CHICAGO – At field level, Charlie Montoyo saw a player losing his confidence. Within the Blue Jays’ front office, decision makers saw a potential long-term piece playing well below his potential.
It all added up to the same answer for Teoscar Hernandez: triple-A.
The decision to option Hernandez and recall Richard Urena wasn’t a punishment, even though it might seem that way given that the demotion comes one day after he struck out four times in four at-bats against the Giants. Rather, it’s a chance for Hernandez to re-set his plate approach in a more relaxed environment.
"He doesn’t have that many at-bats, but the at-bats he was having were not that good," Montoyo said. "That’s why we’re sending him down. He could get hot real quick, but the at-bats were not what we wanted."
In 39 games with the Blue Jays, Hernandez hit just .189 with three homers, 42 strikeouts and a .562 OPS. Those numbers represent a steep dropoff from a year ago, when he hit 22 homers with a .771 OPS. While his recent struggles are worrisome, Hernandez’s past success can’t be ignored.
"There’s a proof of concept with him," director of baseball operations Mike Murov said Thursday. "He has the ability to put together some serious offensive output over the course of 600 plate appearances, and frankly we hope there are even bigger and better things than that level of output. Obviously that showed in flashes this year, but not with any consistency. That’s what we’re hoping for in the future."
Big picture, Hernandez has a chance to be a long-term piece for the Blue Jays. He’s just 26 years old and he’s not even arbitration-eligible yet. There’s ample opportunity in the Toronto outfield, too. So as the Blue Jays considered next steps, they kept the long view in mind.
"It’s not punitive in any way," Murov said. "It’s always about making sure that he’s the level of player that we believe he’ll be moving forward–this season and every year beyond that. Those decisions aren’t taken lightly. They’re things we’ve talked about for a long time."
Ideally, the Blue Jays would see each player progress without ever looking back, but more realistically development isn’t linear. Plus, as a rebuilding team the Blue Jays’ roster will include more volatility than most. When young players struggle they must find ways to build them back up.
While Hernandez’s offensive numbers are disappointing, the Blue Jays have been pleased with his work on defence–his biggest perceived weakness entering the season. Aside from one missed catch at Fenway Park, Hernandez was generally solid in left field.
"That’s been a positive development," Murov said. "And the ability to separate the two–obviously you can’t forget that, too. It’s hard to go out there and not perform offensively the way you’d hope and still be able to focus defensively. That’s a strength that not a lot of people have and it speaks to perseverance."
In a way, Hernandez’s struggles are reminiscent of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., another talented player still attempting to combine offence and defence on a consistent basis at the highest level. The Blue Jays considered promoting Gurriel Jr., who’s hitting .299 with an .860 OPS at triple-A, but decided to keep him at Buffalo, where he can build comfort in left field while also re-familiarizing himself with the challenge of infield throws.
"He’s still working on stuff, trying to work on his defence," Montoyo said. "He’s swinging the bat good, but we decided to call Urena first."
The move means the Blue Jays are now down to three outfielders: Jonathan Davis, Randal Grichuk and Billy McKinney. As a result, Brandon Drury will see more time in the outfield, along with his regular duties at second and third. In fact, Montoyo said Drury’s athleticism even makes him an option at shortstop.
Meanwhile, Hernandez will work toward better results at triple-A with the knowledge that a spot awaits him in the majors once his at-bats improve in Buffalo.
"It’s going to be a fresh start for him," Montoyo said, "But I know he’ll be back."