Toronto Blue Jays: Top 8 Stories To Follow Heading into 2011 Season
The 2011 season looks like it should be an exciting one for Toronto Blue Jays fans as the team looks to build on the 85-77 record they had just last season, a year in which many "experts" predicted 100 losses and a last place finish in the AL East.
With their 85-77 record the Jays proved many wrong and look to improve on it as last year's team consisted of many young players who are good bets to improve on their numbers.
With several top prospects ready to make the jump, a new manager, players looking to rebound and a bullpen that consists of plenty of new arms, there are plenty of interesting stories to follow when the 2011 season begins.
1. How Will Kyle Drabek Perform in His First Major League Season?
The key piece in the Roy Halladay deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, Kyle Drabek got off to a great start in his tenure with the Jays organization by winning the 2010 Eastern League pitcher of the year, finishing his season in AA with a 14-9 record and a 2.94 ERA that includes a no-hitter.
Drabek also got his first big league experience in September, going 0-3 in three starts with a respectable 4.76 ERA. He is the odds-on favourite to start the season as the Jays' No. 4 starter behind Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil.
Drabek is a pitcher who could very well be in contention for rookie of the year by the end of the season. His repertoire includes a four-seam fastball thrown at 91 to 93 MPH, a sweeping curveball that is used as a two-strike pitch, a changeup that has potential if he can locate it better and a two-seam fastball that hits 91 MPH on the radar gun.
The son of former Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek, Kyle has the potential to be a good No. 2 starter in the future and will end up in contention for the rookie of the year award when this season comes to an end.
Prediction: 28 GS, 12-11, 4.38 ERA
2. Is Travis Snider Ready To Break Out?
J. Meric/Getty Images
Travis Snider is very close to becoming a star outfielder in the MLB. Despite missing nearly half the season with a wrist injury, Snider was able to hit 14 home runs in just 298 at-bats last year, showing everybody the type of power he possesses.
Drafted by the Jays 14th overall in the 2006 amateur draft, Snider made his major league debut at the age of 20, causing people to forget that he enters this season at just 23 years of age, still very young for an everyday player.
There is no doubt about it that Snider is on the brink of a monster year, and if he stays healthy, the 2011 season will be a huge step towards him becoming a premier power hitter in the league. I believe that this will be a great year for Snider, but 2012 is going to be where he hits his peak.
Prediction: .282 AVG, 26 HR, 80 RBI
3. How Will the Jays' New-Look Bullpen Perform?
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
With the departures of Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs and Brian Tallet, it was obvious that GM Alex Anthopoulus was going to have to acquire some great bullpen arms to make up for it. He did a great job, signing Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, and trading for Frank Francisco.
Throw in returning relievers Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen and David Purcey and the Jays have more than enough arms to make up one of the best bullpens in the entire league—a very good thing for a team with such a young pitching staff.
Francisco or Dotel are the two leading candidates for the closing role, while Frasor provides excellent pitching from the setup role. Jon Rauch saved 21 games for the Twins last year and David Purcey is excellent against left handers—they only hit .163 off of him last year.
Shawn Camp had a career year for the Jays last season, putting up a 2.99 ERA and Casey Janssen pitched very well in his first season as a reliever; he will likely be the long man whenever a starter gets knocked out early on in the game.
Overall, the Jays are bound to have one of the best bullpens in the entire majors. Not one of the pitchers listed is a weak link and they all had good seasons last year, something that bodes very well for the Jays.
4. How Well is JP Arencibia Going To Transition into the Majors?
J. Meric/Getty Images
After his season in AAA Las Vegas last year, it's clear that Arencibia is ready to make the jump to the Majors. Arencibia hit .301 with 32 home runs and 85 RBI, leading him to be named the MVP of the PCL.
He even got a little taste of MLB action last year, appearing in 35 at-bats and hitting two home runs in his very first game. Some fans started to worry when pitchers would perform terribly with Arencibia catching, believing that he didn't call a very good game, but it was a very small sample size and the pitchers in Las Vegas said he was very good for them.
