In baseball, February usually brings with it a fanatic pace of signings and roster turnover. In the case of 2018…things are moving slow, but there’s still plenty to discuss regarding internal changes to each team. For the Toronto Blue Jays, there are some question marks about how to proceed with a team stuck in an awkward phase of transitioning to young players while still holding on to their stars. We continue the series with a broad look at how the infield will look for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018.
As we’ve already looked at the catcher position, it’s time to round the bases with a look in at first and second!
So Many First Basemen
At first sight, you may think the Blue Jays benefit from having three first basemen on their everyday roster. Between Justin Smoak, Steve Pearce, and Kendrys Morales, there would have to be an overabundance of productivity. Right?
2017 saw Justin Smoak break out as a slugging machine for the Jays. He crushed 38 home runs, 90 RBI, and batted with a .270/.355/.539 slash line. He was by far the most valued 1st basemen in the organization, finishing with a 3.2 WAR. This places him at 11th overall last season in all of MLB. Not bad for a breakout!
With Smoak’s emergence, the need for Kendrys Morales to come out of DH to play at 1st base was all but unnecessary. Morales had an okay year at the plate, hitting 28 home runs, 85 RBI, and hitting with a .250/.308/.445 slash line. That OBP is particularly worrisome for the team’s DH. Even though he is still listed most places as a 1st basemen, his fielding days are probably done. Morales can fill the DH spot well and under duress, the lineup can stomach him making 10 or less appearances on the field.
It was a bit of a rough year for Steve Pearce. The 10 year veteran had a WAR of 0.0 between all three positions, just 13 home runs, 37 RBI, and a .252/.319/.438 slash line. Going in to the final year of his contract with the Jays, it’s suffice to say Pearce’s best days are behind him. Nearly 35, he could see a lot of time coming off of the bench for Toronto or any team he plays for in the future. He might see some spot starts at 1st base.
Overall, it appears to be Justin Smoak’s spot to lose. The team will be depending on him being able to repeat 2017’s success if they are to have any chance at competing for a playoff spot. 22 year old Rowdy Tellez is still in the Jays’ minor league system, but a dreadful rookie campaign in AAA saw a .222/.295/.333 slash line and a season to forget. He was still protected before the Rule 5 Draft, so the team still has faith in his ability to rebound.
With first base well covered by Smoak and company, let’s take a gander at second base and it’s potential starters. Similarly to first, this middle infield position has a solid candidate to hold the regular spot. With that said, there’s a major caveat.
Devon Travis is coming off of a season mired in injury. He was only able to make it into 50 games while hitting 5 home runs, 24 RBIs, and a .259/.291/.438 slash line. These numbers are well below Travis’ career numbers (.292/.331/.462) and no doubt were impacted by his limited time thanks to a brutal knee injury. Thankfully, Travis has enjoyed a strong Spring Training stint thus far and goes into March very optimistic about his return to the lineup.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) February 25, 2018
At 27 years old, Travis has plenty of time to rebound and avoid anymore long trips to the DL. He should be batting at the top of the order come April. Just in case Travis isn’t ready to go, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins picked up Yangervis Solarte from San Diego as a potential stopgap for injuries throughout the season to anyone at first, second, and third base. Solarte is an excellent fielder at second base and finished last season with 18 home runs, 64 RBIs, and a .255/.314/.416 slash line in 126 games with the Padres. The deal to acquire Solarte had many scratching their heads but he will undoubtedly provide depth to a roster that has players who, to put it kindly, play with intensity on the turf. This is a discussion for another time as you could also argue the not-good turf in Toronto makes things worse…but we’ll leave it at that for now.
With Solarte backing up an ideally healthy Travis, their third and fourth second basemen on the depth chart, Aledmys Diaz and Gift Ngoepe, can serve the minor leagues well as 27 and 28 year old depth players, respectively. They likely will not see very much time in the Show this year unless injuries ravage the roster. With any luck, Travis and Solarte will collectively provide stability and depth to a team that needs strong lead-off hitting and great fielding up the middle.