De­fence a pri­or­ity for Jays, Her­nan­dez this off-sea­son

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - SPORTS - STEVE BUF­FERY SBuf­fery@post­media.com

LOS AN­GE­LES — A lot of Blue Jays fans have been get­ting grouchy about Teoscar Her­nan­dez. Namely about his de­fence, which at times is an ad­ven­ture.

But Jays gen­eral man­ager Ross Atkins said this week at the MLB GM Meet­ings that get­ting Her­nan­dez on-track de­fen­sively is an off-sea­son pri­or­ity for the club and he is also hope­ful that, by work­ing with new man­ager Char­lie Mon­toyo, Her­nan­dez will up his game in the out­field.

The Jays can’t af­ford to keep run­ning the 26-yearold out in the out­field if there isn’t some im­prove­ment. The na­tive of Co­tui, Do­mini­can Repub­lic, made eight er­rors and fin­ished with -16 De­fen­sive Runs Saved (ac­cord­ing to MLB.com) which was third low­est among AL out­field­ers. Atkins is con­fi­dent there will be im­prove­ment. The Jays cer­tainly haven’t given up on the big cor­ner out­fielder.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited for he and Char­lie to get to­gether,” said Atkins. “(And) I’m re­ally ex­cited about our op­por­tu­ni­ties with our R&D depart­ment to work with him on his de­fence. We will have a new first base/out­field coach for him to work with and that will be a pri­or­ity for us this off-sea­son. I’ve talked to his agent about it, I talked to Teoscar about it. Teoscar’s one of the hard­est work­ing guys we have, so it’s a great op­por­tu­nity.”

“It’s noth­ing against Leip (for­mer first base/out­field coach Tim Leiper). It’s just this will be a new op­por­tu­nity for us,” Atkins added. Leiper was let go ear­lier this month. Her­nan­dez was ac­quired by the Jays on July 31, 2017, from the Hous­ton Astros.

The Jays hired Mon­toyo to re­place John Gib­bons Oct. 25 partly on the strength of his com­mu­ni­ca­tion and teach­ing skills. It doesn’t hurt that Mon­toyo is flu­ent in Span­ish, which is Her­nan­dez’s first lan­guage.

“Just about ev­ery singe per­son Char­lie has worked with and has been around seem­ingly has en­joyed and em­braced the im­pact he’s had,” said Atkins.

“That’s prob­a­bly over-stated (but) ev­ery per­son who’s reached out to us — and there has been a very large num­ber — has said that he has a great way about him, he has a great ease of con­nec­tion and great base­ball in­tel­lect and ex­pe­ri­ences and he wants to do things col­lab­o­ra­tively. So that’s ex­cit­ing. I’m not al­ways a per­son that be­lieves that just a new voice or just new change is sig­nif­i­cant, but I can’t imag­ine feel­ing bet­ter about Char­lie Mon­toyo and his abil­ity to con­nect and re­late with our play­ers and cre­ate some en­ergy.

“It’s not just this off-sea­son but the com­ing years ... it’s a very good feel­ing.

“One of the play­ers I’m re­ally ex­cited about get­ting in and around Char­lie is (short­stop) Richie Urena, who doesn’t get a lot of (at­ten­tion),” Atkins said. “But the best (per­for­mance) we’ve seen (of him) has been (when he’s played) in the ma­jor leagues.”

Urena, 22, hit .293 with an OBP of .340 in 40 games for the Jays last sea­son af­ter hit­ting .216 with a .250 OBP in 65 ap­pear­ances with the Buf­falo Bisons in 2018. Atkins thinks Mon­toyo might be able to left Urena’s game.

Her­nan­dez is an in­trigu­ing player be­cause of his pop. He had 22 home runs with the Jays last sea­son in 134 games. Atkins said he will be train­ing this off-sea­son in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and at the club’s fa­cil­ity in Dunedin.

“We are work­ing through that right now,” said Atkins.

AP FILES

Toronto’s Teoscar Her­nan­dez slides on the warn­ing track while chas­ing the ball dur­ing a game in Au­gust.

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