Pinching and Pitching: The 2010 Blue Jays Season Preview, Part 2
Although the 2010 Jays offense has already been discussed there is much more to an offense than just those who start the game. In fact, who is on the bench or in the system can be just as important as who makes opening day.
This year the Toronto bench has taken a new approach cleansing and avoiding the talent past its prime, such as Frank Thomas or Kevin Millar, and opted for youthful zeal. The Jays bench is certainly not the best in baseball, by a long shot, but it does contain most of the pieces that a bench in the American League needs.
1. John McDonald – SS/Utility – Although Johnny Mac is an excellent defender, and arguably a National League player, he is still a valuable piece to the Blue Jays bench. McDonald is an excellent defensive upgrade for late in a ball game, although Alex Gonzalez is an excellent fielder himself, and McDonald can also be utilized as a pinch runner.
The other great part about McDonald on the bench is that he can give a day off to players in the corner outfield spots, third, shortstop, second base, and even catcher as he is the third catcher on the Jays depth chart (although it is highly unlikely). McDonald does not sacrifice anything defensively and can be used in key bunt situations as arguably the best bunter on the ball club.
2. Randy Ruiz – 1B/DH - Ruiz is an excellent bench player and is in fact be deemed major league ready by many. Ruiz was the Pacific Coast League MVP last season despite missing over a month due to major league play in which he measured up quite well to the major league level hitting 10 homers.
The power is the best about Ruiz, displayed by a home run to the deep porch in left field at Yankee Stadium in his first game despite the wind howling in from left. The power is phenomenal, the defense is atrocious. The designated hitter position was made for Ruiz and he even lost weight this offseason at the request of the front office.
Ruiz can give Lind a day off at designated hitter, including if Lind goes to the outfield for a game, plus he can step up in place of the to be traded Lyle Overbay. The only problem for Ruiz is the expected arrival of Brett Wallace, that and the fact that Ruiz is in his late 20's himself. He has paid his dues, he deserves a shot, this year his shot starts as a bench player.
3. Jose Molina – C – Molina joins his brother Bengie as Molina family members that have played for the Blue Jays, although most fans would prefer the other bother Yadier of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Molina is more of a quick fix, a plug in piece if you will, for the 2010 Jays. Molina will be the backup to John Buck and for good measure as Buck has more offensive upside and better developmental qualities with a young starting staff.
Molina is an excellent backup catcher but with J.P Arencibia knocking on the door, Kyle Phillips patiently awaiting his turn, Raul Chavez in the system, and Travis D'Arnaud climbing the ladder the future for Molina is not long, same goes for Buck.
4. Mike McCoy – OF/Util – The biggest surprise to the Jays team coming out of camp may be Mike McCoy. Not because he isn't ready but rather for the position he will be playing. McCoy will serve as the Jays fourth outfielder (Adam Lind excluded) despite his primary position being in the middle infield.
McCoy therefore can also play second base if needed as well as all three outfield positions including center because of his speed. As the fastest player on the Jays he will bring many more stolen bases to the club and will be the first choice to pinch-run in critical situations.
McCoy however is on a short leash and still needs to prove his worth to the club, despite an excellent spring. This is shown by the front office which not only disclosed that McCoy is the 25th of 25 men on the roster but they also mentioned if something comes up in the waiver wire that will benefit the club they will make the move at the expense of Mike McCoy.
McCoy still has plenty of options left on his contract to the minors but Alex Anthopolous did allow Kevin Millar to pass through the waiver wire after the Cubs released him, McCoy stays for now.
As the bench looks like it can complete the roles needed of a bench it also seems as though it can just barely get the job done. The Blue Jays do not have much experience on the bench and they do not have a high average pinch hitter such as a Mike Sweeney or Mike Lowell.
It seems as though Cito Gaston may avoid using most of these players until the season is lost as he did not give John McDonald a single start in April and most of May last season. Look for the bench to have fleeting playing time, perhaps with the exception of Randy Ruiz who is the best bench player on the club.
The next area to be analyzed for the 2010 season and by far the biggest question mark is the starting rotation. With the loss of Roy Halladay the assured win every fifth day is no longer present, the mentor is gone, and the starting staff will have to pick up the slack despite limited major league experience and a slew of left handers.
