Many, many stories have been written during this slow offseason about how the Blue Jays left field resembles a black hole heading into the season and only Dalton Pompey can save them from complete disaster. But the actual outlook of the position for the upcoming campaign appears as only a light hue of grey when contrasted with the truly darkest of chasms that presents itself in the years following 2017. Where the corner outfield options this season seem to be plentiful, though quite mediocre, the possibilities in 2018 and beyond are even less positive. You could say they're limited and mostly unknown.
While having Melvin Upton and Ezequiel Carrera combine to form a sub-optimal platoon in left is not ideal for 2017, the more worrying prospect is that the team won't even have that option twelve months from now. That's when Upton's contract is up and Carrera is a year older and another season past his 'best before' date as a major league starter. So perhaps the question being asked going into Spring Training shouldn't be if Pompey can save the Jays from a league-average platoon of Upton and Carrera this year, it should be what happens if he isn't even given the chance?
When looking at the Blue Jays contractual obligations for the next few years, a bleak picture begins to reveal itself. Only Kevin Pillar is realistically locked up after the 2017 season in the outfield. With Jose Bautista's 2018 mutual option worth as much as the paper it's written on, and Ezequiel Carrera well into fourth outfielder territory, that leaves both corner spots up for the taking in the future. So for a front office with a time horizon of more than one season, it might be prudent for ole' Dalton to be given an extended look with the big league squad in 2017 considering the alternative options aren't exactly overflowing. Otherwise the team runs the risk of going another season with Pompey as an unknown quantity, scrambling to sign stopgaps to cover for this perceived, but not confirmed, weakness in their squad. Another year of seasoning for Pompey in the minors will not make the picture any clearer.
While it seems like the switch-hitting 24-year-old has been around the team forever, he's only made 148 PA in the bigs over the course of three seasons with just two of those PAs coming in 2016. Pompey's minimal major league time hasn't gone swimmingly mind you, and there's been some rumoured character issues, but it seems he's never been given a solid shot at winning some time in the lineup. It was especially concerning last year when the team ran out the struggling Michael Saunders and Carrera on a regular basis, and even called up Junior Lake and Darrell Ceciliani instead of the homegrown prospect. This can be explained as the team trying to give Pompey a full season in the minors to gain some consistency, but eventually he has to be tested at a higher level. If that time isn't now, then it's not clear when it actually will be.
In 2016 he played nearly the entire season in Buffalo slashing .270/.349/.353 with four home runs, which was good enough for a 106 wRC+. While that doesn't exactly jump off the page as numbers worthy of an immediate major league starting job, I think it's fair to say that Pompey has probably earned another shot at the highest level. It's bears reminding that the last real run he got with the Jays was when he was handed the starting CF job out of camp in 2015 before being demoted after one month in favour of Kevin Pillar, who hasn't let the grip on the position loosen since. Pompey was 22 when that happened and has only been a September call-up since then, which is a little surprising when looked at it in hindsight. A once highly-ranked prospect stuffed in the minors for two years in favour of replacement-level players who have no long-term future with the team.
With Carrera putting up the below line in 2016 and turning 30 this season, you have to expect that Pompey can at least match that offensive production while providing above-average defence and speed on the base paths.
On the other side of the platoon you have Upton providing about the same offensive production in a different way than Carrera, with less OBP and more power. Once again, not a high bar to clear.
You can see that neither player did anything in 2016 to force himself into the starting job going forward, and yet all the talk these last few weeks is that Pompey will have to mash in the spring to even have a shot at the 25-man roster. This partly comes down to Pompey having options while Carrera and Upton cannot be easily sent to the minors, but eventually the Blue Jays will have to face this reality. True, exposing players to waivers unnecessarily is a cardinal sin of roster management, but even worse is stubbornly sticking with them in the face of a better alternative.
What all this means is not that groundbreaking. It's a classic case of a team blocking a young guy with options from playing because of a preference to give starts to the known quantity. It's like having a nice new car in the garage, but still driving the old beatdown model until it breaks down out of loyalty to days gone by. The Blue Jays are looking destined to start two veterans who have no future with the team in left field instead of a homegrown 24-year-old who should have a very big future with the organization going forward. With less than a season of service time, Pompey has the chance to stake a claim to a corner outfield spot for many years to come beside fellow Jays draftee Kevin Pillar. But if he isn't given the chance to show his worth this season, the Blue Jays will enter 2018 once again searching for more stopgap replacements like Upton and Carrera. The wise choice seems obvious, so why are the Blue Jays so hesitant to make it?