2012 Toronto Blue Jays Team Preview
The Blue Jays didn't make a huge splash this winter, reportedly finishing second in the Yu Darvish process and being in the mix for the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, and instead settled on reworking the back of their bullpen without making any significant changes on the offensive end of things. Their farm system is one of the best in the majors, and they'll need it to start bearing fruit as the team looks to contend in the tough AL East after a few years of rebuilding.
Lost pitchers Frank Francisco, Shawn Camp and Jon Rauch to free agency. Acquired pitchers Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor, Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero via free agency or trade.
The Jays primary overhaul this winter features a re-tooled back of the bullpen with the additions of Santos, Oliver and Cordero and bringing Frasor back into the fold. Santos figures to be the primary closer after coming from the White Sox and will have what figures to be a nice setup crew around him with Oliver from the left side and Cordeo and Frasor from the right side.
Lost catcher Jose Molina to free agency. Acquired catchers Jeff Mathis and Kyle Phillips.
The Jays basically decided to swap backup catchers by letting Molina leave via free agency and later trading for Mathis. Mathis isn't a threat to wrestle away the starting job from J.P. Arencibia but will give the Jays a veteran receiver behind the plate to give Arencibia the occasional rest.
Lost outfielder Dewayne Wise to free agency. Signed outfielder Ben Francisco.
Francisco is expected to assume a reserve role with the Jays. His addition certainly isn't welcome news for Rajai Davis owners as Davis appears destined for a fifth outfielder role behind Eric Thames and Travis Snider. Francisco could provide some value if injuries strike or the struggles of Snider and Rasmus continue, but we would look elsewhere if you are speculating for potential breakout candidates.
Signed infielders Omar Vizquel, Luis Valbuena and Brian Bocock to minor league contracts with invites to spring training. Designated third baseman Mark Teahen for assignment.
Teahen was nothing more than a salary dump and the trio of veteran infielders will compete with Mike McCoy for a utility infield role. McCoy's ability to handle center field in a pinch might give him a slight advantage, but none of the above figure to have a meaningful impact on the Jays this season.
Lineup (vs. RH/LH)
1.Yunel Escobar SS
2.Eric Thames LF/ Ben Francisco LF
3.Jose Bautista RF
4.Adam Lind 1B
5.Brett Lawrie 3B/ Edwin Encarnacion DH
6.Edwin Encarnacion DH/ Brett Lawrie 3B
7.JP Arencibia C/ Kelly Johnson 2B
8.Kelly Johnson 2B/ JP Arencibia C
9.Colby Rasmus CF
Rasmus could really wind up hitting either second or anywhere from the fifth through ninth spot depending on how well he rebounds and how well Brett Lawrie adjusts to life in the big leagues. Escobar, Bautista and Lind are firmly entrenched in their positions, but the Jays need an OBP boost if they're going to want to take full advantage of their power.
5.Dustin McGowan/Kyle Drabek
Romero and Morrow give the Jays a solid top to their rotation, but they really need both Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek to bounce back from a forgettable 2011 campaign.
Cecil followed up his 15-win season of the previous year with an ugly 4-11 record and saw his ERA jump to 4.73 despite similar ratios to his 15-win season. His WHIP (1.326) was nearly identical, but his control (3.1 BB/9IP) and home-run rate (1.6 HR/9IP) both slipped just enough to produce some volatile outings. He didn't pick up a victory after July, losing seven of his last 10 starts, despite solid numbers after the All-Star break (1.215 WHIP, 4.37 ERA in 13 starts). He'll be counted on again to make 25-28 starts for the Jays, and while he'll most certainly improve on last year's effort there's enough here to still see some growing pains.
Alvarez earned a callup to Toronto in August despite skipping Triple-A and fared well enough to enter into the picture for a rotation spot this spring. He didn't dominate at Double-A (1.114 WHIP, 6.75 K/9IP) as you might have expected for someone who skipped Triple-A, but he held his own in 10 starts for the Jays (1.131 WHIP, 5.65 K/9IP, 1.13 BB/9IP). There's plenty of growth potential here given his excellent control, but keep in mind that his 6.75 K/9IP at Double-A was the highest strikeout rate he posted at any minor league stop. He'll likely enter spring with the inside track on a rotation spot but expect some bumps along the way.