1. Shaun Marcum – RHP – Although Marcum missed all of last season due to injury he had a strong opening game against the Rangers. He is still however a mystery. All signs looked good after spring training but as the most experienced member of the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation Marcum will be leaned on by Gaston and the Jays. Hopefully he can deliver, we won't know for sometime, but my bet says he will have a decent winning record on a losing team.
2. Brian Tallet – LHP – Although Tallet is not the second best pitcher on this Jays staff he is the second starter in the order to offset back to back right handers in Morrow and Marcum. Why Romero isn't the second starter shocks me. Tallet has never gone over 7.0 innings once in his career and is ideally a long reliever.
Tallet however is developing pitches and arm strength for a starting role as he pitched well in spring training. He also is a firm believer in surprising some teams in the MLB, which may require Tallet surprising both me and Jays fans as he may end up being the worst pitcher on the 2010 opening day staff.
3. Brandon Morrow – RHP – Brandon Morrow is another unproven pitcher. He has the talent to be a top two starter in the MLB on most teams, he just hasn't proven it yet. Morrow came over from Seattle this offseason where he closed a few ball games as well as started.
He went 18th overall in the first year player draft and didn't pan out for Seattle, hopefully he can for the Jays. The pitching coach, Bruce Walton, has quite a lot of faith in Morrow as does Alex Anthopolous. He will be given plenty of time to grow and will have a long leash this season.
If he pitches like he did against the Astros in the last preseason game of the year he will showcase a decent winning record. However, he will most likely end up two games either above or below a .500 winning percentage and not much more.
4. Ricky Romero – LHP – Romero had a very good rookie campaign going 13-9 and being rumoured as the ace of the Blue Jays staff before the year began thus being the 4th starter is a little odd. Obviously, he is placed fourth to keep the pattern of righty followed by lefty alive.
Ricky Romero has been a project for the Blue Jays finally cracking the Jays staff last year. The best part about Romero isn't that he is young but the fact that he has five solid pitches. By adding the cutter this spring, although it made limited appearances in his last spring start against the Houston Astros, it definitely adds another weapon to the arsenal. Something Bruce Walton will love as it should fit perfectly with his “down and pound” philosophy of throwing heat in the lower part of the strike zone.
Romero may be moved up in the rotation before seasons end.
5. Dana Eveland – LHP – Coming from Oakland, where he beat the Blue Jays twice, Dana Eveland is the surprise fifth starter for the Jays this season. Eveland joked in the locker room after being given the good news and a Blue Jays suitcase with his name on it, “I got a suitcase. I did it.” That should be the indication that Eveland is on a short leash.
Despite hoping for the best and Walton giving Eveland at least the month of April the Jays will not hesitate to bring up a new starter with a plethora of left handers in the minors. Mark Rzepczynski, who currently is on the short term DL with a broken hand, is the next best choice as he may have the best stuff of any pitcher on the Jays (according to MLB.com's 30 in 30).
Also, the next two favourites to be called up are Brett Cecil and David Purcey, both left handed pitchers. Having four left handers would not be ideal for the staff and therefore a lefty will only be called up if one needs to be replaced. Meaning that Eveland is constantly fighting Rzepczynski, Cecil, and Purcey for a job. It should be interesting to see how Eveland manages and if he can stay, but he has shown glimpses of brilliance with the Athletics and the Jays this spring.
All in all, the 2010 starting rotation does not look overtly promising. They do have a massive amount of potential but the realization of that potential is another story. The year will be about development. Each starter will get knocked around but each starter will also show why they made the team out of camp.
Inexperience is the major story as Shaun Marcum, the ace, is currently entering the regular season as part of a starting staff for only the second time in his career, and he is the most experienced. The most telling part about the young staff will be their ability to bounce back.
Last year Mark Rzepczynski and Robert Ray fell to the mental trap that comes with being rocked hard by a major league team. It happens. However, Ray and Rzepczynski had horrible bounce back starts and needed two or three starts each to regain their confidence and form, ending up in their return to the minors.
If the staff can let the bad games roll off their chests they can perhaps retain more confidence and composure. This is because it will be important to expand on the positives from each start, however few and far between they may be.
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