The Blue Jays are fortunate to have several players with defensive versatility, including Brandon Drury, who could be a legitimate outfield option in 2019.
On July 26th of this past season, the Blue Jays made a pretty significant trade by sending J.A. Happ to the Yankees. It was difficult to see the team’s best starting pitcher (in 2018 at least), and such a likeable character dealt to a division rival, but it was the right decision to move him before he became a free agent and at least get some assets in return.
The Jays enjoyed a surprise performance from Billy McKinney as one of the players that came back in the trade. He ended up slashing .252/.320/.470 with six home runs, seven doubles, and 13 RBI in 115 at bats, with the slash line dropping later on after a very hot start. As pleasant a surprise as McKinney has been, he was supposed to be the secondary part of the trade package.
The return for the Blue Jays was centred around Brandon Drury, a 26 year old IF/OF who had played with the Diamondbacks for two-plus seasons before being dealt to New York, and later to Toronto.
Drury had an unfortunate start to his career as a Blue Jay, as it was discovered that he had a fracture in his hand that neither the team, or even he himself was fully aware of at the time of the trade. It was reported that he thought he had a bruise after being hit by a pitch in his last game as a Yankee, but didn’t think he would miss any significant time after the Yankees’ training staff examined him. He ended up spending the rest of the season on the disabled list after just eight games in a new uniform.
After knowing that there was an injury that wasn’t going to heal, it was pretty easy to excuse the fact that he started his career as a Blue Jay by going just 4-26 at the plate. When the injury was discovered, he told Sportnet’s Arden Zwelling that the injury prevented him from doing pretty much anything “right” at the time, despite his best efforts.
“My hand was broke. So, I was just trying to play through it. I was doing everything I could to play through it. But it was just to the point where I couldn’t swing right, I couldn’t catch the ball right — it wasn’t right.”
With all of that in mind, it’s best for both Drury and the Blue Jays to look at the 2019 season as a clean slate and a fresh start.
Because we didn’t get to see a lot of the Oregon native before he hit the shelf, it’s easy to forget about his diverse skill set and the fact that he’s actually a pretty good ballplayer. His best season came back in 2016 when he slashed .282/.329/.458 with 16 home runs, 31 doubles, and 53 RBI in 449 at bats. He followed that up with a slightly lower slash line, but had 37 doubles in 2017, and looked like he could be a part of the Diamondback’s infield for awhile before the trade to New York.
Part of that skill set is his ability to play all over the diamond, which we saw with him making appearances at third base, second base, and shortstop in his short stint with the Blue Jays. However, he’s also spent some pretty significant time in the outfield in the past, playing in 89 games out there in 2016 with the D-backs. That experience could be of interest to whomever is going to manage this team in 2019.
Drury could certainly battle for playing time in the infield as well, but as it stands right now the Blue Jays will have a depth chart that will also include Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Devon Travis, Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte, Troy Tulowitzki (if healthy), and eventually Vladimir Guerrero Jr. I didn’t even include first base in that rundown, so we’re talking about seven players for three spots, and there are plenty of other infield options in the organization as well. I would expect the Blue Jays to trade at least one of the names above, but it’s still going to be a crowded picture regardless.
That’s what makes me wonder if Drury might not end up spending more time in the outfield, or at least have it a part of his regular routine anyway. The Blue Jays currently have an outfield group that includes McKinney, Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk, and Teoscar Hernandez, as well as some shuttle guys like Dwight Smith Jr., and Jonathan Davis. It’s possible the Blue Jays could look to trade Pillar this winter before his rising salary no longer matches his sinking defensive value, and Hernandez has notable struggles on defence.
Those two factors could make the difference between Drury getting a legitimate opportunity for regular playing time, and being a back-up across most of the Blue Jays’ depth chart. The defensive metrics weren’t particularly kind to him as an outfielder (Rtot was -5, for example), but he rated a little better than Hernandez as a comparison, and that was when he was bouncing around the diamond a lot in Arizona.
Whatever ends up happening for Drury in 2019, he’s stated that he’s excited for the opportunity in Toronto, and hopefully he’ll get a chance to stay healthy and earn some fairly regular playing time. If that’s going to happen though, there’s a decent chance it’ll have to be mostly in the outfield.