TORONTO -- Until a couple of weeks ago, the outfield was an area of huge concern for the Blue Jays. The return of Jose Bautista doesn't solve all of Toronto's problems, but it sure does make the group look a lot better.The Blue Jays were less than a month away
TORONTO -- Until a couple of weeks ago, the outfield was an area of huge concern for the Blue Jays. The return of Jose Bautista doesn't solve all of Toronto's problems, but it sure does make the group look a lot better.
The Blue Jays were less than a month away from Spring Training when they reached an agreement with Bautista. Until then, Kevin Pillar was the only outfielder with a guaranteed starting job, and the lack of internal options had everyone justifiably wondering whether Toronto could contend in the American League East with so many holes on the roster.
Bautista's big bat has the potential to change the narrative. He's coming off a down season by his standards, but after seeing his value drop during free agency, Bautista will have a lot to prove in 2017.
In the latest edition of MLB.com's Around The Horn series, we take a closer look at Toronto's outfield:
William Fowler was the Blue Jays' top outfield target, but after he signed with the Cardinals, there were plenty of reasons to think that a reunion between Toronto and Bautista made the most sense for both sides. The Blue Jays needed another middle-of-the-order bat and Bautista has filled that role in Toronto for more than seven years. In 2016, he was able to hit 22 homers and his .364 on-base percentage ranked second on the team. Bautista's defense in right field has deteriorated over the past two years and he no longer has the plus arm to make up for a lack of range, but the upside of the bat should offset a lot of those concerns. The Blue Jays needed Bautista as much as he needed them following a disappointing free-agent experience.
By now, we know what to expect out of Pillar. He will provide Gold Glove defense in center field and he will be making frequent appearances on the highlight reels because of diving grabs. Pillar is worth the price of admission to watch defensively and his biggest asset is the ability to take hits away from the opposition. The clear downside is that he has yet to post an on-base percentage above .314 and his aggressive approach in the batter's box is often exposed by opposing staffs. Pillar has a lot of strengths, but he's a better fit when he's surrounded by a pair of strong offensive corner outfielders.
Melvin Upton Jr.
The most Upton can hope for is forming a platoon with Ezequiel Carrera -- or someone new -- in left field. Upton provided value last year with an impressive .874 OPS vs. lefties, but he wasn't nearly as valuable against righties (.634) and should not be counted on for an everyday role. The problem is that Toronto doesn't have a lot of alternatives, so there is still a chance he could end up playing a lot. Upton's 20 home runs from 2016 will play, but the 155 strikeouts over 492 at-bats will not.
Carrera surprisingly became a major contributor down the stretch in 2016. Typically, he is best utilized in a utility role, but he became a regular in September and he was able to hang onto the job deep into the playoffs. Even so, after a full body of work, Carrera still hit just .248 with a .679 OPS over 110 games. Contending teams typically need a lot more than that from a corner outfielder, but if additional moves aren't made, Carrera will have a shot to start in left field and might even lead off.
Pompey is the biggest wild card on this list. Two years ago, he was the Blue Jays' Opening Day center fielder and a big part of the future. In hindsight, Pompey was rushed to the big leagues and the lack of time developing through each level of the Minors was a costly mistake. There's no way to change that now, and after spending almost an entire season at Triple-A Buffalo in 2016, there's still a chance he can regain his footing. Pompey's .270 average and .702 OPS for the Bisons weren't exceptional, but it's worth noting he's still just 24 and has time to turn things around. He'll need an exceptional Spring Training to make the team, but he'll also be waiting in the wings in case somebody gets hurt or underperforms.
Toronto has a few prospects who could eventually end up in the outfield, but they are likely at least another year away. Anthony Alford, Harold Ramirez and infielder/outfielder Lourdes Gurriel are among those to keep an eye on, but don't expect them to be rushed to the Majors like the Blue Jays used to do with a lot of their top prospects. Free-agent signee Steve Pearce also could see some time in the outfield, but most of his playing time is expected to come in a first-base platoon with Justin Smoak.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.