Blue Jays pitchers and catchers report to camp on the 21! Thus beginning another season of Blue Jays, and more importantly, Major League Baseball.
As Jays fans, we've relented that we are entering another season that will very likely result in 82 to 86 wins and not as much as a sniff at the post season, or even at meaningful games in September. However that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be some interesting story lines developing down at 1 Blue Jays Way this summer. Here is my list of the top 10 reasons the Blue Jays are worth watching in 2012.
#10 What will Edwin do?Back in November I voiced my opinion, and gave the Jays praise on their decision to pick up Edwin Encarnacion's $3 million option. $3 million is a cheap price to pay for a bat that has hit 38 home runs in the last two seasons, and I really, truly believe that we can expect to see more from him in 2012. This is the first year that the Blue Jays are going to let Edwin just hit the ball, and I for one think this is a great idea.
Frankly, when Edwin didn't have to worry about making that throw from third base he was a better hitter. His offensive numbers greatly reflected this. During the 2011 season, in 122 at bats while playing third, Edwin batted just .213 with 3 HR. However, he batted .305 in 82 at bats when playing first, and .296 in 267 at bats when he was in at DH with a total of 14 HR at the two positions. Edwin has also brought his batting average up from from .225 in 2009, and .240 in 2010 to .272 in 2011.
I'm excited to see what he can do in 2012 with a full season of DH and filling in at first from time to time. (presumably when a lefty is starting for the opposition.) I'm going to call 25 home runs or more for Encarnacion this year if he stays healthy and has regular playing time.
#9 How does JP follow up his rookie campaign?23 home runs, 78 runs batted in, and 20 doubles. Not a bad line for a 25 year old who was in his first full season as a big leaguer. Granted the average was a little low at .219. Still a good line, especially from your catcher. I am very excited to see how JP will follow this up. I think he'll be better. He was learning how to handle a pitching staff last year and adjusting to both the life, and the pitching of the big leagues. JP hit for a .301 average in 2010 down in triple A, with 32 home runs. Going by his numbers in 2011 and 2010, and keeping in mind that his 2010 season was in the Pacific Coast League, I'm going to say this year that the average comes up to around the .260 to .265 range, and he adds a couple of big flies to finish around 25 for the year.
What I love most about this guy though is his attitude towards the Jays organization, and that he believes that this group can win. Anyone who follows him on Twitter knows what I'm talking about. JP has all positive things to say about the team, and is all about proving the "naysayers" wrong. He also likes to tweet when he is embracing Canadian culture and seems to genuinely enjoy spending his summers here. If you're not following him, you can and should @jparencibia9.
#8 Who is going to play left field?To quote Stan from South Park in the Towelie episode: "Don't care. Don't care. Don't care." If I hear one more segment on the radio, or read one more article about the Jays left field situation I may go insane. It's left field, we have two guys, one is going to play there, roll credits. Whichever one is awarded the position out of spring training I'm sure will be deserving, and do the job well.
Travis Snider seems to have fallen out of favor with a lot of fans who thought he should have developed into more by now. Keep in mind though, Snider just turned 24 years old this month, and hasn't really been handled that well so far in his career. He has however shown time and time again that he can crush pitching in AAA, and hasn't been able to find the same success at the big league level. Having said that, it is too early to close the book on him.
Eric Thames is Snider's senior by 15 months. In a little over half a season he showed he has some pop, hitting 12 home runs in 2011. He also hit 27 home runs while batting .288 in the minors in New Hampshire in 2010, and was batting .352 in Vegas before being called up last year.
If I had to place a bet, I think Thames is going to win the job. Although, Snider does only have one option left. Meaning that the club can only send him down to AAA one more time without having to place him on waivers and risk having another team claim him first. Thames still has plenty of options. Whether this will play a factor into who wins the job out of spring training is anyone's guess. Either way, barring injury, don't be surprised to see one of these two getting moved at the trade deadline.