Arencibia will be the Jays' starting catcher this year, as Molina will only be used to catch Brandon Morrow and to give JP time off to get accustomed to the rigors of his first MLB season. Like Drabek, Arencibia could be in contention for rookie of the year at the end of the season, but is not likely to win it.
Prediction: 117 games, .262 AVG, 16 HR, 61 RBI
5. What Other Prospects Can We Expect To Play in the Majors This Season?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Besides rookies Kyle Drabek and J.P. Arencibia, the Jays have several other interesting prospects who may see major league action throughout the course of the year. At the very least, these players will likely see some time in September.
One of those prospects is second basemen Brett Lawrie, who was the top prospect the Jays acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Shaun Marcum. Lawrie is a second basemen with below average defense, but more then makes up for it with his bat. It is possible that he will see some action this year at just 21 years of age.
Pitcher Zach Stewart is another prospect who is in line to see some action this year. Stewart had a good year in New Hampshire last season, going 8-3 with a 3.63 ERA. He is 24 years of age and it looks like he is almost ready to take it to the next level.
A long shot to see some time this year in the MLB is outfielder Darin Mastroianni, a 25-year-old outfielder with a lot of speed. Mastroianni hit .301 in New Hampshire last season and stole 46 bases. His speed could be a huge asset for the Jays.
6 How Will Jose Bautista Follow Up His 54 Home Run Season?
Matthew Manor/Getty Images
No one could have predicted Jose Bautista to have the kind of season he had in 2010, smashing a team record 54 home runs and driving in 124 runs. Not only that, but Bautista was among the league leaders in walks last year as well.
Not only did Bautista amaze fans with his bat, but he provided good defence in right field, throwing out 12 runners, good for second in the league in outfield assists. It will be interesting to see how Bautista follows up his magnificent season.
He may be playing third base this year, a position he isn't exactly thrilled to be playing, and the Jays are going to try to sign him to a long-term extension so he remains a Jay for awhile. In the meantime, Bautista may not have as good of a season as he did last year, but he still should be pretty good this season.
Prediction: 154 Games, .257 AVG, 36 HR, 104 RBI
7. Can Adam Lind and Aaron Hill Rebound From Poor Seasons?
After the breakout seasons Adam Lind and Aaron Hill had in 2009, a lot was expected from them in 2010. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out that way for the both of them. Hill saw his batting average fall from .286 to .205, home runs from 36 to 26, and RBI from 108 to 68. Lind saw his batting average fall from .305 to .237, home runs from 35 to 23, and RBI from 114 to 72.
The power was still there, but those averages are very concerning, especially Hill's very disappointing .205. Neither player walks much so their OBPs are dreadful as well.
I believe that both will definitely hit for higher averages than they did last year and their power will be in between what it was in 2009 and 2010. If these guys can rebound, Toronto should be able to better their record from last year.
Predictions: Adam Lind: 150 games, .281 AVG, 26 HR, 91 RBI
Aaron Hill: 156 games, .277, 28 HR, 88 RBI
8. Can Brandon Morrow Take the Next Step and Become an Elite Pitcher?
Michael Heiman/Getty Images
Brandon Morrow has some of the best stuff of any starting pitcher in the league and he is on the cusp of turning into one of the game's elite starting pitchers. Morrow struggled in the beginning of his first year as a full-time starter, but got a lot better as the year went on. This included a game where he came within one out of a no-hitter and struck out 17 batters.
Morrow possesses some of the best pitches in the game and only needs better control to fully realize his potential. His pitches include a 93 to 97 MPH fastball, 87 MPH slider, 87 MPH changeup and 81 MPH curveball that he started to use a lot more frequently this season.
I believe Morrow is still a season away from becoming an ace, but he will definitely have a good year this season if healthy.
Prediction: 30 starts, 13-8, 3.84 ERA, 10.4 K/9