DUNEDIN, FLA.—After Kevin Pillar batted leadoff in the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Monday, a reporter asked manager John Gibbons what could be read into that decision.
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Gibbons said, before explaining that it was simply a matter of getting the outfielder as many bats as he could.
Gibbons did make a concession, though.
“But we are looking for a leadoff (hitter).”
The manager used six players in that role last year, including the since-departed Michael Saunders. Gibbons said he didn’t yet know hot the team was going to fill the spot come regular season.
There are a handful of candidates in the lineup to consider.
- Kevin Pillar: The outfielder who sparked the conversation on Tuesday was touted as a possible solution to Toronto’s leadoff problems heading into last season but only ended up doing so on 20 occasions early on, and hit just .198 with a .231 on-base percentage. He did manage 14 stolen bases in 2016, though a thumb injury may have affected his aggressiveness late in the season.
- Devon Travis: If the second baseman is healthy by opening day, he might be Gibbons’ most natural choice. Travis batted leadoff in 43 games last year — more than any other Jay — and put up a .309/.323/.459 slash line in the role (.310/.326/.595 when leading off the first inning). But that is only useful to Toronto if Travis is playing; for a guy whose longest streak of consecutive games is 28 and who is currently dealing with a bone-bruised knee, that’s not a given.
- Jose Bautista: Last year was something of a forgettable season for the slugger, but even when he’s not at his best Bautista manages to get on base. He was the Jays’ leadoff hitter in 40 games last year after volunteering for the job and had a .341 on-base percentage. Then again, that number rose to .376 when Bautista hit third in the order and .420 when he hit fourth.
- Ezequiel Carrera: The speedy Venezualan was used in the leadoff role more than any other spot (36 of his 68 starts), but he has never been a regular starter in the majors. While his slash line leading off games (.182/.250/.212) doesn’t impress, he had a .284 average and .374 on-base percentage when he was in the top spot in the order. And while the Jays don’t run a lot, his seven stolen bases tied for second on the team with Josh Donaldson and Melvin Upton Jr.
- Darwin Barney: Another long shot based on playing time. Barney went 2-for-5 leading off games for the Jays last year, and had a .320 OBP out of the No. 1 spot. But it will likely take injuries to create opportunities for the backup infielder.
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