Toronto Blue Jays Still Have Hitting Questions: A 2009 Season Preview, Part One

Nick HealeyCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2009

CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 26 : Outfielder Travis Snider of the Toronto Blue Jays bats against the Philadelphia Phillies February 26, 2009 at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The 2009 Toronto Blue Jays are going to be bad.

Well, maybe not Seattle Mariners bad, but Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston has already labeled this year’s edition of the team a transitional one and cautioned fans that it might be another one of those “wait till next year” kind of seasons.

The idea is that this year the Jays will try and bring along some of their younger talent to make themselves that much better for the 2010 season. One of the areas the Jays are really hoping to see growth in is the hitting department.

So, without further ado, let's see what the Jays hitting is all about.

Last year, the Jays didn’t fare all that well at the plate for two reasons. The first was that John Gibbons and hitting instructor Gary Denbo were fairly inept in giving hitting advice. The second, which always seems to be the case, was that the Jays were simply not healthy and as a result were inconsistent at the plate.

Only one full-time player finished with a batting average in the .300s, and that was Vernon Wells. But weak batting averages just scratched the surface of the Jays’ impotent offense.

Not a single Jay managed to slug over .500 last year, and as a team they ranked 23rd in the league with a .399 slugging percentage and 22nd in OPS. Also, Toronto ranked 24th in the league with 126 home runs, and Wells was the only Jay to finish with 20.

This is not a good sign, but it’s even more concerning when you consider the Jays have to face the likes of C.C. Sabathia, et al., in the ultra competitive AL East.

It’s not all bad news for the Jays, though.

The good news is that the Jays can expect their home run total to rise and should see their slugging numbers improve in 2009—assuming everyone stays healthy, of course.

Lyle Overbay claims to be fully recovered from the hand injury he battled throughout ‘08, and Scott Rolen has been revamping his swing to cut down on his shoulder problems. Also, second baseman Aaron Hill will be back from his year-long concussion problem, and his spring performance has shown he’s ready to add to the total.  Also, youngsters Travis Snider, Adam Lind, and Alex Rios should benefit from a full year of Gaston’s hitting advice that stresses a simple approach at the plate.

In fact, possibly the most intriguing story to follow in 2009 will be Snider's development. Snider is ranked No. 6 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List, and last season he tore his way through all three levels of the Toronto farm system, even finishing with the big club for 24 games in September.

What may be the most interesting part of Snider’s game, though, was that he posted his best batting averages with Triple-A Syracuse and the Jays, and his slugging percentage stayed consistent even as he rose through the ranks. At just 20 years old, it seems like his upside knows no limits, and if he continues to mature this year, the Jays may just find themselves with a bona fide slugger on their hands.

So, basically, if the Jays can avoid the injury bug, their young players progress as expected, and veterans like Overbay hit like they’re supposed to, then the Jays could actually be a bit of an offensive threat.

The only problem is the number of “what ifs” in that equation. If all goes according to plan, that’s great, but there’s just far too many variables to call the Jays offense a sure thing.


Projected Opening Day Lineup and 2008 Batting Averages

1) Marco Scutaro, SS, .267
2) Aaron Hill, 2B, .263
3) Alex Rios, RF, .291
4) Vernon Wells, CF, .300
5) Scott Rolen, 3B, .262
6) Adam Lind, DH/LF, .282
7) Lyle Overbay, 1B, .270
8) Rod Barajas, C, .249
9) Travis Snider, LF/DH, .301

Bench: Kevin Millar, Jose Bautista, and John McDonald