Blue Jays Infield Depth Will be Tested Early and Often
By Cole Shelton
Canadian Baseball Network
The Toronto Blue Jays accomplished a huge goal in the off-season, by adding much-needed infield depth. The Blue Jays acquired Gift Ngoepe from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Yangervis Solarte from the San Diego Padres, and Aledmys Diaz from the St. Louis Cardinals. With that, Toronto now has adequate infield depth, something that is so important over the course of the season, and something they didn’t have last season.
“What we’re looking for, and will continue to look for, are options and versatile options and guys that can do multiple things, and guys that can typically play in the middle of the diamond can do more than that,” said Ross Atkins on a conference call to reporters. “Both (Solarte and Diaz) will complement each other well.”
Last season, the Blue Jays, gave regular at-bats to Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins, who simply weren’t good enough. Barney had an OBP (on-base percentage) of .275 and an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .602. While, Ryan Goins, fared a tad better with an OBP of .286 and an OPS of .643. However, both players were not good hitters, which hampered the Blue Jays offence, but Goins helped on the defensive end.
By replacing Barney and Goins, with Solarte, Diaz, and Ngoepe, Toronto has essentially raised the floor of the backup infielders. But why that is more important, is that the Blue Jays will rely heavily on the backup infielders this season. Toronto is still hoping to have Troy Tulowitzki, and Devon Travis be their everyday middle infielders. However, everyone, by now knows that is very unlikely to happen.
Tulowitzki has not played more than 140 games in a year since 2011. Since then, his games played are around 90. Meaning, Toronto will probably need 70 games from someone else at shortstop, and that is where Diaz fits in.
In 2016, Diaz, was a surprise to many around the majors in his first season, he made the All-Star Game. He ended up hitting .300, with 17 home runs, and 65 RBIs. Along with a .369 OBP, and a .879 OPS. Diaz was looking like a star. However, he struggled in 2017, but many with the Blue Jays believe Diaz will rebound from a bad 2017, but not quite to the success of 2016. However, even if Diaz splits the middle of the two seasons he would still come around a .280 batting average, which is much better than Goins and Barney did last season.
“All of our scouts believe (him to be) closer to the 2016 version of Aledmys than the 2017 version,” Atkins said to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. “A guy that can clearly hit major-league pitching and has versatility, whether that’s short, second, some in the outfield even potentially because of his athleticism.”
It isn’t only Tulowitzki, and shortstop where Toronto will need to use their middle infield depth. Travis is expected to be the opening day second baseman, but throughout his whole big-league career, Travis has never been able to stay healthy. In his three seasons, Travis has played a whopping 213 games, good for an average of 71 per season, not even half of the 162-game schedule.
Everyone expects Travis to miss a bunch of time this season like he has throughout his career. Last season, Toronto, would rely on Goins, Barney, and even went to Russell Martin a few times to play second. That combination is simply not an every day combination at second. Which, is why, the Blue Jays, went out and acquired Solarte and Ngoepe for second, as those two, Solarte, in particular, are much better than Barney and Goins.
Last season, in San Diego, Solarte hit .255, with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs, while having a .314 OBP, and a .731 OPS. All-around much better than Goins and Barney. By adding, Solarte and Ngoepe — to a lesser extent — Toronto is much more prepared for an injury to happen to Travis than they were last season.
It isn’t just Solarte, Diaz, or Ngoepe, however, as the Blue Jays have much more infield depth than last season. Toronto also has Richard Urena, who saw some time in the majors last season, and will be headed to triple-A Buffalo for more depth. While, Jason Leblebijian, was one of the bright spots in Buffalo last season, and may be on the fringe of a call-up. Along with that, the Blue Jays have Lourdes Gurriel Jr., — on an big-league contract — available in the minors as well to come up if need be.
Toronto is much more prepared for infield injuries this season than they were last season, which will result in most likely a few more wins. Everyone is expecting Tulowitzki, and Travis, to get hurt sometime this season, and miss a substantial amount of time.
Now, because of the moves Atkins, and the front office made this off-season, the Blue Jays infield depth is much better, but will still be tested early and often.