Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista, 6 Players to Look Forward to in 2012

Michael DesjardinsCorrespondent IIFebruary 20, 2012

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista, 6 Players to Look Forward to in 2012

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    The Toronto Blue Jays just might be the most underrated team in the American League entering 2012.

    Think about it.

    They have a two-time home run champion in Jose Bautista; a strong, but young pitching rotation, a vastly improved bullpen with a closer ready to make a big impact in the AL East; and a mix of up-and-coming homegrown players and talented free-agent/trade pickups.

    Despite the fact they compete in the ultra-competitive AL East, they could definitely make a run for the postseason this year, especially since MLB is adding a second wild-card spot.

    So, as we get ready for spring training and the 2012 MLB season, let's take a look at six Blue Jays to look forward to in 2012, and Jose Bautista.

Colby Rasmus

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    Colby Rasmus joined the Blue Jays after that seven-player trade with the St. Louis Cardinals this past July. He was traded with Brian Tallet, P.J. Walters and Trevor Miller for Corey Patterson, Marc Rzepcynski, Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson (who, just hours before, was traded with Mark Teahen for Zach Stewart and Jason Frasor).

    Though he regressed from 2010 and hit just .225, he still had 14 home runs and 53 RBI.

    Now that he's used to playing in Toronto, he'll hopefully return to form.

    He's still very young, at just 25, and received harsh words at the hands of now-retired manager Tony La Russa, but the kid is still full of talent. It will be interesting to see where Rasmus fits in the lineup.

Sergio Santos

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    In a huge offseason move this December, the Blue Jays traded prospect Nestor Molina to the Chicago White Sox for this talented closer.

    Last season, Sergio Santos made 63 appearances for the White Sox, went 30-for-36 in save opportunities, and posted a 3.55 ERA in 63.1 innings. During the season, he established a new major league record for most scoreless appearances to start the season, with 25 (Mariano Rivera previously held the record, which he set in 2005).

    Though the AL East's offenses are much tougher, Santos will provide a huge boost to the bullpen (one of the team's weaknesses last year) as closer. He also has veteran Francisco Cordero playing as a setup man, which should help.

Brett Lawrie

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    Though only 22 years old, Brett Lawrie appears to have the makings of a future All-Star third least if the 43 games he played for the Jays are any indication.

    During that time frame, he hit .293 with nine home runs, 25 RBI and seven steals.

    The only question so far with Lawrie is if he can improve as a fielder.

    He was originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers as a catcher, but then transitioned to second base. However, after the Jays acquired him last offseason for starting pitcher Shaun Marcum, they used him as a third baseman. He shows hustle and intensity, but lacks both arm strength and accuracy, which should be a concern entering 2012.

    However, if he continues to hit like he did last year and shows improvement in the infield, it should allow for Jose Bautista (who we'll talk about in a bit) to focus more as a designated hitter.

Ricky Romero

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    Ricky Romero, as ace of the Blue Jays last season, did everything and more.

    He had several career highs, posting a 15-11 record in 225 innings (eight-most in the American League), pitched four complete games (two of them were shutouts), had a 2.92 ERA (sixth in the American League), lowered his opponents' batting average to .214 and had 178 strikeouts (12th in the American League).

    Though he allowed a career-high 26 home runs, the fact that he lowered his ERA by nearly a full point ,and into the sub-3.00s, is very nice.

    After such a great season, he definitely deserves to be the ace of this organization. Best of all, he's 27—only beginning to enter the prime of his career—so it will be interesting to see if he can improve on already great numbers in 2012.

J.P. Arencibia

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    J.P. Arencibia was one of the bigger surprises in the American League.

    Who could guess that this kid would hit 23 home runs and 78 RBI in 129 games last year? And in his rookie season no less.

    He also had 20 doubles and five triples (second-most amongst catchers).

    There a couple of concerns, though.

    One is his miserable batting average. He posted just .218, largely due to his plate discpline. Despite his power, he swings excessively. 

    The other problem is his defense. He has a rocket for an arm, which is good when preventing opponents from stealing bases, but, at times, had difficulty blocking pitches behind the plate.

    With highly touted catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud (acquired in the Roy Halladay trade) making waves in the minors, it's possible that he could be moved to first base in the near future, since current first baseman Adam Lind can play at left field (in addition, his current contract ends after the 2013 season, unless they pick up his club options for 2014 to 2016).

    For now, continue to enjoy watching Arencibia hit blasts in 2012.

Brandon Morrow

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    In his second full season as a starting pitcher for the Blue Jays, Brandon Morrow had a mixed bag.

    On one hand, he posted a higher ERA, allowed more home runs and walked more batters than he did in 2010. His record was only 11-11.

    However, on the positive side, his opponents' batting average and walks-and-hits-per-innings-pitched rate went down, and he threw 203 strikeouts—seventh most in the American League.

    Morrow is never going to be the kind of guy that posts low ERAs, but what I love is that this kid's pitches are full of power. He throws a fastball regularly in the 93-98 miles per hour range, and, at times, hits 100. He also has a fast slider, curveball and a new cut fastball that he developed near the end of last season.

    With a great offense surrounding him, he could easily get 14 or 15 wins, and another 200-plus strikeouts this season.

Jose Bautista

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    Everyone who watches baseball should know about Jose Bautista by now.

    Though he didn't hit 54 home runs like he did in 2010, he still hit more home runs than anyone else in the majors last year, with 43. He also recorded 100-plus RBI for the second straight season.

    And because pitchers now know how much power Bautista has, they're afraid. Besides having the most home runs, he also had the most walks last year, with 132 (22 more than the next guy on the list, Joey Votto).

    However, pitchers might fear him even more, because he also posted a career-best .302 batting average.

    Bautista is an offensive beast, which is why general manager Alex Anthopoulos signed him to a five-year, $64 million extension last offseason.

    Look for Bautista to continue providing plenty of offensive production, though don't expect him to be on the field too often. With Brett Lawrie at third base, and a stacked outfield consisting of guys such as Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider, Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco, he'll likely play designated hitter in most games, with occasional spots at third base and corner outfield positions.