First-Quarter Grades for the Toronto Blue Jays

Mohammad ArshadCorrespondent IMay 15, 2014

First-Quarter Grades for the Toronto Blue Jays

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    A quarter of the way into the 2014 MLB season, the Toronto Blue Jays are in fourth place in the competitive AL East. Only 1.5 games separate the top four teams in the division.

    Toronto has a home record of 9-11 and a road record of 11-10, giving the team an overall mark of 20-21.

    While this isn’t a great record by any means, it’s an improvement over last season where the Blue Jays were 16-24 by the first-quarter mark and already 9.5 games out of first place.

    Quite a few players on the team who struggled last year have had much better starts to the 2014 season and have played a major role in Toronto’s jump up the standings.

    At the same time, several players have also struggled out of the gate and have factored into many of the team’s losses this season.

    Let’s take a closer look at each player on the Blue Jays and assign them a grade based on their performance up to this point.

     

    *All stats are current as of May 13.

    **All stats are from baseball-reference.com

Catcher/Infield

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    Jose Reyes, Shortstop

    2014 Stats: 23 GP, .215/.288/.409, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 20 R, 5 SB

    Reyes has had a tough start to his year. He suffered a hamstring injury during the very first game of the season and ended up on the 15-day DL.

    The 30-year-old’s numbers since his return haven’t been very impressive and are below his career-norms. This likely suggests that his timing is still off because of the long layoff.

    The good news is that Reyes’ hamstrings appear to fine and his speed is back. He’s looked good running the bases and already has five steals in five attempts.

    While Reyes has definitely had a slow start, his career numbers suggest that he’s due for a breakout soon. Staying healthy for the rest of the season will be the biggest challenge for him.

    Grade: C

     

    Edwin Encarnacion, First Baseman

    2014 stats: 40 GP, .245/.328/.465, 6 HR, 27 RBI, 22 R, 2 SB

    Encarnacion had a slow start to the season by his standards, but has been picking it up as of late.

    While it took the 31-year-old first baseman 20 games to hit his first home run of the season, it only took 20 more games after that to hit his next five dingers.

    Encarnacion is also second on the team in runs batted in and third in runs scored.

    Following an especially hot stretch last week where he hit .321 with four home runs and 10 ribbies, MLB awarded him the AL Player of the Week honors.

    Grade: B+

     

    Brett Lawrie, Third/Second Baseman

    2014 stats: 33 GP, .234/.289/.427, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 15 R

    Lawrie has had an up-and-down season with the bat up to this point.

    Like his batting average suggests, he’s had problems getting hits at a consistent basis. He also only has nine walks in 124 at-bats, which leads to the low on-base percentage.

    Lawrie’s biggest problem is his tendency to be over-aggressive and swing at pitches out of the zone rather than being patient.

    That over-aggressiveness has led to a spike in his power numbers, though. The 24-year-old is third on the team in both home runs and runs batted in.

    While Lawrie’s offense has been inconsistent, his defense at third base has once again been top-notch. Despite that, the team has recently opted to shift him to second base in order to open up a spot for Juan Francisco in the lineup.    

    Grade: C

     

    Adam Lind, Designated Hitter/First Baseman

    2014 Stats: 19 GP, .308/.429/.519, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 11 R

    Lind is another player on the team who has been bothered by injuries. A strained back cost him a trip to the 15-day DL earlier this season.

    When healthy, the 30-year-old has been a steady hitter in the lineup. He’s been patient and has developed a reputation for taking a lot of pitches during his at-bats.

    Although the Blue Jays would love to see a little bit more power from a middle-of-the-order bat like Lind, it’s hard to fault a guy hitting .300 and getting on base at such a high clip.

    Grade: B

     

    Juan Francisco, Third Baseman/Designated Hitter

    2014 Stats: 22 GP, .293/.386/.600, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 15 R

    Francisco has arguably been the biggest surprise for the Blue Jays this season.

    After being called up from Triple-A Buffalo following the aforementioned injury to Lind, Francisco has quickly become a productive hitter in Toronto’s lineup.

    The 26-year-old has displayed enormous power and has hit some tape-measure home runs.

    Strikeouts are a bit of a concern for Francisco, as the left-handed hitter has struck out 29 times in 75 at-bats. But, as long as he keeps producing at this rate, he should have no problem getting regular playing time.

    The Blue Jays are so enamored with Francisco that they chose to move him to third base rather than take him out of the lineup once Lind returned.  

    Grade: A

     

    Dioner Navarro, Catcher/Designated Hitter

    2014 Stats: 33 GP, .276/.312/.336, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 13 R

    After signing a two-year contract with the Blue Jays this past offseason, Navarro has looked decent so far.

    While he doesn’t exactly have great speed or defensive prowess, the 30-year-old has hit well for a catcher. His batting average ranks third on the team (out of all the players who have had a minimum of 100 at-bats).

    Navarro has also developed a reputation among Toronto’s pitching staff for being a good game-caller.

