Toronto Blue Jays: Projecting the Opening Day Lineup
With so many question marks in their rotation, the Toronto Blue Jays will need a good year from their lineup in order to have a chance to compete against the American League East this season.
Aside from the departure of catcher J.P. Arencibia and the acquisition of catcher Dioner Navarro from free agency, the team will be bringing back the same lineup from last season.
From an outside glance, that doesn’t appear to be great news considering that the team’s offense finished eighth in the American League in runs scored in 2013.
But when you consider that five regulars from the lineup spent a significant amount on the DL and the team had to rely on bench players and minor leaguers for a large part of the season, those stats begin to sound more impressive.
Going into this season, staying healthy will be the key in order for the lineup to live up to expectations.
That being said, here is the projected Opening Day lineup for the Blue Jays with an outlook on each player heading into the 2014 season.
All player stats are from baseball-reference.com
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Batting First: Jose Reyes, Shortstop. Switch Hitter.
2013 was a year to forget for Jose Reyes. Following a trade from Miami after spending just one season there, the 30-year-old shortstop sprained his ankle just days after making his debut with the Blue Jays.
The injury caused him to miss more than two months of action. Even after returning from the injury, Reyes admitted that his ankle still bothered him and that it would affect him until he gave it a long rest in the offseason.
While he only played 93 games because of the injury, it’s important to note that he did hit .296/.353/.457 with 58 runs scored and 15 stolen bases in those games.
He was also sound defensively at shortstop and formed a strong left infield alongside Brett Lawrie at third base.
When healthy, Reyes is considered to be one of the most dynamic hitters in the game because of his ability to make contact, get on base regularly and having game-changing speed on the basepaths.
With his ankle fully healed heading into spring training, the Blue Jays would love a full season from Reyes with a similar rate of production to what he provided in 2013.
Reyes is expected to be the leadoff hitter in the lineup, like he has been for most of his career.
Batting Second: Melky Cabrera, Left Fielder. Switch Hitter.
Melky Cabrera is another player who had a 2013 season to forget.
After signing a two-year contract with the Blue Jays last offseason following his PED suspension, Cabrera was bothered by a mysterious injury that sapped the power from his lower body.
This caused issues with both Cabrera’s performance at the plate and on defense where he even had problems getting to routine fly balls in left field.
The Blue Jays shut him down for the season after he had played just 88 games.
It was only later discovered that Cabrera’s mysterious injury was a benign tumor in his spine which had to be surgically removed.
Heading into spring training pain-free and with his contract expiring at the end of the season, Cabrera will have plenty of motivation to go out and have a good year.
As tweeted by Sportsnet's Barry Davis (h/t NBC Sports), Cabrera is currently in great shape, so that bodes well for him having a bounce-back season.
As he did last year, Cabrera should start the season as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup because of his ability to make contact and get on base.
Batting Third: Jose Bautista, Right Fielder. Right-Handed Hitter.
2013 was the second straight season in which Bautista finished the year on the DL.
The 33-year-old slugger was limited to just 118 games last season as he dealt with a nagging hip injury that ended up shutting him down for the season in August.
The good news is that his power numbers remained high coming off wrist surgery in 2012 as he finished with 28 home runs and 73 runs batted in.
But the bad news was that for the second straight season, Bautista was unable to stay consistent at the plate.
There were times where he went through good stretches, but those were followed by games where he would start swinging at pitches outside the strike zone and become an easy out.
For example, Bautista hit just .200 in April last season. He then hit .337 in May but again struggled in June, hitting just .222.
Heading into this season, Bautista has a lot to prove. He has to show that not only can he stay healthy for the whole season, but he can also revert to his 2011 form when he was one of the most feared complete hitters in the game.
Bautista should retain his role as the No. 3 hitter on the team, which he’s been for the past three seasons.
Batting Fourth: Edwin Encarnacion, First Baseman. Right-Handed Hitter.
Encarnacion was the arguably most consistent player in the lineup last season, though he too ended the season on the DL after undergoing wrist surgery in September.
The 31-year-old silenced his critics who had doubted his 2012 career year, hitting .272/.370/.534 with 36 home runs, 104 runs batted in and 90 runs scored in 2013.
He made his first All-Star team and finished 14th in MVP voting.
The Blue Jays will need Encarnacion to maintain that type of production in the cleanup spot this season.
According to the team and Encarnacion himself, the wrist surgery that ended his season last year is nothing to be concerned about as it just involved some cleanup of torn cartilage and isn’t similar to the major wrist surgery he underwent in 2008.
Encarnacion has reported to spring training completely healthy and should be ready to go at first base on Opening Day.
He also has the ability to play third base in an emergency situation, as was demonstrated by his 10 games played there last season.
Batting Fifth: Adam Lind, Designated Hitter. Left-Handed Hitter.
Despite dealing with trade rumors and facing uncertainty about his 2014 option being picked up, Lind had a solid season last year and was one of the few players in the lineup to play more than a 140 games (143).
