When the Jays traded Ben Revere for Drew Storen last month it helped add a veteran arm to the back end of the Jays bullpen. While this trade will ultimately be a benefit for the Jays it did leave a vacancy at the top of the Jays lineup. Ben Revere was an experienced lead off hitter who played very well for the Jays down the stretch. Now, the Jays have 4 of the best 10 hitters in all of baseball, but no obvious lead off hitter. With spring training right around the corner the Jays will need to start figuring out who will be hitting at the top of this loaded lineup. Here's a breakdown of the candidates:
The Pros: Tulo stands to be the guy who starts the year in the leadoff spot. The Jays would like to see him eventually move to the middle of the lineup but for the time being Tulowitzki could be there best bet. Tulo has a career slash line of .297/.369/.508. He has shown the ability to get on base throughout his career. If Tulowitzki doesn't hit in the lead off spot he would most likely be hitting in the 6 hole which greatly reduces his overall PA and his ability to affect the game from an offensive standpoint
The Cons: Tulowitzki and Gibbons have both made it clear for their preference for him to be in the middle of the lineup. In his career he has a .217 AVG when hitting in the lead off spot. Last year Tulo hit .239 after joining the Jays at the trade deadline. After the season he spoke about he never felt comfortable in his time in Toronto and was looking forward to 2016 where he could hopefully be more comfortable. Thrusting him into a spot where he doesn't want to be might be counter productive to this.
The Pros: the ideal scenario for the Jays would be for Pompey to step into the vacant role in left field and lead off and blossom there. After struggling to start the year in Toronto Pompey went on to have a very good year in the minors. Across two levels Pompey hit .307 and had an OBP of .383. Across all levels Pompey stole 28 bases last year and 44 in 2014. Pompey clearly has the speed of a traditional lead off hitter and being a switch hitter in front of all the right handed power hitters would be beneficial as well.
The Cons: Pompey will only be 23 on Opening Day. Lead off for a front running team is a lot of pressure to place on a guy who isn't even guaranteed a starting spot. Pompey struggled to start the season for the Jays last year. Pompey could benefit from hitting near the bottom of the lineup where there is much less pressure to produce. Eventually, the Jays see Pompey being their lead off hitter. Whether that time is anytime this season or we have to wait until 2017 is yet to be determined.
The Pros: seeing Goins name here might surprise many but he could be in a position to compete for the job. Goins will be the starting second baseman for the Jays while Devon Travis recovers from shoulder surgery. When Travis returns he most likely returns to second base and potentially becomes the lead off guy. But, in the meantime, Goins could provide a nice option at lead off. Goins is a left handed hitter which is attractive before the Jays bring up at least 4 consecutive right handed hitters. Over the second half of the season, when Goins was receiving regular playing time, Goins hit .274 and had an OBP of .361. This is largely correlated with an increase in plate discipline that saw his BB% rise to 12.4%. If Goins can maintain this he becomes a very attractive option to leadoff.
The Cons: Goins doesn't have the greatest track record of being an offensive player. The question for Goins is whether his second half was a one time thing or a sign of things to come. Goins doesn't steal many bases and is an average baserunner. But, this isn't such a big deal since the Jays don't need to manufacture runs on the base paths due to the massive power in the middle of the lineup. But, if Goins looks like he did in the second half then maybe he could be a good option for the lead off spot.
The Pros: I actually like Pillar here quite a bit. While I don't believe it happens I think Pillar could be a quality lead off guy. Pillar had a good but not great year at the plate in 2015. On the surface his numbers don't appear to warrant a promotion to the lead off job. But, Pillar is young and should have an even better year at the plate than he did in 2015. His career slash line of .322/.364/.477 in the minors is reason for optimism that he would be able to get on base. Getting to hit in front of the big 4 would also allow Pillar to see more stuff in the zone. Pillar stole 25 bases last year and was second in all of major league baseball with 8.1 BsR. Pillar is an outstanding base runner who could thrive being on base with Donaldson, Bautista, and EE batting behind him.
The Cons: Pillar only posted a .314 OBP in 2015 which is much lower than you would like to see. He doesn't walk as much as we would like to see and doesn't have long at bats. His numbers don't show him progressing as the year went along which would indicate a breakout this season. For Pillar we know that when he gets on base he's actually one of the better players in baseball. For Pillar he needs to develop some plate discipline if he wants to continue to grow as an MLB player.
The long shots: these guys have little to no chance of actually hitting in the lead off spot but I thought for the sake of argument I would include them on the list.
Josh Donaldson OR Jose Bautista:
The Pros: The Jays could decide they want to buck tradition and instead make pitchers face the top 4 hitters right from the start. Donaldson and Bautista both show tremendous plate discipline and can draw walks. While neither are gonna steal a lot of bases, both are decent baserunners. This strategy would also maximize the amount of plate appearances for the big four. In this configuration Dalton Pompey could bat ninth and would act as a lead off hitter the second time through the lineup and whoever lead off would act as the number 2 hitter.
The Cons: This would reduce the amount of guys on base for one of their top hitters. These guys are both major run producers in the middle of the order and are getting paid to drive runs in. Neither has much experience batting lead off so it would be an adjustment for a star hitter. In the end, this might not be the worst scenario but its hard to imagine that Gibbons will have either hit in the lead off spot.
The Pros: Saunders is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the roster. If he wins the job in left field then he could be included in this conversation. Saunders provides a left handed bat which is a plus. In 2014 Saunders hit .273 with an OBP of .341. We could see a rise in these numbers getting to hit in front of the group of 4.
The Cons: at 29 Saunders has most likely plateaued. His numbers probably won't be much improved from 2014. If that's the case then Saunders doesn't necessarily have the numbers to warrant the leadoff spot. He stole 21 bases in 2012 but has seen that number fall every year and last year's leg surgery won't help.
The Pros: Carrera comes into spring already having to fight for a spot on the 25 man roster, let alone bat lead off. But, if Pompey isn't showing the ability to start the season in Toronto then Carrera could challenge Saunders for a starting job. Carrera hasn't had great success in his limited time in the majors, but in his minor league career he's posted a .349 OBP. While not great it's also not terrible. Carrera pairs this with good speed as hes stolen 279 bases in his minor league career.
The Cons: Carrera might not even make the 25 man roster, so leading off seems like a long shot. Carrera was a good role player for the Jays last year but was far from spectacular. Carrera is 28 which means that there probably isn't much growth coming up. Most likely Carrera provides organizational depth in Buffalo this season.
The Jays will probably see a variety of guys bat in the lead off spot throughout the year. During spring training we will see a great deal of guys get to hit there. I do believe that when the season starts we'll probably see Tulowitzki in that spot but as the season moves along Gibbons will be looking for anyone to move up to allow Tulo to hit in the middle of the lineup. As it stands now though there isn't a clear option to fill that role.