There are not too many of us who can honestly say that we predicted that Ryan Goins would log over 400 plate appearances in the major leagues; however he spent just one week with the triple-A Bisons and spent most of his time in Toronto written into the starting lineup. The question now is how important he could be on this 2016 Blue Jays team.
Most of us were first introduced to Goins in 2013 when he was called up in August after Maicer Izturis went down with an injury. Goins batted .252 over the course of 34 games. This combined with his Gold Glove level defense led many of us with optimism that Goins could compete with Izturis in the spring to man second base for the Jays in 2014 (forgive us, we in 2013 had just gone through Izturis and the Emilio Bonifiasco). However, Goins never really figured out major league pitching and was sent down at the end of April despite Izturis's trip down the stairs because he struggled at the plate, starting the season 9-for-60 (.150). Goins would return to Toronto in July where he continued to provide strong defense while being unspectacular at the plate.
Goins seemed destined to a life as a defensive-minded backup infielder; however, 2015 presented Goins with another opportunity. Mostly benefiting from injuries, Goins ended up playing a large role for the Jays in 2015. What was more impressive were the strides Goins made at the plate. In the first half, Goins looked much like his old self, slashing .226/.273/.321. Goins saw a great a great jump in the second half as adjustments in his approach saw him to slash .274/.361/.387. Most of this was due to a great increase in Goins plate discipline and his ability to take a walk. Goins walk rate of 12.4% placed him fourth on the team with some of the league's most patient hitters.
All of this was coupled with Goins' continued dominance in the field. For his career, Goins' has posted a UZR/150 of 10.5 at 2B and 11.9 at SS. By comparison, last year's AL Gold Glovers at second base (Jose Altuve) and shortstop (Alcides Escobar) posted UZR/150 of 4.8 and 6.7 respectively.
With the injury to Devon Travis, Goins will start the year as the Jays' second baseman. With Travis out until June, at best, Goins will play starting at second base for more than a quarter of the season. When Travis comes back he'll have to show he is same player he was last year.
When Travis is back, Goins will likely slide back to a utility man for the Blue Jays' infield. He will get some some playing time, given that that Tulowitzki has only reached 500 at bats once in the past six seasons. The Jays will want to keep him as well rested as possible. Additionally, with the Blue Jays carrying three first base-designated hitter players, Goins will likely be the only backup at third base as well.
This all means that Ryan Goins could have nearly as big an impact on the Jays' season as Russell Martin. Goins will be a key player for Toronto this season whether people are comfortable admitting that or not. But I, for one, don't think this is a bad thing at all. If Goins continues to play like he did in the second half last year (and this spring) then Goins is not only a top notch bench player, but a player worthy of starting in a big league infield.
Besides his role on the field there's one more way that Goins can provide value to the Jays: he could be a pretty good trade piece near mid season. The Jays won't want to further deplete their system and have little else in the way of trade value that doesn't take too much away from the big league core. The 28-year-old middle infielder who can be a decent offensive player while providing Gold Glove defense up the middle would leave many teams interested.
All of this is to say that I think Goins could play a key role in the Jays' 2016 season. Whether this is good or bad is to be seen, but I'm very optimistic.