The Toronto Blue Jays have generated some buzz this spring. At least more buzz than the team is used to. They're 20-4 in Grapefruit League play, and with Bud Selig giving the gift of another playoff spot, people are including the Blue Jays in their playoff predictions. Of course, there are another 162 games to be played, but a lot can be discovered within the trials and errors of spring baseball.
With a little extra spotlight on the Jays, here are eight things we've learned about the team over spring training 2012.
According to Alex Anthopoulos, only two spots in the Jays rotation were reserved. Those two spots were saved for Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. Both pitchers have battled adversity in their careers and are now attempting to establish themselves as top-tier hurlers.
If spring training is any indication, both of these players will contend for the AL Cy Young. Morrow's thrown 13.1 innings and has allowed only one run. Perhaps more importantly, Morrow only threw 80 pitches to make 40 outs, preserving his arm for 200-plus innings in 2012.
If you think Morrow's stats are impressive, Romero's are incredible. Nine innings, an ERA of 0.00, a WHIP of 0.44 and a ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 5.00, which is huge in the batter-friendly Rogers Centre. Obviously, these stats are from a very small sample, but these numbers speak to how good these two pitchers really are.
Also, if the Jays do make the playoffs, they have two pitchers that can carry them to the World Series...just sayin'.
It's somewhat surprising how much hype Brett Lawrie is receiving considering he played only 43 games in 2011. However, there is good reason for that hype. He was always a top prospect, but in 2011, as a 21 year-old, he proved he could be a regular major leaguer, and in 2012, he has shown he can be an All-Star.
On top of his intensity, his confidence, his professionalism and his, uh, Canadian-ness, the guy can hit. His spring training stats are insane: a .560 average, a 1.457 OPS and his slugging percentage is .880 without a home run. Throw in five stolen bases, and Lawrie's starting to look like a five-tool All-Star.
If he can emerge as a compliment to Jose Bautista, it'll go miles towards the Jays' playoff chances and will catapult him to Canadian superstardom.
The Jays had 25 blown saves in 2011. Now, I'm not saying that cost them a playoff spot because it's not reasonable to expect every game to be eight innings long, but wouldn't it be nice if the Jays could develop the next Mariano Rivera?
One of the main problems was that John Farrell didn't have a "go-to" closer. That "go-to" closer, Sergio Santos, has been excellent in his spring sessions. He hasn't allowed a run, and while he's struggled with his control slightly, he's looked like a safe bet for 35-40 saves.
Beyond Santos, Luis Perez, Carlos Villeneuva and Casey Janssen have been lights-out. Jason Frasor and Francisco Cordero have been solid, and the only guy who's struggled has been Darren Oliver. If Dustin McGowan ends up in the bullpen, that only makes the Jays stronger in a category that cost them in 2011.
While Romero and Morrow have been incredible this spring, the rest of the rotation looks to be full of question marks. Henderson Alvarez has been spectacular this spring, with an ERA of 1.64, but he remains an uncertain commodity since his 2011 was limited to only ten starts, albeit strong ones.
Much has been made of Brett Cecil's transformation from big, fat and unpredictable to slimmer, stronger and unpredictable. Hopefully for Jays fans, he maintain his velocity and emerge as a consistent fourth starter, but that's far from a sure thing. He may be better suited as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen.
After Dustin McGowan's foot injury, it looks like Aaron Laffey or Kyle Drabek will lock up the fifth starter position coming out of camp, but that is subject to change. Laffey has pitched well in spring training, but again, he's a risk.
Jays fans learned about how frustrating an ineffective fifth starter can be with the Jo-Jo Reyes experiment last season. Drabek will eventually be a full-time starter for the Jays, but he may benefit from a few more starts in Las Vegas.
Anthopoulos is going to make a big move at some point, right? The Jays currently have six capable MLB outfielders: Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames, Travis Snider, Ben Francisco and Rajai Davis are all big-leaguers. Throw in Anthony Gose, who will probably be called up at some point in 2012, and the Jays have too many outfielders.
However, it may not be the strongest group of outfielders. The Jays are heavy on minor-league starting pitching, a position that is absolutely a strength. The Jays have the prospects—and most importantly, the pitching prospects—to make a big splash. Their flexibility at the OF position will only help to get a deal done. If the Jays are in a good spot come the trade deadline, look for Anthopoulus to make his first prime-time deal.
Either that, or sign Joey Votto next winter.
It was a bizarre offseason in Toronto—and Canada for that matter.
The Jays expansive fanbase has had an interesting history. You see, it used to be that the Jays were a massive draw, selling out the 50,000-seat Skydome for every home game. Since 1993, however, the Jays haven't played a playoff game and the fanbase has transformed into a casual, television-based audience. That doesn't mean the fans aren't there; they're just more hesitant to fill the stadium.
Rogers Corporation, the owners of the Blue Jays, have always been criticized for not spending to the level of the Red Sox and Yankees despite being arguably the richest owners in the MLB. Anthopoulos, in an interview during the Winter Meetings, mentioned the phrase "payroll parameters," and Jays fans went nuts. How could payroll still be an issue when the team is so close to contending?
Well, Anthopoulos has effectively back-tracked from those comments, and Jays fans have realized that spending money is not the only way to win baseball games. Big-money free agents should be compliments, not foundational pieces. Building from within, drafting well and developing players is the best way to be successful, and Jays fans have learned to appreciate and embrace Anthopoulos' strategies.
In an article from Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was quoted several times commenting on the Jays' threat to the Yanks, Red Sox and Rays. It's fairly easy to argue that the AL East is the best division in baseball, boasting four playoff-calibre teams...and the Orioles.
The Jays' win totals over the last six years have been 87, 83, 86, 75, 85 and 81. The Jays had a better record in 2006 than the St. Louis Cardinals, who, by the way, won the World Series that year.
It's this quote from Cashman that makes me want to giggle like a schoolgirl every time I read it: "It is undeniable that they are going to win and win for a while."
Finally, the Jays' big brothers are noticing that they're a team to be feared. The fact that Rogers is now ready to push the payroll into the $100-120 million range means the Jays will have both the young talent and spending power to give the Yankees and Red Sox major headaches.
The Blue Jays are ready to break out. Whether that comes now or later is yet to be seen.
Some of us already knew this, but he confirmed it with his consistently brilliant tweets and this spot-on impression of Tim Kurkjian. Check out his Twitter account...