He hit .288/.357/.497 with 23 home runs, 67 runs scored and 67 runs driven in. The team picked up his option at the end of the season.
Despite the overall solid numbers, the knock on Lind was his ineffectiveness against southpaws as he hit just .208/.240/.333 against them.
Hitting left-handed pitchers has been a problem for Lind throughout his career, and it looks like general manager Alex Anthopoulos has finally seen enough.
Anthopoulos has confirmed that the team will look to platoon Lind more often with a right-handed hitter who will face the tougher lefties. Moises Sierra is an early candidate for that job.
While primarily being a designated hitter, Lind should also spell Encarnacion at first base occasionally.
Either way, it looks like Lind will open the season as the No. 5 hitter for the Blue Jays, just like he did last year.
Batting Sixth: Brett Lawrie, Third Baseman. Right-Handed Hitter.
Lawrie has had a couple of up-and-down seasons after a spectacular rookie campaign.
He’s had trouble with injuries and has had problems adapting to pitchers who have learned to exploit his impatient approach at the plate.
In just 107 games played last season because of injuries, Lawrie hit .254/.315/.397 with 11 home runs, 41 runs scored and 46 runs driven in.
Those are not terrible stats by any means, but obviously much more is expected of the 24-year-old third baseman at the plate.
The good news is that Lawrie's Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base has been consistent throughout his struggles at the plate, which has allowed the team to be patient as his offensive numbers improve.
But bigger things are expected from Lawrie this season, and the team will be looking for him to finally be that impact player in the middle of the lineup.
Considering that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons likes to split his right-handed and left-handed hitters in the lineup, it’s likely that Lawrie will open up the season as the sixth hitter in the lineup following a left-handed hitter.
To fully understand the enigma that is Brett Lawrie and why the Blue Jays need him to break out this season, reading this article is recommended.
Batting Seventh: Colby Rasmus, Centre Fielder. Left-Handed Hitter.
Rasmus may be projected to be the seventh hitter, but that’s based on the righty-lefty splits in the lineup rather than having anything to do with his ability.
After struggling in his first full season with the Blue Jays in 2012, Rasmus finally put it together in 2013.
In fact, it can be argued that after Encarnacion, Rasmus was the best hitter on the team last season.
Despite only playing 118 games due to injury, the 27-year-old still hit .276/.338/.501 with 22 home runs, 57 runs scored and 66 runs driven in.
He was also great defensively in centre field and put up a dWAR of 1.5. That’s a higher dWAR than All-Star centre fielder Adam Jones, who won the Gold Glove at the position last season.
With his contract set to expire at the end of 2014, Rasmus will be looking to stay healthy and put up big numbers in order to capitalize on the lucrative market for outfielders in free agency.
The Blue Jays have not publicly discussed a contract extension with Rasmus yet. It is likely that they will wait and see whether Rasmus can pick up where he left off last season before initiating contract talks.
Batting Eighth: Dioner Navarro, Catcher. Switch Hitter.
Signing Navarro to a two-year contract has been the only significant move that Anthopoulos has made in this offseason so far.
Navarro had a great year with the Chicago Cubs last season in a part-time role, hitting .300/.365/.492.
Unfortunately, part-time roles are all Navarro has had recently, with his last season as the starting catcher dating back to 2009.
With last season’s starting catcher J.P. Arencibia no longer with the organization and top catching prospect A.J. Jimenez still requiring more seasoning in the minors, the team will be relying on Navarro as a starting catcher this season and will be expecting him to play at least a 100 games.
It remains to be seen whether the 30-year-old can handle that load.
The good news is that Navarro has played at a high level as a full-time catcher before, as he was an All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rays during their run as World Series finalists in 2008.
If Navarro can provide even close to the type of production in a full-time role that he provided in 2013, the Blue Jays should have a bargain on their hands.
The team will likely try to get him settled into a full-time role slowly before putting additional pressure on him. So despite his ability to switch-hit and hit for a high average, Navarro likely won’t bat higher than eighth in the lineup to open the season.
Batting Ninth: Ryan Goins, Second Baseman. Left-Handed Hitter.
Goins was solid during the 29 games he started at second base last season following his call-up from Triple-A.
The rookie was unspectacular with the bat but held his own, hitting .252/.264/.345 on the season with two home runs, five doubles and 11 runs scored.
But more importantly, he was very impressive defensively at second base and made quite a few highlight-reel plays during big moments in the game.
That attracted the front office’s attention and allowed him to be regarded as more than a minor league player.
Based on his performance in 2013 and the team’s lack of other options, Goins looks to be the front-runner for the job heading into spring training.
He also spent extra time working on his swing alongside new Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer this offseason, and the team hopes that the 26-year-old’s bat will be good enough for him to stay in the lineup on a daily basis.
If he does make the team, Goins will likely open the season as the No. 9 hitter on the team.
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