Saturday, 31 August 2013

What's Goin' On With Goins?

Whenever a young player gets his first call to the show, there a thousand and one clichés thrown around about "making the most of the opportunity". If you could bring the clichés to life, you may very well end up with Ryan Goins, the Buffalo Bisons shortstop turned Toronto Blue Jays starting second baseman. Since being called up on August 22nd, he's been on a tear both offensively and defensively, winning the hearts and minds of Jays fans everywhere. Dare I say it, he's even made a number of them reconsider their daydreams of watching beloved mascot Munenori Kawasaki every day in 2014. In other words, he's been making the most of it.

He was always on the outskirts of discussions on the Blue Jays' top prospects, so there's a very good chance that the first time a lot of fans heard his name was when he was called up from the Bisons a week ago. So where did this Goins kid come from? With the black hole at second base all year, why is this the first we're even hearing of him? Most importantly, with as good as he's looked, could he be the answer to the second base question in 2014?

A fourth round pick out of Dallas Baptist University in 2009, Goins hit all the minor league stops along the way before starting 2013 in AAA with the Buffalo Bisons. Before the season, he didn't make John Sickels' top 20 list of Blue Jays prospects at Minor League Ball, garnering only a mention under "OTHERS". At 25 years old, he was starting to flirt with non-prospect status. Ball players usually peak at about 27 years old, so by 25 they're pretty close to being whatever they're going to be. If what they are at that age hasn't been enough to get them a shot in the bigs, the chances of them ever being an impact Major Leaguer are usually pretty slim. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but the fact that Kawasaki has gotten multiple calls ahead of Goins should be a pretty clear indicator of how the organization viewed his potential to contribute at the Major League level.

Of course, this being the 2013 Blue Jays we're talking about, injuries forced their hand regardless of how they may feel about Goins, and he's doing his very best to make a case for himself going forward. Offensively the left handed hitter has been on fire. So far his line is .400/.419/.467, but we don't need a crystal ball to know that those numbers are coming back to Earth in a big way. That is, unless you think Goins can sustain the .478 BABIP he's had going so far (hint: he can't). Eventually the balls he's putting into play are going to start finding gloves and he'll start looking mortal, so the question isn't if he'll regress, but rather how much.

Defensively he's been pretty excellent, demonstrating both great range (which one would expect from a shortstop) and the ability to make difficult plays on the balls he gets to. He's been winning fans with plays like this:

Cue endless and unoriginal snark about the Blue Jays (but really Buffalo Bisons) finally hitting a cutoff man in late August!

He's also had a couple of other defensive gems that won't let me embed for some reason, like this one where he robs Bonifacio of a hit to end an inning, and this one where he does the same to Alex Gordon to end the game. I hope Janssen bought him dinner for that second one. It's the least he could do.

Personally, I'm pretty sold on his defense. I have no doubt that he could field the position, but with so many fans already penciling him in at second base in 2014, should we expect him to hit enough for that to be a realistic proposition?

Well he was having a bit of a down year in Buffalo before being called up, hitting .257/.311/.369 with a .311 wOBA and 90 wRC+. He was better the year before in AA when he hit .289/.342/.403 with a .336 wOBA and 105 wRC+. Throughout his minor league career he's hovered around average to slightly above average offensively, so odds are he would be a below average bat at the Major League level. He profiles as a contact hitter, neither striking out or walking a ton throughout the minors. What power he has is of the doubles variety, as he's never hit more than 7 home runs in a Minor League season and has never had an ISO over .122 which is already below average.

It's somewhat damning with faint praise that he could still be an upgrade at the position for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014, seeing as how the position has provided a league worst -2.4 fWAR of value in 2013 with the Jays' having received awful performances on both offense and defense from their second basemen. If he can can continue playing great defense, he wouldn't have to hit much to be an upgrade. Unfortunately, we probably shouldn't expect him to hit very much, so better defense would likely make up the the bulk of whatever additional value he'd provide.

It may not be popular to say so right now while Goins is doing everything in his power to win over fans, but we should probably temper our expectations before we all pile onto the bandwagon. I have trouble seeing him as much more than an all glove, no bat second baseman. While that may be better than the no glove, no bat combination we've seen this year, it would still be a pretty underwhelming upgrade for a team with plans of contending in 2014.

Goins deserves all the credit in the world for his play so far, and fans can be forgiven for quickly getting attached to the first second baseman to provide even the slightest bit of value in this disappointing season. However, if the Toronto Blue Jays are going into 2014 with Ryan Goins in a starting role it will mean that their plans of upgrading the position in the off-season have gone horribly awry. It wouldn't necessarily be the kiss of death depending on what other moves they make around the diamond, but a team with visions of contention should hope for a whole lot more. At best he's a gigantic question mark, and we've seen what can happen when a team enters a season with too many question marks. So let's appreciate what he's doing right now for what it is, a great debut performance in a tiny sample, without getting carried away with expectations for the future. The Jays can, and should, do better.

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