Toronto Blue Jays: 2011 Season Preview; Can They Finally Compete? (Hitting)

Kale SherarContributor IFebruary 2, 2011

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29: Cito Gaston tips his hat during a pre-game ceremony for retiring Manager Cito Gaston of the Toronto Blue Jays as they play the New York Yankees during a MLB game at the Rogers Centre September 29, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Baseball fans north of the border have not had a taste of playoff 'ball since 1993.  Since then, fans have endured countless General Managers, Managers and empty promises.  During these glory years, the Jays boasted the highest payroll in Baseball, and now they're operating in the bottom half of the Major Leagues in terms of money.

However, due to last season's impressive, and a smart, young GM running the team, Jays fans may finally have a reason to be optimistic about this coming season.  In this article, I will provide quick predictions on who will be on the Opening Day roster, and well as a quick prediction for each player.

Left-Field, Juan Rivera:  Rivera came over in the big Vernon Wells trade in late January following a disappointing 2010 with the Angels.  I see Rivera's numbers improving this year, but not to the level at which they were in 2009.  Prediction: .270 avg., 18 HR, 67 RBI.

Centre-Field, Rajai Davis:  Davis came off an impressive year with the Oakland Athletics in which he hit .280 and stole 50 bases.  If there is one thing the Jays are missing, it is a threat on the base-paths.  His numbers will decline slightly this season, but not to a point to worry Jays fans.  Prediction: .275 Avg., 6 HR, 40 RBI, 41 SB.

Right-Field, Travis Snider:  After an impressive September showing in 2008, Snider has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play over the last two seasons.  This year, if he stays healthy, he will finally start to show the power that made him such a highly-regarded prospect a few years ago, but not to the point where he will become the Jays best all-around hitter.  Prediction: .255 Avg., 24 HR, 77 RBI.

Third-Base, Jose Bautista:  The surprise of 2010 around the MLB was the breakout season of Jose Bautista.  He led the Majors in HRs, and also set a new Blue Jays single-season record with 54.  The one problem with his game was his below-par average, .260.  It is obvious that he won't have a repeat of his 2010 numbers, but he should still have another big season for the Blue Jays.  Prediction: .262 Avg., 35 HR, 92 RBI.

Short-Stop, Yunel Escobar:  Escobar came over to the Jays halfway through last season after struggling to regain his 2009 form in Atlanta.  He started out hot for the Jays, but cooled down by season's end.  It is difficult to predict whether he can ever regain his old form, but with No. 58 ranked prospect Adeiny Hecchavarria waiting in the wings, Escobar may be fighting for his job following this season.  Prediction: .264 Avg., 8 HR, 50 RBI.

Second-Base, Aaron Hill:  With Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay having been traded away in consecutive years, Hill has become the defacto leader of the clubhouse.  With that title however, he needs to prove his worth behind the plate like he did in 2009.  After hitting just .205 last season, Hill desperately needs a big 2011 in order to be considered in the Jays' future plans, especially with highly-touted prospect Brett Lawrie waiting in the minors.  Prediction: .286 Avg., 24 HR, 88 RBI.

First-Base/DH, Adam Lind:  Like Aaron Hill, Lind went from having a tremendous 2009 to a disappointing 2010.  Lind is the Jays best left-handed bat, and needs to show everyone that 2009 wasn't a fluke.  While he won't be a defensive gem at first-base, he should prove to be more dependable than his main (and likely only) competitor for the position, Edwin Encarnacion.  Prediction: .269 Avg., 20 HR, 70 RBI.

Catcher, J.P. Arencibia:  This is the Jays big question mark of the 2011 season, can Arencibia be a full-time catcher in the Major League?  While there is no doubt he has nothing left to prove in AAA, he may, and likely will go through growing pains this year, and possibly next.  Having Jose Molina on the team will certainly help his defensive game, but J.P. needs to show the power and promise that he showed with Las Vegas last year.  Prediction: .227 Avg., 12 HR, 47 RBI.

DH/First-Base, Edwin Encarnacion:  When Scott Rolen was traded from Toronto to the Cincinnati Reds, Encarnacion was the the main piece that helped the deal go through.  Unfortunately, he has yet to match the career year he had in 2008.  He did have a relatively decent performance last year, especially through September, and if that can carry over to this season, then the Jays will have themselves a solid DH for the first time since 2009.  Prediction: .244 Avg, 22 HR, 60 RBI.

As for the bench, the two main locks will be Backup Catcher Jose Molina, and Utility Infielder John McDonald.  Both men are stellar defensively, but do not bring much to the plate.  If the Jays choose to go with an eight-man bullpen, then that leaves one more bench position to be filled.  The obvious candidate is Mike McCoy.  He can play the infield, outfield and brings an element of speed to the bench should the need for a pinch-runner arise.

All-in-all, I believe the Jays can finish no higher than third in the competitive AL East, and no lower than fourth.  The obvious variable in the division this year is Tampa Bay, and how newly-signed veterans Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon will play.

Thank you for reading, and I will be back in a day or two with my pitching preview for 2011.