The Toronto Blue Jays desperately need batters who come to the plate with a plan in mind. They need guys who can go beyond that ugly habit of chasing and guessing swing after swing. Professional hitters who do not make every single opposing pitcher look like a Cy Young candidate or future Hall of Famer.
Is the Batting the Jays Need Down in the Minors?
Given that the mid-season office movements did not bring along the right-hand power bat they needed so badly (they rank 28th in On Base plus Slugging with runners in scoring position, only above the non-contenders Kansas City and Oakland), they must find answers within their farm system. And, even more so now that the team’s offensive pillar Bo Bichette is on sick leave.
The utility player listed as a third baseman Davis Schneider has been crushing pitchers in the minors all year and was the first to be called up for that purpose. As he was not on the 40-man roster, Jays had to purchase his contract and designated reliever Thomas Hatch for assignment.
Schneider leads the whole organization in home runs with 22 and, for the first time in his six professional years, had an on-base percentage of .400 plus before joining the major-league team. Suppose the Jays venture to align Schneider as his second baseman often (he had played there 46 times before the Jays called him up), the American League seventh-best batting average holder Whit Merrifield will stick to the left field.
Then the underperforming Daulton Varsho’s at-bats can be scattered. When a southpaw takes the mound, Schneider can pinch-hit late in the game for Kevin Kiermaier or George Springer. The mustache guy, who hit a home run in his first MLB plate appearance, can take over if Matt Chapman needs a day off. In any event, he could be one player who instills a little fear in the opponents.
It does not seem that moving alone will be enough to ignite the Jays’ offense. They will need more fuel, and the Buffalo Bisons has another interesting right-handed bat worth a look at.
The Blue Jays’ fourth-ranked prospect Orelvis Martinez has shown decent power since his promotion from double-A New Hampshire: he hit six extra bases in his first two weeks in AAA. Plus, he is one of the candidates to replace Chapman in third base in 2024 if the Jays cannot retain the three-time gold glove winner and soon-to-be free agent. Like Chapman, Martinez has an above-average arm to handle difficult plays in the hot corner.
Are lefties out of the picture?
One of the past off-season main talking points and fandom demands was to diversify Toronto’s offense and balance the lineup with left bats. Blue Jays’ office tried to address this deficiency: executives brought Varsho and Brandon Belt, thinking Belt could serve as their cleanup hitter, and Varsho might be able to display the more than occasional power he showed before coming to Toronto (he smacked 27 balls out of the park with the Diamondbacks in 2022). But they are far from achieving their mission so far.
Belt has struck out 32 out of 61 times with runners in scoring position, while Varsho, aside from the 18 total runs he had saved as an elite outfielder, had a disappointing .554 OPS in high-leverage situations until August 3rd.
The designated hitter and occasional first baseman Horwitz has a career-high .435 on-base percentage and 29 extra bases in 315 at-bats with Buffalo. He has as many walks as strikeouts (64) and a decent rate of pitches seen per plate visit (above four). He played three games with the Jays in June and reached base four times in 10 plate appearances.
Barger and his Ichiro-type swing were noted during the spring training, but several continuous injuries lowered the hype. Despite the fact that his global numbers with the Bisons are far away from those he put in his breakthrough year in 2022, the third baseman has shown some encouraging signs of late: his on-base percentage since June is above .400.
The potential contribution of the Jays’ prospects from the left or right side of the plate will not substitute the production of the incumbent Jays, though: it would be unfair to ask them to carry the team on their shoulders. The former most-valuable player candidate Vladimir Guerrero and the 150-million-dollar asset Springer should step up and take the reins.