Drabek struggled with his command and control after breaking camp as a member of the starting rotation, before getting shipped down to Triple-A Las Vegas in June to try and work out the kinks. He didn't fare much better in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but got a September callup and continued to struggle. His overall numbers (1.805 WHIP, 6.06 ERA, 6.3 BB/9IP in 78.2 innings for the Jays) are tough to stomach, and he'll need to hit the reset button when spring training opens.
McGowan was long forgotten in most circles thanks to a litany of shoulder woes, but he made it all the way back for four starts for the Jays in September. His control was predictably lacking but showed enough life on his fastball that he'll get a look to fill a rotation spot this spring. There's really no telling which way this will go as it will be four years since he had any sort of success at the big league level.
CL: Sergio Santos
The Jays re-tooled their bullpen this offseason, but Santos enters the season as the clear-cut front runner to handle the closing duties. Santos converted 30 of his 36 save chances for the White Sox last season and his excellent K rate (13.07 K/9IP) should allow him to survive the transition to the AL East just fine.
Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise
Can Brett Lawrie hold down the third base job full-time?
Lawrie nearly made the roster last season after head-turning spring training. When he finally did reach Toronto, he showed enough promise to earn the starting third-base job for 2012. His future is extremely bright, and the power he showcased last year should put him quite high in the third-base rankings this season.
What about the apparent logjam in left and center field?
The Jays would love to see Colby Rasmus grab hold of the center-field job, and he'll be given every chance to do just that after a disappointing 2011 season (.173 average, .517 OPS and an ugly 5:39 BB:K mark in 140 plate appearances for the Jays). There's still a nice power/speed combo here if he can put last year behind him. Eric Thames will get the first crack in left field, though he'll need to handle southpaws better (.209 average, .637 OPS in 91 plate appearances) to avoid some sort of platoon role with Ben Francisco or Rajai Davis.
We'll discuss Travis Snider a little bit later, but he's certainly in the mix as well. Davis owners may have to hope that Rasmus' struggles from a year ago continue as Francisco seems like a more logical platoon mate for Thames in left field. Davis was slowed by an ankle injury in April and saw his season cut short with a torn hamstring in August but still managed to steal 34 bases in just 95 games, so the speed upside is still there if he can work his way into the lineup on a consistent basis.
How do all the new pieces in the bullpen fit?
As noted earlier, Santos enters the season as the clear front-runner for the closer role. Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver figure to be the primary setup men. Casey Janssen, who appeared to be a darkhorse candidate to inherit the closer role as the offseason began, will be relegated to a middle-relief role following the offseason acquisitions of Santos and Cordero.
Strengths: A power-laden lineup, a solid top of the rotation and a revamped bullpen should keep the Jays competitive in the AL East.
Weaknesses: The back half of the starting rotation figures to take its lumps in the AL East and the team could really an OBP boost to cut down on its reliance on the long ball to score runs.
Rising: Brett Lawrie - Lawrie darn near hit his way onto the Opening Day roster with a torrid spring training but the team opted to send him down to Triple-A to work on his defense at the hot corner. He never stopped hitting, but a broken hand pushed his major league debut back about six weeks before getting the call in August. A fractured finger ended his season in late September but the 21-year-old showed plenty of promise in the 43 games he did play, displaying a nice combination of power and speed in the process. He'll be entrenched as the team's starting third baseman and should provide plenty of offense in his first full year in the bigs.
Falling: Francisco Cordero - Cordero managed to hold onto the Reds closer job all year despite a shaky 5.43 K/9IP rate. He did significantly cut down his walk rate, and that combined with a .218 BABIP kept his ERA (2.45 ERA) artificially low. If you draft him looking for a repeat in his ERA and WHIP, you're in for a rude awakening, and the saves aren't going to be there in what figures to be a very crowded bullpen in Toronto.
Sleeper: Kelly Johnson - Johnson came over to the Jays in a midseason trade and showed just enough patience and pop at the plate for the Jays to keep him another season by offering arbitration, which he accepted. The power he displayed in 2010 likely won't be approached again, but Toronto's a decent enough hitting park to help him out a bit. He'll return as the starting second baseman and offers a nice power and speed combination from a middle infielder and should improve on last year's totals.
