Where others see a logjam, Alex Anthopoulos sees a plan coming together.
Where others worry about what happens if Adeiny Hechavarria pushes the envelope at Triple-A and whether it might force management’s hand, the Toronto Blue Jays general manager uses Travis Snider as example of what can happen when a player is yo-yo’d up and down; and J.P. Arencibia as what happens when proper patience is exercised.
It’s one thing to load up on prospects. Getting it all to dovetail to the point where they aren’t tripping over each other or tripping over bona fide major leaguers or putting a GM in the position where the wrong guy is moved out at the wrong time is another.
That’s why the Blue Jays did the right thing Wednesday, sending Hechavarria, a gilt-edged shortstop prospect, to the minor-league complex so the 22-year-old Cuban can get into a regular hitting and fielding rhythm.
Privately, there are members of the Blue Jays brain trust that say Hechavarria would be in the opening day lineup if Yunel Escobar were not. Just as last year, when some of the uniformed personnel were agitating for third baseman Brett Lawrie to be with the team out of spring training.
But there are several moving parts.
Escobar is in the first year of a club-friendly, two-year contract extension that pays him $5-million (U.S.) over the next two seasons and includes two more club options for $5-million per year. It’s a movable contract, but not now. Not when Escobar is not only the best leadoff hitter in camp – his .369 on-base percentage and 61 walks led all American League shortstops in 2011 – but the best in an organization shy on the commodity.
Both Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell will say options are limited at the leadoff spot both at the major-league and minor-league level. Asked the other day who could leadoff in the absence of Escobar, Farrell removed his cap, scratched his head and threw out second baseman Kelly Johnson’s name without much conviction.
And even among the Blue Jays’ many outfield prospects – and if this camp has shown anything, it’s that all those publications that have rated the Jays’ minor-league system as among the best in baseball may not be far off – the most likely to lead off in the majors is Kenny Lofton clone Anthony Gose. But for that to happen, the 21-year-old left-handed hitting Gose, whose 70 stolen bases at Double-A New Hampshire was second in all of the minors, will need to cut down on his 154 strikeouts.
“The way I look at it, if I have 70 less strikeouts, that’s 70 more balls in play,” said Gose, who has five strikeouts in 14 at-bats this spring. “That’s 70 more opportunities to do something on the basepaths. So the key is my two-strike approach.”
The Blue Jays already have Colby Rasmus in centre field, but if he doesn’t show something this season he won’t be blocking anybody. Do not think Escobar is blocking Hechavarria, either. It’s a safe bet that, despite Hechavarria being expected to put some work in at second base, it is Escobar who is most likely to shift positions next season. Hechavarria’s work at second this year is purely for emergency cover.
As he watched Hechavarria go about his business around the batting cage last weekend, Farrell remarked he had the kind of face you would associate with an old-time baseball player. It was a spot-on observation.
There is something about Hechavarria’s countenance that suggests a mystical attachment to the game’s roots in much the same way it was always easy to imagine Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez or Vladimir Guerrero fitting in whenever and wherever the game was played, regardless of language.
If you come down to Dunedin in the next few weeks, you’ll have to go to the minor-league complex to see Hechavarria. That will not be the case next season.
Some people become a moving piece; Hechavarria is a talent that makes pieces move.
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