There was a time in the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays season when the answer to the second base question was relatively simple.
Back at the end of May, Kelly Johnson had hit nine homers in 180 AB with a .256/.351/.433 triple slash. It seemed a straightforward conclusion that, without any other significant names available on the free agent market, he was the guy the Blue Jays would go after to fill the role. Should they extend him or not? That was the question then.
Four straight sub-.650 OPS months will change that, though, and Johnson is now on his way to his second poor season in three years. Even his OBP, once considered an area where the Blue Jays got a significant upgrade over former 2B Aaron Hill (who we’re not going to compare here, because it’d just be sad), has been steadily in decline – Johnson has not gotten on base at an above-.300 clip in any of the last fourth months. Needless to say, the 2B role is quite a bit more open these days as far as finding the next guy for the indefinite future goes, and at least one internal candidate is making a case for the job so far in September: rookie Adeiny Hechavarria.
Not unexpectedly, Hechavarria’s name probably shouldn’t have even been in the mix right now. While always seen as an excellent fielder, there had been concerns about how his hit tool would translate to the bigs, and the Blue Jays had him spend most of his AAA season fine-tuning his game to be more consistent, both at the plate and at the field. Then came the earlier-than-expected call-up as the team was depleted by injuries. Hechavarria finally found himself in Toronto, and unsurprisingly struggling to stay above water at the plate. His .204/.228/.296 triple slash in 54 August ABs suggested that Hechavarria was probably a little early to be taking on pitchers at this level.
If it wasn’t for the fact that the team really needed a starting infielder, and that September was coming up, it would’ve been likely that Hechavarria would’ve been sent back down to continue making adjustments to his swing. The timing worked out for the Blue Jays to keep Hechavarria in Toronto and he’s been working on those adjustments with potential new Blue Jays associate hitting coach Chad Mottola when the roster expanded this month.
While the sample size this month has been small (he’s had 28 AB in September compared to 54 in August), the results have been positive, to say the least. Hechavarria rode a seven-game hitting streak to start the month and has dramatically cut his strikeout rate from 33.3 percent last month to a much more playable 19.4 percent so far in September. He’s had as many extra-base hits (three: a pair of doubles and a homer) in half the AB he’s had last month and has seen his once Mendoza-line-treading BA up all the way to .236.
A .524 OPS in Hechavarria first month in the bigs isn’t really too playable, however good his glove may be, but a .798 OPS in September? That changes things a little bit. Even if the thing it suggests isn’t exactly sustainability, it at least suggests an ability to make improvements. The Blue Jays are more than set to say goodbye to Kelly Johnson at the end of this season. Will Hechavarria be ready to take over the job full-time next season?
The ideal scenario will probably see the Blue Jays sign an affordable veteran middle-infielder (Marco Scutaro making his Toronto return, perhaps?) to provide some spring training competition, and a potential platoon partner/plan B if Hechavarria happens to struggle. If Hechavarria was putting up only his September numbers as a callup, the buzz around him taking over at second base for the Blue Jays in 2013 would probably be a little louder. As it is, if he can keep up the strong production to finish the season, the 23-year old rookie will at least have earned himself a shot to compete for the job next spring.