Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston had some surprising projections in spring training
When the Blue Jays started the season, it came as a bit of a surprise that the manager Cito Gaston projected that the Jays lineup would live and die by the home run.
Gaston suggested that his lineup was packed full of potential 20 home run hitters.
"Bautista has a chance to hit maybe 20-25 home runs because he's done it before," Gaston said. "Then, of course, you've got Hill, you've got Lind and Vernon who hit 20 home runs the year before.
"Then you've got (Lyle) Overbay you hope can hit you 20 and you have (Edwin) Encarnacion; he might hit 20. "You're talking about the first six hitters. If (Travis) Snider makes the club, he might do it, too. I think this club right now, the strength is the hitters."
After all, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill were the only two hitters to surpass the twenty home run mark last year, with 35 and 36 respectively.
Now that September has arrived, those numbers and projections no longer look so outlandish. The Blue Jays lead the majors in home runs by a landslide, with 208, the next closest team the Boston Red Sox with 178.
So how close are those projections so far?
Cito Gaston was right when he felt that Jose Bautista had the ability to put up over 20 home runs.
Of course Gaston originally had him slotted in the leadoff spot, which would have been impressive for any hitter in that position, yet alone one who had never reached that number before.
It was obvious that Bautista's power emerging out of spring training would be better served deeper in the order, so when that opportunity opened up with the acquisition of Fred Lewis, Gaston was quick to move him around before settling into third in the order.
This would give Bautista the chance for many more RBIs, with Lewis and Yunel Escobar getting on base in front of him.
At 43 home runs, Bautista has the chance to set a new Blue Jays record for the most in a single season, possibly breaking George Bell's 47 home run season.
Also, with 103 RBI in 2010, Bautista has been recognized as one of the most impressive in baseball right now, and even been mentioned in American League MVP talks.
After winning the Silver Slugger for second base last year, Aaron Hill was garnering praise as one of the premier hitters in his position.
He was often one of the first ones picked at second base in a lot of fantasy pools, and to go along with that, he was also no slouch on defense.
So when Aaron Hill started the year batting under .200, and continued to hover around that line for much of the season, there were a lot of collective groans as Hill's early projections fell apart.
With a .218 batting AVG and a .285 OBP now, he is still isn't impressing anyone with his ability to get on base.
But over the last 30 days he has started to put up numbers that could somewhat salvage his season and put him in good position for next year.
In the last month Hill has scored 14 runs, hit 6 home runs, and knocked in 16 RBI's, all with a .495 slugging percentage.
That is a rather productive run, and has been enough to put him at 23 home runs, good enough for third on the team right now.
If Hill can continue to swing the bat like he is now, and improve his patience and strike zone recognition at the plate, he may be able to make a return to elite status next year.
It would appear that Adam Lind and Aaron Hill both didn't expect their seasons to go this way.
Lind found himself in a similar position as Hill, struggling at the plate and moved around in the batting order trying to figure out something that worked.
With a .231 AVG and a .285 OBP so far this season, it would seem that opposing pitchers made some adjustments to Lind in the offseason and he hasn't quite caught up yet.
Baseball being such a mental game, bad luck and struggles often just create more of the same, and so Lind has never quite recovered from his bad start to the year.
But once again, all is not lost, Hill's late productivity is quite similar to Lind's numbers over the last month and could put him the position to have a strong September.
Lind has scored nine runs, hit five home runs, driven 15 RBI and put up a more respectable .267 AVG and .515 SLG over the last 30 days.
With one more, Lind will also break the 20 home run mark for the second straight season.
As the Blue Jays possible future first baseman, it will be important to have that source of power from the corner infield spot.
Vernon Wells came storming out of the gate in 2010, having a torrid April with a .337 AVG and .717 SLG.
By the All-Star game, Wells had already hit 19 home runs and 26 doubles, scored 46 runs and knocked in 49 batters.
His second half totals haven't been nearly as impressive, but he is still looking to have his best offensive season since 2006.
Wells has batted very well against Texas this year, and the first game against them was no different, going 2-4, with 3 RBI and a home run.
So a strong series against Texas can help Wells rebound from his struggles of late to put up some good numbers for this year.
Wells is at 25 home runs and has 75 RBI, good enough for second best in both categories on the team behind Jose Bautista.
Just as no one expected Jose Bautista to lead the league in home runs, very few people likely expected Alex Gonzalez to hit seventeen home runs before the All-Star break for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Considering that the most Gonzalez had ever hit before was 23 back in 2004 for the Florida Marlins, it was a surprise bonus to go along with his stellar defense.
Then Gonzalez was traded to the Atlanta Braves for the struggling, young shortstop Yunel Escobar, who hadn't yet hit a home run this season.
This acquisition might in the future be considered a steal for Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos.
Since his arrival, Escobar has hit .287 with 4 home runs, and brought a welcome versatility to the Jays lineup and provided equally strong defense, if not better.
Though not actually one person, the Blue Jays have received 21 home runs from their shortstop position between Gonzalez and Escobar.
A welcome boon considering that position is not generally known for its power hitting; and Escobar has the power and potential to hit many more in the future.
So far, the Blue Jays have three players who have hit over 20 home runs, and two players who have combined for 20 in the shortstop position.
Gaston originally projected six, maybe seven, who had the potential to hit 20 over the course of the season.
Lyle Overbay has hit 17 home runs so far this year at first base, and with a month of games remaining, could quite possibly reach that 20 mark.
Travis Snider has only hit nine home runs, but that is in 62 games due to an injury that kept him out of most of the middle part of the season.
When you project those numbers over a full season, 20 home runs seem not only possible, but more likely the minimum of what he could have produced.
Edwin Encarnacion was also hampered by injuries this year, but still managed to put up 13 home runs in 80 games. Encarnacion's power is obvious, but he struggles with staying healthy and consistency.
He did have a 26 home run season in 2008 with Cincinnati, so it was quite possible he could have done the same with the Blue Jays this year if he had more at-bats.
John Buck's power this year from the catcher position was a pleasant surprise, as was his ability to work with the Jays young pitching staff.
Buck recently missed some games due to a thumb injury and has lost some playing time to Jose Molina and the rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia.
Despite all that, Buck has still put up 16 home runs in 90 games this year. With a few good series in September, Buck could also hit that 20 mark for the Blue Jays.
Gaston has proven the doubters wrong this year as the powerful Jays have swung the bats to create an impressive level of production.
With a strong September, this power hitting Blue Jays team can prove they have the pieces in place to be a force to be reckoned with in the following years as well.