    The Blue Jays will certainly take whatever they get from Navarro considering that they arguably had the worst catcher in the major leagues last season in J.P. Arencibia.

    Grade: B

Outfield

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Jose Bautista, Right Fielder

    2014 Stats: 40 GP, .299/ .433/ .556, 10 HR, 28 RBI, 33 R

    Bautista has easily been the best all-around hitter in the lineup. He leads the team in home runs, runs batted in and runs scored.

    Once considered to be a pull-hitter only, the 33-year-old has evolved and learned to spray the ball to all fields. There have been several times this season where he has beaten the opposing team’s defensive shift against him by hitting the ball the other way.

    Unlike last season, where he was often swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, Bautista has been much more patient this year. When not seeing pitches to hit, he’s content to take his walks and get on base.

    If he keeps this pace up, Bautista should have no problems being selected for his fifth All-Star game appearance.

    Grade: A+

     

    Colby Rasmus, Centre Fielder

    2014 Stats: 37 GP, .222/.266/.489, 9 HR, 19 RBI, 19 R

    Along with Lawrie, Rasmus has been one of the most inconsistent players in Toronto’s lineup.

    The centre fielder had a career year in 2013 but has struggled to replicate that success so far this season.

    The power numbers are nice, but Rasmus has looked nowhere close to being a complete hitter.

    The 27-year-old’s biggest problem has been his inability to make contact with the ball. He’s struck out in 35 percent of his total at-bats. This, combined with his inability to take walks (he only has seven walks in 135 at-bats) contributes to his subpar on-base percentage.

    When he does put the ball in play, Rasmus becomes a dangerous hitter with the ability to hit towering line drives. But, that simply hasn’t happened frequently enough, making him an all-or-nothing hitter at this point.

    Grade: C

     

    Melky Cabrera, Left Fielder

    2014 Stats: 39 GP, .329/.365/.515, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 27 R

    Cabrera has been one of the best hitters, not just on the Blue Jays, but in the entire AL.

    The 29-year-old is currently leading the AL in hits and has the highest batting average among all AL hitters that have had at least 150 at-bats.

    Cabrera had a year to forget last season when he played just 88 games before missing the rest of the season because of a benign tumor in his spine.

    That tumor had sapped all the strength from Cabrera’s lower body and had left him unable to run or swing with power. He later underwent surgery to have it removed.

    Since spring training this year, the left fielder has looked like a completely new player. His mobility has significantly improved both in outfield and on the base paths. His bat speed has also returned.

    It looks like Cabrera—a free agent this winter—is primed to have a big year.

    Grade: A+

Bench

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Josh Thole, Catcher

    2014 Stats: 17 GP, .375/.432/.425, 3 RBI, 5 R

    Thole has done a spectacular job as the team’s backup catcher.

    Following a down year with the bat last season, the left-handed hitter has really cut down on his swing and focused on making contact rather than swinging for the fences.

    As R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher, Thole usually catches every fifth day. But he has gotten some extra playing time recently following a minor injury to Navarro.

    Grade: A+

     

    Steve Tolleson, Infielder/Outfielder

    2014 Stats: 9 GP, .318 .375 .682, 2 RBI, 3 R

    The Blue Jays have had a revolving door of bench players so far, but it looks like Tolleson might stick with the club.

    While he doesn’t have much power, the right-handed hitter has been decent with the bat so far. Although a career .239 batting average suggests that he’ll decline eventually.

    Tolleson’s real value lies in his ability to play multiple positions all over the infield and the outfield.

    He also has decent speed and makes for a good pinch-running option.

    Grade: B

     

    *Kevin Pillar is the third member of Toronto’s bench. But, considering that he’s only appeared in one game and has three at-bats, he won’t be graded.

Starting Rotation

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    R.A. Dickey, RHP

    2014 Stats: 4-3 W/L, 9 GS, 4.53 ERA, 1.43 WHIP

    Named Toronto’s Opening Day starter, Dickey has been mediocre at best this season.

    While he’s kept the team in the game during most of his starts, the Blue Jays need Dickey to be a more dominant force atop their rotation.

    A lack of control has been a major problem for the 39-year-old knuckleballer. He leads the rotation in walks allowed, surrendering 27 free passes in just 53.2 innings.

    The extra walks have led to high pitch counts and have played a factor in Dickey’s inability to pitch deep into ballgames. He’s averaging just 5.2 innings pitched per start.

    Grade: C

     

    Mark Buehrle, LHP

    2014 Stats: 7-1 W/L, 8 GS, 2.04 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

    Buehrle has easily been the best pitcher in Toronto’s rotation.

    The left-hander is currently leading the majors in wins and is tied with Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers for the lowest ERA in the AL.

    Simply put, Buehrle has been dominant during most of his starts. He works fast and attacks hitters. After giving up 24 home runs last year, he has given up just one long ball in his first eight starts this season.

    With seven wins already, Buehrle just needs three more victories this season for this to be the 14th straight year in which he's had at least 10 wins.

