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Jays’ Espinal is already pushing for more playing time

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Lengthy earlier than Santiago Espinal ever stepped onto a Main League Baseball subject, he was already being typecast within the function of utility infielder.

It didn’t appear to matter what sort of numbers the Dominican native put up on his highway to the majors. Most consultants and insiders appeared to agree the glove would play at any stage however the bat would at all times be a legal responsibility.

Slowly, however certainly, that notion is beginning to change, and the reward is perhaps a whole lot of taking part in time at second base for the Blue Jays this season. Locked right into a platoon with Cavan Biggio, Espinal hasn’t wasted any time making the case that he ought to change into a daily fixture within the lineup.

Espinal hit a key double off the bench within the Jays’ 10-8 victory over the Texas Rangers on Friday evening and the next day he was again at it once more, with a pinch-hit double within the backside of the sixth that propelled the Jays to a 4-3 win over those self same Rangers at Rogers Centre.

“It’s the arduous work I put into the low season, in season, spring coaching,” mentioned Espinal, whose workforce has received back-to-back video games to open the 12 months for the primary time since 2016. “Simply working arduous every single day, ensuring I’m staying prepared for any scenario, similar to at present. Arduous work pays off and I’m simply going to maintain working arduous for no matter alternative I get with this workforce so we are able to get a (win).”

Essentially the most shocking facet of Espinal’s play to date this 12 months, which incorporates spring coaching, has been an uptick in energy. The 27-year-old reported to camp having gained 15 kilos of muscle in the course of the low season. The extra energy has been noticeable, not solely in his bodily look however in his strategy on the plate.

Espinal was one of many Jays’ prime performers this spring with a .313 common (10-for-32), two homers, three doubles and a .983 on-base plus slugging share. In two regular-season video games, he has already hit three balls tougher than he did at any level throughout his first two seasons within the huge leagues.

He hit a liner at 106.2 miles per hour and a double at 106.9 on Friday and one other at 106 Saturday, a shot into the hole that scored Raimel Tapia from first base to safe the Jays’ second win. The man who was once often known as a slap hitter is all of a sudden driving balls all around the subject.

“He had an awesome low season,” Jays supervisor Charlie Montoyo mentioned. “His aim was to get larger and stronger, and you’ll see the distinction proper now. Credit score to him for doing that within the low season … On the plate, his strategy has been good for 2 years now. He hit .300 final 12 months, he has been actually good. He has been an unsung hero for us.”

Espinal didn’t get a whole lot of respect for his offensive skills on his method to the majors, however he nonetheless hit at each stage. In 2018, the 12 months he joined the Jays group in a commerce with the Pink Sox for Steve Pearce, he posted a decent .800 OPS throughout three ranges. The next 12 months, he hit .317 in 28 video games for Triple-A Buffalo.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. douses Santiago Espinal with water after the infielder drove in the winning run in the Blue Jays’ 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Saturday.

And the numbers have been lots higher than some would possibly assume within the majors. Whereas he had a slash line of .267/.308/.641 throughout 26 video games in 2020, the previous Tenth-round choose hit .311 final season and solely Vladimir Guerrero Jr. posted the next on-base share than Espinal’s .376 in 92 video games.

The one factor lacking was energy — 16 extra-base hits in 222 at-bats. That’s why one among his prime priorities this winter was gaining energy. Will probably be one other month or two earlier than a lot might be learn into his numbers, nevertheless it’s a transfer that seems to be paying off.

“Any likelihood he will get, he produces,” mentioned Jays shortstop Bo Bichette, who spent the low season working alongside Espinal. “It’s a particular high quality to remain locked in always and he’s clearly helped us out lots. I’m excited to see him do nicely. He can play defence in his sleep, it doesn’t actually matter what place. He’s very gifted.”

The Jays aren’t going to desert their plans for a platoon at second base two video games into the season. That wouldn’t be truthful to Biggio, who hasn’t had time to make his personal case for the job. However, sooner or later, the numbers are going to dictate who will get the majority of the reps. Within the meantime, Espinal must proceed incomes no matter taking part in time he receives, and it received’t at all times be at second. When Bichette or Matt Chapman want a break day, he’ll be the one to maneuver throughout the diamond to take over their positions as nicely.

Two video games don’t make per week, not to mention a season, so Espinal nonetheless has a protracted method to go earlier than his desires of a breakout 12 months begin to change into a bit extra practical. However he’s off to an awesome begin and so are the Jays. If that development continues, expectations which can be already excessive would possibly begin going by the roof.

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