Underrated 2017 Feel Good Story: Ezequiel Carrera Excelling

It’s been an interesting season for Jays outfielder Ezequiel Carrera. He began the year as the strong side of a left field platoon with Steve Pearce, mostly by default: the Jays hadn’t acquired anyone better to supplant the career backup. But a funny thing happened on the way to Pearce eventually assuming the full-time role. Pearce struggled and then got hurt, and Carrera had a solid season, much better than anyone could have hoped. He will finish the year with career highs in most offensive categories. He’s third among Jays regulars in tAV and OBP, and fifth on the team in WARP. Though no one would mistake him for an elite defender, he has played all three outfield positions, giving the Jays some flexibility on a team with far too many slow-footed defenders.

That Carrera has been benched probably isn’t a commentary on his performance, as we explained previously. It’s a names and numbers game. In a meaningless September, the prospects are going to play. The established stars are going to play. Carrera, a journeyman in the midst of his finest season, is neither. At 30, there’s probably no higher ceiling for him to reach, and no fans to appease by writing his name in the lineup every day.

Zeke’s career year is a feather in his cap, and could potentially have been a fun story in a more successful Jays year. One could look at him and see a fringe major leaguer, making good after being written off again and again, grabbing hold of a regular role despite the doubts and questions that have constantly surrounded him. The Jays have always tried to move on, to find a better regular to supplant him, but Carrera has always found at-bats and a roster spot during his time in Toronto.

Despite being a fixture on the team through two playoff seasons, Zeke isn’t a fan favourite. He’s quiet with the media, and his status as a backup prior to this season made him less visible. But he also doesn’t have something really identifiable as a skill, a calling card that would draw someone’s attention. Ask a fan what Zeke is good at, and you’ll probably get some furrowed brows as we try to figure it out. He doesn’t have the power of a Bautista or Donaldson, or the glove of a Pillar or Tulowitzki. He doesn’t hit for a high average, and isn’t the base-runner that Dalton Pompey was late in the 2015 season.

The Jays might try to knock Carrera down the depth chart again after this season. It’s easy to see why the team might look for a better solution. Despite the career year, there’s nothing really spectacular about Zeke. He’s not a star, a magnet for the attention of fans and front offices. He’s just fine. The team may not believe he’s as good as he showed this season, more a backup than a starter. There are other, bigger names that the team has to accommodate, and more immovable pieces ahead of him in the depth chart. “Left field” was the fallback for places the Jays could improve, and will likely be again.

Even in an outfield in flux, it’s easy to see where Carrera could get squeezed out. Needing some certainty, the Jays will probably bring Kevin Pillar back, living with a below-average bat for his reliable glove. Teoscar Hernandez should be given every chance to grab hold of an everyday spot. Steve Pearce, whose power plays better for a corner outfielder, will need his at-bats as well. Maybe Anthony Alford or Dwight Smith Jr. asserts themselves in spring training, forcing themselves into the conversation. Maybe the Jays spend to make the outfield a strength rather than a question mark.

Carrera will likely get to watch more games from the dugout as 2017 draws to a close, and that’s a bit of a shame. He was one of the few bright spots in a bad Jays season, someone who actually exceeded expectations. The team and fans may look to replace him, and that’s all well and good. But if he does come back, and has a spot in the lineup on opening day, maybe that’s fine too. As one of the few good things about this season, we should be open to the idea that he could surprise us again.

Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

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