DUNEDIN, Fla. – When the Toronto Blue Jays open the 2014 season, they will most likely have a different opening-day second baseman for the fourth consecutive year.
Since former All-Star second baseman Aaron Hill was traded in August 2011, the Blue Jays have used 12 different players at the position. It’s not exactly a Murderers Row of players, either.
Kelly Johnson. Mike McCoy. Jayson Nix. Chris Woodward. Omar Vizquel. Adeiny Hechavarria. Emilio Bonficacio. Maicer Iztruis. Some of the second basemen in recent Blue Jays’ history read like a list of temporary stop-gap players.
This year, Ryan Goins hopes to put a stop to the revolving door of players.
The 26-year-old converted shortstop is the clear frontrunner for the everyday job in 2014, following an impressive, but brief, audition at the end of 2013.
“Yeah I’m excited about it,” Goins said of the opportunity to be opening-day starter. “It’s something you look forward to when you’re growing up, playing in the major leagues. I think it’s exciting just to get that opportunity.”
The Blue Jays need a reliable everyday second baseman if they hope to reverse their fortunes from a disastrous 2013 season. Defensively, they were one of the worst teams in the majors last season. They were 26th in errors with 111 and 26th in fielding percentage at .982.
There were rumblings during the offseason that the Blue Jays were seeking an upgrade at second base. They signed 30-year-old Chris Getz to compete for a roster spot and were rumoured to be a suitor for Stephen Drew. Drew, a shortstop, is believed to be willing to convert to second base and is coming off a solid season, capped by winning the World Series with the Boston Red Sox.
Drew is still without a job as spring training rolls on and his agent, Scott Boras, even ripped the Blue Jays’ ownership group for not opening their wallets this offseason. Boras didn’t go so far as to say the Blue Jays should sign Drew, but hinted that they needed “premium talent” to compete in 2014.
Goins isn’t bothered by rumours or who is or isn’t at spring training. He continues to prepare just like any other season.
“Five days a week in the weight room,” Goins said of his offseason regimen. “Then we start throwing some hitting in there three days a week. In January start going five days a week, same with off the field I’ll probably throw three times a week and start long toss in January.
“I expect to be productive [in 2014] and help the team win, honestly. I have confidence in myself at the plate and hopefully save as many runs as I can on defence.”
The Blue Jays started six different players at second base in 2013 due to a combination of injuries and lack of production. Goins made his debut on August 23 and had an immediate impact. He instantly improved the Blue Jays defensively and formed a solid double-play combination with Jose Reyes. He had a .993 fielding percentage in 262.1 innings, committing just one error.
In his limited playing time, Goins recorded a 6.6 Defensive WAR rating, which was good enough for eighth in the major leagues among players with at least 250 innings. For context, Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney lead the league at 14.7. Among Blue Jays, Bonifacio’s rating was 1.7 in 2013 and Iztruis’ was -8.2. Izturis started 47 games at second in 2013 and is Goins’ main competition for the everyday duties at second, though Izturis is in the second year of a four-year, $12 million deal.
A steady, productive hand at second base could also finally put to rest the experiment of using Brett Lawrie as a second baseman. Lawrie started only six games at second in 2013, but the idea of moving him always seems to be in the minds of management. If Goins, a fourth-round draft pick in 2009, can take the reins, Lawrie could continue his Gold Glove-calibre play at third and the Blue Jays would have a formidable infield defence.
Defensively, Goins is clearly ready for prime time but the questions will always be about his offence, until he proves otherwise. He hit just .252/.264/.345 and walked only twice in 121 plate appearances in 2013, but committed himself to improving over the offseason. He also spent some time working with new Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer at his home in Kansas City.
“I’m confident I have the ability to [improve],” Goins said. “Hopefully my play will show that on the field and [the Blue Jays] think the same thing.”
If Goins can simply get on base, or avoid the ground balls he hit so many times in 2013, and keep the line moving, his glove alone will keep him in the lineup. The rest of the Blue Jays’ lineup can be counted on for producing runs. In a lineup that boasts the potential for power, Goins would likely bat ninth.
And if Goins ever needs a mentor to discuss the intricacies of second base, the Blue Jays have a pretty good one in their front office. Roberto Alomar was the franchise's All-Star second baseman for five seasons in the 1990s and is the only player in the Hall of Fame wearing a Blue Jays cap.
So far, the relationship between Goins and Alomar – who is officially listed as a special assistant to the organization – has been limited to off-field chats.
“I’ve had a meeting with him, he talked to me just about playing the game and stuff like that. But one-on-one get on the field and work with him, no [not yet],” Goins said.
If Goins gets off to the kind of start in 2014 he thinks he’s capable of, he won’t need any extra leadership and the Blue Jays won’t have a choice but to let him play second every day.
“[I’m] just trying to let my play speak for itself,” Goins said.