After an 86-76 finish to the 2008 campaign, 11 games back of the upstart Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to their up-and-coming infield to help bring a balance to the club.
With great past performances from Lyle Overbay, Scott Rolen, and Aaron Hill, the Jays have every reason to believe that the 2009 version can become one of the most efficient, consistent, and successful infield squad in the majors.
At first base in his fourth year in a Jays uniform, Lyle Overbay, 32, started to turn around after a dismal 2007 season. Known for his consistent hitting with the Milwaukee Brewers and his first season in Toronto, Overbay struggled in 2007, batting .240 with only 44 RBI.
In 2008, Overbay started to regain form, hitting .270 along with 15 HRs and 69 RBI, good but still a far cry from his career year in 2006 with 92 RBI and 22 HRs, his first season in Toronto.
But the Jays have a lot to expect out of their first baseman this season. If Overbay's consistency is back, the Jays can look forward to his presence at the plate. On the defensive side of the ball, Overbay is a solid, left-handed first baseman with only five errors in each of his last two seasons.
Activated off the DL on Nov. 14, second baseman Aaron Hill is hoping to rebound after a shortened season due to a Grade II concussion suffered 55 games into his 2008 season. Hill's rise to become the Jays' main second baseman has been slow and steady, yet his 17 HRs and 78 RBI in 2007 shows that Hill has the tools needed to be a good second baseman at the plate.
On the defensive side, Hill is noted for making big plays when it counts. His single error in the 55 games he played in last year is a testament to his superb defense.
Hill's contract signed last April was a four-year, $12 million contract. Signing Hill was necessary to lock up a full-time second baseman. His comparisons to former Jay Roberto Alomar have come about since he hit those 17 HRs in 2007 and broke Alomar's record of 41 doubles in a season.
At shortstop, the Jays may have their shortstop position up for grabs coming into training camp.
Many questioned the move of signing John McDonanld to a multi-year contract and then signing veteran David Eckstein only days later. McDonald, a fan favorite in Toronto, is known for his gritty style of play and his great defensive skills. Not known for power at the plate, McDonald makes up for it with his defense.
But after Eckstein was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in late August, McDonald regained the role as the primary shortstop for the rest of 2008. Yet he and Marco Scutaro are both vying for the top job in 2009.
Scutaro's breakthrough season in 2008, mainly due to injuries to Eckstein, Rolen, and Hill, may have earned him the starting role in 2009 at short. His consistent play at the plate (.267 average) and his 60 RBI, along with his great defense, has given rise to another shortstop dethroning McDonald from the position.
Depending on what happens in spring training, Scutaro is likely to be the starting shortstop in 2009.
At third base last season, veteran Scott Rolen's position as the primary third baseman was seen as a welcome addition after the fiasco with former third baseman Troy Glaus. Rolen's twelfth season in the MLB was mediocre and did not start off on the right foot after he fractured his right middle finger.
Being on the DL twice, the other time due to his shoulder, Rolen knocked in 50 RBI, hit 11 HRs, and had a decent .262 average. His leadership and experience are a great addition to the Jays and hopefully he can contribute even more in 2009.
Another long shot at getting a starting position is Joe Inglett. Nicknamed "Voodoo Joe" by former manager John Gibbons, Inglett also played a substantial amount of time in the Jays' lineup in 2008. In 109 games in 2008, he hit home 39 RBI while batting .297.
However, with Scutaro likely to get the starting job at short and Hill slated to be back at second, Inglett may be called upon as a backup to both Hill and Scutaro, along with McDonald.
A deadline deal brought Jose Bautista over to the Jays from the Pittsburgh Pirates. His inconsistency with the Pirates saw him demoted to Triple-A and then dealt to the Jays. He played in 21 games in 2008 and is known for his versatility in the infield or outfield.
Behind the plate, after the departure of veteran catcher Greg Zaun, the main man for the job is now fully in the hands of Rod Barajas. With a World Series ring from his days in Arizona, Barajas split time in 2008 with Zaun, playing in 104 games while hitting .249 with 11 HRs and 49 RBI.
Barajas' backup will likely be Curtis Thigpen, although the Jays have signed former San Diego catcher Michael Barrett and former Pirates catcher Raul Chavez to minor league deals. Thigpen played in 10 games last season as the No. 3 catcher.