TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t short on uncertainty surrounding their 2020 squad, but one of their most well-known areas of concern is the outfield.
You can lock Randal Grichuk into one position on account of his $52 million extension. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. showed he belonged in left field with a strong 2019 as well. Beyond that it’s anybody’s guess. The team has a pool of internal candidates including Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford, and Jonathan Davis fighting for two roster spots and one starting role. Things could get even messier if they bring in external help.
The Blue Jays were undoubtedly hoping that someone on that list would make ease of their decision-making process with a true breakout this season. They’ve had no such luck.
However, in recent months Hernandez has been quietly making his case, something he continued to do on Saturday with a 1-for-2 day that included two walks and a leadoff home run in a 4-1 Blue Jays win.
It was the outfielder’s eighth consecutive game with a hit, which brought his second-half slash line up to a robust .253/.339/.576 with 17 home runs in just 59 games. During that time he’s been third on the Blue Jays in WAR behind only the rookie duo of Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.
“His second half his been outstanding,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “That’s another guy that I’m really happy is doing well. His OPS in the second half is like .900 and that’s where we want our guys to be, .800 or .900. If you look at the good teams that’s what they have. To have Teoscar with a .900 OPS in the second half is awesome, it’s a great improvement.”
To be fair, we’ve been here before with Hernandez. He’s shown the ability to produce torrid stretches only to be unable to find the kind of consistency the Blue Jays are looking for. The Dominican slugger continues to give the club hope that even at the age of 26 his development isn’t done yet.
“We’ve seen glimpses of what we can be,” Mark Shapiro said in an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on September 4. “But we can’t draw a conclusion too soon about what he is.”
That seems like an odd thing to say about a guy who’s about to be 27 and has 1190 major league plate appearances under his belt. Yet with Hernandez it feels appropriate.
“You’ve seen the athleticism and tools. The power is elite,” Shapiro added. “He’s got enough athleticism to play the outfield, even though his play out there has been inconsistent. It’s gotten better throughout the year.”
Hernandez is exactly the kind of guy you could give up on too soon only to see him flourish elsewhere. He’s also the kind of guy you could hold onto too long only to suffer through inconsistent production and watch viable alternatives wither on the vine. The latter may be more probable than the former, but Hernandez has planted a seed of doubt on that notion as the season winds down.
The fact Hernandez looks like the most attractive in-house outfield option at this moment might be more of an indictment of the Fishers and McKinneys of the world. But it’s on his own merits, too. When the Blue Jays demoted Hernandez in May, his time as a serious option for the team looked firmly in the rearview mirror.
Since his re-emergence he’s been a well above-average hitter (117 wRC+ coming into Saturday) playing a premium position. His work in centre field has been dubious at times (he’s been somewhere between -3 and -9 runs below average depending on your metric of choice), but it also would have been unfair to expect him to excel in centre out of the gate. His work in left early in the year was also much improved, so there’s much more hope for his defence now than there was at this time last year.
None of this means that Hernandez is the answer. It’s not fair to act like his early-season woes never happened and he’ll finish the season with relatively uninspiring production across the board. He’s had two years to prove definitively that’s he’s an everyday MLB outfielder and hasn’t managed it either time.
Even so, Hernandez has gone from a guy who looked like he’d worn out his welcome to the leader of the pack in a wide-open outfield competition. Whether he stays there will depend on what the Blue Jays front office has up its sleeve in the offseason.
More Blue Jays coverage from Yahoo Sports