COMMENTARY | When the Blue Jays signed career minor-leaguer Jim Negrych to a minor-league contract in the offseason, many expected him to be just that -- a minor-leaguer.
And while it's true that he is playing in the minors -- Triple-A Buffalo, his hometown, to be exact -- Negrych has been a surprise to Blue Jays fans and management.
Negrych nearly made the Blue Jays roster out of spring training after a performance that not many saw coming. The 28-year-old Negrych hit .412 with two home runs for Toronto during spring training. His performance caught the eye of general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
"He's a much better player than we realized," he said. "I think it's because the more you watch him, the more you see how good a player he is, but you need to watch him day in and day out to really see how good a player he is.
"We signed him as someone who was going to compete for a job here. There was no promises, no guarantees, and he was almost the star of spring training. There weren't a lot of expectations because we didn't know what to expect. He just won everybody over."
A former sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2006, Negrych has played in every class of professional baseball there is. From Class-A Williamsport of the New York Penn League to AA Jacksonville of the Southern League to AAA Syracuse of the International League, Negrych has been all over the landscape of minor league baseball during his seven-year career. So it was understandable why many believed that his play in Dunedin, Fla., was just a flash-in-the-pan performance.
However, since being optioned to AAA Buffalo at the end of spring training, Negrych's output at the plate has showed no signs of slowing down.
In four games played this season, Negrych is batting 8-for-12 (.667) with a home run and two RBIs. His on-base percentage of .714 and slugging percentage of 1.083 are each first in the International League after the first week of games.
While it can't be expected for Negrych to continue this torrid pace throughout the entire season -- he even said so himself -- one has to wonder just how long until the veteran second baseman gets the call up to the big leagues, especially when you consider the fact that the Blue Jays have struggled mightily to hit the ball at the start of the season.
As a whole, the Blue Jays are batting .224, only above the Seattle Mariners in the American League; they are last in the AL in terms of total hits. With a record of 2-5 (as of April 10) and the team looking for answers at the plate, it may be time to try and spark a sleeping offensive giant with a little shot of Bison adrenaline in the form of Negrych.
Negrych can provide the Jays with a disciplined bat at the plate that knows how to get on base. And with the team having the fourth-most strikeouts in the AL (63), discipline at the plate is something it seems to be sorely lacking right now.
Negrych likely won't become a long-term answer for the team -- then again, no one expected him to play the way he has up until this point. But he can be just what the doctor ordered to fix the batting problems that plague the Blue Jays.
Michael Straw is a sportswriter who lives in Buffalo, NY and has been covering baseball, primarily at the Triple-A level, for two years. He began covering the Blue Jays in the fall of 2012, and has been published in multiple Western New York publications.
For Blue Jays and other sports news, follow Michael on Twitter @MikeStrawQCS.
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