Gurriel OF bound, Blue Jays eye versatile role

GM Atkins dishes on multiple topics surrounding Toronto

May 5th, 2019

ARLINGTON -- The Blue Jays have started the process of turning Lourdes Gurriel Jr. into an outfielder, at least on a part-time basis.

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins confirmed that Gurriel has started working out at the corner outfield spots, and will debut there in the near future for Triple-A Buffalo. The 25-year-old will still receive some starts in the infield, but the goal is to make him a more versatile player.

The long-term expectation for Gurriel has always been that he would eventually become a super utility player, but the Blue Jays first experimented with making him a full-time infielder. The move didn't work out because of some defensive issues, and now it's about expanding the possibilities so that Gurriel can work his way back onto a crowded roster.

"Just giving him that as a tool would help him play often here," Atkins said. "If he came back as an every day second baseman, then Brandon Drury's not playing. I think adding [the outfield] as a tool ... getting that back into his game would give him more opportunities for more playing time."

Gurriel hasn't played in the outfield since he signed with the Blue Jays prior to the 2017 season, but he did appear in left field for 40 games during 2015-16 for Industriales de La Habana in the Cuban National Series. Toronto feels the fact that Gurriel grew up playing in the outfield will make this a fairly quick transition.

In addition to Gurriel, Atkins also touched on a wide variety of topics during availability with the media Saturday afternoon. Here are some of the top excerpts:

On whether he's concerned about the lack of production from Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney in the corner outfield spots:

Atkins: "Yeah, and they are as well. The concern isn't that it's not going to turn. We know it's going to turn. Our concern is just: How can we help them? How can we help them make sure that they are in great spots and giving them all the resources to improve? So it's not a matter of concerns that it won't get better, it’s just us collectively thinking about how can we help them."

On whether he's more patient with Danny Jansen's offensive struggles because of his defensive demands at catcher:

Atkins: "To a certain extent, yes. It is a less demanding position offensively, and you have to factor in the mental toll and the physical toll that a catcher has, especially a young one. There’s so many things that are new to him. Every single advanced report, the mountain of information he has to download to just compete as a catcher is exceptional. It’s a massive undertaking.

"We are cognizant of that. It absolutely has to impact his ability to prepare as a hitter, to have a routine as a hitter, and then to ultimately perform as a hitter. So, yes is the short answer. That was the long answer. What we are extremely pleased about with Jano is just his body language, his leadership, his professionalism. He’s not taking his offense into his defense."

Early impressions of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.:

Atkins: "Supreme confidence and supreme baseball maturity. Obviously he's very talented and sees the ball well, has great hands. He has been about what we expected as a defender, and his at-bats have been what we've expected as an offensive player, they just haven't turned into the doubles and home runs yet."

On Sean Reid-Foley's struggles in Triple-A Buffalo.:

Atkins: "He has certainly not been the same pitcher he was last year, but he is working his way back. There is a group of people working hard to help him work hard at getting consistent with command, and that will definitely improve. He has shown he can do that before. He has not gotten off to a good start, obviously, but the strikeouts are still there. The effectiveness is there. The walks are the issue and we have reason to believe that will turn as well."

On whether Clayton Richard will be ready when the Blue Jays need a fifth starter in a couple of weeks:

Atkins: "He's the most realistic [option], and the one that would be the best scenario for us, if that works out, but we're not going to rush him into that if he's not ready for it. We are extremely encouraged about where he is at this point and I think him being on this team by then is certainly realistic for us."

The latest on injured lefty Ryan Borucki:

Atkins: "He is still in a recovery phase where he is going to start throwing again and will get built back up. We're going to be very cautious with it and make sure we don't expedite that and give him every chance we can to put it behind him ... I think we'll be talking about June."

So no sense of urgency to make a move for pitching?

Atkins: "Yeah, and with how our bullpen -- and our pitching for that matter -- has performed, I think the combination of Thomas Pannone and Sam Gaviglio will give us an opportunity to be creative until we get to the point that we add Clayton."