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Why Dalton Pompey Should Skip the World Baseball Classic

The Blue Jays have a gaping hole in left field, a job Pompey could presumably win with a good spring. That's why he should stay at Jays camp, and not attend the WBC with Team Canada.

by Andrew Stoeten
Feb 17 2017, 7:20pm

Photo by Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

I don't want to slag Dalton Pompey here. That's far from my purpose. Not that I'd know personally, but I'm sure it's an honour to be asked to play for your country and a privilege that most players don't take lightly. Frankly, if more players had stronger commitments to their national programs the WBC would be a much better tournament, and if more teams were accommodating to guys participating in the WBC it would be better for everyone. Much respect to Pompey for playing. Seriously. All I'm doing is asking a question, not questioning an action.

But... um... what in the ever-loving fuck is Dalton doing on the Team Canada roster for the World Baseball Classic when the Blue Jays have a giant mess in left field, and he looks like exactly the kind of player who could come in, win the job, and spare us of a whole lot of Melvin Upton Jr., and even more of Ezequiel Carrera struggling against right-handed pitching?

Pompey was deemed good enough to be a big league starter back in 2015, and while things haven't exactly gone swimmingly for him since then—he ended up demoted all the way down to Double-A New Hampshire that season, and had an injury-riddled off year at Buffalo in 2016—it's not like the bar he'd have to cross to become the most valuable of the Jays' left field options is very high. Or, at least, it shouldn't be.

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The fact that Carrera and Upton bat from different sides of the plate does not automatically make the pair a viable platoon. The left-hand-hitting Carrera made what little hay he did in 2016 against same-sided pitchers—and he especially punished those lefties at home, slashing an utterly absurd .409/.458/.568 against them in 48 plate appearances at Rogers Centre. That split is both the reason Jays fans warmed up so easily to "Zeke" at the end of the season, and the reason that even his modest overall numbers in 2016 (a .323 OBP and an 85 wRC+) need to be taken with a huge grain of salt. That kind of success is not repeatable, and even if it were, Carrera wouldn't be getting at-bats against left-handers while in a platoon with Upton anyway!

Pompey during the early days of 2017 spring training in Dunedin. Photo by Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Upton's only value at this point is against left-handed pitching, and as the right-handed half of the platoon facing them would be his job. As the lefty, Carrera would be tasked with facing right-handers, and it's here where the notion that using these two in such a way is at all viable starts to crumble. Zeke slashed just .218/.307/.320 against right-handed pitching in 2016, good for a 71 wRC+. A total of 130 left-handed hitters had at least 230 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers in 2016, and within that group, Carrera's 71 wRC+ ranks 124th.

And before you ask, his 2016 numbers are entirely in line with the numbers he's produced in the split over the course of his career. He simply isn't good enough to be given the role.

Here's where we come to Pompey—or where we would come to Pompey, only it turns out that he's down in Miami grinding out pointless losses for the red and white!

As VICE Sports wrote last week, Canada's WBC roster is grim, and their prospects for moving on from Pool C—where they'd have to finish better than two of the United States, the Dominican Republic, or Colombia—are even grimmer!

On one hand this means that Pompey at least won't be away from the left-field-competition-he-really-should-win for too long. I'm not sure when Canada's roster first gets together, but they play an exhibition in Dunedin against the Blue Jays on March 7, and if they go three-and-out in the round robin, their final WBC game will be on March 12. He'd really only miss a week of camp with the Jays. But it's a week at a fairly crucial point on the spring calendar, just before cuts start getting made, and before regulars start ramping up their playing time. And it's a week that Michael Saunders felt he couldn't lose, and he's an expensive veteran trying to make sure he wins a job on a terrible Phillies team!

Upton comes with a lot of swing and miss. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

And what if, by some miracle, Team Canada actually does move on? Strange things happen in the wonderful game of baseball sometimes. With the WBC taking place just as players are starting to get their feet wet in terms of live game action, is it completely impossible to think that Canada could upend Colombia and somehow sneak by the US or DR on guile (not Guiel) and Gagne? I don't think it is. And should that happen, Pompey would find himself away from the Jays for another set of games, all the way until at least March 18.

Again, that's not a gigantic length of time to be away, but Pompey wasn't going to be handed a job in the best of circumstances, so any time away is clearly going to hurt his chances. Upton is free money for the Jays—they're on the hook for just $1 million of his 2017 salary, with the Padres picking up the rest —and Carrera is a playoff hero who seems well liked by his coaches and teammates, and is beloved by a certain segment of fans. Despite obvious on-field flaws, their grip on the position may not be easy to dislodge. That might even be precisely the reason Pompey isn't being held back from Team Canada.

Perhaps it's been acknowledged by one side or the other that he really doesn't have a shot at winning the job. Perhaps, because they're "Canada's Team" and because of the optics of undermining the national team (without an insurance excuse like they have on Russell Martin), the Jays would prefer he go and won't hold it against him.

Whatever the reason, given the way that players routinely choose club over country if a job is at stake, it's a head-scratcher.

Pompey can be a big weapon on the bases, as we learned during the 2015 ALCS. Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Pompey is far from a slam-dunk candidate to win the left field job outright, or to surpass Carrera as the left-handed side of the platoon (Pompey is a switch hitter, but is generally stronger from the left side), but he has a lot going for him, too. He's still just 24, he crushed at just about every level until he hit Triple-A, and even then he's held his own. In 2015 he posted a .372 OBP in 65 games with the Bisons, and though that figure slumped to .349 in 2016, and his power numbers leave something to be desired, it's important to remember that he spent time on the shelf with both a knee injury and a concussion.

There are some very clear indications that the front office likes him quite a lot, too. At a recent coaches clinic, Mark Shapiro was asked about the Blue Jays' best prospects beyond the much-hyped Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and only singled out Pompey, saying that he's been somewhat overlooked (presumably because Dalton lost his prospect status because he played so many big league games in 2015, and so no longer appears on top prospect lists or in system rankings write-ups). And back in August, Catherine Stem of Jays From The Couch sat down with Pompey for an interview, and he sounded very positive about his relationship with the club's new GM, Ross Atkins.

"When Alex (Anthopoulos) was here I felt like it was more about—not that it isn't a business overall—but he kind of treated everybody like a business piece. It was a lot different. I never really talked to him at all, but these new guys, I talk to Ross Atkins a lot and he's really in tune with my routine and what I'm doing to prepare myself for the game and let the results take care of itself," Pompey said. "There's kind of a different mindset to what they do and I think that's just because they came from the (Cleveland) Indians, where they are really big on development. It's definitely helped me out a lot."

Nice postseason, though. Photo by Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

That doesn't necessarily mean that Pompey is getting special treatment that's suggestive of a big role for him here in the future, but it certainly shows that he's not a forgotten man in the eyes of the front office, even if he sometimes has been among the fan base.

Carrera isn't going to give the Blue Jays any power whatsoever against right-handed pitching. He'll give them a little bit of on-base percentage, a little bit of a threat on the basepaths, and some good defence on Kevin Pillar's flank. Pompey brings all of that—he slashed .281/.360/.373 against right-handers in Buffalo in 2016, stole 20 bases, and is a natural centre fielder—but with two things Carrera doesn't: the ability to switch hit and not insignificant upside.

So why the hell won't he be in camp fighting every day to force the Jays to have to choose him as their primary left fielder? Good on him for playing for his country—I really do mean it!—but Canada has another team that could really use him at his best this spring. And at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I'd rather see him out there every possible day in Dunedin showing up the jamokes the Jays seem more inclined to use in left, to what I think will be their own detriment.