#7 What did we get when we got Colby Rasmus?Colby, I am asking you to please prove me wrong, because from where I'm sitting it's not looking good. In a deal that had some reporters claiming Anthopoulos "stole" Rasmus away from the Cardinals, I thought at the time that we had given up enough. Right now, I think I'd like to see him traded back for just Rzepcynski straight up.
Anthopoulos says Rasmus is a five tool talent, and Alex has probably already forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know. So when he says it, I'm inclined to believe him. But it is really hard to get behind a guy who, when asked about the focus of his daily drills, says things like: “I’m not working on anything right now.” Then, when questioned about his season since arriving in Toronto replied: "I feel like I’ve played the outfield pretty good but my hitting’s been terrible,” “But I wasn’t hitting good before I got here, so I didn’t really put too much expectation on myself to do good.” Didn't put any expectations on yourself to do good? What the.... are you kidding? Ok, well what about your offseason workouts then Colby? “Last off-season I didn’t do anything baseball-wise,” he said. “I didn’t really pick up a bat ’til probably a week, two weeks before spring training. I was just tired last year, and I didn’t have a great year." Well, here's hoping that this offseason you took a different approach. As I said Colby... Please prove me wrong. Because you're kind of coming off as a little bit of a punk with a lotta bit of an attitude.
#6 Will the real Adam Lind please stand up?
Ok Adam, we love you. We've watched with interest as you come up through the system and developed into the young man you've become today. But please, PLEASE stop teasing us and either be that guy who hit 9 home runs in 90 at bats last June, or be the guy who hit 3 in 105 the following month so that we know what we've got.
We all understand that you were fighting injury last year and that you were learning a new position. We empathize with you, we really do! We just can't handle another summer of holding our breath and watching the Lind pendulum swing all the way from bad, through mediocre, to great and back again. Please show us that you are the guy who is going to be our first basemen of the future and the stud bat to hit behind Bautista in the order. A leader for the kids to model themselves after. The guy who hit 35 home runs batting .305 in 2009. Heck, we'd settle for 30 and .280. Just either way please show us what we can expect from Adam Lind, the real Adam Lind, from this point forward. I think it is somewhere around the .280, 30 to 35 home run range, but I'm waiting for Lind to prove it to me. I hope he does.
#5 The bullpenThis is going to be fun to watch. What is not to like about this bullpen? Carlos Villanueva, Jesse Litsch, and the newly re-upped Casey Janssen all returning from last year. Jason Frasor re-acquired from the White Sox. Then add in the ageless Darren Oliver, and Francisco Cordero to set up Sergio Santos. I'm really excited about this staff of relievers. Right now Luis Perez appears to be the odd man out, but will probably make his way in if there is an injury, or if Toronto wants to get a second lefty sitting out behind the fence in left field. (Oliver currently stands as the only left handed reliever in Toronto's pen.)
There are two reasons I'm excited to see what this bullpen can do. One is that I suspect that there will not be as many blown save chances this season as there were last season. The second being that we were able to upgrade both our setup and closer roles, without having to give a ridiculous long term contract to any of the big name relievers that were available this offseason. Santos has a great contract, and Oliver and Cordero are each one year deals. I like what Anthopoulos has done here.
#4 The rotationNone of us are worried about number one. Where the rotation will become interesting this year is going from the 2 to 5 spots. As it stands right now, Toronto's rotation is shaping up to be Morrow, Cecil, Alvarez, and McGowan from 2 to 5. Morrow comes in to the season with a brand new contract, and hopefully something to prove. We have watched him be one of the most dominate hurlers in the game one day, and then cringed as he gave up five runs in one inning the following game. There is no doubt that Morrow has great stuff. The talent is there. I'm really hoping that this is the year he is able to string together a number of good starts in a row, and possibly pull out 15 to 19 wins.