    Grade: A+

     

    Drew Hutchison, RHP

    2014 Stats: 1-3 W/L, 8 GS, 4.37, 1.30 WHIP

    After missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery, Hutchison has been solid in Toronto’s rotation this season.

    Sure, the 4.37 ERA is nothing special. But keep in mind that this is just a 23-year-old who’s only made 19 starts in the majors during his entire career. He’s also pitching after a long layoff.

    With a fastball in the low-90s and decent off-speed pitches, look for Hutchison to get better as the season goes along.

    Grade: B

     

    Dustin McGowan, RHP

    2014 Stats: 2-1 W/L, 7 GS, 4.63 ERA, 1.49 WHIP

    After pitching out of the rotation for the first time since 2008, the results have been mixed for McGowan, and he’s gotten hit hard at times.

    While he has good stuff, the 32-year-old has had trouble pitching deep into games and has appeared to tire after throwing just 60-75 pitches. He’s averaged just five innings pitched per start.

    McGowan was pressed into the starting rotation this season after coming out of the bullpen last year. Based on his performance as a starting pitcher so far, it would appear that a future as a reliever would suit him better.

    Grade: D

     

    Brandon Morrow, RHP

    2014 Stats: 1-2 W/L, 6 GS, 5.93 ERA, 1.72 WHIP

    Morrow was easily the worst pitcher on the Blue Jays’ rotation this season.

    He was largely ineffective during most of his starts, giving up 17 walks and 30 hits in 27.1 innings pitched. Yes, he only pitched 27.1 innings in six starts.

    After he recently injured a ligament in his finger, the Blue Jays placed Morrow on the 60-day DL. While he’s eligible to be activated in July, there are concerns that he might end up requiring surgery and miss the entire season.

    Grade: F

     

    *J.A. Happ has taken Morrow’s spot on the rotation. It’s too early to grade him since he’s only made two starts.

Bullpen

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    Brett Cecil, LHP

    One of the best relievers in the AL last year, Cecil hasn’t been as successful this season.

    He currently has a 4.72 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched. Control has been a problem for the left-hander, as he’s walked 13 batters.

    Cecil’s stuff is still there and his 27 strikeouts lead the bullpen. If he can cut down on the walks, he should get back to where he was last season.

    Grade: D

     

    Steve Delabar, RHP

    Aside from a few innings where he has struggled with his control, Delabar has arguably been Toronto’s best reliever this season.

    He’s posted a 3.18 ERA in 17 innings pitched, giving up just 10 hits during that span. Walks have been a problem, though, as the right-hander has surrendered eight free passes.

    Grade: B+

     

    Aaron Loup, LHP

    Although he’s struggled in his past few appearances, Loup has been a fairly reliable option out of the bullpen for the most part.

    The left-hander has posted a 3.93 ERA in 18.1 innings. While the ERA might be a bit high, Loup has been tough to hit. Opposing batters are hitting just .175 against him and his WHIP is 1.15.

    Grade: B

     

    Esmil Rogers, RHP

    After spending time in the starting rotation last year, Rogers has struggled coming out of the bullpen this season.

    The right-hander has posted a 5.75 ERA in 20.1 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting .298 off him.

    Keeping the ball in the park has been the biggest problem for Rogers. He’s already given up five home runs this season, which leads the team.

    Grade: F

     

    Todd Redmond, RHP

    Redmond has been successful in the bullpen as the long reliever. In 23.2 innings pitched, the right-hander has posted a 2.66 ERA.

    That ERA is likely unsustainable for Redmond, considering that opposing batters have hit .295 against him and he’s already given up 26 hits. But he’s definitely done a good job of working out of trouble so far.

    Grade: B

     

    Sergio Santos, RHP

    Santos was given the role of interim closer following an injury to closer Casey Janssen during spring training.

    It would be an understatement to say that Santos was a disaster in the closer’s role. He blew three saves in eight opportunities while posting a 9.00 ERA in 12 innings pitched.

    A lack of control was Santos’ biggest problem. He gave up a whopping 11 walks in those 12 innings and had a WHIP of 2.00.

    Shortly after being removed from the closer’s role last week, Santos was placed on the 15-day DL with arm soreness.

    Janssen has since rejoined the team and taken over the closer’s role.

    Grade: F

     

    Neil Wagner, RHP

    Constantly shuffling between the majors and Triple-A Buffalo, Wagner has struggled badly.

    The right-hander has given up nine earned runs in a span of 10 innings. While he has good stuff and can throw his fastball in the upper-90s, it seems like everything Wagner has thrown has gotten hit hard.

    It’s unlikely that it can get any worse than this for the 30-year-old, so the only place to go from here is up.

    Grade: F

     

    *Casey Janssen, Jeremy Jeffress (who is no longer with the team), Marcus Stroman and Chad Jenkins have all spent time in the bullpen at some point this season. But they haven’t pitched enough to be graded.