Although the Toronto Blue Jays have yet to sign a significant free agent, they have initiated a mini-makeover this offseason, unloading their veteran ace Roy Halladay, as well as making an under-the-radar move to acquire Brandon Morrow.
The prospects they received in the Halladay deal are really quite good; Drabek and Wallace are consistently being rated as among the Top 30 in all of baseball, and D'Arnaud may be a few years off, but he's the best catching prospect, surpassing J.P. Arencibia.
The New Prospects
Brett Wallace's bat is apparently major-league ready, the Jays just have to groom him into a respectable defender at 1B, as they have made it clear they want to transfer him to first from third, and that he'll take over for Lyle Overbay, whom the club is reportedly shopping. Scouts say that he has great plate discipline and doesn't let the pitcher take over. With 30 home run power, he isn't fast enough to hit leadoff, the only batting position the Jays really don't have an answer to yet. I say he should be in the Major Leagues by late June, and may hit sixth or so in the order.
Kyle Drabek has pretty good stuff, the only thing with him is that his ceiling may be as a solid second or third starter. He doesn't quite have the ability to pitch as a legitimate ace, which is fine, since Toronto has enough pitching prospects to potentially fill Roy Halladay's spot as the go-to guy.
The interesting thing about him is that he spent a year recovering from Tommy John surgery, but has been progressing since, and it doesn't seem to be an issue at this point, other than the fact that he might not enter the majors until he's 23. He has two good major league pitches: a mid-'90s fastball that may be a bit flat, a solid curveball that curves horizontally, as well as a changeup that's he working on. He could potentially join the majors this year, but it probably wouldn't be anything more than a few spot starts, as the Jays will likely put a sharp cap on his innings this season.
The Pitching Staff
The Blue Jays have an interesting outlook on their pitching staff: they have tons of major-league able starters and emerging 'prospects', without three clear pitchers that you could convincingly make a case for 30+ starts this season.
Spring training will clearly be productive this year as eight pitchers will fight for a major role: Ricardo Romero, Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Mark Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil (people think he got destroyed last year, but went 7-4 and had a decent ERA if not for that terrible Red Sox game), Scott Richmond, David Purcey, and Dustin McGowan will all be involved. Romero should make it and may grow into the role of 'ace', as he was certainly lined up to win Rookie of the Year last year, until he imploded down the stretch.
The Jays also don't really have an official closer, and they need a veteran guy, or early project such as Papelbon, who was with the Red Sox to step in. Maybe they'll develop Morrow into one, as he played at the position for a bit in Seattle.
Here are my projections for the pitching staff this season:
1. Romero: 15-9, 3.10 ERA
2. McGowan: 12-8, 3.35 ERA
3. Richmond: 10-9, 3.50 ERA
4. Brandon Morrow: 8-9, 3.70 ERA, plays in pen as well.
5. Marcum, Purcey combine for 10-11, 4.40 ERA, others get spot starts.
(Rzepczynski and Cecil starts season at AAA, get called up a few times and make numerous spot starts.
Jason Frasor gets 20 saves, but doesn't get all the opportunities, a closer by committee approach is taken on consecutive nights after Frasor pitches.
Shawn Camp emerges as the four days a week, inning eater, relief pitcher, ends with a 2.80 ERA, and Jesse Carlson and Scott Downs put in solid work as well.
Same routine as last year as far as long relief goes. Tallet and others get a few starts, but for the most part, bail out bad starts and get the sixth and seventh innings.
Aaron Hill and Adam Lind continue their dominance at the plate, hit for 30+ home runs again with 100 RBIs each and a .290 batting average. Hill will probably bat second in the order again, with Lind third, and a combination of players playing cleanup. Eventually though Travis Snider will grow into the role, and may even provide a pleasant surprise and hit 25 homers this season, as the potential was certainly there last year; he has real pop.
Vernon Wells has the ability to play leadoff, but if his dismal play keeps up, which I think is mostly mental, he's playing mind games with himself and doesn't function well when the fans are onto him, then he may get put back to sixth in the order, or potentially traded, with the Jays absorbing a lot of the contract.
Edwin Encarnacion is a better player than people think. He's maybe a bit of a defensive liability, but he has 25 homers, a .290 potential, and if that happens, he will solidify his spot as 3rd baseman for the Jays. Alex Gonzalez is good enough at shortstop.
He's an average defender and could confortably bat sixth or seventh, he's fine, and shouldn't fall under the scrutiny of fans. The Jays could use an extra outfielder however, as the Jays have stated that if Johnny Damon tempers his asking price down to about five or six million, they'll be brisk in snapping him up.
Here's what the discussed order will look like, and (if they don't get injured) predictions:
1. Vernon Wells, CF, .295 18 HR 70 RBI 35 SB
2. Aaron Hill, 2B, .290 34 HR 105 RBI
3. Adam Lind, LF, .295 35 HR 110 RBI
4. Travis Snider, RF, .280 20 HR 85 RBI
5. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, .275 20 HR 70 RBI
6. Randy Ruiz, DH, .270 20 HR 65 RBI
7. Brett Wallace, 1B, .280 15 HR 60 RBI
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS, .275 15 HR 60 RBI
9. John Buck, C, .265 10 HR 40 RBI
2010 Season Outlook
I think the Toronto Blue Jays will certainly put up a fight early again, but their young pitchers may get tired down the stretch again, but it will certainly be a positive year for them. Nobody will get fired, and they'll finish 86-76, perhaps even beating out the Red Sox for second place behind the Yankees, who might be good enough to win the World Series again.
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