TORONTO – There is something refreshing about watching a young player seize an opportunity the way Ryan Goins is right now with the Toronto Blue Jays, and while six games is way too small a sample from which to draw conclusions, the rookie infielder is suddenly making things interesting.
Second base has been a total black hole for the Blue Jays this year, a place where at-bats disappear the way matter gets crushed in dark abysses of the universe. Prior to Wednesday’s 7-2 victory that secured the year’s first series win over the New York Yankees, their second basemen ranked last in the majors in on-base percentage (.257), slugging (.290), OPS (.547) and runs (42), and were 29th in batting average (.219), hits (100) and total bases (136). They sat 27th with 39 RBIs, a statistical high point.
So for Goins to come up to the majors and just hit, hit, hit – he doubled to set up a four-run first, and singled ahead of Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run homer in the second – is an immediate and noticeable change for the better.
“I just came up here (with the mindset) to take advantage of my opportunity,” said Goins. “Sometimes you only get one opportunity, this may be my only one, and I want to take full advantage of it and try to do the best I can.”
But as much as the 25-year-old's offence has been welcomed, it's his defence at second after shifting over from shortstop that really stands out.
In Monday's 5-2 win over the Yankees, for instance, he took a feed from third baseman Brett Lawrie at second, and with a runner bearing down on him and fired a laser to first base to complete a 5-4-3.
During the fourth inning Wednesday, he took a perfect throw to the cut-off man from Anthony Gose in centre field (no need to pinch yourself Blue Jays fans, that actually happened) and fired a relay home so strong and accurate that J.P. Arencibia barely needed to move to tag Alex Rodriguez for the out.
"You want the throw to be right there, you don't want him to bring you up the line because that's when it can get dangerous, you're going forward, he's coming towards you," said Arencibia. "You want either a long hop or right on the money. (Goins' throw) was right on the money."
The two plays felt like a-ha moments, providing a glimpse of what proper defence there actually looks like.
"We haven't had a lot of those," manager John Gibbons of the 8-4-2 putout. "Was it the first?"
That such a question can be reasonably asked gives you an idea of how low the bar has been set.
That's why whether Goins' offence continues or not - his track record suggests it will cool somewhat, but he's a solid .273/.330/.376 hitter over five minor-league seasons - his strong glove could certainly be an asset.
If you aren't going to do much with the bat, you better take away hits with your glove.
"I like to think I'm a complete player," said Goins. "I can hit, I can play the field, I feel like I have a good grasp of the game. I'm a baseball player, a gamer, that's what I'd like to be known as."
He's certainly making headway there, but to think this current stint is enough to make him the everyday second baseman at the start of 2014 is doubtful, unless the Blue Jays strikeout on all other avenues. Still, perhaps he can step into the utilityman role Maicer Izturis was supposed to fill before Emilio Bonifacio's woes led to his overexposure as an everyday player.
Should GM Alex Anthopoulos find a taker for the two years and $7 million left on Izturis' contract, Goins and his league minimum salary would provide roughly $2.5 million in savings that could be allocated elsewhere next year. Combined with the roughly $3 million saved through Bonifacio's dumping to the Royals, that's a decent bit of coin suddenly in the kitty.
And if Gose takes over from pending free agent Rajai Davis as the fourth outfielder, there's another $2 million freed up, with Kevin Pillar and Moises Sierra waiting in the wings as further outfield depth.
Financial flexibility aside, there's also a benefit to having the hunger of youth in the clubhouse, but in the right doses, and with the right personalities.
Gibbons has praised Goins, Pillar and Gose for playing with a competitive edge, an unquantifiable personality trait that can help drive players to achieve at or beyond their tools. Bullpen coach Pat Hentgen often refers to it as "TWTW" or the will to win, which can rub off on others.
"As long as I've known him he's been ready for the big lights," Pillar said of Goins. "That's the way he's always carried himself, he has that certain swagger to him, he's very confident on the field, and he acts the part. I'm not surprised at all by anything he's doing up here. Some people thought maybe it was too much, double-A, triple-A, but he prepared himself for getting up here."
Still, Goins, Pillar, Gose and Sierra aren't taking things for granted, each on the field early Wednesday for extra defensive work to further hone their game, with Anthopoulos and assistant general manager Tony LaCava watching from the stands.
The drills were another jarring sight, as such sessions have been few and far between this year.
"We did it a few times, we didn't do it enough, that's for sure," Gibbons conceded afterwards. "I think we need more of that, no question. Right now, especially with these youngsters, they need to do it."
As for Goins, Gibbons said the Blue Jays plan to give him a good run in September so they'll have a better, though still not definitive, sample with which to judge him.
"Here's his opportunity," Gibbons said. "He sure looks good."
No argument there, and it's been a while since someone could say that about a Blue Jays second baseman.