TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays need only to look back at their recent history for a reminder of the perils in giving up on a talented player too early. Deemed expendable by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, respectively, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion blossomed once they found their way north, eventually underpinning the buildup that led to the playoff runs of 2015 and ’16. Sometimes, one team’s frustration becomes another’s good fortune.
Hence, we come to Dalton Pompey, the tooled-up native of Mississauga, Ont., who tore through three levels of the minor-leagues to debut in the majors in 2014, opened the next season as the starting centre-fielder and has since been an indecipherable enigma. Injuries, including another concussion suffered this spring when he slammed his head into bats lodged atop his spring training locker, have only further complicated things.
On Monday, his 20-day rehabilitation assignment expired, and on Tuesday the Blue Jays decided to designate him for assignment rather than add him to the active roster, per industry sources, since he is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers. Rival clubs now have a chance to roll the dice on his talent and see if they can help unlock his potential via waiver claim. If he goes unclaimed, the Blue Jays can outright him to the minors.
The decision on the 26-year-old was a tricky one, for a number of reasons.
In large measure, a driving force in how the Blue Jays have handled him over the past three years has been a fear of seeing him reach his ceiling with another club. They’ve had opportunities to move him in the past but didn’t, wanting to instead provide him with the chance to succeed here, even as he’s become a prototypical change-of-scenery candidate.
As a result, the sides have been tethered to one another even though a parting long ago probably would have been best, the asset too distressed for the team to extract value, the player too talented to be jettisoned without a real return.
At his best, Pompey is a dynamic five-tool player who can hit for average, with power, speed, good defensive ability and a strong throwing arm. All were on display during that spectacular 2014 climb, that included a home run against Felix Hernandez that hinted at his arrival.
In 2015, his play collapsed after earning the centre-field job, although his speed earned him a place on the post-season roster, and he memorably stole second and third only to be stranded in a 4-3, Game 6 loss to the Kansas City Royals that sealed the American League Championship Series.
He’s appeared in only 13 big-league games since, injuries conspiring to truncate each of the past three years along with this one, frustration, both his own and that of the team trying to build him up, a constant companion.
That’s why their chances of getting value for Pompey at this point are non-existent, which is what makes the situation so disappointing. The club has poured resources and effort into helping him get right over the past three years, providing him every opportunity to succeed.
While injuries have played a role, Pompey hasn’t seized the moment when presented, either, and when it kept not happening for him in Toronto, a split probably would have been best.
Now we’re here, and even after new manager Charlie Montoyo wiped the slate clean and gave Pompey ample run during the spring until the concussion, the depth chart has changed and parachuting him into the mix is complicated.
The Blue Jays remain unsettled in the outfield, even as Lourdes Gurriel Jr., has taken possession of left field and a $52-million, five-year contract extension locked Randal Grichuk into right.
Teoscar Hernandez has recently gotten some run in centre field, but he hasn’t solidified himself in the role, while Billy McKinney, back for a third stint, has yet to grab hold of a job but deserves more of a look than he’s gotten thus far.
Prospect Anthony Alford remains a separate conundrum as he continues rehabbing from an injury that’s sidelined him for the past month, while both Jonathan Davis and Socrates Brito struggled when given opportunity with the Blue Jays earlier this season.
Where Pompey deserves to be on that depth chart is debatable, as on sheer talent alone, he’s without a doubt at the upper end of it. Maybe he’s an answer worth displacing someone who’s been grinding all year. Or maybe if it was going to happen for him with the Blue Jays, it would have already.