Spring training may not mean much in the way of the standings, but what it can do is boost a fan’s base confidence when a team is cruising in first place in the Grapefruit League. That is exactly what the Toronto Blue Jays are doing this spring. With a record of 12-2, only the Detroit Tigers have a better winning percentage with the Jays having the most wins in all of baseball when you include the Cactus League in Arizona. But just ask the Minnesota Twins from a year ago and they’ll tell you that winning in March doesn’t translate into a spot in the October dance. None the less, this Blue Jays team is showing everyone that they are a legitimate threat to contend in the AL East.
Recently both Alex Rodriguez and Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees went on the record and declared the Jays to be considered a contender in not only the AL East but the American League. Joel Sherman of the New York Post had the story.
“They are knocking on the door. It is undeniable that they are going to win and win for a while. They are reaping the benefits of great scouting, patience and doing things right.” – Brian Cashman
“They aren’t a secret anymore,” – Alex Rodriguez
The truth be told, our friends to the north are a serious threat to the Red Sox and it starts this April. Their lineup is full of power and ability to get on base and that is consistent one through nine. All-star slugging Jose Bautista leads the charge and comes as no surprise as one of the most feared bats in all of baseball.
Adam Lind is expected to carry a big portion of the offense and after a slow start in 2011 he came around to put up good numbers by the end of the season; 26 homers, 87 RBI, .251, .295, .439, .734. The Jays brass may becoming impatient with Lind and should another slow start hold the team back this year Lind may be found on the chopping block.
After the two veterans in Bautista and Lind, the secret of the Jays is out: their youth is good and ready to win……now!
Players like J.P Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and the phenom Brett Lawrie. These four players highlight a group of youngsters that are making waves in the MLB and will be relied upon to win ball games for Toronto. Who could forget Lawrie’s dramatic walk-off home run late last year against the Red Sox.
Lawrie is poised to become the next big thing in the Jays organization. With raw power, tremendous bat speed and above average hitting ability, the Canadian native brings the full package to the plate. His numbers last year prove that: 9 HR, 25 RBI, .293, .373, . 580, .953 and this was all in only 150 at-bats. Had he started the year with the big club and kept up this pace he would have been the walk-away winner of the AL Rookie of the Year.
Colby Rasmus was a highly sought after prospect with the St. Louis Cardinals, hence the reason the Jays wanted him so badly. So badly in fact they dealt four players and cash to the Cards for Rasmus and three others. Injury limited his season in 2011 and his numbers reflect it, hitting just .173 and an OBP of only .201. But he’s only 25-years old leaving plenty of room to grow and mature into the everyday outfielder the Jays are banking on, adding another piece to the offensive and defensive puzzle.
While the Jays boast an offensive loaded lineup that can compete with any AL East club, their pitching may be their Achilles heal. Currently their rotation features Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan.
Romero and Morrow provide a nice one-two punch but only if Morrow can consistently deliver. His talent is true, but his inability to perform every fifth day is holding him back from being a legitimate number two starter. An ERA of 4.72 last season will need to be reduced to enable the Jays to count on him as a starter.
Cecil and Alvarez are a work in project and could blossom this year giving the Jays a solid back end to their rotation. Alvarez had a WHIP of just 1.13 last season to go with a nice ERA of 3.53 despite starting just 10 games. Cecil meanwhile needs to avoid the big innings that ballooned his ERA to 4.73 with a WHIP of 1.33. Both pitchers will be counted on to fill their share of innings and if one struggles, a deal for a veteran pitcher may be in order for Toronto. They’ve already been tied to Gavin Floyd and John Lannan and with an overloaded prospect system they have the best chance of anyone to offer what other teams are looking for.
Their fifth starter in Dustin McGowan, at least for now, did have the makings of an ace. Two shoulder surgeries later and McGowan finally returned to the mound in 2011 to make four starts but struggling with control. He could be the wild card to the Jays chances of contending this year with a solid bounce back year. Waiting in the wings is prospect Kyle Drabek who could be used as trade bait later in the year.
The Jays bullpen was completely overhauled this winter that saw the acquisitions of Sergio Santo, Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero, giving them one of the best bullpens in the division, at least on paper.
Keep in mind that this club is managed by the brilliant mind of John Farrell and has plenty of financial backing from the Rogers Communication Group. Meaning this team’s payroll should increase as they continue to contend, allowing them to spend more money on some high profile free-agents while locking up their core pieces for years to come. As mentioned, they are littered with talented prospects, too many to name. This will allow them to be aggressive on any trade they feel will help them improve the ball club now. Suddenly the Yankees and Red Sox have serious competition when going after the big names via the trading block.
In short, this club is good, very good and the spring training games are proving just that. If I had to pick one sleeper to surprise everyone this year in the American League it is the Toronto Blue Jays. They may be one starting arm away from pushing for a Wild Card spot. Get in to the dance and anything can happen on the floor.
Tags: Adam Lind Alex Rodriguez Boston Red Sox Brandon Morrow Brett Cecil Brett Lawrie Colby Rasmus Detroit Tigers Dustin McGowan Edwin Encarnacion Gavin Floyd Henderson Alvarez John Farrell John Lannan Jose Bautista Kyle Drabek New York Yankees Ricky Romero Toronto Blue Jays