For those of you who think the AL East is just too competitive for the lowly Toronto Blue Jays to do any damage, think again. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been quietly putting together a nice team that will continue to be good for years to come.
If last season proved anything, it's that this Blue Jays team can flat out rake. Jose Bautista set a Blue Jays franchise record by hitting 54 homers, which was also best in the majors. He will get time at third base this season as the unknown Travis Snider will take over in right field. At just 23 years old, Snider will be looking to put up some nice numbers in his first full major league season. I expect him to hit 22 home runs and to drive in 80 runs.
Another young slugger to watch out for is J.P. Arencibia. Although only appearing in 11 games in 2010, he made a name for himself by hitting two homers in his debut; I had him on my fantasy team that day. Hitting 20 home runs shouldn't be too hard to achieve for this young slugging catcher over the course of a full season.
Two Blue Jays are coming off down years: Aaron Hill and Adam Lind. Both are still fairly young and have shown the propensity to hit in clutch situations. Aaron Hill should get his batting average up to his career average of .270 and still hit 25 jacks.
It looks like Adam Lind will be playing first base in 2011. Back in 2009, he was an All Star and was worth a whopping 3.5 wins as a DH/LF, which is extremely hard to do. While I don't envision he'll hit 35 homers and drive in 114 like 2009, he should hit high 20s in home runs and be just shy of the 100 RBI mark in 2011.
Where will the Jays finish in 2011?
Yunel Escobar is still very young and has shown flashes of absolute brilliance at shortstop. The Jays only had to give up Alex Gonzalez, who was having a career year, to get him. Escobar, 28, has shown an ability to draw walks in his major league career. He could very well bat leadoff in 2011.
The Jays pitching in 2010 surprised many, people including myself. They had just traded away their franchise ace in Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies. To compensate, Anthopoulos traded Brandon League for Brandon Morrow. This ended up being one of the best trades of 2010, as Morrow fulfilled the potential people had been talking about from the highly touted prospect.
This offseason, the Jays traded away another 2010 breakout pitcher in Shaun Marcum to the Brewers for 2B prospect Brett Lawrie. This should not slow down the Blue Jays, who have no shortage of pitching. Ricky Romero will be the ace of this staff as he is becoming one of the rising stars in the game. Morrow will be the No. 2 starter.
Brett Cecil, the club's No. 3, put together a nice 2010 in his first full major league season. Expect the 25-year-old southpaw to give more innings in 2011. The fourth and fifth rotation spots will be up for grabs in spring training.
I expect Kyle Drabek will win the No. 4 spot. The young pitcher came in the Roy Halladay trade with the Phillies and projects to be a solid No. 3 innings eater. The No. 5 spot has a number of options including Mark Rzepczynski, Brad Mills and Dustin McGowan. If McGowan is healthy, he's the guy I want in the starting rotation.
The Jays bullpen lost two key relievers this offseason. Scott Downs will be with the Los Angeles Angels while Kevin Gregg will be with the Baltimore Orioles. Frank Francisco should be the Jays closer. They acquired him from the Vernon Wells-Mike Napoli trade. When healthy, Francisco is a productive major league closer.
The setup roles will be filled by Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch. Both are respectable as setup men, though they are not great options as closers. Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp will be on the team once again in 2011 looking to put up good numbers. Carlos Villanueva is a nice low-risk, high-reward option for their bullpen.
While the Jays bullpen may not be in the same league as the Oakland A's bullpen, they have some nice depth and could be more successful than their 2010 counterpart.
The Blue Jays are projected to have an average defense. Lind will be playing first base, which is a relatively new position for him. Bautista will be returning to third base, which was a position he struggled with early in his career. Expect good defense from Travis Snider, Jose Molina, Rajai Davis, Corey Patterson and Hill.
While the Boston Red Sox are the clear favorites to win the division, the rest of the AL East doesn't look as strong as it did in 2010. The Tampa Bay Rays are without bats and proven players. The New York Yankees have average starting pitching and bullpen. The Orioles have almost no pitching whatsoever. The Jays are probably the second best-rounded team in this division. For that, I think they will contend for a Wild Card spot in 2011.