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Demotion leaves future in doubt for Blue Jays’ Gurriel

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2 days ago Laura Armstrong - Staff Reporter
a man in a baseball uniform throwing a ball: Struggling defensively at second base and blocked at short, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — demoted to Triple-A Buffalo — might see reps in the outfield toward a super-utility role. © David Dermer Struggling defensively at second base and blocked at short, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — demoted to Triple-A Buffalo — might see reps in the outfield toward a super-utility role.

It was a little less than two weeks ago, as the Blue Jays prepared for their first road trip of the season, that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. made a bold proclamation.

“I just want to be the best second baseman, basically,” the 25-year-old said, confident that the hard work he has put in over the past couple of years to grasp the position was paying off.

But Gurriel was not on the charter when the Jays took off for their second trip of the year, which started Monday night in Minneapolis. He’d committed an error in the third inning of an 8-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday. What should have been a routine 30-foot throw to Justin Smoak at first base to end the inning became Gurriel’s second error in as many days, seemingly shattering the infielder’s confidence.

An inning later, Gurriel was replaced by Alen Hanson. Post-game, manager Charlie Montoyo mused about the possibility of sending Gurriel to the minors, and later the decision was made to send him to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. The move was decidedly different from the “just relax” message the manager had relayed to the infielder when he was struggling at the plate early this season. Defence doesn’t come quite as naturally to Gurriel.

On Monday, infielder Eric Sogard was added to the Jays’ roster in his place. Left-hander Ryan Borucki, who has missed the start of the season with elbow inflammation, was transferred to the 60-day injured list to make room on the 40-man roster. He’s eligible to be reinstated on May 27.

Gurriel is “struggling mentally with his throwing right now,” Montoyo said. Right-hander Marcus Stroman, who needed another 15 pitches to get out of that third inning and conceded the game-tying run in the process, said Gurriel is “battling something.” Veteran shortstop Freddy Galvis, tasked with helping Gurriel improve in the field, saw a player who was letting mistakes affect him and “too worried to make a good throw to first base.”

“The future’s bright with Gurriel,” said Montoyo, “so we don’t want to make it even worse than what it is, so that’s why we took him out of the game.”

Gurriel’s future is also unclear.

He saw more time at shortstop than second base as a rookie last season, but has never looked all that comfortable on the right side of the diamond and is far down the organizational depth chart at short. When the 29-year-old Galvis — on a one-year contract — makes way for the younger generation, prospects Bo Bichette and Kevin Smith, both strong defenders, will be on deck to take over.

The competition at second base is less intense, although Brandon Drury will join that mix when top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is eventually promoted and bumps him from third. Guerrero could also see some time at first base — where Gurriel has made three appearances this season — and the Jays have been sharing designated-hitter duties among several players since Kendrys Morales was traded to Oakland.

It doesn’t leave much room for Gurriel, whose time in the minors might be used more wisely by getting reps in the outfield. The Jays have long envisioned Gurriel as a super-utility player, and versatility is the name of the game in the majors these days.

Gurriel said back in February that he expected to play in the outfield at some point this season.

“There was a year in Cuba in which I played almost every position, so I am familiar with it,” he said through translator Tanya Bialostozky. “Last year they told me to be ready. I didn’t have the opportunity, but I was (mentally prepared) and I was ready to play in the outfield if they needed me to.”

Either way, defence is the cornerstone of any good utility player and Gurriel, who had just one full season in the minor leagues under his belt before his Blue Jays debut, looks most comfortable at the position he is least likely to play.

It is now up to him and the organization to get him up to speed at positions of greater need — an endeavour that’s more easily worked out away from the glaring lights of the big leagues.

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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