DUNEDIN, Fla. – Alejandro Kirk, the sturdily-built 21-year-old who’s rapidly climbing prospect rankings thanks to remarkable plate discipline and a strong throwing arm, won over another fan Sunday: Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo.
Facing former big-league closer Bud Norris in the eighth inning of Sunday’s 9-0 win over the Phillies, Kirk first showcased his patience by working a 3-0 count. That’s nothing unusual for a player who walked more than he struck out last year on his way to a .403 on-base percentage at Class A. Two swinging strikes followed, at which point Kirk displayed his developing power with an opposite-field home run to right.
“I’ll tell you what, that’s impressive,” Montoyo said. “This kid has played so good so far in spring training and he’s already a fan favourite. I’m a fan of the kid already, so good for him.”
Signed as an international free agent in 2016, Kirk’s now in big-league camp for the first time. While he has no chance of going North with the major-league team, he’ll likely spend much of the 2020 season in the upper minors and could open at double-A.
Listed at five-foot-nine and 220 pounds, he has shown some power with 17 home runs in 151 career minor-league games. Maybe his short arms are, in fact, an asset.
“That helps, because he’s got a short stroke,” Montoyo said. “He doesn’t get big (with his swing), so he stays short to the ball.”
Even beyond Kirk’s home run, Sunday was an eventful day for the Blue Jays. Here are some additional notes and observations from Dunedin …
SHOEMAKER AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Matt Shoemaker’s careful not to overstate things. There are ways he can improve on any outing, including this one. Not every pitch is perfect, especially this time of year.
“There were some, in my mind, being a good critic of myself, that I want to execute better,” he said.
But after using all of his pitches over the course of four scoreless, hitless innings against the Phillies Sunday, Shoemaker acknowledged he feels better than he usually would at this point in spring training.
“I’m very happy with where I am,” he said.
Shoemaker struck out four Sunday while allowing just one walk. Combined with his spring debut last week, he has now allowed just one hit and one walk in 6.2 Grapefruit League innings while striking out nine. Safe to say his recovery from last spring’s torn ACL has progressed as well as the Blue Jays could have hoped.
“He’s an easy guy to root for not only because he’s a great pitcher, but he’s a great leader,” Montoyo said.
SHAW’S POWER ON DISPLAY
There are no guarantees from Travis Shaw after a tough 2019 season in which he hit just seven home runs with a .551 OPS. But we don’t have to look far for a reminder of the upside he brings. It was just two years ago that he hit 32 home runs with an .825 OPS in Milwaukee.
That potential is what drew the Blue Jays to Shaw this off-season, even if there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding his offence. Best-case, his left-handed bat allows Montoyo to balance out a lineup filled with right-handed hitters. For what it’s worth, that upside has been on full display of late with home runs from Shaw in each of the last two games.
“That’s what we expect,” Montoyo said. “Thirty bombs, more or less.”
“Not to put too much pressure on him,” the manager added quickly, “but he’s got the tools to do it. He’s done it before.”
Expecting Shaw to hit lefties might be a lot to ask, but with a career OPS of .810 against right-handed pitching, there’s reason to believe he can make a difference in those situations.
JUST REST FOR VLAD JR.
There’s a reason Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rested Sunday after exiting Saturday’s game early, but according to Montoyo, it had everything to do with rest.
Before Guerrero Jr.’s second trip to the plate in Fort Myers Saturday, Montoyo told the third baseman he could call it a day if he had a good at-bat. Guerrero Jr. then singled off the Green Monster replica in left field before getting thrown out at second trying to slide in for a double.
“It’s all about feeling good at the plate, and if a guy feels good at the plate there’s no need to take more at-bats,” Montoyo explained.
After getting the day off Sunday, the Blue Jays plan for Guerrero Jr. to play Monday and Tuesday.
“These guys are going to be playing a lot,” Montoyo said. “It’s all about protecting the players. That’s why I did that … it had nothing to do with him sliding. He’s not hurt.”