Monday, April 15, 2013

37 Jays - Emilio Bonifacio Is What He Is...Which Is What, Exactly?

Who: Number 1 in your program - and shurely(!) in your hearts - Emilio Bonifacio. Utility infielder. Well, sorta. Also, kind of a utility outfielder, if necessary. Switch-hitter. Five-foot-eleven, 205 lbs. Age 27.

Provenance: Santo Domingo, Dominicana. Signed in 2001 as an amateur free agent by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Made his Major League debut in September 2007 with the D-Backs. Acquired by the Blue Jays from the Marlins as part of "that deal".

Contract Status: Signed a one-year, $2.6 milion deal to avoid arbitration in January. Is arb eligible after this season as well. Will become a free agent after 2014.

Back of the Baseball Card: Stole 110 bases over six seasons, including 70 over his last 915 plate appearances in 2011-12. Need more? Fine then. Has put up a vaguely respectable .329 OBP alongside a rather flimsy .343 slugging in 1878 plate appearances. Seven dingers.  

2012 Numbers: In 64 games with the Marlins, put up a .330 OBP and .316 slugging. Stole 30 bags.

Injury History: Ended his 2012 season with a sprained right knee in August. Also had surgery on his thumb last season, which sidelined him for two separate DL stints.

Looking Back and First Impressions: When the Blue Jays made their monumental deal with the Marlins, Emilio Bonifacio was a lesser but still intriguing piece of the return. It might be trite to call Bonifacio a "jack of all trades", but with his ability to hit from both sides of the plate and play almost anywhere on the diamond, his mere inclusion in the deal added to the Jays' roster flexibility. 

Coming off an injury-plagued season, it was easy to gloss over the most recent offensive output, which was less than inspiring, especially if you let your eye find the gaudy numbers under the steals column. Moreover, a career season in 2011 in which he finagled his way into a full-time role through injuries to Hanley Ramirez and Twitter-inspired demotions for Logan Morrison.

Bonifacio made the most of that opportunity, posting a .753 OPS (.360 OBP / .393 SLG), including a handsome .376 OBP as a leadoff hitter. That last note might put rest to a question for the skipper that popped up over the last two days, as the injury to Jose Reyes saw him shifted back into that leadoff role, at least temporarily.

With more opportunities to see Bonifacio over the past week, the initial impressions are much less endearing. Beyond the obvious butchery in the infield on defense, his swing seems more apt for a lumberjack competition than the top of the order for a putative contender.

Looking Ahead: With the injury to Reyes, there are holes to be plugged in the starting nine for the next three months (or more). While John Gibbons has already shown a willingness to mix up the lineup depending on the day's circumstances, Bonifacio might still angle his way into significant playing time, if not 500 plate appearances.

On one hand, that's surely good for him. Players want to play. But as author Ryan Oakley (@thegrumpyowl) noted via tweet over the weekend, Bonifacio might benefit from a relegation to the bench, where his value as a late inning replacement and pinch-runner would not be undercut by the weaknesses that are exposed in the everyday role.

"Right now, he's a monkey wrench as a hammer," Oakley argued.

Optimistically: With great opportunity comes great productivity. Bonifacio posts an OBP over .350 with enough extra bases tossed in to help the Jays stay afloat until Reyes' return.

Pessimistically: The Jays are left to rely on him, but can't find places to hide his glove in the field or his flimsy bat in the lineup.

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