Toronto Blue Jays: Final Predictions for Every Spring Training Position Battle
The Toronto Blue Jays have some of the biggest question marks in regard to positional battles. With such an influx of talent, many Opening Day jobs are up for grabs. But with such a vast amount of assets, it will be tough to sit a very skilled player. As my father would always say, "It is a good problem to have."
So, who gets the nod?
Manager John Gibbons has always been a player's coach, and I believe that he had an idea of what he wanted his team to look like before spring training started. He understands that spring training is for veterans to get out the kinks and perhaps work on a new pitch or to evolve their offensive game—perhaps with a new stride or hitting the ball the other way. That being said, it is hard to discount the numbers of some players this spring.
We will outline the major positional battles and let you know who we at B/R believe will win out.
Center Field: Colby Rasmus vs. Anthony Gose
Anthony Gose has had many opportunities to show he is ready for the show this spring (he is fourth on the team in ABs), and he has. Gose currently sports a .324 average, .422 OBP and an OPS north of .900. This all comes with a team-leading 10 runs and seven walks, as well as five stolen bases (one behind Emilio Bonifacio for the team lead). Don't forget his outstanding defensive play in center, either.
Moreover, the skipper called Gose arguably the team's most valuable player at spring training last week. So why won't he win the starting center fielder positional battle?
At 22 years of age, Gose still has a lot to learn. If it wasn't for the signing of Melky Cabrera, he would be penciled in as the everyday left fielder for the time being. However, at this point, it is Colby Rasmus' spot to lose.
Rasmus, who has been battling some shoulder issues, is the incumbent center fielder. The big kicker is that Rasmus is still under Blue Jays control for two years.
At this point, an injury would need to occur for Gose to win a starting gig in the very deep outfield.
Closer: Sergio Santos vs. Casey Janssen
Casey Janssen is currently working in Triple-A trying to recover from an offseason shoulder procedure. As noted in the National Post, Janssen faces a critical week as to whether he will be ready for Opening Day, let alone as the team's closer. In his first outing, he threw 16 pitches—11 for strikes—to four batters and retired them all.
Janssen will need to show continued improvement and (above all) health if he will assume the closing gig on Opening Day, April 2nd.
Sergio Santos, on the other hand, is completely healthy and is pitching well in spring training. In four innings, Santos has given up one run and fanned three. That's clearly a small sample size, but it is encouraging to see last year's big pickup finally healthy once again.
I would say this battle hasn't gathered enough steam for two main reasons. First, Janssen is still on his road to recovery, and second, Santos has yet to pitch enough innings to warrant a switch.
Let us assume that Janssen is available and 100 percent healthy on April 2nd. In that case, the closing gig is his...for the moment.
Outcome: Janssen (barring a setback in his recovery)
SP No. 2: Josh Johnson vs. Brandon Morrow
As some of you know, I just can't let this go. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I disagreed with the fact that John Gibbons announced his starting rotation before spring training started. I believed that he should have waited to anoint Brandon Morrow the team's No. 2 starter until after spring training.
Maybe I am smarter than I thought.
Josh Johnson has been the Blue Jays' best pitcher this spring. He has three wins, an ERA of 1.69 (both his runs allowed have come off of solo home runs) and 13 Ks in 10-plus innings. To make it even better, opposing hitters are batting .100 against him this spring.
Not too shabby.
Morrow, on the other hand, is 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA and has only six strikeouts over nearly 10 innings of work. Batters are hitting more than three times better against Morrow than Johnson (.310).
Yes, it is the spring, and, yes, pitchers are working on different things, but I truly believe that Johnson deserves the second spot. These numbers are hard to argue with. But now that Gibbons has gone out and set his rotation, he can't really come back from that.
Outcome: Morrow for now, but just you wait...
Second Base: Emilio Bonifacio vs. Maicer Izturis
Let me just be clear that I am in Emilio Bonifacio's camp. I believe he is a very solid player, and I expected 100-plus runs from him last year.
I also believe that his speed is so very underrated. In 39 games last season, before getting injured for the Marlins, Bonifacio led all major league players with 20 stolen bases. (I think he was in the lead by about six or seven.) In case your math, like my girlfriend's, is lacking, over 162 games, that would equate to 83 stolen bases.
I don't expect anything close to that this year. I am just saying that, as the team's ninth hitter, the prospects of that speed, coupled with Jose Reyes hitting in front of Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, would be...illegal.
Clearly, you see where I am going with this, and spring training numbers do help my cause. Bonifacio has a team-leading six stolen bases in 14 games played. He is also has two doubles, a triple and a home run to his name, as well as a slugging percentage just south of .500.
Maicer Izturis, on the other hand, is batting .229 with two doubles and has zero stolen bases. And he's been caught stealing once.
However Gibbons has recently stated that he might not name a starting second baseman: “It may come down to the end that they both play and nobody’s named [as the regular].”
That being said, Bonifacio deserves the Opening Day spot and, depending on matchups, we predict he will be the starting second baseman.
Outcome: Bonifacio (matchup permitting)
SP No. 5: J.A. Happ vs. Ricky Romero
Oh Ricky Romero, you make us all feel a little awkward.
Romero's numbers this spring have been abysmal. He has a 7.27 ERA and has more walks than strikeouts. On the other hand, J.A. Happ has been decent, posting a 2.77 ERA while striking out 11 over 13 innings of work. The interesting kicker, however, is that the batting average of hitters facing Happ is merely .012 better than those facing Romero (.321 vs. .333, respectively).
The question remains: Would Gibbons put Romero in the bullpen in favour of Happ? The answer is no—well, not at this moment. This can be said in confidence for a couple of reasons:
1. Romero has always flip-flopped spring vs. regular-season success. In 2011, he posted a 7.91 spring training ERA only to have his best season and lone All-Star appearance. Conversely, he was lights out in spring training last year and had his worst season by far. So is it encouraging that Romero is doing so poorly now? If that isn't the epitome of wishful thinking I don't know what is.
2. Romero has always been more effective against righties than lefties, so having him in the bullpen wouldn't yield a great advantage.
3. He has earned the starting spot at least until the team breaks camp due to his success from 2009-2011.
Romero will be the team's fifth starter, but boy, will his leash be short. Gibbons knows him, as he was the manager when Romero was drafted. I believe that Romero will prevail this season, but if he stumbles, then Happ will be ready to pounce.
Thanks for the read. How excited are you for Opening Day?
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