This is the Emilio Bonifacio the Toronto Blue Jays expected to see.
Now with the Kansas City Royals, the 28-year-old is batting .306, drawing walks (.404 on-base percentage), stealing bases (eight, without getting caught) and playing different positions without committing an error.
In 94 games to start the season with the Blue Jays, he batted .218, struck out a lot and didn’t walk (.258 OBP), got caught stealing six out of 18 times, and made seven errors while failing to execute a bundle of routine plays.
When he returns to play in Toronto on Friday, Bonifacio will see some things have changed since he was dealt on Aug. 14 for cash considerations or a player to be named later.
For one, fundamentally sound call-up Ryan Goins is occupying second base, the position that had been Bonifacio’s to win during spring training.
Secondly, the Jays began conducting infield practice, at least for newcomers, prior to games at Rogers Centre this weekend. Practice made perfect in last Wednesday’s win over the New York Yankees, as centre fielder Anthony Gose backed up right fielder Moises Sierra to field a ball off the wall, pivoted to make a relay to Goins, who in turn threw a strike to catcher J.P. Arencibia. The combination clicked to cut down runner Alex Rodriguez at the plate, trying to score from first on the play.
“We haven’t seen a lot of those – was it the first?” Toronto manager John Gibbons said half-jokingly after.
While general manager Alex Anthopoulos pinpointed starting pitching as the primary culprit for the 60-74 Jays’ lost season, Gibbons is suddenly speaking openly about a conspiratorial factor: the “shoddy” defensive play, especially in April and May, that complicated the pitchers’ assignments.
Four newcomers – Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, Mark DeRosa and Munenori Kawasaki – shared second, short and third with Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie injured in the first half of the season. Lapses occurred, due to lack of range and perhaps lack of familiarity.
Bonifacio never seemed to get comfortable, and his departure was seen as the first of several changes, as the club tries to shore up its defensive game without sacrificing offence going into 2014.
Gibbons compliments Goins and another call-up, outfielder Kevin Pillar as “baseball players” – not flashy, simply taking care of the “little things” on offence and defence.
With Bonifacio traded, centre fielder Colby Rasmus, left fielder Melky Cabrera and and right fielder Jose Bautista sidelined with injuries, the Jays promoted Sierra, Gose, Goins and Pillar from the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
“They’re all young kids; this is their opportunity and they’re taking advantage of it,” Gibbons said.
Second base figures to be one of the club’s main off-season priorities. Cumulatively, second basemen have hit .216 with a .261 on-base percentage. That’s a long way from Roberto Alomar-type production.
Goins is listed generously as 5 foot 10 and 170 pounds. He’s from Texas, a fourth-round draft pick in 2009 out of Dallas Baptist University, and many family members were in the stands in Houston to watch him pick up a pair of hits in his major-league debut on Aug. 23. He hasn’t stopped, batting .455 with hits in all six games to date.
He said the speed of the game changes with each step up the minor-league ladder, ultimately reaching the big leagues with the bigger stadiums and larger crowds.
“You can get lost if you’re not executing fundamentals,” Goins said, adding he’s always worked hard on his defence.