Supersleeper: Travis Snider - Snider certainly fits the bill of “last year's bum” and could reward his owners if handsomely if things break right. Snider got demoted in late April after a slow start at the plate and then had to deal with concussion issues at Triple-A Las Vegas before getting recalled in July. He hit fairly well but got sent back down to work on his approach at the plate before a wrist injury ended his season. He hit well in his time at Triple-A (.327/.394/.480 with 25 walks in 277 plate appearances) but never could put the pieces together at the major league level. He's a pretty good candidate to get dealt at some point, and he faces a potentially crowded picture in left field this spring with Eric Thames and Rajai Davis if he remains in Toronto. The talent is still there if he can beat Thames out for regular playing time against righties however.
Travis d'Arnaud - d'Arnaud put a back injury and the pitcher-friendly Florida State League of 2010 behind him and re-established himself as a legit catching prospect with a breakout season at Double-A New Hampshire, hitting .311 with 33 doubles and 21 homers as a 22-year-old. He needs to control the strike zone better (33:100 BB:K in 466 plate appearances) if he wants to hold onto his offensive gains against more advanced competition, but he put himself back on the prospect radar after two disappointing seasons. The Jays have an interesting dilemma ahead if d'Arnaud continues to develop at the plate with J.P. Arencibia around, but for now they'll see how d'Arnaud handles the jump to Triple-A.
Anthony Gose - Gose is slowly, but steadily, turning his vast athletic skills into something usable on a baseball field. He escaped the pitcher-friendly Florida State League and had a breakout season at Double-A New Hampshire with 16 homers and 70 stolen bases to go along with 62 walks in 587 plate appearances. He still strikes out way too often (154 times last year) but he's slowly developing a better approach at the plate and it's beginning to bear fruit. He's light years ahead of where he was at this time a year ago and figures to take another step forward in 2012.
Adeiny Hechavarria - Hechavarria struggled to start the season at Double-A New Hampshire (.235/.275/.347) but got promoted anyway and responded with a solid end to the season at Triple-A Las Vegas (.389/.431/.537 in 25 games). He still needs to work on controlling the strike zone but that's not entirely unexpected from the 22-year-old Cuban. There were whispers that he could be available in a trade this winter, but for now he's ticketed to start the season at Triple-A Las Vegas. It's too soon to write him off as a disappointment, and his defense almost ensures an opportunity for everyday duty at the big league level at some point down the road even if his bat doesn't develop.
Deck McGuire - McGuire made his pro debut last season after being selected 11th overall in the 2010 draft and signing late. He fared pretty well with a 3.02 ERA, 1.229 WHIP, 8.9 K/9IP in 21 starts across High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. The 6-foot-6 righty can command four pitches, topped by a low-90s fastball, so it's not a surprise to see him hit the ground running. He'll start the season at Double-A and could move quickly.
Jake Marisnick - Marisnick was a third-round pick for the Jays in the 2009 draft and really took off for Low-A Lansing last season, in his first full professional season. He made major improvements with his batting eye and his defense, all while hitting for power and average. His 37 stolen bases indicate a good amount of athleticism, so he'll be able to stick as a corner outfielder and maybe as a center fielder if Anthony Gose doesn't work out there. His .371 BABIP from last year won't repeat and the pitcher friendly Florida State League will pose a challenge so don't fret if he struggles a bit. Marisnick is probably two years-plus away from getting the call, but if you're looking to replenish your farm system in a deep keeper league, he's worth a look.
Carlos Perez - Perez scuffled along at Low-A Lansing, hitting just .256/.320/.355 on the heels of a pair of nice seasons the previous two years. He'll likely start the season at High-A Dunedin which will be a very stiff test for the 21-year-old backstop. He's been passed back up by Travis d'Arnaud in the organizational pecking order among catching prospects and is a good candidate to get dealt if the Jays try to upgrade at a few positions. The skill set is there for a retrenching year but it'll likely get masked by the pitcher-friendly confines of the Florida State League.