Canadian Michael Saunders is almost ready for action after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during practice in late February. After stepping on a sprinkler head while shagging balls, Saunders’ original timeline for return had him coming back at the All-Star break. Now, after conducting successful surgery, the outfielder is a week away from return, maybe even less. Saunders ran sprints and the bases yesterday, and is cleared to return to his rehab assignment for high-A Dunedin. Toronto can afford to take their time with him while Pillar continues to stake his claim as the starter in left field. The question is, what do the Blue Jays do once Saunders is back and ready for his every day job? Who loses time in the outfield? It’s a good problem to have, but one that needs to be resolved.
Here are some of the options:
1) Do what was originally intended; have Pillar and Saunders platoon in LF and keep Pompey in CF. It is probably what will be done when the time comes, but, I find this option difficult while Pillar has been generating a great amount of offense from the bottom of the line up. Hitting .282 through 10 games while scoring the second most runs with 8, behind Bautista, it will be tough to keep his bat on the bench. Kevin has also been a defensive gem so far this season. He continues to risk his body to get outs, and that’s something that Saunders may not be able to do when he returns. Pillar already threw himself into the stands on Wednesday night trying to come down with a ball in foul territory (see image). He has a knack for making highlight reel plays, and his defense was on full display as the Blue Jays opened up their first series at home against Tampa Bay. This includes his catch of the year.
Do you think Pillar wants to keep his job? This grab is superb. Pillar actually has to take his eyes off the ball to find the wall, then tracks it again while making his jump. Impressive.
2) Have Saunders rotate with Pompey in CF and keep Pillar in LF. Now, Pompey has potential to be a great player; his defense has been sound all season, but hitting the rookie in the 2 spot may be a bit too much for him to take in. Gibbons has moved him down to 8th but his offensive struggles are still apparent; hitting only for a .158 AVG and striking out 10 times through the early part of the season. Platooning him with Saunders may help Pompey and the Blue Jays in the long run.
3) Have a rotating OF, go with the “hot hand” or match-up approach. While Bautista will hold down RF, CF and LF may have a three-headed monster. There will also be rare games down the stretch where you will see all three of them playing while Bautista DH’s. Pillar has demonstrated what he can bring to the team full-time – will sacrifice his body for outs, and shows no fear at the plate when it comes to swinging the bat. The latter may come to bite Kevin down the stretch, as he has yet to earn a walk in 39 plate appearances. Pompey has shown some promise defensively, while displaying some encouraging at-bats as of late. Competition only adds fuel to the fire here as these outfielders will have to fight for playing time once Saunders returns.
Regardless of what John Gibbons chooses to do, the Blue Jays have their hands full.