The Toronto Blue Jays boast one of the strongest lineups in the league, currently sporting a collective .262 batting average (second), .754 OPS (tied for fourth), and 151 home runs (seventh). The club is currently sitting in a three-way tie within the AL Wild Card standings with the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, with the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles sitting 2.5 games outside of the Wild Card picture.
The Jays have many talented players on the roster in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, and George Springer (amongst others), with Guerrero Jr. coming off an MVP-calibre 2021 season and Bichette leading the AL in hits last season. While both players have stepped back in 2022, others are stepping up, like Alejandro Kirk and his resurgent 2022 season and a healthier Springer providing some pop at the top of the lineup.
Another player doing exceptionally well this season on the Blue Jays, but not necessarily receiving the same fanfare and credit as his teammates, is left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and his Success on the Field
Gurriel is in his fifth season with the Blue Jays, signing with the club as an international free agent after he defected from Cuba on a seven-year deal worth $22 million in November of 2016. Lourdes comes from a well-known baseball family, as his father, Lourdes Gurriel Sr., amassed over 1,700 games in the Cuban National Series along with other family members playing in Cuba’s top baseball league. His elder brother, Yuli Gurriel, also defected from Cuba with Lourdes and signed with the Houston Astros on a five-year deal worth $47.5 million.
Although it took some time for Gurriel Jr. to find his footing in left field over the first few seasons, Gurriel Jr. really came into his own following a demotion to Triple-A in mid-April of 2019. It seemed like the club wanted him in a utility role but he soon found himself in left field and has stuck with that role ever since.
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Although his 2019 season was marred by injury, Gurriel Jr. really shined in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign where he earned a .882 OPS and led the team with his .308 batting average and 64 hits. While he did regress a bit in 2021, he finished the season with a career-high 500 at-bats and still hit to a .276 batting average and a .785 OPS while also collecting 21 home runs and 84 RBI, amassing a 2.8 bWAR in the process.
Fast forward to this season, and Gurriel Jr. is still finding consistency in the batter’s box. His slugging numbers are down compared to his previous seasons, but he is finding ways to get on base, evident by his .299 average and .351 OBP, with both stats sitting second behind only Alejandro Kirk on the team. He is also just four walks from passing his career high with 42 games left on the season and sits in the 91st percentile in xBA.
Blue Jays Gurriel and His Midseason Success
Looking at the course of a full season, one thing that seems to follow Gurriel Jr. is his ability to heat up in the later months of the season.
The Jays left fielder normally takes time to settle into the season, sporting his lowest stats in April and May before finding a rhythm in June/July that sees him turn on another gear. His stats also show a regression is due in August before the season turns over into the more high-pressure part of the schedule, which is proving to be true given .246/.290/.308 slash line and .598 OPS through 65 at-bats this past month. He does however have five multi-hit games through 16 games in August and lost some power compared to previous years, potentially sitting at the single-digit mark in home runs when the 2022 season is over, making up for it by already tieing his previous season high for doubles with a month and a half of the season still to go.
Defensively, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did not get off to a roaring start in left field, often taking awkward routes to the fly balls and looking awkward at times. However, Gurriel Jr. has an electric arm, one that has earned him 31 assists through 327 games and has led him to be nominated for the AL Gold Glove Award in 2020 and 2021.
On a squad dominated by big names like Guerrero Jr. and Bichette, sons of former MLB players, Gurriel Jr. also fits the narrative given his family ties to the game of baseball, although outside of the MLB. He might not collect the recognition of his counterparts, but Gurriel Jr. has been one reason the Jays are in the playoff contention race this year and has filled in when necessary across the lineup.