Jay Blue: Blue Jays deal with playing time crunch in September

Anthony Alford, who has been recalled by the Toronto Blue Jays, will fight for playing time in the club’s outfield in September. Photo: Jay Blue

Anthony Alford, who has been recalled by the Toronto Blue Jays, will fight for playing time in the club’s outfield in September. Photo: Jay Blue

September 6, 2019

By Jay Blue

Blue Jays from Away

2019 is the final year that MLB teams will be allowed to expand their active roster to include anyone (and, possibly, everyone) on the 40-man roster as new rules are slated to go into effect in 2020. While the Toronto Blue Jays haven't called up nearly as many players as, say, the Boston Red Sox (whose website lists 21 pitchers on the active roster), they have created some playing-time crunches with their first group of September call ups.

The Blue Jays, so far, have called up catcher Beau Taylor and Thomas Pannone on September 1 and 2 while also activating Ryan Tepera and Clayton Richard from the injured list. On September 3, the Blue Jays selected the contract of T.J. Zeuch and recalled Richard Urena, Jonathan Davis and Anthony Alford. To create 40-man roster spots for Tepera (activated off the 60-day IL) and Zeuch, the Blue Jays designated Neil Ramirez and Zack Godley for assignment.

As far as the pitching goes, the Jays are going to see all of the 15 pitchers they have on the roster right now. They'll also need to activate Elvis Luciano at some point (unless they intend to give him back to KC) and they stand to select Anthony Kay's contract from Buffalo this weekend, meaning that they'll need two more 40-man roster spots before the month is out.

That said, the fact that the Blue Jays are using an opener and trying to shelter their younger pitchers means that plenty of pitchers will have a chance to get on the mound. If they need further help, Sean Reid-Foley, Hector Perez, Justin Shafer and Yennsy Diaz have yet to be recalled and are all on the 40-man roster and are uninjured (as far as I know).

On the infield, with the recall of Richard Urena, there's likely to be some quibbling as guys like Brandon Drury, Urena and Justin Smoak all look to get regular ABs that are earmarked for players who aren't the cornerstones of the club's future. The Jays want to see more of Rowdy Tellez in order get a better idea of what he's going to mean to the club in the future (especially since Smoak's contract is up after this year) but Urena, while finishing strongly in Buffalo, is probably not thought of as anything more than a utility player at this point. Drury as well, hasn't produced as has been hoped with a .222/.261/.388 slash line in almost 400 plate appearances.

There's going to be a big crunch for playing time in the outfield, however, particularly if the Blue Jays intend to give Anthony Alford a serious look-see. Alford, 25, has missed much of the year with injuries, getting into just 76 games with the Buffalo Bisons and had some struggles. He did, however, finish with a solid .259/.343/.411 slash line, hitting 16 doubles, three triples and seven home runs, adding 22 stolen bases in 30 attempts.

But with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. coming back soon, the Blue Jays are going to have seven outfielders. With the acquisition of Derek Fisher at the trade deadline, the Blue Jays are trying to squeeze at bats at the three outfield positions and occasional DH spot for Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk, Billy McKinney, Fisher, Gurriel and Alford. Alford can play centre field a couple of times a week while Fisher is going to be stuck in left, fighting for time with Gurriel and McKinney (who could occasionally play right, where Grichuk is well ensconced). Jonathan Davis is likely to get pinch-running duties and late-game outfield time but might be pressed to get even 10 plate appearances for the rest of the month.

The question becomes who do we want to see get the most playing time? Personally, I'd like to see Alford as much as possible. Like many of the Blue Jays' outfielders, he's struggled with strikeouts when he's been in the major leagues and we've got to see if he's going to improve with more regular exposure or not. Alford's strikeout rate was up in the minor leagues, coming in at 29.5% in triple-A, a year after he had a 26.9% strikeout rate in 2018. McKinney, by contrast, has gotten 236 plate appearances with the Blue Jays this year and has struck out 25.4% of the time but has a miserable .269 OBP (likely due to a below-average .255 BABIP).

If Alford can play centre field every day, he'll be usurping Teoscar Hernandez's job, and Hernandez, while walking more this year, still has a sub-.300 OBP with a 32.0% strikeout rate to go with his 21 home runs. A healthy Alford may be able to give this kind of stat line a run for its money and provide some solid defense.

There's also Derek Fisher to consider. Fisher has a very strong walk rate (12.2%) but has seen his strikeout rate bloat to 35.1% in 74 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, hitting .185/.284/.446. Again, there's power there but he's not getting on base enough to really make an impact.

That said, there's going to be a crunch for all of Alford, McKinney, Fisher, Hernandez, Grichuk and Gurriel as the club tries to see not only what it has but who will form the cornerstone of the club into the coming years.

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