After leading the team in wins in 2010, Brett Cecil had a very forgettable year last year. Statistcally his ERA and WHIP weren't very different from Morrow's. However Cecil wasn't the same from spring training on, and had some velocity issues. He will be looking to bounce back this year and I really hope he does, but I am not sure how confident I am that he will.
Henderson Alvarez came onto the scene in 2011 making 10 starts, and pitching to the tune of a 3.53 ERA, and a 1.13 WHIP. I can not wait to see how he follows this up. He'll turn 22 on April 18, so expect to see some growing pains as he adjusts to being a big league starter. But I believe he is going to be a good one, and exciting to watch as he comes into his own.
Finally we arrive at Dustin McGowan. What can I say. On June 24, 2007 I was at the Rogers Centre and watched McGowan take a no hitter into the ninth inning against Colorado, becoming only the sixth Blue Jay to carry a no hitter into the ninth. He's had success before, but if this guy didn't have bad luck, it would appear he would have none at all. McGowan missed three years, and has now had surgeries to repair his labrum, knee, and rotator cuff. Last season he finally made it back to make four starts at the end of the season. I can't explain why, but I just have a feeling that this is going to be McGowan's year. He's worked hard to get here, and I think he's going to come out and surprise people in 2012.
#3 Ricky RomeroWith the departure of Shaun Marcum last year, Romero solidified himself as the number one in Toronto's rotation posting an ERA of 2.92, and a WHIP of 1.14. What is he going to do for an encore in 2012? He has continued to get better every year, dropping his ERA by over half a run in each of the past two seasons, and I really wouldn't expect anything less of him this year. He's going to continue to get better. Last year for the first time Romero's numbers in the second half were better than his first half numbers, throwing out any remaining theories that he can't stay consistent for an entire year.
He's competitive, he loves playing in Toronto, and he wants to win in Toronto. In 2011 Toronto realized that he was an ace, this year the rest of the league will. I can't wait to see what Romero brings this season.
#2 Jose BautistaI know what you're thinking. How can I not have Jose number one? I know, I know. It was a tough call, and really, I could have gone either way. Everybody is waiting to see what Jose does this year. After signing a contract that some thought Toronto would later regret. (Not this guy, you can read what I thought here) Jose followed up his 54 homer season by hitting another 43 home runs, and raising his average by 42 points. Though his numbers dropped off dramatically in the second half, you have to keep in mind that he did have an ankle injury, and Jose himself has admitted that he chased some pitches he shouldn't have in the second half. He still finished the year strong.
My only complaint with Jose last year was that he always decided to hit one out when I was taking my 3 year old to the bathroom at Rogers Centre. In fact, after this had happened a couple of times, we were at a game in which Toronto was behind. With two on and Bautista coming up, I asked said 3 year old if they had to go. They did, and before I'd even had a chance to lock the stall door, we could hear the sound of the horn and the crowd going wild. I couldn't help but chuckle at my own superstition, and that it had actually worked.
I think Bautista will be fine this year, despite his second half in 2011. I'm jotting him down for 35 to 40 home runs, and 115 walks.
#1 Brett LawrieAlright, I'm all in. I'm on the wagon, and I'm eating up the hype. If you don't want to watch this team for any other reason, you have to be intrigued by what the 22 year old phenom from Langley is going to do this year. I'm going to be honest, I was not impressed that Alex traded away Shaun Marcum, one of my favorites, for this kid who came in shooting his mouth off that he was going to make the team out of spring training and not go to the minors in 2011.
Well, the kid has turned out to be alright so far. After having a very good spring and starting the season in AAA, his call to the Blue Jays was delayed last season when he was hit by a pitch on May 31, suffering a non-displaced fracture. But when he did come up from AAA, his impact was immediate. In 43 games Lawrie batted .293 with 9HR and 25 RBI's while stealing 7 bases, and he's really got baseball folks talking. Both north and south of the border.
Will he keep that pace for an entire 162 game season? Will he regress? Will he be better? We're all going to have to watch with interest to find out.