Around the Horn: How will Toronto line up in OF?

January 28th, 2019

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays unveiled a new-look outfield toward the tail end of 2018, and it has remained relatively unchanged as the club enters a new calendar year.
Veteran is long gone, but the other outfield pieces from last season remain in place. As continues its annual Around the Horn series with Spring Training quickly approaching, it's time to take a closer look at where things stand with the Blue Jays' outfield.
The battleground
Left field is where the most interesting competition of Spring Training is set to take place. and will be competing for the starting job, and the battle might continue well into the season, with both players having a chance to crack the Opening Day roster.

McKinney is the better defender, and his ability to make consistent contact is something the Blue Jays' lineup lacks. Hernandez arguably has more upside because of his power, but his glove has been a major liability and that will have to change if he's going to become a long-term solution.
The mainstay
returns as the starting center fielder for at least one more year. He's the longest-tenured Blue Jays player and one of the only remaining faces from the club's back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series in 2015-16.
The big question surrounding Pillar is whether his highlight-reel defense is in a state of decline. The California native finished the 2018 season with -2 Defensive Runs Saved, compared to 15 Defensive Runs Saved in 2017, according to FanGraphs. Pillar's biggest asset is his glove, and if teams stop viewing him as an elite defender, then his long-term viability in the game will be thrown into question. But for now, his spot is secure.

Changing the narrative
is back for another year, and it's safe to say he'll open the season with a lot more fans than he had a year ago. The veteran had a horrendous start to 2018, but when he returned from a rehab assignment in early June, he looked like a completely different player. The 27-year-old hit a respectable .264/.313/.524 with an .837 OPS over his final 74 games and that was enough to secure his spot as Toronto's everyday right fielder. The problem here is Grichuk has only two years of control remaining, and if he's going to become a long-term piece, he'll need to find more consistency over 162 games than he has displayed in the past.

Who's the backup?
Hernandez is already 26 and McKinney is 24, so there might not be much point in starting either one of them in the Minor Leagues. If both outfielders make the team out of Spring Training, the Blue Jays won't need another outfielder, and the battle for playing time in left field will continue indefinitely. Under this scenario, whenever Pillar needs a day off, Grichuk would slide over to center and the other two would cover off the corners.
If the Blue Jays decide to go with a one-man show in left by choosing Hernandez or McKinney, then has a chance to take on the traditional fourth outfielder role and receive sporadic playing time off the bench.
The sleeper candidate
This is shaping up to be a very big year for , whose stock dropped in 2018 after he hit .240 with a .656 OPS in 105 games for Triple-A Buffalo. The prolonged struggles represented a major setback for one of the club's most promising young prospects. There is no better athlete in the system and Alford, a former quarterback, has only been playing baseball full-time since 2015, so it would be foolish to give up on him this early, but he needs a strong season to re-enter the Blue Jays' outfield mix. It's not now or never for the 24-year-old, but it's starting to get close.

In the Pipeline
Forrest Wall was the key piece the Blue Jays received last July from Colorado in the trade for . He was a potential Rule 5 Draft target, but he went unclaimed and will now join the Blue Jays this spring as a non-roster invitee.
Wall is ranked Toronto's No. 25 prospect by MLB Pipeline and is coming off a season in which he hit a combined .263/.343/.402 across two levels. He should spend the bulk of the year at Triple-A Buffalo and will push Alford as a possible midseason callup.