audition at short.
A year ago there was a lot more question about Bichette’s ability to stick at shortstop, but it seems that he’s now viewed as a long term option at the position. I’d be perfectly fine with a scenario that ultimately had Bichette at short and Gurriel Jr. at second base, but I can’t help but think the Blue Jays would be maximizing their potential if they were the other way around. Maybe I need to see more of Bichette on the defensive side of the ball, but just strictly on the raw tools I’ve witnessed from Gurriel it seems like he would have the higher defensive ceiling. That said, I’m not a pro scout and there’s a good chance I’m wrong, but that’s what goes through my head when I see Gurriel’s potential at short.
Plenty of things could change before Opening Day, but it looks like we’re going to get the chance to see if Gurriel can harness that potential next season.